Published: 27th February 2017
Into the Deep: India's first underwater photographer Sumer Verma talks about life below 'sea' level
Underwater photographer Sumer Verma, who has done undersea cinematography for films like Theri and Maryan tells us why the ocean makes him come alive
Sumer Verma's first scuba diving experience goes back to 1997, at the age of 21, when he dived near Lakshadweep Islands. Twenty years and thousands of dives later, his love for the ocean remains resolute. The crystal clear water with 30 to 40-metre visibility, turtles, dolphins, sharks, and sting rays swimming in harmony around you — this is what he considers to be ‘true magic’. But Sumer's love for the ocean has also made him one among the first underwater photographers and cinematographers in India. A pioneer in the art, he has worked on two Tamil films, Maryan and Theri, and is now working on a Hindi film, Raabta.
Sumer, back in the day, started off with a Sony DSR-PD150 digital camcorder and later upgraded to a Nikon D70. The Mumbaikar now owns a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which is an all-round camera. But shooting videos or clicking photographs under water needs more equipment than just a good camera. His basic gear includes an underwater housing, video lights and flash/strobe lights for still photography. "I like the medium of water, the fluidity, the peace, the silence; I love the way the light flows. I find it a very beautiful medium to work with," says Sumer.
For this 41-year-old, experienced scuba diver and seasoned photographer, the love for photography blossomed from marine life photography, but he points out that even for an established photographer like himself, it is difficult to sustain with just marine life and wildlife photography. This soon evolved into model photo shoots with water as his primary medium. He has worked with Dhanush in Maryan and Vijay in Theri. He had also trained Dhanush for his underwater sequence in the film.
"Going below the surface to see how beautiful it is, how peaceful it is — that's a very transforming experience and can be understood only through personal experience. What you see on the surface of the ocean is nothing like what’s underneath. It makes you realise just how vast and beautiful it is," says Sumer, who lives far away from the madding crowds of the city for about eight months of the year. He spends the rest of the year visiting new countries and oceans in search of the unique diversity of life that nature has to offer.
Sumer is also an active member of ReefWatch Marine Conservation, an NGO dedicated to protecting damaged coral reefs. "People don't know the impact of what they do. We dive so we have seen the transformation in the last 20 years. We get everything in supermarkets and we don't connect the dots. We believe that this is the way to live. We are overconsuming and damaging our planet and sometime in the next 50 years or so it will reach a point beyond restoration," says Sumer, bearing witness to the dying reefs and loss of fish diversity.