Jeff Yonover--True to His Dreams

Dreams are easy to experience and extremely difficult to follow.  In our youth, we are full of them but lack the resources required to pursue even one of them.  We make sacrifices and achieve a level of success, yet the big adventures remain elusive, tucked behind home ownership, children, and the electronic gadgets that we use to stay “connected”.  Perhaps we’ve lost some of that spirit that personified the original visitors to our continent.

In the summer of 1987, Jeff Yonover and a couple of college buddies hopped in to a car, and headed to Alaska, with nothing but a head full of dreams.  The ultimate goal of the trip was to see and photograph the grizzly bears of Mc Neil River catching and eating spawning salmon.  But they experienced countless natural wonders along the way, and on the return. The trip planted two major seeds into Jeff’s life.  He became focused on becoming a photographer of nature’s wonder.  And perhaps more importantly, he realized the importance of adventure travel in his life.  The world called to Jeff and his personal and economic missions began to merge into one. 

But financial realities kept Jeff planted in his childhood home of Chicago for the next decade.  A family business located in Gary, Indiana provided his income.  Like many of us, his passion and his day to day life were totally disconnected. His heart was far away in the remote regions of the world.

Several years later, on a trip to Grand Cayman, Jeff moved the levers of life one step closer to a career as an underwater photographer.  On his first day of diving the reefs of the Caribbean Sea, he found a new calling.  Much like his experience with his college buddies, he knew what he had to do.  He rented a camera from a local dive operator and a star was born.  Jeff would forever be drawn to the world that only a few of us are lucky to see.

Over the next two decades, Jeff had the opportunity to visit and photograph many of the great underwater wonders of the world. One of several trips to Cocos stands out in his mind, “What we saw there quite literally blew my mind.”  Other than his love for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Blackhawks, the landlocked world of Chicago receded further and further into the rearview mirror.

But while Cocos may have turned on a switch inside the soul of Jeff, he eventually set his sights to the far end of the Pacific Ocean—the Coral Triangle that connects the underwater world of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Phillipines.  If it is possible to put down roots in an aquatic region, Jeff has focused much of his recent business and photographic efforts there.  He has become involved with the Dive Damai Liveaboards that charter to destinations that are off the beaten path, even for those who travel those trails on a regular basis.

The underwater world and our ability to access it has changed dramatically over the past 25 years.  Jeff’s early workhorse and love interest, the Nikonos underwater camera,  was replaced by a series of Nikon film and digital SLR cameras that started with the N90 and D100, a camera now surpassed in resolution by our iPhones.   He has moved onward to a Nikon D810, a camera that provides a powerful view of everything from nudibranchs to whale sharks.

But unfortunately, Jeff has seen changes in the underwater world that are not so positive.  A wide variety of forces have taken their toll on what once the most remote and pristine areas on the planet.  Climate change decimates areas that were once thriving.  Dynamite fishing destroys entire reefs in a second.  And of course, shark finning has placed a relentless demand for sharks.  Recently, Jeff posted a series of pictures that document the impact of divers upon the reef in Boo Windows, a popular dive spot near Misool Island in southern Raja Ampat (Indonesia).  Over the past decade, a central sea fan gets smaller and smaller as fin tips take their toll on what was once a pristine photographic site.  While sometimes upsetting to see, these types of efforts will help to educate all of us on the delicate world that exists below the lap of the ocean waves.

Jeff commits himself to doing what he can to help preserve the environment that he loves. He works closely with the Coral Reef Alliance to help them in their mission to save the world’s coral reefs for the next generation.  He also donates 5% of photo revenue to causes that further the protection of the underwater world, such as CORAL, WildAid, and The Nature Conservancy.

Jeff is a living example of the satisfaction resulting from dreams that are lived out in one’s life.  His love of adventure and nature have taken him on many trips that require long plane rides followed by small planes landing in remote airports.  But when he hits the water and his camera comes alive in his hands, he knows just how lucky he is to live out his dreams.  Now, he has an opportunity to share just a small sliver of that world with his customers who acquire his magnificent photos.