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How did you get started in underwater photography?
I bought my first underwater camera while working as a professional diving instructor in the Red Sea in the early nineties, and my interest soon led to assisting visiting professional photographers. A few years later when I was based in the Maldives, a well-known German magazine gave me my first assignment. I still photograph for them today.
What came first – diving or photography?
My love of nature led first to my interest in photography and then I learned to dive at the age of 14. While working as diving instructor in my twenties, I combined these two passions. My bank balance has never been healthy since!
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
I use SEACAM housings which have fantastic build quality, durability and ergonomics. Housed in those are Nikon D850 and D4 cameras, and I use a full range of lenses from ultra wide-angle to macro. For lighting, I use SEACAM and Inon strobes and multiple LED lamps for off-camera lighting, including the high-powered Orcalights. Like most underwater photographers, I love gadgets so my bag is also full of weird bits of kit that at the time I couldn’t live without, but in many cases I’ve still yet to find a use for!
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
That would be Galapagos for mind blowing wildlife encounters, Papua New Guinea for pristine reefs and Truk Lagoon for the best wreck diving in the world.
Most challenging dive?
I do a fair bit of wreck photography. Any deep rebreather dive with a camera is challenging due to the high task loading and amount of kit involved. Add low light, bad visibility and current into the mix and you’ve got the recipe for some of the most challenging dives I’ve done. I readily find these in the English Channel. Photographing these deep wrecks has probably progressed me as both a diver and photographer more than any other thing I’ve done underwater.
Who are your diving inspirations?
There are loads – far too many to mention them all! Firstly, the instructors at the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) where I learned to dive. The quality of the training I received as a teenager was second to none, and they did it for free in their spare time. Even though I lost contact with them years ago, I hold them in the highest regard.
Like many, my earliest photographic influence was David Doubilet whose work is simply timeless and never fails to inspire. I also admired the work of Chris Newbert. I am constantly in awe of Laurent Ballesta and Paul Nicklen’s imagery, which is captured in extremely challenging conditions. I have learned a huge amount over the years from Alex Mustard’s work, someone who is always open and generous with his knowledge. Then there are the photographers who use their art to tell the story of the plight of the oceans with a journalist’s mindset, people like Michael Aw and Angel Fitor. The list goes on. I also love looking through the work of emerging talent. Instagram is full of images that are just jaw dropping.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list?
The high Arctic is number one for me, especially given its environmental plight. Galapagos is a location that I could happily return to and spend the rest of my life exploring.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
Your mistakes will teach you far more than your successes! Also, concentrate on your lighting. It took me a few years to grasp the true possibilities of creative lighting, whether it be the catchlight in the eye of your subject, the mystery of the shadows in your shot, or the vistas you can create with remote lighting. Study, then practice, practice, practice.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
In a momentous act of supreme stupidity, I once completely ran out of gas! Complacency and distraction led to me ignoring recognised safety margins so when I then suffered an equipment failure, I had no contingency. I got out of that one by a fine margin, and it caused me to hit the reset button on my whole approach to risk and once again start diving in the way I was taught and had myself instructed, rather than bending age-old rules due to my own over confidence. These days, as a hypoxic-trimix trained rebreather diver, I am meticulous in my approach to every aspect of the dive. My family’s welfare depends on it.
What is your most memorable dive?
Over the years there have been many that have left me with an unwavering grin. One that stands out was in 2004 when I had returned to the Maldives. I’d been diving regularly in a location on the outer edge of one of the Atolls where there are often whaleshark sightings, but in three weeks of concentrated effort I’d had no success.
It was my last dive of that visit, I’d been in the water more than 60 minutes, was low on gas and hadn’t taken a single frame of the 36 exposures in my film camera. I saw a large ball of fusiliers in the blue, so swam out to get a few pictures to close the trip off. As I was looking through the viewfinder, the ball of fish parted liked a curtain and the sky went dark as a huge shape swam through the centre. It was a whaleshark! My favourite image from the set made the cover of a number of magazines and books around the world.
Steve Jones is a photojournalist whose award-winning work has been published in more than 30 countries during a career spanning three decades. A Blancpain Edition Fifty Fathoms photographer, Steve is an all-rounder, whose list of assignments has ranged from colossal battleship wrecks to sub-zero encounters with apex polar predators.
More of his work can be seen at: