Underwater photographer brings home prizes

Ann Donahue work shows richness of submarine life

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A Salt Spring photographer came home with three top prizes from this year’s Digital Shootout competition held in the Cayman Islands.

Ann Donahue was not the first member of her household to take up underwater photography. Her husband, Ken Sutherland, had to drag her into it, taking her on trips to scenic diving locales and eventually buying her first camera. It did not take long for Donahue to fall in love with shooting underwater, and she returned home from the recent competition with something to show for it.

“We started going to this event in 2005,” Donahue said. “I wasn’t shooting then, I was just going along with my husband and he was the one who was going for the photography. I was doing all of his editing. Then I got into the photo aspects of it.”

The Digital Shootout is a yearly competition held in a resort where photographers from around the world get to take their best photos to be judged by a panel of experts. The event is also a trade show, which showcases the newest gear from the expansive world of underwater photography.

“You need a specialized housing, and you need to carry your own lighting,” Donahue explained. “If you don’t have any lights and you shoot underwater, all you get is a blue. You have to have a housing with a tray and arms, then you connect your strobe lighting to that. Then it becomes a bit more complex.”

The two-week Cayman Islands event includes diving days, workshops on photography and editing, as well as a nightly roundtable discussion of photos taken by participants. This year’s event was the 18th annual edition, and a record number of female photographers took the top spots in the competition.

Donahue has come in second or third place in her categories before, but she has never taken a first-place photo. This year, however, she was named in third, second and first places for her work.

“It’s very competitive now, and my expectations are never super high. When they started naming, they go with third place first. I was ecstatic about getting third and the prize that went along with it. Then when they named me for second, then when they named me for the top prize, it was incredible,” she said.

Donahue is a retired teacher, and has been documenting coral reefs around the world as a way to teach people about the fragile ecosystems. She writes educational books for children on the reefs, and uses her photography to illustrate them.

“Everyone’s talking about the coral reefs disappearing and all this stuff, but we get to go to places where there are coral reefs that are still very healthy and teeming with life. I get to document that so people can see that and see that there’s all this beauty underwater.”

For more on this story, see the July 31, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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