“Extraordinary” – that’s how many have described the work of Paul Colley, freelance professional photo journalist, diver, and winner of British Wildlife Photography Awards ‘Coastal and Marine’ category 2015. I interviewed Paul to find out what makes him tick….or should I say click.
Congratulations on your photo ‘Beautiful blues’ winning the WWF-sponsored ‘Coast and Marine’ category. Can you share your experience of capturing this sublime shot?
Thank you. I’m absolutely thrilled to have won this. I was determined to see these elegant creatures but they cover huge swaths of the ocean, which mean it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. On my third attempt, seven of these majestic and curious creatures circled around me and occasionally bumped into me to see what I was. Sometimes in photography it just all comes together in one wonderful moment; in this case two of the sharks made beautiful mirrored curves as they passed in front of me against the emerald green of the Atlantic. I knew it was a special image as soon as I took it.
How did you first get interested in underwater photography, and when did you get your first big break?
I have been fascinated by the oceans since childhood. But with the exception of rock pools, I never got the opportunity to explore them until I learned to dive 15 years ago. I immediately became enthralled with what I saw and wanted to photograph it. I took my first camera under water in 2006 and was utterly inept. After seeking help from experts who were very generous with their knowledge, I never looked back. I suppose my first big break was having one of my images published in a national newspaper.
What, or who, inspires you and drives you to stay in this field?
I’m inspired by the best underwater photographers – especially those who are also conservation minded, like Alex Mustard. I’m self-driven to stay in this field. I’m always looking for new ways to bring the underwater world to life. I’ve just made a breakthrough in techniques to photograph shy freshwater fish. I want more of my images to count in conservation and this drives me too.
Do you have any tips that you can share with budding underwater photographers?
Here’s the one that worked for me! Find an expert in the field and join them on a dedicated underwater photography workshop. It will give you a remarkable head start.
What was your first camera, and what do you use now?
My first camera was a disposable one in a plastic box. I never achieved a single usable image with it! These days I use a Nikon D4 in a Nauticam housing, or for freshwater work a Nauticam port system attached to my own design of underwater housing. I also use an Olympus XZ-2 compact camera in an underwater housing and get some stunning images with it.
You’re a supporter of marine conservation. What are the issues that most concern you?
My main concern is what the Blue Marine Foundation calls the biggest solvable problem on our planet: the crisis in our oceans. We have over-fished them to an extreme degree, but we can still recover the situation. Climate change is a big worry, but even bigger is the lack of collective will in the world to do something about it.
If you had one wish that could help UK wildlife, what would it be?
I wish that our government (and the EU) would create more marine reserves around the UK and over a much greater area than the current ones. Crucially, they would also need to provide the resources to protect them. The evidence is irrefutable that this would help marine life stocks recover. It would be a win-win for marine life and fishermen alike.
Find out more about Paul and his work, as well as his award-winning book ‘Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera.’