Showcase 2022 Winner: Celia Kujala

Artist’s statement

Through my photography my goal is to share both the beauty of the ocean and the conservation stories that need to be told. During the fall of 2020, I spent many hours scuba diving in the Coronado Islands observing California sea lion pup development.  My image “The Magician” is special to me because it shows a beautiful moment in a sea lion pup’s life. I knew I wanted to capture an image with sunbeams and in this moment, everything came together. On the other hand, “The Dangerous Toy” is special to me because it highlights the problem of plastic pollution plaguing our oceans and will hopefully motivate change. Even on an uninhabited, remote island, I watched sea lion pups play with plastic on several occasions. On this day, in the span of two dives at the Coronado Islands, I was able to collect six pieces of garbage that they were playing with including the one pictured. It is extremely sad to see what our waste is doing to them and even though it is hard to make changes, we must do better.

How I got the shot

For my image “The Magician” both lighting conditions and sea lion behavior had to align. Lighting conditions are only right for a short window of time on sunny days at the sea lion colony. There was a beautiful spot I would always check for pups. On this day, I was extremely lucky to have a curious and playful pup appear not long after I arrived. She swirled around in the water appearing to dance in front of me. I was able to capture this image as she stuck her flipper in the air right over the sunburst.

My Image “The Dangerous Toy” was taken on a day after some rough weather had brought an unusually large amount of debris into the shallows of the sea lion colony. It wasn’t completely unusual to have sea lions play with pieces of plastic on a normal day but usually it was nothing of this scale. On this day, I counted six pieces of plastic. My goal was always to collect the plastic pieces when it was safe to do so, but until that was possible I hoped to capture compelling images that would inspire action.

What I used

These images were taken with a Nikon D500 camera, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, Nauticam NA-D500 housing and dual Sea & Sea YS-D3 strobes.

Camera settings for The Magician: f/11, 1/250, ISO 250
Camera settings for The Dangerous Toy: f/11, 1/250, ISO 400

Both images were taken underwater while scuba diving.