Arturo Telle Thiemann: A Renowned Photographer and His Contribution to Marine Research

Gnathophylleptum tellei, red bumblebee shrimp, Lanzarote, Canary Islands
October 2, 2023
Interview
Photography

Who is Arturo Telle Thiemann and how would you describe your photography style?

A lover of the sea, who since he was a child, unified his two great passions: the bottom of the sea and photography.

There are a couple of details that often allow to easily identify my photos: a perfectly balanced composition and very elaborate lighting, which gives three-dimensionality to the images.

What is in your underwater photography equipment bag?

I wish it was a simple bag, hahaha! Apart from the obvious ( 2 complete camera kits, housing, lenses, strobes and focus light), there are many small things, gadgets that I develop under my brand iDiving. To mention just a couple of them, the WTC ( Wet Tele Converter) lens, the only universal external teleconverter, which makes it possible to better photograph elusive animals… or a light concentrator for strobes, which allows more precise, even scenic lighting.

jumping hampback whale by @garsha18
What qualities do you seek in a photograph and how long does it take to capture the perfect photo once you have located the place or animal?

That varies a lot, depending on the purpose for which I take the photos. I can be a documentary photographer if photos are required for a species book, but my preferred style is more creative. I look for an interpretation that manages to convey more than simply showing a subject. And as for the time, whatever it takes, as if it is an entire dive. Sometimes I've even gotten out of the water, swapped the empty bottle for a full one, and gone back for the same guy.

Balistes capriscus, Atlantic triggerfish, Pico Island, Azores by Arturo Telle Thiemann
Balistes capriscus, Atlantic triggerfish, Pico Island, Azores
Most memorable moment underwater?

There were a couple of especially memorable moments. One of them was observing the gestures and communication between two fish of different species. I saw how a damsel tried to cheer up his friend, a trumpetfish, and help him get out of a net in which he had been trapped. It sounds like a story that is hard to believe, but it was very real... in the Port of Porto Novo, the capital of Santo Antão, Cape Verde. It was a moment that made me realize that it is not enough to study species based on their taxonomy, but we must also observe their behaviors and interactions with other species, among which humans also find themselves.

Another memorable moment was being able to swim calmly side by side with a large female smalltooth sand tiger shark, Odontaspis ferox, for half an hour. I was less than 1 meter away from her. I saw her attentive gaze, aware that she was simply tolerating my presence. It was a great lesson in humility, facing a being who is far in her environment, yet allows me to accompany her for a while.

Odontaspis ferox, Smalltooth sand tiger, El Hierro, Canary Islands by Arturo Telle Thiemann
Odontaspis ferox, Smalltooth sand tiger, El Hierro, Canary Islands
Grand Canyon by @garsha18
I realized that if I felt this feeling standing here in our modern world, what did the first people to see this think?
I realized that if I felt this feeling standing here in our modern world, what did the first people to see this think?
What lessons have you learned from the ocean?

It is a never-ending journey of learning, and it is the duty of every individual to nurture it. As divers, and particularly as underwater photographers, we hold an additional obligation: to showcase what we witness to those who are not fortunate enough to experience it firsthand.

In your more than four decades of experience in photography, what improvements and drawbacks have you observed in the industry? Furthermore, how do you anticipate its future evolution?

Taking photos since the age of 10 and making my first housing for a camera when I was 15, it can be said that I have accumulated quite a bit of experience. There has been an important change, and although technology has improved significantly, I have noticed a significant loss of closeness between manufacturers and users. Many brands allow "desktop engineers" to design their products, often without the necessary field experience. A clear example is the obsession with reducing the size of equipment without considering that this often makes them excessively heavy, and then they try to fix the problem by adding bulky floats that allow the equipment to be carried during a dive without feeling like you're carrying a lead tablet in your hand. It's an attempt to fix one mistake with another... and the worst part is that most users don't even notice it.

Sepia bertheloti, Red cuttlefish, Tenerife, Canary Islands by Arturo Telle Thiemann
Sepia bertheloti, Red cuttlefish, Tenerife, Canary Islands
It is said that you possess a unique ability to perceive what the rest of us overlook. Indeed, the red bumblebee shrimp, Gnathophylleptum tellei, was named in your honor. How did this come about?

I have always been very observant, and when I started, in 1996, diving with full scuba gear it opened up new possibilities for me. I tried to identify each animal I saw, and in a short time I gained extensive knowledge of the marine fauna present in the Canary Islands. When I happened to find the first specimen of that shrimp, at the beginning of the year 2000 in Sardina del Norte, Gran Canaria, I immediately knew that it was something very special. My first thought was that I might have found an adult specimen of a small Gnathophyllum that I had been looking at, and which eventually turned out to be a juvenile spotted bumblebee shrimp, G. elegans. But when discussing the discovery with a friend who specializes in crustaceans, Dr. José Antonio González Pérez, we immediately knew that we were facing an important scientific discovery... and indeed it turned out to be a new species, of a new genus.

I could feel a presence in the water, an energy that wasn’t there before.
tiger shark by @garsha18
I could feel a presence in the water, an energy that wasn’t there before.
I believe you have recently discovered another species, this time a hermit crab, haven't you?

Not just one... in the last two years, I have regained my interest in marine biology, especially due to the book project "El Atardecer en Los Charcos" (“The Sunset in the Tide Pools”), which deals with the enormous biodiversity we have in intertidal puddles and pools in the Canary Islands. Apart from several dozen species that were not mentioned for the Canary Islands, I have found at least 3 or 4 species that, apparently, are unknown to science. They are currently being studied by specialists in taxonomy and genetics.

Veretillum cynomorium, Finger shaped sea pen, Lanzarote, Canary Islands by Arturo Telle Thiemann
Veretillum cynomorium, Finger shaped sea pen, Lanzarote, Canary Islands
The pandemic brought you one of the projects you are most proud of in collaboration with RedPromar. Could you tell us about it?

Yes, the mandatory confinement in Spain during the initial phase of the pandemic forced us to rethink many things. We were not allowed to leave our towns, so my friend David and I started exploring intertidal pools to take photos of the animals that live there. I discovered a world full of biodiversity, which I hadn't paid attention to as a diver. I soon realized the need to share this with the entire population, as those environments use to be the first contact to the Sea. The best way to do that, was to propose an informative project in the form of a book to the Government of the Canary Islands, specifically the Ministry of Ecological Transition. The book would be scientifically rigorous but written in a way that even 8-year-old children could understand. You can download it for free in PDF format at https://redpromar.org/, in the "DOWNLOADABLES" section.

Which award are you most proud of among the several that you have received?

That's a tough question, and I can't answer it. The awards I have received are there, on a shelf, in the form of a title, a medal, or a trophy, but they don't really mean much to me, except for the experiences lived. I don't usually dwell on the past and just feeling satisfied with what I have accomplished. The greatest reward is seeing the effect that my work has on others, especially seeing how other lovers of underwater photography assimilate my concepts and ideas into their work. As I have often said, it is a constant development, always looking forward.

Sparisoma cretense, Parrotfish, El Hierro, Canary Islands/ Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2020 by Arturo Telle Thiemann
Sparisoma cretense, Parrotfish, El Hierro, Canary Islands/ Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2020
What image do you still dream of capturing?

That's something I don't consider. There are places I want to visit, but I don't have specific images in my head. It is a constant development, adding small new details to the photographic concepts carried out day by day, trying to create new concepts, new ways of transmitting what I feel for the sea and in the sea, new "Wow!" moments for the spectators.

What is on your schedule? What plans do you have for the near future?

Two local championships here on the Canary Islands. The next trips will be to Indonesia and the Philippines. Most likely, there will be a 10-day divingtrip to Truk Lagoon, Micronesia, but that will be in May, August, and December2024, respectively. I'll keep you updated!

Header Image: Gnathophylleptum tellei, red bumblebee shrimp, Lanzarote, Canary Islands.

Arturo Telle Thiemann

Arturo was born in Germany, but he has been living in Gran Canaria since he was a child. He started scuba diving in 1996 and soon began taking part in photosub competitions, where he has achieved numerous successes. Some notable achievements include:

- 4 times winner of the Open Internacional Fotosub of El Hierro
- 2 times winner of the Open Fotosub Lanzarote
- 3 times winner of the Open Fotosub of Las Palmas de GC
- 4 times winner of the Open Fotosub of Sardina, Gáldar
- 2 times winner of the international championship of Eilat, Israel
- Several times island champion of Gran Canaria and Lanzarote
- Several times regional and national champion
- World runner-up, several gold medals in World Championships

Arturo is also a regular contributor to various diving and nature magazines and serves as an ambassador for the MARES brand.

Arturo Telle Thiemann

Arturo was born in Germany, but he has been living in Gran Canaria since he was a child. He started scuba diving in 1996 and soon began taking part in photosub competitions, where he has achieved numerous successes. Some notable achievements include:

- 4 times winner of the Open Internacional Fotosub of El Hierro
- 2 times winner of the Open Fotosub Lanzarote
- 3 times winner of the Open Fotosub of Las Palmas de GC
- 4 times winner of the Open Fotosub of Sardina, Gáldar
- 2 times winner of the international championship of Eilat, Israel
- Several times island champion of Gran Canaria and Lanzarote
- Several times regional and national champion
- World runner-up, several gold medals in World Championships

Arturo is also a regular contributor to various diving and nature magazines and serves as an ambassador for the MARES brand.