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Underwater photography world mourns renowned UWP guru Martin Edge


Martin Edge

The underwater photography world is in mourning after hearing of the passing of globally renowned and respected UWP guru Martin Edge.

His close colleague and friend Alex Mustard has devoted his most-recent column in the pages of Scuba Diver to Martin:

For almost 20 years through his columns in Sport Diver, more than a quarter of a century through five editions of his book, and for almost 40 years through his workshops and 1:1 courses, Martin helped the world take sharper, clearer, cleaner, more-colourful and, above all, more-compelling underwater photographs. Most of the world never sees the wonders of the ocean for themselves and our pictures are their window. The more eye-catching our shots, the more engaged the world is with the wonders of the sea and protecting the ocean. Martin made this happen.

Throughout our community, almost everyone will have a well-thumbed edition of Martin’s book, The Underwater Photographer, and will have benefitted from Martin’s insight. Indeed, Martin’s ideas and explanations have become so much a part of underwater photography that they are repeated in almost every article written on the topic as simply the way it is done.

Martin Edge
Underwater photographer, Martin Edge, in the camera room at Misool Eco Resort. Misool, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia.

Those of us fortunate to have been able to call Martin a friend were not surprised – he was a teaching sensation. The man was addicted to it, a natural-born coach, equally able to help both absolute beginners and the most-celebrated names in the business. Allied to this, Martin was armed with the enquiring, analytical mind of a retired police detective. Martin had the gift at asking searching questions and was disarmingly talented at making you talk!

Born in the landlocked English county of Staffordshire, with no interest in diving from a family ‘devoid of anyone artistic’, Martin joined the police force aged 19, in 1974. In 1976, he married Sylvia, and in 1977 they moved, with work, to Dorset. It was here he got his first taste of diving. “These were the days before widespread diving certification,” he told me. “We just went in and I loved it. I was hooked, and Sylv and I joined a local dive club.”

Martin always credited much of his success to the vibrant British underwater photography scene at the beginning of the 1980s and the generosity of others with their knowledge. “My heroes were Pete Rowlands, his mate Steve Burchill, Pete Scoones, Mike Valentine and others. I joined BSoUP (the British Society of Underwater Photography) in 1983 and drove up to every meeting. By 1985 I had I won BSoUP’s Best Beginner.”

Martin Edge
Underwater photographer Martin Edge photographs a school of bigeye snapper (Lutjanus lutjanus) on a coral reef. Misool, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. Ceram Sea. Tropical West Pacific Ocean.

From here his photography blossomed. He forged his international reputation first with an innovative six projector slideshow set to music, which he put together with AV expert Jim Eldridge. “Our first show was ‘Sea Of Dreams’ about the Red Sea and then we followed it up with ‘Imaginations’ set in the Maldives in 1987, following Stan Waterman on the stage at Brighton. I remember Kurt Amsler being very encouraging. We were the first to do these shows with underwater pictures, so we got invited to film festivals across Europe. In Antwerp, Jim and I turned up to the gala dinner in our dickey bows and found we were totally overdressed. The only other people in similar outfits were Hans and Lotte Hass, so the four of us spent a delightful evening together as the odd ones out.”

Taking underwater pictures was challenging with gear available in the 1980s and photographers typically only talked about equipment and settings. These are important, but Martin was a trailblazer in wanting to understand how to create more artistic and engaging imagery. “I wasn’t bothered about the settings. I was using the same settings as the best photographers. I wanted to know about the motivation and the mindset that brought the really exceptional images.” 

Martin quite literally interrogated the top shooters of the day. “I got to talk to Doubilet, Howard Hall, Pete Rowlands, Georgette, Mike Valentine, Scoonsey, Linda Pitkin… I wanted to know how they had got their best shots. I remember asking Pete Scoones in detail about the lighting in one of his famous shots and his response was ‘I’ve never been asked that question before.’ And he answered it. He knew exactly what I wanted to know. Rowlands did too.”

What marked Martin out, though, was that rather than hoarding this golden knowledge for himself, he figured out the best way to explain it to others and shared everything he considered important. The result was a revelation in underwater photography teaching. Read the books pre-Edge and they are dominated by gear and, if you are lucky, some comments on settings. Martin invited us to ‘think and consider’ much more, and in doing so photographers learned to add art and engagement to their underwater pictures.

Martin Edge
Martin Edge at the GO Diving Show with some of his fellow underwater photographers, including Alex Mustard and Peter Rowlands

I am 20 years younger than Martin and only got to know him at the end of the 1990s. I started leading trips for British travel agent Divequest, choosing them because that is who Martin used. A highlight of my year was curating the Divequest gallery with Martin, which served as an unofficial contest for best shots taken by British underwater photographers on their travels. It was three days together talking underwater photography. The car journey, five hours each way, was the highlight, as we’d talk shop from door to door.

The third piece of the puzzle of Martin’s success was his modesty. He remained addicted to learning and never considered himself the expert. He reminded me that he even recorded my responses to certain questions on those car journeys, at a time that I was very much the apprentice. Such genuine humility is sadly a rare quality among leading photographers! The underwater photography community holds Martin in the highest esteem, yet he remained genuinely humble about his massive contribution and his fabulous pictures.

In the mid-2000s we both decided to switch to Scuba Travel as our travel agent for our trips. And soon after we also started presenting together as a two-man show. In 2010, we staged the full day Edge & Mustard On Underwater Photography event sponsored by Cameras Underwater. This one-off even brought together a record 250 photographers in a big lecture theatre at Imperial College. A favourite moment was during the Q&A when a photographer submitted some images of critters in seagrass that he was disappointed in. Martin immediately diagnosed the problem – “Do you dive in a shorty?”

“Yes” replied the slightly bewildered photographer.

“You need to get your camera lower. Get low, shoot up!”

And over the next six years presented our popular two-man shows to packed audiences at the UK dive shows. Martin would always encourage me to disagree with him on stage. He didn’t mind being wrong, he wanted the audience to have the best learning experience.

Ten years ago, when we were pulling together the plan for the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest, choosing Martin (and Peter Rowlands) to judge was a no-brainer. For the entrants, the fact Martin Edge had chosen their photo as a winner was huge. Martin’s impeccable reputation lent UPY huge credibility and definitely fast-tracked the way the contest has been embraced as ‘THE ONE’. His sharp photographic eye not only unwaveringly spotted the big winners, but also unearthed the truly original and outstanding work that has filled the UPY archive with so many images that live long in the memory.

Through all this time, we’d never had the chance to dive together. And knowing that Martin was planning to retire from leading workshops, Scuba Travel put together a suitably final hurrah, bringing the two of us together at the incredible Misool Resort, Raja Ampat in 2019. It was a magical trip. Martin spent much of the workshop foregoing the amazing dive sites, to drop in under the resort’s coral-festooned jetty and help guests in 1:1 sessions, that I am sure they will always treasure.

A pandemic and the rise of online meetings has brought lots of changes for BSoUP in the last five years and face to face meetings have mostly stopped. It is something that makes many miss the old days, because the real benefit of attending BSoUP was not in listening to the main talk, but as Martin demonstrated, being able to quiz the assembled knowledge base, especially when tight lips were suitably lubricated! Keen to have a permanent reason to gather I proposed one special meeting each year, where a star BSoUP member would give a must-see presentation on an important topic. The idea was very popular and I was volunteered to give the first of these talks, called the annual Martin Edge Lecture. And it was great that Martin and Sylvia travelled to London for the evening in 2022.

In February, we had our first UPY awards night, with photographers travelling in from around the world to receive their gongs at a glitzy do in London. Martin and Sylvia were invited, of course, but I was pleased to hear that they were travelling to Sharm El Sheikh for some winter sun with the family. Well next year, I replied. And now Martin is gone. His loss must be devastating for his loving family. But he also leaves a permanent hole in the fabric of underwater photography. He’ll be missed by all who met him, because Martin only made friends.

Personally, I’ll always treasure the quality time we spent together, discussing pictures, dissecting techniques and thrilling in amazing underwater imagery. And I’ll always smile when I remember listening to the fabulous stories he told over a beer at the end of long judging days. Martin would always encourage me with my shooting. His closing advice: “Go and play, set dives aside to be wild, free and silly. So much of what I have found that works has come from mad ideas!”.

We all know he’s up there now coaching the likes of Cousteau and Hass on how to get better shots.

Scuba Diver Editorial Director Mark Evans said: “RIP Martin, I have great memories of all those years you were my photo columnist when I was the Editor of Sport Diver.

“A consummate gentleman, Martin was quick to offer helpful hints and advice, and his book adorns the shelves of many of today’s leading UW photographers.

“Condolences to Sylvia, the rest of his family and friends.”

Photo credit: Alex Mustard

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Picture of Mark Evans
Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editorial Director Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. nearly 40-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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