How did you get started in underwater photography?
My love of snorkelling and marine life kicked off my interest in underwater photography. I started my photographic career as a surf photographer and eventually realised that I much prefer photographing marine life rather than humans!
What came first – diving or photography?
Photography came first. My dad is a photographer so I was brought up with a house full of photos, cameras and lenses. The first photos I ever took were of grey seals at Gweek seal sanctuary in Cornwall when I was five. I’ve always been fascinated by the underwater world and have travelled the globe to photograph many different species of whales – from grey whales in Baja to blue whales in Sri Lanka.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
Ikelite housing, dome port, Canon 15mm fish-eye, Ikelite strobes, wide-angle ball arms, screwdriver, lens cloths, spare O-rings, leash, Ikelite lubricant.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
Tonga has to be my favourite destination for underwater photography, purely for the humpback whales. They are extremely inquisitive and fascinating to observe underwater. All the fluke shots I take are passed onto researchers, which help identify each individual whales movements over a number of years.
Most challenging dive?
I recently spent some time in Sri Lanka observing the local population of blue whales. This was the most challenging in-water experience for me. Not in a technical or physical sense, but emotionally challenging. The Sri Lankan blue whales share their waters with one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Unfortunately, this results in many collisions and quite commonly the death of many whales. One of the calves I photographed was only a few weeks old and already had a nasty wound on its fluke.
Who are your diving inspirations?
I’m fascinated by the work of Fabrice Schnoller. He’s not just a freediver, but also a biologist that is currently researching the vocal communications of sperm whales.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list?
Norway. I would love to see orcas in the herring season. It would be a complete contrast to anything else I have experienced so far as a underwater photographer.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
Someone once told me that it’s not worth buying underwater camera equipment if you can’t dive. Due to an annoying health reason, I’m not allowed to scuba dive so I felt disheartened. However, I ignored the advice and invested in the Ikelite housing and dome port. Every underwater photographer has a favourite subject – mine is large marine life, mainly whales.
After many years of following the migratory routes of grey and humpback whales, I had my first encounter with a humpback mother and calf. I now take small groups out to the south Pacific to experience swimming with whales while collecting vital research data from the fluke sightings and photos.
I was also recently named winner in the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019 ‘British Waters – Living Together’ category. It was a split shot of mackerel underwater and tourists on the harbour above. So my advice would be to try looking at a subject from a different perspective.
Underwater photography has so many different aspects. There’s so much to think about. It’s not just about knowing the best settings for your camera, but also the preparation beforehand.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
I was trying out some new strobes and forgot to allow for the extra weight. I also wasn’t wearing a wetsuit – which would normally add some buoyancy – so as soon as I jumped off the boat I quickly realised I was sinking! I went back to the boat and tried again with two empty water bottles tied to my housing, which then gave me enough buoyancy to freedive but still come back up.
What is your most memorable dive and why?
The first time I ever looked a humpback whale in the eye. Nothing ever comes close to that feeling. It’s not only the experience that stays with you, but an overwhelming sense of empathy towards the day to day threats that they face.
Victoria has travelled the world in search of whales for the past 15 years, visiting everywhere from Baja, Mexico to the south Pacific and Dominica. She’s shared the water with whale sharks, pilot whales, humpbacks and sperm whales. Her work and images seek to inspire empathy as well as contributing to the public’s greater awareness and understanding of marine conservation-related issues.
Her all time favourite expedition is to Tonga to swim with the humpbacks. Through her company, Ocean Whale Swims, Victoria leads underwater photography trips to this fascinating destination.