This month we interview Justin Baluch, a water photographer and videographer who resides in the Pupukea community on the North Shore of Oahu.
Hey Justin, Thanks for meeting up to chat. Lets start from the beginning. Where are you from?
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but spent the majority of my childhood in Washington DC and the midwest before relocating to Hawai’i in 2005.
How did you end up on the North Shore?
Long story short, I enlisted in the Navy after dropping out of college in Ohio. My last tour of duty was here in Honolulu and, after falling in love with the island, I couldn’t bear to leave. Oahu is paradise.
What got you into photography? How did you get into diving / water photography?
I got into photography after meeting several likeminded divers. I started out recording my spearfishing trips with a GoPro and it just blossomed from there.
What’s the deepest you’ve shot and what were the challenges associated with that shoot?
Honestly I don’t usually dive very deep for my shots. The deepest I ever took my rig down was 85 feet to film my buddy Desmond retrieving a fish from under a ledge after he shot it spearfishing. The biggest challenge with shots like that is timing the descent with a diver like Desmond who can hold his breath for 3+ minutes. If I go down too soon I may miss the most important moments of the hunt. If i remember correctly, i had to dive to about 95′ to retrieve a speargun you dropped and couldn’t retrieve once, but we’ll save that for another conversation!
Ha! I vaguely remember that incident but thanks for the reminder! Back on topic, that is quite surprising. Most of your photos give the impression of incredible depth. What would you consider your most difficult shoot and why?
I was in Belize trying to capture nurse sharks and rays in the same shot as two female models. Lighting is always the biggest challenge when there are so many visual elements in the photo. Luckily my assistants were amazing and helped me position lights for each dive. It all worked out in the end.
You’ve traveled to quite a few exciting international locations shooting photos. What is your favorite place to shoot photos and why?
Believe it or not, my favorite place to shoot is in my own backyard of Shark’s Cove in Pupukea. It’s only a mile from my home and I usually sneak in two sessions a day in the summertime when I’m on-island. It’s actually a protected reserve so the marine life, reef structure, and the clarity are generally all incredible. Can’t beat it!
What’s your favorite shot? What do you hope people get out of it?
You seem to be one of the only water photographers that has a near exclusive focus on cave diving. How did you fall into this particular niche?
By virtue of living so close to Shark’s Cove, I started playing there daily and exploring the various lava tubes in the area. After buying my camera gear I needed a place to practice and the cove was perfect for me to hone my skills. I gradually met more and more people that also enjoyed the area and began taking photographs of the divers I met there. One day I decided to video a cave swim-through and post it online. I was blown away by the amount of attention it received and I realized that this whole new underwater world was what truly kept people coming back for more from my social media profile. I continued refining and tried my best to make each video better than the previous.
What equipment do you shoot with?
I shoot with a Canon 1DXii in a Nauticam dive housing. I have a 230mm nauticam glass dome that I use with both my Canon 11-24mm f/4 L and my Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L III lenses. For fill lighting I use a pair of the incredible Light & Motion Sola 9600 Dive Lights on Nauticam carbon fiber buoyancy arms. The rig is perfectly balanced and although it weighs nearly 30# out of the water, it is weightless once submerged. I look for gear that performs, plain and simple. No frills, no gimmicks. I want performance and simplicity. The Automatica One is a perfect compliment to my kit.
What do you do when you are not shooting photos?
When I’m not out shooting, I work as a computer engineering consultant and take care of my animals on North Shore.
What are your photography goals for this year?
I have several brand collaborations underway and am thrilled to start exhibiting my stills in local galleries here on Oahu throughout the Spring and Summer . Follow me on Instagram to hear more about my upcoming projects this year!
Can you drop some knowledge on how budding water photographers can get a leg up?
Start small. Learn the fundamentals. While you’re learning the fundamentals of diving, save money and take your time. My first professional rig was a large financial commitment. I used a GoPro for several years and saved before I was finally ready to throw down on a performance system. Look for ways to differentiate yourself from the crowd. There are plenty of people dabbling in water photography. Find your niche and refine your skills. The rest will fall into place.
Where are you off to next?
My next trip is a multi-destination trip to Mexico. I love Latin America and can’t wait to return to the Sea of Cortez.
Shout out to your sponsors.
Thank you to Huish Outdoors, Atomic Aquatics, Suunto, Yeti, Moana Waterman, Nauticam, Light & Motion, Backscatter, Hawaii Camera, Canon USA, Mansfield Time, Hawaii Skindiver, Hydroflask, and all my other sponsors who have helped me along my journey.