Baby Octopus by Eric Wahl

‘Cephalotography’ Of The Week: Eric Wahl

Howdy Nation! In today’s post, we are going to be featuring some of our favorite cephalotography by underwater diver: Eric Wahl. Inspired by his love of all things sea life, Eric is going to be giving us a sneak peek at his process for capturing the perfect octopus photo. We’re obcephed!

Meet Eric Wahl!

Currently residing in Monterey, CA, Eric is an avid underwater photographer and scientific diver who’s been obcephed (obsessed with cephalopods) and their kin his entire life!

He loves photography and conservation education because he believes that showing off the amazing, alien world under the waves is the best way to build empathy for it and its inhabitants.

He’s currently wrapping up his Marine Biology degree at UC Santa Cruz and is excited for whatever underwater adventures come his way, especially if they involve our cephalopod pals!

How long have you been an underwater photographer? 

“I started underwater diving about 3 years with a GoPro and eventually worked my way up.”

Where do you mainly dive and take underwater photos? How often do you go? 

“I mainly dive at Monastery Beach (Carmel-by-the-Sea) and San Carlos Beach (Monterey) in California.

I try to go whenever I can, and because I work at a dive shop in Monterey I have easy access to tanks and equipment!”

How long do you dive for? Do you normally go alone? 

“As a photographer, a lot of my time is spent sitting or hovering in front of something trying to get the lighting and focus right, so you can really conserve your air that way; my dives can range from 20-90 minutes (also dependent on conditions)!

You’re not SUPPOSED to dive alone 😉, but if I DID, it’d be only when none of my buddies are available and the conditions are right.”

Are you known for having a certain types of style when it comes to your photos? How do you capture the creature that is in front of the camera just the way you want? 

“I don’t have a distinct style but I try to get engaging photos with interesting, non-flat lighting if that makes sense.

You really want a creature or reef structure to pop out and bring you into its world; half of the work is honestly touching up and making sure everything looks clear in Adobe Lightroom!

I’ve only recently begun using strobes (having previously just used a video light) for my photos so that’s been a fun new adventure/adjustment.”

What do you like most about being an underwater photographer? 

“I love being able to bring my friends, family and followers along with me under the sea, since many people don’t have the opportunity to connect with the ocean as much as someone like me.

Ultimately, it’s not just about showing people cool stuff, but building empathy for the ocean and demonstrating that these creatures are all parts of a larger ecosystem that we take for granted/don’t even recognize.

Additionally I love shooting divers themselves, since it allows them to see just how awesome they are for doing this and so they can spread that enthusiasm to THEIR loved ones!”

Who (or what) are your biggest influences?

“I would have to say it comes down to 3 people: My UW photography mentors JR Sosky and Patrick Webster, as well as my lifelong neighbor, mentor, & family friend Michael Guarding (1956-2021). Mike got me into the ocean and diving in general, and he continues to push me forward in my aquatic endeavors.”

Have you received any awards or recognition?

“Not yet, BUT I’ve had a couple spotlights on the Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s eLearning modules, which I volunteered to help with when all of their education programs went virtual in 2020.

I was able to record a few videos talking about my experiences in Maker education and diving/UW photography as well as created intros/segues between lessons for a module about sharks!”

Do you have a favorite species you like to take pictures of?

“Octopuses! Always a pleasure to find East Pacific Reds (O. rubescens) in the early morning or after sunset, especially at San Carlos Beach where they creep our of their burrows! I’m patiently waiting for the day I can photograph my favorite animal, the Giant Pacific Octopus, in the wild.”

How do you know where to find an octopus or cephalopod to take pictures of?

“Darkness. Many cephalopods (and just about all of them in Monterey) are nocturnal so they are only really out from dusk to early morning. Though, some are active if they feel secure enough.

I once dove in a bad algal bloom that produced a layer of much blocking out the sun (San Carlos Beach). And, when I touched down to the bottom, it was so dark that the ground was crawling with octos! We saw probably 11-13!

I’ve also participated in “squid runs”. This is where we bring out huge flood lights to attract market squid during their mating season.

It’s mesmerizing to be surrounded by hundreds of squid getting it on 😏”

What draws you in or fascinates you the most about cephalopods? When did this start for you? *

“Their intelligence, beauty, abilities, and overall alien nature!

When I saw the Giant Pacific Octopus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a toddler, I was hooked, getting octopus merch, books, etc.

Because of their smarts and distinct personalities, octopuses are also a great way to bridge the gap between us and the wacky underwater world.

Because if an 8-armed alien with 3 hearts and a donut-shaped brain can have feelings, moods, favorite and least-favorite people, and YOU can empathize with it, you’re on on the right track.”

What’s your most memorable underwater photoshoot? 

“The aforementioned squid run was a life-changing experience; while at the time I was only using a GoPro, it was still awesome to show people the magnitude of the swarm and how it was right by shore!”

What’s the best place for people to discover your work (website, social media)? 

Instagram! I post all of my diving/ocean-related adventures on @erwahl_ . I’ve thought about making a dedicated website/portfolio/blog but I’m just so busy!”

🐙 Octopus Fun Fact

“Uh, I like to draw too! Characters, concept art, and octopuses (every assignment I turn in has an octopus on it); You can find those on @erwahl_draws if it piques anyone’s fancy.

I also made a Muppet in my freshman year of college for a class. Eddie is a very Beaker-like octopus that got trapped in an old diving suit, now using it to walk around on land and collect odd trinkets and “treasures”!

I still have his head on my desk (the body is due for repair), which has a fully moveable eyeball!”

Thank You For Joining Us For Photographer Spotlight!

First, we want to give a big thank you to Eric Wahl for allowing us to showcase these beautiful photographs on OctoNation. To continue supporting Eric Wahl and his underwater photos, make sure to follow them on Instagram.

If you are interested in commissioning a photo from them, send them a direct message on Instagram!

If you want to educate yourself some more about all sorts of different cephalopods, take a look at our encyclopedia. Or, what we call it, our Octopedia!

Connect with other octopus lovers via the OctoNation Facebook group,! Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with the conservation, education, and ongoing research of cephalopods.

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