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Photographer Ocean Voices: Interview with Steve Spring

Sewage Outfall Shot from Steve Spring for Focus

Sewage Oufall at Delray Beach, Florida
Steve Spring / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring


“Keep a little camera in your pocket. It’s a powerful tool.”

– Steve Spring

Marine Photobank Photographer, Steve Spring, has captured engaging images that tell a story about hard-edge issues such as sewage outfall pollution, reef degradation, sedimentation and marine trash. His images are some of the most downloaded Marine Photobank images on our site.

Steve's sewage outfall photographs are striking because they tell a complete story about a conservation issue. “I was trying to get as accurate a photograph as I could about what is really happening. And apparently it made an impact, because people are downloading it!” said Spring in response to the overwhelming interest in his images. “I take some really pretty photos when I’m not swimming in sewage! But I wasn’t trying to make a pretty picture…”

See more of Steve’s startling photographs >

MPB: Your underwater photos of the sewage outfall are some of the most popular at the Marine Photobank. Can you tell me the story of why you felt it was important to document the outfall with underwater photography?

Sedimentation Steve Spring FocusSS: I had never done anything like this before, but last spring I was diving directly off of Palm Beach [Florida] and I noticed that one of my favorite most pristine reefs was covered with silty sand. And I couldn’t figure out what it was so I just took a few photos including one of my hand waving and clouds of this stuff rising off the coral. I was going to Washington, DC the next day but I sent these pictures to some friends of mine, divers and instructors that were also photographers, and they got into the hands of an organization called Palm Beach County Reef Rescue. And those were all over the news.

The next day I got phone calls from two different news reporters, television people, who wanted to come over to my house and interview me. I realized that there is a real power in an underwater photograph that sticks in the mind, even if it’s a still photograph being shown on TV. The one frozen image has a bigger impact. This started [my interest in marine conservation photography]. My hand became a famous photograph down here.

Palm Beach County Reef Rescue (PBCRR) has used [my pictures] a lot and they and other conservation organizations are suing the state of Florida to force them to comply with the Clean Water Act.

MBP: How long between the time you took those pictures of the reef siltation and the pictures you took of the sewage outfall?

SS: Not very long, maybe three months. When I came back down to Florida, I had spoken to Ed Tichenor of PBCRR on the phone and we had emailed back and forth about [marine conservation issues in Florida]. His main focus had been the sewage outfall right off [Delray] Beach. He was diving with some news reporters and I jumped on the boat with them and took those pictures in a 10 minute dive at 93 feet. It was gross but it wasn’t dangerous because it comes out of that pipe fast. Because it’s hot, it goes right to the surface. So, we were close to it, but we weren’t really in it.

MBP: So you do worry a bit about your health when you’re diving?

SS: Yeah, I try to take care of myself and be careful because, accidentally or not, stuff gets put into the water that can be pretty nasty. I also get hepatitis A shots to help prevent infection when I’m diving.

MPB: What does the seascape look like around the outfall?

SS: I don’t have much sense of the ‘before’ because the outfall has been there for decades and decades. It was just recently that people have started complaining about it that things started becoming a little heated. Apparently, Delray Beach doesn’t have a permit right now to be doing that, and the DEP is letting them continue for some reason.

MPB: Do you plan on using these images more in a campaign to help Delrey Beach?

Removing Golf Cart from the Sea Floor Steve Spring Focus

Removing a golf cart from the sea floor. Delray Beach, Florida.
Steve Spring / Marine Photobank

Steve Spring

SS: I’m just trying to save these particular reefs in my neighborhood, in Palm Beach County. I will use any photographic means that I can to do that. These are really beautiful reefs, and have more animal life than any place in the Caribbean. It’s really amazing, because of their proximity to the Gulf Stream, just a few miles out. The animal life is abundant and the reefs, until fairly recently, have been reasonably healthy. But the politicians here don’t care, so you have to give them a hard time. And that’s what the Photobank does, and that’s why I have contributed my photos to your website.

I encourage anyone with a camera, if you see things going on that are bad for our planet, document it! That’s proof. You have ammunition to use against whomever.

I think that wherever we can gather evidence, particularly under the [water’s] surface, where no one can see otherwise, it helps. And your organization is great because you collect images from all over.

[Take the issue of pollution from] fishermen. I bring up lots of monofilament line and beer bottles. We have collected pounds of it. We’ve cut monofilament off of sea turtles that were probably going to drown eventually. There’s just a lack of awareness and a lack of help from the local government to do anything. It’s unfortunate, but we’re working on it and trying to make a change.

MBP: The Photobank couldn’t be what it is without photographers like you donating these images. We really want to thank you and hope that we can continue to inspire you and any other photographers that we can to continue taking these sorts of images.

SS: It is my pleasure and I will continue doing it as long as I can push that button on my camera!

MBP: Do you have any tips for conservation photographers in terms of how you capture an image or how you select an image when you’re taking a picture? You find a problem, you want to document it, then what do you do?

SS: It’s the action of taking the pictures [that is the most important]. Good pictures, bad pictures, it doesn’t matter. Get the information. Share it. I don’t think that the pictures of mine that you are using are great photos. I take some really pretty photos when I’m not swimming in sewage! But I wasn’t trying to make a pretty picture. I was trying to get as accurate a photograph as I could about what was really happening. And apparently it made an impact, because people are downloading it!

I think that the hardest thing to look at [in the sewage pictures] is the thousands of fish feeding on this stuff. Fishermen, commercial or otherwise, go right through there all the time and I’ve been told that when they’re not getting very many fish, that’s one place they’re promised to get some.

Keep a little camera in your pocket. It’s a powerful tool.

MPB: What’s your day job?

SS: I’m retired, but I wore many hats in the past. I was a musician for the longest time, and I was in the snow ski business and dive business, and hotel business, but now I’m retired. I dive and photograph and I’m a volunteer teaching assistant at the Palm Beach Photographic Center, which is a non-profit educational organization.

MPB: Do you teach any conservation photography?

SS: As of yet, no, but it’s been on my mind. It’s hard getting interest in that stuff.

MPB: Here at the Photobank, we’ve been discussing ways that photographers can document changes that are coming about as a result of global warming or climate change. Do you have any ideas around that?

SS: In two years we had three really bad hurricanes right in this area, and there was a lot of photography. Photojournalists were coming from all over the country because that’s powerful stuff and you can see the destruction clearly and it’s documented and it’s living proof that the climates are changing. I mean, three in two seasons? Just here? That’s pretty scary.

This is a really large concept to grasp as you’re just leading your day-to-day life. If our own government isn’t paying attention and doesn’t seem to care, then why should the citizens feel threatened?

MPB: And photography can be a way to get people aware.

SS: Absolutely. On any issue, on any level, if you’re interested in conservation, you can get the dirt on the bad guys that way. A good still image is just a powerful single thing for the mind to lock onto. Like Time and Newsweek, the covers they’ve done over the years. Not the portraits, but the war pictures. The little girl in Vietnam running naked down the street. I haven’t seen that picture in 25 years but I can see it perfectly in my mind. That was an amazing photograph.

Moving images don’t hit you quite as hard. With stills, you can freeze the moment, study it. And everyone has been watching television and movies so much, so much more than we used to, that we become numb to it. A powerful still works better. If you can get it in front of people.