Photographer Spotlight: Sean Landsman

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been fishing? When did you first pick up a camera?

I hail from flat-as-a-pancake east-central Illinois. I caught my first fish at age 4 and immediately took to the sport. As a kid I would memorize Bass Pro and Cabelas magazines, dog-earing pages of lures I one day hoped to get. Christmas was not about getting the latest video game, but about what the latest addition to my ever-growing arsenal of rods and reels would be. I remember one Christmas getting a bass flippin’ stick and immediately going outside to practice my flipping and pitching technique under a white pine in our backyard. I also taught myself to fly cast on the street in front of my childhood home, pausing between double hauls and roll casts only to move for cars (whose inhabitants gave me some pretty weird looks as they drove by). But admittedly, my fly fishing experience has been fairly limited. Around age 16 I got badly bitten by the muskie-bug and after that rarely picked up a fly rod (though fly fishing for muskies is quickly gaining popularity and is something I’d like to try one day!), or pursued other species for that matter. My love for muskies and muskie fishing eventually translated to pursuing a Masters degree studying the effects of catch-and-release angling on that particular species. I had an incredible time in my program, getting to fish the Ottawa River for giant muskies almost every single day of the season, but my interest in fishing changed somewhat during my program. I was fishing for my job and the added pressure of HAVING to catch muskies if I wanted enough data to satisfactorily complete my degree created a seismic shift in my love of fishing as a hobby. I found myself in need of another pursuit, and in 2010 discovered photography fulfilled that desire. However, my progression toward underwater photography took five years when I finally pulled the trigger on an expensive underwater housing in 2015. I currently live in Prince Edward Island, Canada and do most of my shooting here and in neighboring provinces.

2. How are your shots set up? Your work is quite unique, I was hoping you could talk us through how you’re able to snag some of these shots?

Unless you’re photographing caught and released fish, getting close to many species of freshwater fish can be really difficult at times. In fact, I would go so far as to say underwater photography is maybe the hardest of all the “wildlife” photography. Mammals and birds can be photographed compellingly with a long lens, but you can’t take a giant 600mm telephoto lens underwater. Even if there were housings to accommodate lenses like that, the farther your subject is from the lens underwater the more water you have to shoot through, which suppresses color and sharpness due to the volume of liquid you have to shoot through.

That means you have to get close, sometimes REALLY close to fish to photograph them in the best way possible. For me, this means 1) understanding what time(s) of the year my fish subjects can be approached closely and 2) figuring out how best to get close to them. Usually, the best time to photograph fish, especially freshwater species like trout, is during the spawning season. They are so busy getting it on and fighting with each other that usually, they don’t pay me much attention. This either means I have to don a thick exposure suit like a dry suit to stay warm for extended periods of time, sometimes upwards of an hour just waiting for the fish to accept my presence. Or, I have to use a remote underwater rig that I can trigger with a cable. Both methods work, but both have their drawbacks.

3. You have a Ph.D. in Fish Science, correct? What is your favorite fish to study?

I almost have a Ph.D., but not quite yet. I’m hoping May 2018 I’ll be completely finished with my program. My previous research experience has enabled me to work with a variety of fish species including bluegills, largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, bull trout, lake trout, rainbow smelt, alewife, brook trout, and muskies. It’s hard to a finger on one fish species, specifically, that I like the most as a research subject. Of those I just mentioned, I find muskies seriously interesting… though I have a serious affinity for big fish. My dream species to study is Atlantic bluefin tuna… still trying to figure out how to do that.

4. The favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

This is a seriously hard question, but for me, I think this image of a migratory alewife shooting through turbulent water is my favorite. Not exactly the world’s sexiest fish, but I like the simplicity of it coupled with the intense eye contact of the fish. It’s a fish in water. Pretty simple, but to me simplicity speaks volumes sometimes. I’m also fond of an image I took alongside fellow underwater photographer David Herasimtschuk in Maine this past year. We had great luck with some really big and cooperative female and male brookies but had the added fortune of getting a nice boost of background color when a beaver chopped down an alder one night.

5. Any inspirations in the photography/fishing world? Was there a certain shot or specific angler/artist who inspired you?

For straight fish porn, I was always fascinated by the portfolio of Eric Engbretson. Eric runs, which is a stock agency that specializes in providing clients with images of freshwater fish only. Eric’s own portfolio contains spectacular images of my favorite warm and coldwater fish species in their natural habitats. I remember drooling over them when I was in my teens. For really exceptional, perfectly composed and dramatic images of freshwater critters, David Herasimtschuk sets the bar for the type of images I enjoy creating. David is the director of photography for Freshwaters Illustrated, a film-making NGO specializing in communicating issues related to the conservation of freshwater biodiversity.
Sean Landsman is a photographer specializing in underwater images of various fish species all around the world. Check out his awesome content on Instagram @seanlandsman!

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