Few divers have such envy-inducing CV's as Alex Mustard. One of the world's leading underwater photographers, Alex has featured in a staggering ten different BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year books, has an MBE and has personally presented his work to the Queen. In his most impressive venture yet, Alex will also be judging our Instagram underwater photography competition. Here, we pick his brain to find out how to take the perfect underwater photo…
How did you get into underwater photography?
It has been a lifelong passion. I took my first underwater photos when I was nine years old and have been doing so ever since. I have always been fascinated in underwater life and wanted to take photos to document what I saw. None of my family snorkelled or dived, so I particularly wanted to take pictures to share with them what I was seeing. Starting so young gave me lots of time to make mistakes, to learn the techniques for myself and to later develop an artistic interest in creating visually compelling images too. The more eye-catching your pictures the more people want to see them!
What is your favourite subject to photograph and why?
I pride myself in being an all-round underwater photographer. Already this year I have photographed everything from pygmy seahorses to the blue whale. Despite having a PhD in marine biology, I don't just shoot wildlife; the last book I did was on the Thistlegorm wreck in the Red Sea. But most of all I love photographing the natural behaviour of marine life; showing people things that they'd never normally notice. I also like that these images show that you were diving in the right way - getting the rewards of not disturbing the natural moments of the lives of marine species.
What camera do you shoot with?
I mainly shoot with Nikon SLRs. I currently shoot with both Nikon D850 and D5 cameras. The D850 has a better image sensor but the D5 is nicer to shoot with, so I struggle to pick between them! I also have an Olympus EM-10 for the shots that the full frame Nikon's don't do, as well as for the smaller mirrorless camera.
What is your go-to lens for your work?
Fisheye. Fisheye lenses are a niche and special effect lens on land, but underwater they are simply the most important lens. The allow us to shoot large subjects from as close as possible, ensuring maximum image quality. Plus, there are few straight lines underwater, so their inherent barrel distortion doesn't show up in underwater photos.
How much planning do you put in before heading to a new place?
As much as possible. Time underwater is always limited, even when you dive as much as me. So I always do as much as possible to be as ready as possible to make the best possible pictures when I arrive somewhere new. I also think it is part of the fun - in the modern world everyone is used to having everything now, but I love the anticipation of waiting for things. Researching a destination is part of the experience of travel.
What has been your favourite shoot so far?
I try and be most excited about what I am doing at the moment. I believe that you need to be passionate about what you are shooting to create really memorable photos, so I prefer not to dream of past highlights and instead focus on what's next. That way I give my all whether I am in cold, murky water shooting sea slugs or in crystal blue water shooting dolphins. My next shoot is in the Philippines with frogfish, seahorses, nudibranchs and amazing reef life.
Where is next on your bucket list?
I am really missing cold water diving at the moment. I used to do a lot more and I've done relatively little over the last few years. Some of the world's richest temperate water dives are on my bucket list: the Pacific coast of Canada, southern Australia and the Cape of South Africa would make a good start!
If you had one piece of advice for budding photographers, what would it be?
The most important advice is to work on your diving skills. As an underwater photographer you are the transport and tripod for your camera, and the more stable, the more controlled, the more manoeuvrable you are in the water, the better your pictures will be. Also a camera can be a terrible distraction underwater, so making sure your diving skills are up to it is important, especially considering the fragile marine environments you'll be in - taking quality underwater photos requires us to get the camera very close to the subject and an uncontrolled diver will stir up sediment and scare fish. Oh and don't eat fish - I am always surprised by the number of divers who will preach about not touching the reef and then order seafood straight after the dive!
Enter our Instagram Photography Competition for the chance to win a luxury diving holiday to the Philippines...