Alex Mustard is a UK photographer who has been taking underwater photographs for 30 years and has worked as a full time underwater photographer for the last 10 years.
Previously, he worked as a marine biologist at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. His innovative underwater photographs are respected and celebrated around the world. He has pioneered many techniques within underwater photography and is held in particular esteem by the underwater photography community for continually sharing his secrets through magazine articles, talks and workshops.
In this blog Alex tells us about his winning photo and top tips on photographing underwater.
Kate: Congratulations Alex, your Coast & Marine category winning photo ‘Big Blues’ is fantastic. What was it like photographing a species rarely seen in UK waters?
Alex: Thank you! I am very proud to be the first person to have won this category more than once.
My ‘big blues’ day was certainly one when dreams really came true. Growing up in Devon, I’ve always known that sport fishermen have been able to catch blue sharks during the summer months, but I never thought I’d get the chance to swim with them.
Then my friend and fellow underwater photographer, Charles Hood, called me to let me know that local sport fishermen had passed on their secrets to him. He felt we had a good chance of encounters in the water. So at the end of the summer, actually just a couple of days before last year’s BWPA awards ceremony, I headed down to Penzance.
It was just one of those days when the stars aligned. Almost as soon as we left port, we spied an ocean sunfish (which grows to be the heaviest bony fish in the sea) and on the way back in we encountered a basking shark (the second largest of all fish). There are great creatures in British Seas!
The main course was, of course, the blues. They are such elegant sharks: sleek and streamlined, they cut through the water effortlessly. Their big black eyes really watch you as they circle. They would come in and bump against my camera port to investigate what it was. It was a fantastic experience.
Kate: What advice would you give to budding underwater photographers?
Alex: British seas are a great place to take wildlife images. I regularly dive on beaches and enjoy showing people the images I’ve just taken. They are always amazed at what is living just offshore. It is not just another world, but another universe, yet still in our country.
If you are looking to expand your photographic horizons there is no better place than underwater. And you don’t need to know how to dive. I took these blue shark pictures snorkelling, but you can find fascinating marine life in rockpools, which you can photograph underwater with only your hands getting wet.
Kate: How do you feel that photography and film competitions like the BWPA can benefit conservation?
Alex: They are not the whole solution, but particularly underwater, they have a really important role to play in letting people know what fantastic wildlife we have in British seas. Especially because many of the people who buy the book, or see the exhibition, are not going to be divers.
If we photographers can wow them with images, hopefully they will learn to love our seas too. I think we are lucky that Maggie Gowan [the organiser of the BWPA] is a diver and that marine images have featured so prominently in the BWPA since the very first year.
Ten years ago, marine issues were a side issue in British nature conservation; now they are part of mainstream conservation and everyone is talking about them. There is a long way to go, but I feel encouraged that we’re really making progress.
Kate: If you had one wish that could help UK wildlife, what would it be and why?
Alex: A wish, right? I wish that for just one day all the seas around Britain were as clear as air. So all British people could see the wonders we have here. But also the damage we do – such as when fishing is not properly regulated and the destruction that is caused by a few fishing practices. If our wild places and wildlife on land were ravaged in the same way, people would be very upset and would be much more discerning consumers.
Our seas have the potential to be very rich, in fact far richer and provide far more food than they do now. But they need to be properly managed, healthy ecosystems to do that. Not ecosystems that are wiped clean by a trawler every few months, with fish populations fished so low that their true productivity can never be realised.
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