on 29 Aug 2023
Despite a fear of the ocean, Ipah Uid Lynn is carving out a niche as underwater photographer of the micro marine world
Underwater photography is a rapidly growing pastime for Scuba divers and snorkelers – anyone who has had time to enjoy swimming with marine life and exploring under the sea. The field is dominated by men who roam the oceans looking for that spectacular shot of whales and dolphins, or close ups of turtles.
Ipah Uid Lynn defies almost every convention of the globetrotting underwater photographer. Born in Malaysia, Ipah was 19 years old when she was struck by a jet ski during a visit to the sea. The craft rammed Ipah’s midsection, and she suffered broken ribs, her liver was torn in half, and her stomach was punctured. She was pulled under the water and nearly drowned in the wake of that jet ski.
She then spent two weeks in an ICU and another two months in the hospital. The accident left her afraid to go anywhere near the ocean. “I don’t know how I went through this ordeal, but I am glad I am alive today,” says Ipah, a loquacious and energetic person. “But if this didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
After the accident, she married and had six children, one of whom is autistic and has additional needs. You would be forgiven for thinking that she’d have nothing further to do with the sea.
But her husband, a Scuba enthusiast, convinced her to try the water just once more. So, in her mid-30s, Ipah did what she thought she’d never do. “I did a Discover Scuba Diving course, and it was just as scary as you could imagine,” she says. “The fear was gripping.”
Her dive instructors were able to get her down to depths of 10 metres and there, everything changed. It was then that she noticed the coral forests and sea life – “like in a Nemo story!”.
“That was the day I told myself, ‘Okay, whoa, this is a whole new, different world’. I wanted to do something about this. If I can break this fear, then I could do everything else,” says Ipah. “And that was the moment I decided, ‘OK, I think I’m going to pursue this. I’m going to start diving, break the fear, learn, and build confidence.”
Ipah didn’t just conquer her fear – she put it to good use. After her discovery dive, she went on to become a dive instructor herself. Then, she founded a dive centre and school on the Perhentian Islands, a pair of small islands just a few nautical miles off the west coast of Terengganu, Peninsular Malaysia.
The Perhentian Islands have a few resorts and dive schools, plus a protected beach for turtles to lay eggs.
Ultimately, the dive centre proved too much for Ipah and her husband, and they sold it in 2015. The work of keeping six kids in tow, plus the distance between her home in Kuala Lumpur and the dive site, was too much to handle. Also, Ipah had decided the time had come to focus on her photography. Luckily, her husband helps around the house.
She now travels the world in search of great shots, though her favourite locations are still within the countries of the Coral Triangle: Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia. Within Malaysia, which is less known for its diving, one of Ipah’s new favourite places for underwater photography is Selakan Island, which is close to the world-famous Sipadan Island, but much less known and visited.
She has found herself guiding and assisting scientists and researchers working on marine projects in these countries, and she now says she’s out on location at least once a month.
While most underwater photographers like to focus on large marine mammals or dramatic underwater scenery shots, Ipah spends a lot of her time focusing on micro view of underwater life. It has made her appreciate the importance of the tiny creatures of the ocean and the huge impact they have on our climate and ocean.
“I observe everything because, for me, every creature is different in its own way. They’re unique,” she says. “When you start seeing them inside the water and you start to observe and you start to understand, you see the role that they play inside the water.”
Her fantastically close-up shots of tiny fish, seahorses, nudibranchs and an assortment of small creatures make up a startling body of work.
Ipah is busy building her online presence and advancing her career as an underwater photographer, and she has become an advocate for marine conservation. She says she visits schools and encourages ocean conservation among young Malaysians.
She is particularly encouraged by the growth of underwater photography in Malaysia, made possible by the proliferation of inexpensive underwater photography gear. In the Malaysian state of Sabah, which is home to some of Malaysia’s best-known dive spots, including Sipadan, Ipah reports that conservation measures are getting more strict, to preserve corals and sea life.
“Most of our oxygen comes from the sea, so if you don’t learn how to take care of the sea, we’re in deep trouble. Our future generations are in deep trouble,” she says. “So that’s what I do. I go down, I observe, and I see how these animals can live together in symbiotic relationships.”
She adds that we humans are also in a symbiotic relationship, with the ocean and sea life, and that relationship is key to our survival. It’s a message she passes to her kids and anyone else who has the courage to look and listen.
All photos courtesy Ipah Uid Lynn
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