Glenn Poulain is an underwater photographer who moonlights as a chiropractor. At least, that’s the goal. Glenn’s underwater images of Hawaii’s fish and marine life decorate the walls of two Outrigger properties on Oahu--Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach and Outrigger Reef on the Beach. And once the renovation at Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach is complete, you’ll find his artistry on display there, as well, in rooms and hallways. We caught up with Glenn minutes after a big dive trip to Hawaii (Big) Island to talk about his passion of underwater photography—a hobby turned business that’s starting to take a chunk out his day job.
How did you get involved in underwater photography? Were you into photography above water first—shooting landscapes or wildlife photography or such?
No. I got into photography shortly after learning to dive. My intention initially was to show my kids what I was seeing and experiencing underwater. Then, it started to become an obsession. I couldn't wait to get back in the water to take more photos, and it's still that way after 12 years of diving. Eventually, I did get into landscapes due to requests from clients.
What are some of your favorite critters to photograph and why?
Glenn: Always the honu—turtle. However larger creatures get my juices flowing, too, such as Hawaiian monk seals, sharks, dolphins and rays.
Where are some of your favorite underwater haunts?
I love the North Shore on Oahu, because there is much to see and many underwater trails and caverns to explore. I also love the "refuge" on the Big Island. It’s so peaceful and tranquil, plus there's something magical about the Big Island to me.
What recommendations would you give to aspiring underwater photographers?
Glenn: Just go out and shoot. Shoot for the passion of the ocean, the creatures within it and the desire to share your vision. The technical side will come. Just shoot!
Outrigger: Do you have an ultimate goal to achieve as an artist?
Certainly I would love to have a gallery at some point, as long as it doesn't keep me out of the water and I don't have to run it. I have never really had a goal with regards to my photography other than to share with other my visions of the underwater world and the Hawaiian Islands. I would love to have an opportunity to travel more to other oceans and regions as well, however Hawaii is home and I'm happiest here.
Is there an elusive animal or critter that you’ve yet to photograph that keeps you strapping on the scuba gear?
The humpback! I hear them all the time underwater, have seen them on top of the water, but I have yet been blessed with diving with and photographing them underwater.
Is there a particular photographer whose work you admire?
I do admire good photography and art and have many friends that are really talented with a camera both above and below the water. I'd have to say the work of some National Geographic photographers makes me envious. To be able to get to remote places and shoot nature as raw as they do is beyond words to me.
Did you study photography or are you self-taught? How did you learn the specific skills and techniques necessary to shoot underwater?
Self taught. I just started shooting and actually learned underwater. Initially I would shoot in automatic mode. I started paying attention to settings once my images started getting better. Then, I read more about the technical side. Underwater shooting has its challenges for sure and that's probably one of the reasons I like it so much. There’s a draw to going after a specific shot you have in mind, searching and waiting for the right opportunity.
What do you consider the most important qualities of an underwater photographer?
Passion, respect for the creatures of the ocean and a lot of patience.
What’s one thing you don’t love about underwater photography?
Not being able to be out there every day! I love all aspects of it.
You’re a chiropractor and a father of two, so how do you find time to go diving? Do you sneak in a dive here and there? Or, do you plan long weekends? Just how often are you diving? And speaking of the kids, have you taught them to dive yet?
My wife Angie and I have two kids, Adrienne & Austin, 23 and 24 years old. We're officially empty nesters now as of this past November. So we're honeymooner's again! I tried to get the kids to learn to dive, but they never bit. As far as my practice, I'm in the office only 3 day per week and the rest of my time is photographing in and out of the water. I have been pretty fortunate to be able to dive nearly every week for the past 12+ years. I have been slowing down a bit--getting old you know!
How do you choose where to go? Are you going after a certain species and select the dive spot based on its history? Or, do you just pick a dive spot, descend and stay put, waiting for whatever comes by?
As far as dive spots it is generally dictated by the season. Summer time is north shore when it's flat and winter time the west and south sides due to wave patterns. As far as descending and sitting in one spot, I'll only do that for the manta rays off Big Island, otherwise we are off and running, checking out the usual routes we have developed over the years or trying new paths. Exploring and discovering new dive routes is always fun, plus it keeps things interesting. While out on the dive, I look for photo opportunities as we go. Most of the fish are pretty bashful, very few are camera hogs. It’s all about being in the right spot at the right time.
An additional factor that photographing underwater presents is the life-risking aspect. Have you had any harrowing adventures? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, have you had any madcap mishaps?
Like anything I suppose, there are inherent risks with scuba diving. And, then, there are equipment mishaps--leaks in your air hose, flooding masks, and running low on air. There are also changes in the wave/water patterns that occur and can catch you off guard. The biggest thing is not to panic. No matter what the situation is, never panic!
We did have on incident that was fairly serious some years back when I was diving with a friend at the Blow Hole one December. The water was fairly choppy and the current was running against us. Half-way through the dive, my dive partner signaled to me he wanted to ascend from about 60 foot. I waited on the bottom for him, but he never came back down. I found him on the reef, his face bloodied and his nose nearly sliced off. Long story short, a rogue wave threw him against the reef. Lucky for us there were fishermen there who called the life guard rescue team that happened to be training at Sandy Beach, and they pulled us out one at a time. My friend ended up fine—after some plastic surgery. About six months later, he was back in the water. Again, the point being, don’t panic:-)
In addition to the rooms and hallways of Outrigger Reef on the Beach and Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, you can find Glenn's artwork at his website.