Photographer Spotlight - Hannah Tilley

Photographer Spotlight - Hannah Tilley


With so many new followers, I decided to feature myself as the September Underwater Photographer so you know who is behind the scenes at I LOVE NUDIS. You can follow all my PNW Adventures (not just Nudibranchs) on Instagram at @hannah_underwater - Keep reading to find out more about me and my journey with SCUBA & Underwater Photography!

Hannah and Alex Tilley after SCUBA Diving in the Puget Sound
Alex and Hannah Tilley after diving in the Puget Sound. Photo by Kent Hamilton

Hello Nudi Colony! I am a cold water diver and photographer living in Edmonds, Washington. I live just 3 minutes from the beautiful Puget Sound and I could not be more grateful for that. I am the face behind @ilovenudis and the one trying to answer all your DMs! I fell in love with Nudibranchs on my very first open water dive at Cove 2 in Seattle when I spotted a glowing white “thing”. My love for these beautiful slugs has grown into a passion and I enjoy teaching others about them.

Clown Dorid Triopha catalinae Nudibranch by Hannah Tilley
Clown Dorid (Triopha catalinae) Nudibranch by Hannah Tilley
Kelp Forest scene in Seiku, Washington by Hannah Tilley
Kelp Forest scene in Seiku, Washington by Hannah Tilley

When and why did you start diving?

My husband grew up around diving as his Father and Uncle dove all around the Puget Sound in the 90's. His Dad knew how much we loved adventure and exploring so he kept telling us that we needed to get certified but we always brushed it off. I thought it would be too cold, too dark, too scary. Finally one day my husband called me from work and said "I did it. I signed up." I was terrified but excited and called the dive shop immediately after to register. I was skeptical but looked forward to a new adventure together. I had no idea how much my life would change after just 1 class. We haven't looked back since.

Pacific Lion's Mane Jelly Cyanea ferruginea by Hannah Tilley
Pacific Lion's Mane Jelly (Cyanea ferruginea) by Hannah Tilley
Diver pointing out a tiny jellyfish by Hannah Tilley
Diver pointing out a tiny jellyfish by Hannah Tilley

How and why did you get started with photography?

I started filming our dives with a GoPro almost immediately because I was so excited about what we were seeing and I wanted to share it with my family and friends. We would invite people over to our house and make them watch 45 minutes of shaky GoPro footage of our dives. We didn't care, we just wanted to show them how beautiful the Puget Sound was below the surface. I slowly started becoming impatient with the GoPro and it's inability to close focus so I started researching underwater photography. I took several photography and design classes in High School and always loved photography so I realized it was a no brainer to apply what I knew underwater. It gave me a purpose to my dives and has become one of my favorite things to do. 

Predaceous Aeolis Coryphella trophina by Hannah Tilley
Predaceous Aeolis Coryphella trophina by Hannah Tilley
East Pacific Red Octopus Octopus rubescens by Hannah Tilley
East Pacific Red Octopus (Octopus rubescens) by Hannah Tilley

Tell the community a little about your photography setup! Dive gear and photography must haves.

I started with a GoPro and Backscatter MacroMate lens. But I grew out of that and after a LOT of research, I decided to go big or go home. I purchased a Canon 5D Mark IV and 24-70mm lens with an Ikelite Housing and 2 Kraken Video Lights. It was a steep learning curve but was everything I wanted - I could show people what I saw and capture what it really looked like underwater. However, in 2020 I flooded that camera system. The common saying with underwater housings flooding is "it's not if, it's when". I knew this ahead of time and thankfully insured my full kit with H20 Insurance. Highly recommend!

But it was also a good time to take a break because I was expecting a baby. As soon as I was in the water again, I decided to buy a smaller, more compact kit instead of replacing my Canon and bought an Olympus TG-6 for it's macro capabilities. I am trying to get good Nudi photos after all! I have been very happy with the TG6 because it is small and lightweight but performs incredibly for Macro Photography. It is definitely lacking in the wide angle space but is perfect for me right now. One day I will buy a Canon again though - my housing is intact and waiting for me on the shelf. 

Mukilteo Geodome in Washington by Hannah Tilley
Mukilteo Geodome, Washington by Hannah Tilley
White Dendronotus Dendronotus albus by Hannah Tilley
White Dendronotus (Dendronotus albus) by Hannah Tilley

What is your favorite Nudibranch and where can you find them?

I am asked this quite often. It is the White-Lined Dirona (Dirona albolineata). It was the first Nudibranch I ever saw in-person and I love how striking white they are. You can always spot them from far away because they are so bright. I love watching their cerata move in current and they are the perfect subject for photos. You can find them in the Eastern Pacific from Alaska to Mexico. I have seen them year-round in the Puget Sound but usually more often during the summer months. Some of my other favorites that I have encountered include the Giant Nudibranch (Dendronotus iris) and the Hooded Nudibranch (Melibe leonina)

Some of my bucket list Nudibranchs include a Blue Dragon (Glaucus atlanticus), Sorcerer's Dorid (Polycera atra), Pomegranate (Aeolid Cuthonella punicea)Gasflame Nudibranch (Bonisa nakaza)Leopard Sea Slug (Peltodoris atromaculata)Dusky Nembrotha (Nembrotha kubaryana), and Gold Lace Nudibranch (Halgerda terramtuentis)

White-lined Dirona Dirona albolineata eating hydroids by Hannah Tilley
White-lined Dirona (Dirona albolineata) eating hydroids by Hannah Tilley 

Your go-to resource for identifying nudibranchs or other creatures you see underwater?

I use iNaturalist religiously. I love uploading my observations but also use it for identification on a daily basis. You can search for Nudibranchia and narrow it by location to see all the observations and species in that area. When you click on a species, it will show seasonality, location, photos by others, and any wikipedia data. I love it! I also use my Nudibranchs & Sea Slugs of the Eastern Pacific regularly. David Behrens, Karin Fletcher, and Greg Jensen are HUGE inspirations to me in the Nudibranch world and I was so excited when I heard they released this book (earlier this year!). It is incredible and mine is already dog-eared and highlighted all over. 

Red-fingered Coryphella Coryphella verrucosa by Hannah Tilley
Red-fingered Coryphella (Coryphella verrucosa) by Hannah Tilley
Yellow-edged Cadlina Cadlina luteomarginata by Hannah Tilley
Yellow-edged Cadlina (Cadlina luteomarginata) by Hannah Tilley

Your goals for underwater photography or diving.

As you can imagine, I have a lot. I want to discover a new species of Nudibranch, work as an Underwater Photographer, have a photo published in Diver Magazine, and so much more. I have already accomplished many of my goals like working with some of my favorite photographers (the photo contest judges!), hosting an I LOVE NUDIS popup shop (see the schedule here!), winning photography awards (like REEF), create calendars with my photos (shop here!), and inspire others to get SCUBA certified. A big step that I am saving up for is to buy a Canon 5d Mark IV again and get my professional kit up and running. I love the TG-6 for Macro but want a DSLR again for wide angle photos. 

When it comes to diving in general, one of my biggest goals is to be able to do it my entire life. I met a couple gearing up to dive the Edmonds Underwater Park and they were in their 80's. It was truly inspiring to watch them help each other put their kits on and hobble to the water with big smiles on their faces. The woman told me "the weightlessness is great for my joints!" I will never forget watching them and hoping that I am there one day. 

Divers getting in the water on Lopez Island. Shot on film by Hannah Tilley
Divers getting in the water on Lopez Island. Shot on film by Hannah Tilley
Candy-striped Shrimp Lebbeus grandimanus by Hannah Tilley
Candy-striped Shrimp (Lebbeus grandimanus) by Hannah Tilley

Lastly, some tips and tricks for other underwater photographers who are just getting started. 

Like so many have said before me, focus on your diving skills first then add a camera. Diving should be second nature to you before you add all the task loading that comes with underwater photography. And secondly, light is everything. Don't skimp on good strobes or video lights - they make all the difference. 

If you are just getting started, I recommend a GoPro with Backscatters MacroMate lens! It's a great small camera to get comfortable shooting underwater. You quickly learn how hard it is to hold a camera still and it's a great tool to work on this skill.

Diver checking his computer during a safety stop. Photo by Hannah Tilley
Diver checking his computer during a safety stop. Photo by Hannah Tilley
Nudibranch Egg Ribbon by Hannah Tilley
Nudibranch Egg Ribbon by Hannah Tilley
Monterey Dorid Doris montereyensis by Hannah Tilley
Monterey Dorid (Doris montereyensis) by Hannah Tilley
Striped Nudibranch Armina californica by Hannah Tilley
Striped Nudibranch (Armina californica) by Hannah Tilley
Northern Leopard Dorid Diaulula odonoghuei eating sponge by Hannah Tilley
Northern Leopard Dorid (Diaulula odonoghuei) eating sponge off a scallop by Hannah Tilley
Modest Clown Dorid Triopha modesta by Hannah Tilley
Modest Clown Dorid (Triopha modesta) by Hannah Tilley
Noble Dorid Peltodoris nobilis by Hannah Tilley
Noble Dorid (Peltodoris nobilis) by Hannah Tilley
Sandalwood Dorid Acanthodoris lutea mating by Hannah Tilley
A pair of Sandalwood Dorids (Acanthodoris lutea) mating by Hannah Tilley
Grunt Sculpin Rhamphocottus richardsonii by Hannah Tilley
Grunt Sculpin (Rhamphocottus richardsonii) by Hannah Tilley
Spiny Scallop Chlamys hastata eyes by Hannah Tilley
Spiny Scallop (Chlamys hastata) eyes by Hannah Tilley
Do you know someone that loves Nudibranchs & takes great photos of them? Email me so I can reach out!

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