PPA I.E. Image – “Escobar Airlines” © Paul McDermott Photography

I was on a personal project doing underwater photography in the Bahamas on my first live-aboard dive trip. Each day consisted of multiple dives, but this capture was in between dives. Conditions were perfect and the lighting beautiful, so I decided to practice some freediving, encouraging my (now) wife to model some poses over the plane for scale as I dropped to the bottom. 

One of the best lessons I’ve ever been taught – now one I preach myself during my own workshops – is to take a different perspective after you know you’ve achieved the shot you wanted. This capture wasn’t planned but, in seeking an alternative viewpoint, I naturally went perpendicular above the wreck while floating at the surface and took three images looking down on the plane. (17mm wasn’t wide enough to capture the full plane). For the tech geeks: Canon 5D Miii, 17-40 f/4L, Ikelite Housing, 1/100 sec, f/9, ISO 320. The final image is 3 exposures stitched together in Photoshop.

Usually, there is an “aha” moment when I get the perfect shot but I wasn’t sure how the colors, visibility, and final image would look stitched together. It wasn’t until the following week that I knew I had an amazing image. I’m happy to say this shot is mostly true to capture with minimal editing. I was mesmerized by the natural colors. The image is one of my most ironic shots and also the most reflective of me as a photographer. 

With so many hours under water that week, this was my best shot. It’s now an icon of my studio (with this piece or image variations featured on yachts and in collections around the country), It was taken casually while snorkeling during downtime in between scheduled shoots. I’m passionate about photography and love what I do. This is the reason I like to stay armed with my camera. You never know where your shot is going to be.

Since taking this shot, I’ve become one of the few photographers to shoot Hasselblad underwater and have attempted to recreate this shot. I had no idea how ideal and perfect the conditions were that day, and, despite multiple attempts, I’ve never seen the appropriate conditions to recreate a similar impact. Another valuable lesson – seize the opportunity in front of you. Be present with the Now.

I don’t usually title my images because I don’t like offering a bias in opinion about how a viewer should feel about an image. Unfortunately, for print competition titles are required so I went with “Escobar Airlines” which is pretty on par with the legend of this wreck. This airplane is said to be part of the Medellin cartel fleet that would smuggle through the Bahamas and into the US. Planes would fly at low altitudes to remain under the radar, usually at night, which was extremely risky. 

This plane either attempted to land on the small Caye too early, stalled after not having enough speed after running out of runway, or was ditched deliberately either to avoid authorities or because it just wasn’t worth the time/money to use this plane any longer. I will declare that I inspected closely and did not find any drugs onboard. What I did discover is an incredible variety of sea life that it now hosts as an artificial reef ecosystem. I’m sure this was an ecological disaster when it first crashed. 

My understanding is that any parts and pieces that would create a negative impact to the environment have been removed over the years to protect marine life. It’s amazing to see how nature has recovered and reclaimed it.

Beyond PPA’s Imaging Excellence Award, this shot has also won some local awards and recognitions, a Silver Award in the WPE print competition, appeared in the Professional Photographers magazine, and was part of the display winning the Spotlight Artist Award during Miami Art Week / Art Basel. 

The following isn’t an award but a great honor and a fun fact about this image… A few years ago, Peter Lik sold his yacht, and the new owners, replacing Lik’s artwork as part of the refit, came across this image. We brought a sample 60-inch piece on board, but it didn’t fill the space properly, so I used an alternative capture of the wreck and produced a perfectly customized piece for the space.

The crew and everyone who saw the comparison raved about the “upgrade” so the joke among me and my friends is that the best way to upgrade Lik’s yacht is to replace his work with mine. Just in case there are some Lik collectors out there looking for something different. 😉

I feel it’s a wasted opportunity if I don’t share some inspirational aspects beyond the image itself. I’ve been shooting professionally for over 20 years now and in the past couple of years have started instructing and running workshops because of the gap I’ve seen in technical photography and technique in photography.

“The biggest magic in image-making is the moment of chance”

Paul McDermott

This shot was an unplanned surprise – an alignment of deciding to pick up the camera despite being on my “shooting break,” being at the right place at the right time, and applying the technique of capturing multiple perspectives. 

It proceeded to become one of my most notorious images. No amount of technical learning will set you up for the trial and error required to discover moments like this. Chance doesn’t happen sitting at a computer doing research. Without going out, shooting, and experiencing the moment you’ll never create images that are truly magical.

See more of Paul McDermotts work here

© Paul McDermott Photography
© Paul McDermott Photography
© Paul McDermott Photography
© Paul McDermott Photography
© Paul McDermott Photography
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