How did you get started in underwater photography?
I started my underwater seriously about six years ago. I always had a camera with me when I dived, but rarely found it inspiring. I was working as a commercial photographer in New Zealand and had reached a point in my career that I needed to find something to set myself apart from others in the industry, and I started playing underwater. I tried to find something different in that genre, and rather than photographing wildlife, I was working with models under the water. I call myself an underwater portrait photographer.
What came first – diving or photography?
Diving, most definitely! I couldn’t wait to dive, and for my 16th birthday my parents got me certified and I’ve really never looked back. Photography was just another reason to be underwater, which is my happy place.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
I shoot primary with a Canon 5D Mk IV and a 16-35mm f/2.8 L-series lens in an Aquatica housing with two to five Sea N Sea Ys-D2 strobes.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
I am currently obsessed by the Florida Springs region, as the water is so crystal clear and the landscape so surreal.
Most challenging dive?
I think every dive I do for work is a challenge, as there are so many things to juggle – from keeping myself and my model safe, to actually getting the shots that are needed.
Who are your diving inspirations?
That’s a hard one, as I don’t really follow anyone in particular, but I think growing up with Jacques Cousteau on the television certainly put the idea in my head. Actually, anyone who is a commercial or deep sea diver is inspiring to me as that seems like such a foreign world!
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
I’d love to get to the Maldives one day. And swimming with whales is always on my bucket list!
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
Invest in a manual camera. I spent quite a few years with a point and shoot and always hated my shots – mostly because I couldn’t control anything. Also, shoot in RAW!
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
I was on a shoot once in the Bahamas with two models and a bunch of reef sharks. We had chummed the water with a crate hung from our dingy, and then we all descended the anchor line. Once we got down there and the models were setting up, I realised I had accidentally switched my lens to manual focus and I didn’t have the gears connected to be able to control that. Rather than making everyone come back to surface, I headed back up alone to open my housing and change the switch.
It was my first time in a few years diving with sharks and I was pretty scared heading back towards the chum on my own. Needless to say, I was pretty quick pulling myself back into that boat! By the time I got back in the water, the number of sharks had doubled, and it took all my will to head back down that line. It was such a good reminder of how uninterested in humans sharks are, once I got that in my head it was such a great dive.
What is your most memorable dive and why?
I was diving in Tonga during whale season and we had two humpbacks buzz us as they careened up the canyon we were diving in. It was just magic, and I was too stunned to lift my camera!
Born in Australia and now based in Los Angeles, underwater photographer Brett Stanley travels frequently and relishes the chance to work with new people and new locations.
He has been working with water for more than 10 years and is still finding creative ways to give images a life of their own. Check out his portfolio at brettstanleyphoto.com and follow him on Instagram @brettsphoto