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How did you get started in underwater photography?
I was volunteering on a marine conservation project in Seychelles after I left school. In my downtime when I wasn’t conducting scientific marine surveys, I was out snorkelling, exploring the north-west coast of Mahe, the main island of Seychelles. I always wanted to share with everyone what I had seen while I’d been out in the water for so long. One of my friends let me borrow what was essentially a plastic bag to house a small point and shoot camera which made it waterproof to a few metres. After using that I was pretty much hooked.
What came first – diving or photography?
Diving came first for me. I worked on marine science and conservation projects as well as diving boats and snorkelling trips before I got serious about photography.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
Currently, I am shooting with a Canon 5d Mk III in a Nauticam housing. I shoot most of my wide-angle images with a Sigma 15mm fisheye behind a Nauticam optical glass fisheye port. For macro, I mostly use a Canon 100mm macro lens. I also have a vintage Trioplan 100mm which I like to use in the right situations. For lighting, I use two Retra flashes which I am very fond of.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
I love diving in Ambon for the uniqueness of the diving and diversity of photographic opportunities. I also love the house reef at Misool Resort for the health of the reef and abundance of life. Magic Mountain in Misool has to be one of the best dive sites on the planet. The sea mount is a great example of what our oceans could look like with the right protection, it’s what an intact healthy marine ecosystem should look like.
Most challenging dive?
In 2010 I went back to Seychelles to work for the same company I had volunteered for in 2007. We would often have to complete detailed scientific surveys on various marine species including coral diversity and abundance. We’d use various techniques and equipment, sometimes conducting these surveys in shallow water with strong surge and current which could sometimes be extremely challenging.
Who are your diving inspirations?
There are many people who have inspired me throughout my diving and photography career. Diving wise, some of the dive guides I have worked within Indonesia such as Nus Lobbu are incredible. They have tens of thousands of dives and have such an in-depth knowledge of the marine environment. Another diving inspiration of mine is Sonia Rowley. Her deep water Gorgonian research is incredible, especially when you see the depths and conditions she works in!
Photographically, there are so many that inspire me and have an influence on my work. Like pretty much everybody in underwater photography, Alex Mustard continues to innovate and inspire with technically perfect and beautiful imagery. I love Laurent Ballesta’s work, his passion for exploration and making stunning imagery at the same time is amazing. I really like my friend Damien Mauric’s work. I aspire to light my subjects as well as he does! David Barrio, Tobias Friedrich, George Karbus and Justin Gilligan also produce incredible imagery which continues to inspire me.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
The more I travel and the more people I meet, the longer my list of places I want to dive gets. It would be a dream come true to dive at Darwins Arch in Galapagos for the giant whale sharks and schools of hammerheads. I would also love to go to the Soccoro Islands for the mantas and abundant shark species. Alor in Indonesia for the incredible reefs and abundant Rhinopias, Gods Pocket in British Columbia for the incredible reefs and great close-focus wide-angle opportunities.
I have always had an obsession with shooting in mangroves so the blue water mangroves in misool have been top of my list for a long time. There are also many places closer to home I’m desperate to dive, such as Corsica, Scottish Sea Locks, Lundy Island and the Farne Islands.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
I don’t think there is anything, but if I were to pass on any advice it would be get comfortable and competent in the water first. Don’t worry about investing in the best equipment money can buy. Spend as much time as you can understanding how light behaves underwater and understanding you’re subjects whatever they may be.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
When I was working on Ningaloo Reef on a whale shark snorkelling boat, one of my main jobs was to jump in first, locate the shark and make sure it had spots and not stripes (tiger shark). I would then signal to the boat that it was okay for our guests to enter the water.
On two occasions the water was a little green which makes the spotter planes job quite difficult. We got directed onto a shape that we thought was a whale shark. Turned out it didn’t have spots or stripes, but a big pointed head. It was a great white. It’s not common, but they have been seen on the odd occasion. This particular individual had a look at the boat then cruised off into the murky water!
What is your most memorable dive and why?
My most memorable dive was early in my diving career when I was a volunteer in the Seychelles. It was a beautiful afternoon and we were going for a ‘fun dive’ meaning no surveys, just for pleasure. We had a lovely dive along a granitic reef and were on our safety stop at 5m in the blue when a huge shape emerged behind my buddy. It was a whale shark! An animal I had dreamed of encountering since I could barely walk. The surprise encounter left me speechless and was a life changing encounter.
Joe is an award-winning underwater photographer and author. His passion for underwater photography developed through his love for the marine world which began from a very young age. In 2007, Joe volunteered on marine conservation project in the Seychelles. He then spent more than three years in New Zealand and Australia – a year of this was spent working with manta rays and whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia. Joe returned to the Seychelles as an intern on the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCSS) Whale Shark Monitoring Project.
After completing his Dive Instructor course in South Africa, he then continued on in the Seychelles as Dive Officer for Global Vision International, a marine conservation NGO. In 2013, Joe and his now wife Emily moved to Ambon, Indonesia where they managed Maluku Divers, a photography-focused dive resort.
In the clear waters of Australia and Seychelles, Joe found freediving as his preferred method, shooting many of his wide-angle images with little other than a mask and fins. Now after his experience in Ambon, Indonesia has brought him to focus more on photography, utilising his scuba diving skills in order to spend more time with each subject. Joe continues to find inspiration in the ocean and hopes that his images can bring awareness to the fragility and diversity of the underwater environment.
Since then he has co-authored a photographic coffee table book called Underwater Eden – The Marine Life of Seychelles, won numerous awards and been published in national and international publications. Now based in the south of France, Joe is able to spend his time exploring the cooler (but no less fascinating) waters of Europe in-between photography trips.