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Meet GUE’s NextGen Scholarship Winner

Meet one of the newest members of the family, 25-year old Annika Andresen from New Zealand, GUE’s first ever NextGen scholarship recipient.

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by Amanda White

Header photo by Matthew Coutts. Annika diving at the Mokohinau-Islands.

As a way to empower the next generation of divers, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) created the NextGen Scholarship, which provides a year of training and other benefits to deserving divers on their quest for excellence. 

Annika Andresen. Photo by Vicki Leopold.

We are excited to announce that the first-ever NextGen scholarship recipient has been selected. Annika Andresen from New Zealand will be our 2019-2020 NextGen scholarship winner!  Annika is 25 years old with a Masters of Architecture, where she studied the role architecture plays on the connection people have with their environment. She has also worked on dive boats, is a PADI open water dive instructor, and currently works for Blake, an environmental trust, as an environmental educator.  

InDepth caught up with Annika to learn a bit more about her and how this scholarship will help her achieve her goals.

InDepth

We got to know you a little bit through your video and application, but we have a couple more questions to get to know you a little bit better and share your story with our community. What influenced you to pursue diving, and how old were you when you started?
Annika sailing on the family yacht ‘Moonsong’ with her father and two brothers. Photo from Annika.

Annika Andresen 

I grew up sailing around the east coast of the North Island on a little 9-meter (30-foot) yacht with my family— my parents and two brothers.  We were always around or in the water, and my dad let us have a go on his dive gear when we were seven to see what it was like to breathe underwater. We didn’t really go under the water, we were just on the surface, but as we got older we joined him on more of his dives. It wasn’t until my first year of university where I got enough money to do my open water course in 2013, but it feels like I have been diving my whole life. 

What attracted you to diving over other water sports?

Just being closer to everything and being fully immersed. If I was snorkelling, there is only so long I could hold my breath, so I really wanted to learn how to dive so I could actually stay submerged and watch the different marine life swimming around and become part of the environment. That’s kind of what started it off. I had a good friend in the Auckland University Underwater Club who was also interested, so we did the course together. After my first year at University I wanted to get a summer job that involved something to do with the ocean. I emailed Kate Malcolm at Dive! Tutukaka, asking if there were any jobs working on the boats as crew. On my trial we saw dolphins almost every day, got to take customers in the water to experience the marine life, and were teaching everyone about the importance of our marine environment. I couldn’t believe this was a real job. I moved up to Tutukaka, where I got to go out to the Poor Knights Islands every day, and on my days off, I was able to gain more diving experience, joining the dive masters with their group. I think it was then when I really fell in love with diving.  I was like, “This is what I want to do. This is what I want to fully throw myself into and learn as much as I can.” 

Finishing a dive at Poor Knights Island. Photo by Cameron Barton.
How has your connection with the underwater world influenced the rest of your, I guess, so to speak, dry land life?

At the moment, it’s very much influenced… well, I guess the underwater world has always influenced my life. I remember at primary school, every time I was drawing something, it was something to do with the water. My teachers said, “Oh, you’ve got to expand and draw other things,” but that’s all that I wanted to do. In intermediate, we were doing a project about the ocean and I remember sitting down with the teacher and saying, ‘“Instead of just reading about it, why don’t we actually take them out to Goat Island (New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve)?” So somehow, I convinced my teacher and parents to take my whole class to my teacher’s house who had a pool. During one afternoon, we taught them how to snorkel, going through how to put on a mask, and snorkel, and how to be comfortable in the water. 

Annika snorkeling on the Rewa Wreck at Moturekareka Island with her brother. Photo from Annika.

Then the following week, we went up to Goat Island. My dad and I guided my class around the bay, pointing out all the different species while my mom rowed our dinghy (that had a little glass bottom) for the three people that didn’t like being in the water. Everyone was really excited to see the fish. In my architectural degree, all of my designs always included water or a connection to the environment. One of my favorite designs was a marine rehabilitation center sited in the Bay of Islands for different marine species. So I guess everything has always been influenced by the underwater world…for me, it’s my home. I always feel very calm on the water and then diving just ramped everything up a lot more. Now whatever I do seems to be associated with or to revolve around diving or anything to do with water.

Do you participate in any other water sports besides snorkeling and swimming?

Yeah, I love sailing. I do a lot of sailing. Normally every Friday night, I will go down with a group of girls and we do rum racing. So if you win the race, you get a bottle of rum, and then there’s other sailing regattas during the weekend if I’m not diving. If I can’t go diving or sailing, normally the weather is perfect for surfing. My car always has a combination of dive gear, surfboard on top, my wet weather gear, and a towel. I also really like free-diving as well because it’s just very different from scuba-diving, and there are some species I don’t want to scare off with my bubbles. 

We saw from your video that you work for Blake. How did you get involved in conservation?
Annika presenting the Blake NZ-VR program. Photo by Bhakti Patel.

I have always been interested in volunteering for conservation projects and encouraging others to do the same. I was very lucky. In 2016-2017, I was chosen for Blake’s ambassador program where I worked with Antarctica, New Zealand, and the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Through the program, I was able to go to Antarctica and work with the team down there to conserve Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut. 

When I finished my thesis last year, BLAKE approached me over the summer and asked me to help kickstart a new project. This has been the pilot year for NZ-VR, where we have a roadshow traveling to different schools in Auckland. We have 60 VR headsets and spent the year teaching four classes a day, ranging from 10-year-olds to 15-year-olds, about our underwater environment. We put a headset on each student showing 360° footage from New Zealand Geographic that is taken all around New Zealand, comparing and contrasting environments from the very pristine northern parts of New Zealand to degraded environments from human impact that are closer to human populations.

Annika teaching environmental education within schools around Auckland. Photo by Brendon O’Hagen.

By the end of the year, my colleague and I will have taught 20,000 students in the Auckland region. Hopefully, depending on funding for the project, we want to get two more educators and double the amount of headsets to reach twice as many students and further expand into the surrounding regions. It’s a really awesome organization where they were able to just give me the support that I needed to really push the idea of learning through experience. This is really exciting, as this was what my thesis was based around, and I can combine my passion for the underwater world and creative thinking towards conservation.  

Wow. What an inspiring job to have.
Recording rubbish found at a beach clean up with students. Photo by Brendon O’Hagen.

Yeah, it’s pretty incredible to be able to get students excited about the ocean, to remove that element of fear if they don’t like the water for some students, and show others that don’t get the opportunity to be able to experience what it is like beneath the surface. It gets students to be immersed and learn empathy toward our environment. The other awesome addition to the videos is the natural underwater sounds New Zealand Geographic recorded, so when the students are experiencing these videos, they can hear everything that you would be able to hear underwater. 

What attracted you to GUE?

Very good question. It was actually when I had just started scuba diving, I think I had done 20 dives. At the time, I was seeing someone who had done the GUE Tech One course and he said it would be a really good way of refining my skills and gaining a lot more confidence in the water. I had previously met Mel Jeavons and Jamie Obern on the dive boats and was really interested in the diving they were doing. 

Annika diving doubles in Northern Arch, Poor Knights. Photo by Harry Josephson-Rutter.

I did the Fundamentals course with Jamie on a single tank with a wetsuit just because that’s what I was diving in at the time and what I was comfortable with. Over the next two years, I worked on gaining more diving experience and talking to Jamie, and finally, I was like, okay, I’m ready to go on to twins now. I got my tech pass a year after that. I really valued being able to dive and not disturb any of the environment around me, especially while working at the Poor Knights.

It wasn’t until I started working as a divemaster and guiding people around that it really showed the difference. I was very conscious that I didn’t want to destroy the environment that I was showing people. And being able to share that with people, sharing techniques I had learned or explaining certain elements in diving, I realized this gave confidence to my divers as well. I wanted to ensure every diver had a positive experience, and so they could enjoy their dive and fall in love with the ocean just like I have, giving them a reason to protect it. 

Preparing for a dive onboard El Tigre, Dive Tutukaka. Photo by Lorna Doogan.
What are your diving goals now?

To spend as much time in the water as I can. I would love to dive along the side of a huge iceberg in Antarctica, explore the wrecks of Truk Lagoon, or swim alongside schooling hammerheads in the Galapagos. This list could go on forever…

Furthering my diving skills, I’ve always wanted to try cave diving, and I am truly fascinated by the amazing pictures I have seen from cave divers. There are some caves in New Zealand, which is not an easy place to learn to cave dive, but it has always been one of my life goals to see first-hand what this incredible environment is like. 

Over the last year, I have been looking into the GUE Tech One course, and this came after a dive on the MV Rena (a container ship that ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef in 2011). Four and a half years later, the exclusion zone was lifted, and I was lucky enough to dive the wreck a couple of days later. The wreck was split in two and the stern section of the Rena starts in 26 m/85 ft, continuing further down the reef face to 70 m/230 ft. I was stuck at 30 m/100 ft, and I was looking down at this amazing container ship, and I was just like, ‘oh, this is why I want to get my Tech One,’ because looking down on the wreck is just not the same, and the wreck, although so close, seemed so far away. 

I have always dreamt of taking every single person beneath the surface and showing them some of the amazing things I have been lucky enough to see. So, one of my main personal goals would be to inspire as many people as I can and take them on my journey to share the importance and beauty of our ocean.    

How do you feel the GUE scholarship will help you achieve these? As both a diver and a conservationist?

Just meeting everyone, building on my knowledge, and developing my skills as a diver. Gaining a greater understanding of conservation projects, hearing their diving stories, what they’ve learned, and then being able to share these experiences with everyone. That would be awesome. This scholarship is an amazing platform for me to be an ambassador for the protection of our oceans as well as for women in the marine environment and diving. 

It’s a great community, that’s for sure. Had you heard of Jarrod Jablonski before he called you to tell you that you were awarded the scholarship?

I had, because I read everyone’s profiles. I was really nervous when I got the phone call. I started my interview talking to Dorota, and then she got up to get someone. I didn’t know what was going on. Jarrod sat down and it took a little bit to register, and when he said his name I went into a bit of a shock and I was like, ‘What? He’s actually talking to me?’ But yes, it was a bit of a stunned moment; that it was actually him that was talking to me online.

Annika will be joining GUE for their 2019 Conference in Florida from November 9-11th. If you are interested in attending the conference, registration closes on November 4th. 

Additional Resources


Amanda White is the editor for InDepth, and Global Underwater Explorers Content and Brand manager. Her main passion in life is protecting the environment; whether that means working to minimize her own footprint or working on a broader scale to protect wildlife, the oceans, and other bodies of water. She received her GUE Recreational Level 1 certificate in November 2016 and has been lucky enough to join GUE and Project Baseline projects. Amanda holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis on strategic communications and a minor in creative writing from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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Brown In Bardo: Exploring the Commercial Art of Diving with Jason Brown

British photo phenom Jason Brown continues to redefine the commercial art of diving, all the while thrilling dive audiences around the planet. Where does he look for inspiration? And why is he always seen in the company of a boxer named Rufus? InDepth editor Amanda White chats up the man behind BARDOCreative in search of answers.

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By Amanda White
All photos by Jason Brown

Jason Brown with BARDOCreative’s chief morale officer Rufus, an essential part of Brown’s creative process.

British picture maker Jason Brown has been wowing the dive industry with stunning magazine covers, striking underwater imagery, and creative commercial photography. If you haven’t heard of him or his company, BARDOCreative, he is a man of many talents, who has transported us through time and space to feel as if we are a part of his images. We recently had a chat with Jason to learn a little bit about him and his photography. Dive in!

InDepth: Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Jason Brown: As a kid growing up in the ’80s, I loved tinkering with early 8-bit computers. Like many teenagers of the time, I would spend my days glued to an old TV screen connected to a Commodore 64 in my bedroom. What really changed things for me, though, was the advent of the Commodore Amiga. The Amiga was a revelation, and programs like Deluxe Paint got me hooked on using computers for creativity. It did stuff that was just unheard of back then. You could record and remix digital sound, overlay graphics onto live video with a genlock, and even capture real-world digital images directly into the computer and manipulate them in Deluxe Paint. The Amiga practically invented digital art!

The Amiga got me my first job working in editorial for one of the biggest consumer magazine publishers in the U.K. Working on magazines was a lot of fun, as I would spend everyday rubbing shoulders with some very creative people—writers, fellow editors, designers, illustrators, and photographers. As a completely self-taught photographer, I credit those early magazine days as my best teacher.

How did your underwater journey begin? 

Brown and buddy indulging in some UK beach diving..

If I have one regret, it’s that I wish I’d taken up diving earlier. Like many, I was convinced to sign up when a friend was given a PADI Open Water course for his birthday. I was in my late 20s when I took my first breath of compressed air and some twenty-plus years later, I’m still loving every minute of it. Having switched to diving a twinset fairly early on, I discovered Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) and took DIR Fundamentals (as it was called back then) in 2006 with former GUE instructor Andy Kerslake. Since then I’ve climbed the GUE ladder to Tech 2 and more recently, CCR 1 with Graham Blackmore, one of the best instructors that I’ve been fortunate enough to train with. The switch to CCR has been a revelation. It’s been tough unlearning some deeply ingrained habits, but it’s been so worth it. 

What was your motivation to switch to CCR?

My switch to CCR was driven by a single, very focused desire to photograph the wrecks of Malin Head off the coast of Ireland. Laying in 60 meters-plus, you can do them on open circuit, but to truly appreciate them without running up an obscene helium bill, you need to dive them on CCR. I’m sure everyone has seen photo pioneer Leigh Bishop’s images of the massive 13.5” naval guns on the wreck of HMS Audacious or the Sherman tanks stacked on top of each other on the Empire Heritagethe Malin wrecks are a photographer’s dream! Visibility of 40 meters-plus is not unheard of, so you can really capture the scale of these amazing wrecks.

You participated in project diving before your switch to CCR. Can you tell me a little bit about what projects you were involved in and your role?

One of the first projects that I was lucky enough to be involved in was based out of Portland in Dorset here in the U.K. A team of passionate volunteers set it upon themselves to scour the seabed off Portland and Weymouth looking for uncharted wrecks, many of which had never been dived before. Using sidescan data captured during longs days scanning the seabed, we’d identify marks of interest and would set out to dive them. Sometimes those marks would simply be scrap on the seabed but, with surprising frequency, we’d find stuff of genuine historical interest, too.

Stock footage: Inside the SMS Coln at Scapa Flow.

“What always surprised me was the sheer volume of objects of historical significance just waiting to be discovered.”

What always surprised me was the sheer volume of objects of historical significance just waiting to be discovered. We got to the point where finding yet another Admiralty anchor or a centuries-old cannon was considered routine! Then, of course, there were those days when we’d stumble across really exciting finds. The seabed off Portland is very dynamicit constantly shifts, burying some objects and revealing others. For me, a real highlight was the day we located a large section of hull from a 17th century vessel that had been buried for many years. We were certainly the first people to lay eyes on her since the day she sank! It’s a bittersweet memory too as my buddy that day is no longer with us.

Stock footage: Diver on a vintage wreck with wooden decking located in the waters around the UK.

My role on that project was to record what we’d find underwater through my photography. Photography had two purposes: The first would be to aid in the identification of the objects we’d find. The secondand possibly even more important purposewould be that my images hopefully inspire others to take an interest in maritime history. We even set up a visitor center where divers and non-divers alike could view artifacts recovered from wrecks in the local area and learn more about Portland’s rich maritime history. These days, of course, the focus has switched more to photogrammetry, but I still feel that photography has an important role to play. 3D models are a fantastic visualisation tool, but they can also be rather clinical. Photography, on the other hand, gives far greater scope for creativity.

“These days, of course, the focus has switched more to photogrammetry, but I still feel that photography has an important role to play.”

In recent years, I’ve started giving something back to the community by sponsoring a number of U.K.-based projects. I’m proud to support the amazing work that GUE Instructor Marcus Rose has been doing with Project Baseline here in the U.K. Hopefully I’ll be able to get actively involved in a few of them, too!

You have no interest in photogrammetry?

Far from it. I honestly think that photogrammetry is a very exciting development, especially for project diving. I just don’t believe that it replaces traditional photography. If anything, it supplements it very nicely. Diving explorers like Ingmar and Richard Lundgren, Immi Wallin, Chris Rowlands, and Kari Hyttinen are doing some amazing things with photogrammetry and have proven its worth as a fantastic tool for visualising wreck sites. I see photogrammetry as an additional skill set that I could bring to diving projects, rather than being a skill I can offer commercially. The key to being a useful member of any project team is to bring skills to the table that both compliment and indeed supplement what they may already have. If you have the camera gear, it makes sense not to limit what you can offer.

Tell us a bit about how you came to name your business Bardo?

Swimming through the veins of Mother Earth in France, 2011

Contrary to what most seem to think, it’s got nothing to do with 1950s French actresses and a whole lot to do with my exploration of Buddhism back in my 20s. It’s actually a reference from the Bardo Thodol (or TheTibetan Book of the Dead as it’s called in the West). Wikipedia explains it better than I could as “the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth.” The Tibetan text describes, and is intended to guide one through, the experiences that the consciousness has after death in the Bardothe interval between death and the next rebirth. Who knew I was quite so deep, eh?

Very poetic. How did you get into photography? 

My first exposure to professional photography was during my magazine publishing days. Magazines are very visual mediums and need a constant supply of professional-quality photographs, and so I would spend many long days trapped in hot and stuffy photographic studios working alongside some very talented photographers. Seeing how they shaped light always fascinated me, and it’s something that I explore a lot through my own photography.

My own passion in photography started when I inherited my father’s SLR camera. It was a pretty basic camera, but it taught me how to shoot in full manual mode. Modern digital cameras are very sophisticated, but you still need to understand basic camera theoryf/stops, ISO speed, shutter speed, and so on. This is particularly important underwater as cameras will only capture what they perceive to be a correct exposure based on top-side theory. Full manual unlocks full creativityyou can capture the image you want rather than the image that the camera thinks you want.

Some of Jason Brown’s cover story images including GUE’s QUEST magazine.

When I first learned to dive, it didn’t take long before I wanted to take a camera with me on my adventures. Back then, film was still king, so my first attempts at underwater photography were captured on a roll of 36 exposuresmany of which usually ended up in the bin. Shooting film is far more challenging than digital. Compared to the technology available to photographers today, getting a decent image on film was a lot more hit-and-miss.

Do you ever still shoot with film?

I honestly haven’t shot on film for many, many years now. Very occasionally, though, I do like to set myself a challenge. I will allow myself a maximum of 24 shots and go shoot something interesting. Forcing yourself to not “spray and pray” really makes you focus (if you’ll pardon the pun) on each and every shot. That’s one aspect of film photography that I fear we’ve lostthat sense that you’ve only got a very limited opportunity to get it right. In my experience at least, restricting yourself in this way often results in far better photos

“That’s one aspect of film photography that I fear we’ve lostthat sense that you’ve only got a very limited opportunity to get it right.”

You are doing more than just capturing your time underwater, you now work with brands and magazines doing commercial photography and graphic design. How did you get into that?

Photoshoot for Apeks.

Through blood, sweat, and tears. Seriously though, none of it happened overnight, and it required a lot of networking to get my name out there and develop the contacts I have today. Ten years ago I was working in marketing for a travel company, and I would always become disheartened when days trapped in the office would stop me from going diving. In 2010 I made the decision to sack my boss and start working for myself. I really didn’t have a robust business plan; I just knew I wanted to be able to go diving whenever I wanted. Of course, the reality is somewhat different, and I still find myself occasionally trapped by work. Finding like-minded friends who can skip work to go diving is always a challenge, too, and then there are those pesky project deadlines that still get in the way. To be fair, being self-employed does give me a lot more flexibility to do what I want when I want, though. That alone makes it worthwhile.

Does anyone work with you on your projects?

For me, every shoot is a collaborationwhether it’s with your models, the client, or indeed your dive buddy. I always welcome input, and I’m always open to trying something different if I think they have a cool idea. Never assume that you’re the only one with the creative ideas.

You need to learn to collaborate when you’re working with diver models in water. As any underwater photographer will confirm, models can make or break a shoot.  Diving with someone who instinctively knows how to be a good model can make the difference between capturing great images and a wasted dive. Developing that understanding takes time and doesn’t happen overnight. That said, I’m always mindful that I don’t want to monopolize my dive buddy’s in-water time. Often they’ve paid to be on the boat too, and the last thing they want is to spend the entire dive posing for my camera! 

What is your thought process like when you’re doing a shoot?

It’s important to understand that every photoshoot is different. There’s no “do this, do that” formula that you can apply to ensure a successful shoot. The first step is to always talk to the client to get an understanding of what they want to get out of the shoot. Some clients have a very clear idea of what they want. The last shoot I did for Apeks, for example, was well-planned by the marketing team in Blackburn. They provided me with a comprehensive list of topside shots they needed to market and launch their then new VX-1 mask. How I executed those shots was up to me, but even then, a good photographer needs to develop an insight into the sort of “look and feel” that best matches the client’s brand.  There’s no point shooting something completely off the wall if it doesn’t fit in with either the client’s brief or their own brand image. Photo commissions aren’t about you as a creative; they’re about satisfying the client’s needs.

“There’s no point shooting something completely off the wall if it doesn’t fit in with either the client’s brief or their own brand image. Photo commissions aren’t about you as a creative; they’re about satisfying the client’s needs.”

Brown showcasing his images at the Sport Diver booth at a diving conference.

Do you have any favorite projects that you’ve worked on? 

Magazine shoots are always fun, and occasionally you get to travel to some quite exciting destinations. One of my favorite trips was to the beautiful island of Alphonse in the Indian Ocean, which was sponsored by the Seychelles tourist board. Three other photojournalists from the U.K. dive press and I were whisked away to a private island catering to the rich and famous. This island was just paradise personified and would normally cost far more than I could ever afford. Being able to spend a week on the island being treated like royalty under the pretense of writing a travel feature was quite a sweet gig!

Due to HSE restrictions here in the U.K., all my paid commissions are topside only. The stuff I shoot underwater is licensed as stock photography via my website, so I get a lot more free rein over my underwater images. That said, I do tend to tailor what I shoot with an eye to future licensing opportunities. 

“What I enjoy is shooting people underwater. For me, what makes an image interesting is human interaction with the underwater world.”

What I enjoy is shooting people underwater. For me, what makes an image interesting is human interaction with the underwater world. It’s that human element that subconsciously connects us to an image. Without a diver, a photo of a wreck is just a shot of a pile of rusty metal on the sea bed. Photography is story-telling, and having a diver in your shot just adds a whole different dimension that invites the viewer to ask questions about what they are seeing. 

Tell us about the InnerSpace piece? What was the assignment? What was the most challenging aspect?

The InnerSpace poster was my panacea to the coronavirus lockdown. Like many self-employed people, the lockdown had a dramatic impact on my business. Virtually overnight, I found myself with zero work, as dive businesses and magazines all shuttered up and closed down for the duration. Not being the sort of person who would busy himself with gardening, I spotted a competition on Instagram being run by camera equipment manufacturer Godox inviting photographers to shoot cool and imaginative imagery at home during lockdown. It gave me the excuse I needed to get into the studio and get creative!

A creative “movie poster” made during lockdown.

Being unable to dive my JJ-CCR due to lockdown restrictions, I decided to create a cool movie-style poster in the studio by combining a stylish sci-fi style shot of the CCR with one of my underwater shots from Dreamgate cenote in Mexico. My long-suffering wife was drafted to model. I set the unit up on a table top in the studio and sat her into it. You’ll be relieved to know that the unit wasn’t functioning and the loop was closed. She still hated every minute of it but tolerated my creative distraction without so much as a complaint. She’s definitely a keeper.

The images were then combined in Photoshop, and the fancy movie text added to complete the effect. I’m pleased to report that the movie poster image seemed to do wellGodox picked it up, and I bagged myself a nice prize. I’m pleased to report that the CCR diver image has also been picked up by Otter Drysuits for a future promotional campaign. All in all, not a bad way to turn lockdown into something positive.

I love the shot of the cave diver looking up towards the light. Can you tell me a little bit about it? What were you envisioning?

Cenote Chac Mool in Mexico, 2013.

I captured that image on my first trip to Mexico back in 2013 at Chac Mool cenoteprobably one of the most famous cenote dives in the area. Chac Mool is best known for the breathtaking light show that appears in the head pool for much of the day. To get the full effect, though, you need to time it just right so that the sunlight cuts through the water at just the right angle. I challenge anyone not to be blown away by the beauty of Chac Mool as the strong sunlight cuts through the clear cenote waters. As a photographer, it’s a dream come true. You cannot fail to capture amazing images in such an environment. The first time I visited Chac Mool, I don’t think I got any further than the head pool. I literally spent 90 minutes just shooting the light beams!

“As any cave diver will tell you, the stream of light that cuts through the water at the end of a cool cave dive is always a welcome sight. Even though it signals the end of the dive, we subconsciously feel drawn into the light as it signals safety and a return to the world.”

As any cave diver will tell you, the stream of light that cuts through the water at the end of a cool cave dive is always a welcome sight. Even though it signals the end of the dive, we subconsciously feel drawn into the light as it signals safety and a return to the world. My idea for the shot was to create an image of a diver literally being drawn into a welcoming beam of sunlight, drawing them toward the surface like a sci-fi movie tractor beam. Convincing my model to drop out of trim for the shot was probably the biggest challenge. As any GUE diver knows, diving out of trim just feels wrong, but once I’d explained what I wanted to achieve, he was very obliging. I’m still impressed that he got the angle so right!

None of what I capture underwater is shot for a particular client, and so it always pleases me when one of my photos is picked up by a big diving brand. That particular image was featured on a full-page advert and exhibition stand for Fourth Element. Seeing your work being used as the eye candy for a high-profile promotional campaign never gets dull.

How does it feel when you see your finished product being used at a dive show or in a magazine?

It’s always a buzz! I’ve been lucky enough to have my photography featured on quite a few magazine covers over the years, and even now it still makes me beam when I get a cover. Most magazines will tip you off when your image has been selected, and some will even send you a “strictly for your eyes only” preview of the cover layout. Getting a screenshot of a future cover in my inbox first thing in the morning always brightens my day!

The worst thing about getting a cover, though, is not being able to tell anyone for a couple of weeks. Until the issue hits the newsstands, I have to keep it to myself. Even now, I still get some of the better covers blown up to poster size and framed. These take pride of place on the wall in my office and serve as a constant reminder of some of the awesome stuff I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph over the years.

Spotting my photography at dive shows is always very cool, too. Most recently, my shot of the Bristol Beaufighter wreck in Malta was blown up and displayed on a 6 m/20 ft wide light box at the Go Diving Show in Coventry, U.K. You really couldn’t miss it!

Jason highlighting his shot of the Bristol Beaufighter wreck on display at the Go Diving Show in the UK.

Can you tell us a little bit about the shoot for this cover of Scuba Diver magazine with a 17-year-old cave diver?

That cover accompanied a feature that I’d pitched to the magazine about young U.K. cave diver Robert Thomas. It was a perfect fit for the magazine as they were keen to promote young people coming into diving. In fact, that feature was used as the launch pad for a series of articles which ran over several months, showcasing young divers and some of the cool stuff they were doing. Most of them weren’t quite as extreme as Robert who, accompanied by his father, was squeezing himself into tight holes in the ground from a very young age. 

The feature first came about when I accompanied Robert and his father on a caving trip to Porth Yr Ogof in South Walesa beautiful cave located near the village of Ystradfellte, near the southern boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park. I’d gone along to try my hand at dry cave photography using remote strobes dotted around the inside of the cave. During that trip, the idea of featuring Robert in the magazine had come about. I spent most of the day snapping shots for the potential feature of Robert and his father in this beautiful Welsh cave.

This diver was shot in the Vobster Quay .

The one thing I didn’t have, though, was any underwater shots of Robert, so we hatched a plan to shoot some on another day. The U.K. isn’t blessed with too many caves that you can dive on a twinset, and even the cool caves like Wookey Hole are jealously guarded by the CDG (Cave Diving Group), so getting access to these wasn’t an option. Although both Robert and his father were CDG members, I was not, and CDG sadly doesn’t recognize other agency certs. To get around this problem, we travelled to Vobster Quay inland diving lake and shot some images there. If you know where to go underwater, there are quite a few little holes that, with a little creativity and some fancy lighting, you can make look like U.K. caves. So yes, I cheated. That cover shot was completely fake, but it really didn’t matterit was an eye-catching image that grabbed the attention of anyone who picked up the magazine.

Do you do the layouts for magazine stories where your images appear? Or approve the finished product?

Magazines have their own designers, and I make a point of never interfering with their creativity. They may be my images and my words, but it’s their magazine and you have to be prepared to let go a little.

“As a photographer, it’s all too easy to get a little too attached to your own work. Different people see different things in a photo, and my opinion is no more or less valid than theirs.”

As a photographer, it’s all too easy to get a little too attached to your own work. Different people see different things in a photo, and my opinion is no more or less valid than theirs. That said, some magazines will occasionally invite your input. Scuba Diver magazine here in the U.K., for example, is really good, and I have a great relationship with both the editor and designer who makes our work look so eye-catching. If there’s a particular image that I’m really keen to have featured, they’ll normally accommodate my wish. Again, though, I don’t push it. Unless there’s a genuine reason why the image is important to the feature, I’m happy for them to choose the images that they think work best.  

Brown featured in a story spread in Scuba Diving magazine

As a designer myself, I fully appreciate the pressures that magazine designers are under. The last thing they need is a precious photographer or writer asking them to make changes unless there’s a very, very good reason for it. Just let them do their job. Occasionally they’ll come up with something that doesn’t work for you but even then, it’s fascinating to see how others interpret your work.

Tell us about your work with EUROTEK and TEKCamp. What sort of challenges do you face with event photography and promotional designs?

Shooting EUROTEK 2016. Becky Kagan Schott discussing Great Lakes shipwrecks .

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some superb events over the years. I’m proud to be one of the organizers of the EUROTEK Advanced Diving Conference with responsibility for every aspect of the event’s branding and visuals. I’m also the regular event photographer for the Go Diving Show and TEKCamp masterclass events here in the U.K. and have also shot both TEKDiveUSA back in 2014 and the Baltictech Conference in Poland in 2017. Each event comes with its own unique set of challenges, but they all share one thing in commonthey’re utterly exhausting but a whole lot of fun!

The biggest challenge with shooting an indoor event like EUROTEK is the lighting. Using flash photography isn’t really an option, as the last thing you want to do is disturb those who have paid good money to listen to the talks. Problem is, the conference rooms tend to be very dark, so you really need to know how to capture pin-sharp photos in low light and often work with difficult mixed lighting. Using the right equipment is key here. I shoot using a Nikon D4 which offers exceptional low-light capabilities with pro-level fast lenses. You get one chance to get the shot at an eventmiss it and you’re stuck. There is no way to reproduce the shot at a later date.

The 2014 EUROTEK Poster.

What are your plans for the future? Any upcoming projects that you are working on, or personal plans that you can share with us?

Right now, I’ll just be happy to get back into the water. The pandemic that has swept the world has left us all with serious diving withdrawal symptoms! Once restrictions are fully lifted, my first port of call will be my local diving lake to spend a few hours getting comfortable on my rebreather again. I was lucky enough to recently squeeze a couple of shallow open-circuit shore dives in for a magazine feature, but that’s been it since early March. My poor CCR has a thick layer of dust on it!

After that, who knows. I’ve got a soft spot for the caves in the Lot region of France, so a trip across the channel with my camera and as many lights as I can smuggle through the border checks is definitely on the cards for later in the year. I’ve dived Mexico a few times, but there’s something about France that I just love. I suspect the stunning food and wine have something to do with it, as does the breathtaking countryside in that part of the world. If you’ve never visited France cave country, do itit’s truly beautiful.

Additional Resources 

Scuba Diver magazine’s Webinar: Wreck photography with Jason Brown and Becky Kagan Schott

Connect With Jason Brown:

www.bardophotographic.com

www.facebook.com/bardocreative

www.instagram.com/bardophotographic


Amanda White is an editor for InDepth. Her main passion in life is protecting the environment. Whether that means working to minimize her own footprint or working on a broader scale to protect wildlife, the oceans, and other bodies of water. She received her GUE Recreational Level 1 certificate in November 2016 and is ecstatic to begin her scuba diving journey. Amanda was a volunteer for Project Baseline for over a year as the communications lead during Baseline Explorer missions. Now she manages communication between Project Baseline and the public and works as the content and marketing manager for GUE. Amanda holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, with an emphasis in Strategic Communications from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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