Capturing the Sea for Others to Sea

By Darien Davies

Most of us aren’t fortunate enough to witness the beauty of the ocean’s depths. Even living near the beach, if you’re not trained to spot the magical moments, you’re almost guaranteed to miss them. Photographer Kyle Soto is here to change that. For him, photography is not only a passion for his own eyes, but a passion for helping people fall in love with the sea and its inhabitants by allowing them to see what he sees.

“From a young age I loved the ocean and its endless diversity. The animals in the ocean always drove me to explore it more. I am obsessed with finding new subjects to photograph and the feeling of entering another world that’s so alien from land,” said Kyle, 25, who’s a Florida native. “When I was a kid, I collected trading cards of different ocean animals. As an adult I collect photos of different ocean animals. So, the obsession has always kind of been a part of me.”

It became an even bigger part of him after he beat cancer. Diagnosed at 15 years old with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is a type of blood cancer, he spent a year in and out of the hospital undergoing week-long rounds of chemotherapy. Not only was this a painful, uncomfortable and scary experience for him, he was also ripped from typical teenager activities. He lost his normalcy in life, diving deep into procedures instead of diving deep into the ocean.

Kyle Soto photography.
Left: Photo by Ben Hicks

“Honestly my passion for photography came after beating cancer. I was always obsessed with exploring the ocean and seeing animals, and photography was my way of taking what I saw in nature and bringing that feeling home with me,” said Kyle, who is still cancer free. “I realized that there are tons of people in the world that are stuck in a hospital bed or unable to see the underwater world for themselves, as I was in that position. It drove me to grab a camera, take photos and share them with others so they could experience the magic of the ocean.”

Another turning point in Kyle’s life was a fortunate stroke of serendipity, which happened when he met underwater photographer Ben Hicks who gave a presentation to his high school photography class. Kyle immediately recognized him from social media and skipped his next class just to talk with Ben. Kyle tried to absorb as much wisdom as possible in a short chat because Ben was a photographer he looked up to.

“I started bugging Ben every chance I got, I sent him DMs, I saw him at art shows, and I always reminded him that I was available to help in any way I could,” Kyle said. “Eventually he invited me out on a dive out in the ocean and the rest is history! He started asking for assistance and offering to teach me more and more. I spent all of my college years assisting Ben on shoots in and out of the water all over Florida. I helped him construct his fine art prints, and I learned an insane amount from him. He’s done so much for me as a mentor and a friend, and we have plenty of adventures that we’ve embarked on.”

Those adventures have helped Kyle to capture his photography angle. While he appreciates all aspects of the ocean and its inhabitants, he always shoots for the difficult opportunities, such as witnessing and capturing sea turtle hatchlings or leatherback hatchlings. To experience a rare and special moment is not just a celebration for him, it’s a shared celebration for those who see — and feel — the image. Taking the perfect picture isn’t easy, and that’s okay with Kyle.

Photo by Kyle Soto
Photo by Kyle Soto

“I am heavily influenced by finding subjects that I love and then trying to place myself in unique lighting conditions with those animals to create an atmosphere that the audience can feel. I try to place myself in situations that are challenging, such as diving with turtles before the sun comes up or shooting waves in the dark with a flash. These situations are not commonly experienced by most people, and I think it’s what makes an image feel special,” Kyle said. “I want to capture not only the subject but also a glimpse into their surroundings. The goal with my photography is not only to bring the ocean into people’s lives, but it’s also to inspire people to take action towards conservation. Our ocean and its inhabitants are delicate, and I hope I can convey the beauty and value of nature through each photo.”

Capturing the delicate and wondrous ebb and flow of the ocean and the life in it isn’t just for Kyle, it is Kyle.

“Nowadays my cancer story reminds me that it’s always worth doing what makes you happy. Take risks, and do what you’re passionate about because life can truly change in an instant,” Kyle said. “God has a plan, and I don’t know if I would be pursuing my passion to the fullest if it wasn’t for that experience. So now I try to look at the positives that time in my life brought me, and I look for ways to bring light to people who are struggling today.”



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