How did you get started in underwater photography?
I attended Brooks Institute of Photography and participated in the Underseas Programme established by Ernie Brooks. In the programme, I was able to learn quite a bit about underwater photography.
What came first – diving or photography?
I first became interested in photography when I was 11-years-old and took classes for it all through middle school, junior high and high school. There was definitely interest in photography first, but around the age of twelve I saw an exhibit by Ernie Brooks and realised there were people out in the world making a living from taking photographs of marine life. I loved this idea so much, but I did not start diving until much later.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
I love my Nikon bodies and lenses. I use Isotta Housings – a wonderful company from Italy. Inons are my go-to strobes. The rest of my kit looks like a crazy piece together ‘save a dive kit’ with random tools, parts, and extra pieces to cover just about any emergency repair that may come up in the field.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
My favourite location for both is Dominica. I have been leading the Big Animals Global Expeditions Sperm Whale trips there for the last six years. I adore those sperm whales and have grown fond of many individuals who I am fortunate enough to see year after year. The conditions in the water are perfect with clear, blue, warm water. It is a perfect combination for capturing some unique and beautiful images of one of the most intriguing marine mammals there is.
Most challenging dive?
It certainly has to be cave diving – especially trying to shoot in a cave. I put in several years of training and time to be able to capture imagery far back inside cave systems in Florida and Mexico. The absence of light and the high level of experience needed in training and understanding of that environment made those photo shoots and dives the most challenging.
Who are your diving inspirations?
I have many who have inspired me over the years: Ernie Brooks and Jill Heinerth are both incredible underwater photographers, and many of the Water Women mentees I have been fortunate enough to have worked with over the years such as Rachael Ren and Becca Burrnett.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
I would love to photograph Greenland sharks in the Arctic. We attempted to photograph and encounter them a couple years ago on a project I am involved in, Sedna Epic Expedition, but we had no luck in locating them sadly.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
I wish someone had told me just how hard this industry is to make a living in. I had to learn through trial and error that wearing many hats within the diving and underwater world will benefit you greatly and help you achieve success.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
I don’t really have one worth sharing.
What is your most memorable dive and why?
I have two. I spent two hours in the water with a socialising group of seven sperm whales. They tried to include us in their activities before going into fully vertical sleeping positions for almost 30 minutes. This whole event included a two month of calf.
We spent almost an hour on a herring bait ball in Norway that had more than 40 orcas feeding on it, at the end of the hour two humpback whales came in from below and devoured the entire remains of the herring in a couple minutes.
Both days were extraordinary.
Amanda Cotton is a professional photographer specialising in underwater imagery. As an avid scuba diver and ocean enthusiast, Amanda’s goal is to help the general public embrace the beauty below the waves, in the hope that with awareness comes concern. The conservation and preservation of this ecosystem is of the highest priority to Amanda. While she enjoys owning and operating a conservation-minded design/media company, A COTTON PHOTO Creative Works LLC, Amanda takes great pride in working with like-minded organisations that genuinely care about the planet and its inhabitants, both above and below the waves.
She received her Bachelor of Arts in Professional Photography while attending Brooks Institute of Photography, where she participated in the highly acclaimed Underseas Program established by Ernie Brooks. She has received numerous awards for her photography including several from the International Photographers Awards (IPA), Celebrate The Sea, Underwater Photography Annual Awards, and many others.
Amanda was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2015 and was named Scuba Diving Magazine’s July 2017 SEA HERO.