Freediver Vincent Canabal swims alongside a great hammerhead at Bimini, Bahamas
Amanda Cotton is one of the most active and prolific shooters in underwater photography today. Whether she is on assignment, leading expeditions, or working on personal projects, Amanda’s life is brimming with once-in-a-lifetime moments and encounters. But rarely in this industry will you find a fellow shooter who is more kind and encouraging. From promoting others to lending wisdom, she dispels much of the competitive spirit that is so easily embraced, and understands that, after all, the endgame is to create, preserve, and to educate for the benefit of our oceans.
DPG: How did you get into photography and who were your influences?
Amanda Cotton: I attended Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, and obtained my Bachelor of Arts in Professional Photography. While I was there, I participated in the Underseas Program, which was established by Ernie Brooks, a pioneer in black and white underwater photography. The first time I saw his images, I was 12 years old and I remember being mesmerized by them. I wanted very much to go to Brooks after that and was thrilled when I graduated from there. It has been an incredible treat to have Ernie’s support over the years and it really has meant the world to me. I feel truly blessed to have been influenced by his talents from such an early age—and to call him a mentor and a friend, as he is one of the kindest men you will ever meet.
Amanda shoots an American crocodile in the waters of Chinchorro Banks, Mexico
DPG: What is the biggest challenge for you as a woman in this industry?
AC: I think the biggest challenge most women face is the need to prove we can do things on equal ground as a male in the industry. There can be a presumption that a female diver isn’t as strong, or competent, or experienced as her male counterpart. This is a prejudice that needs to stop. There is a multitude of extraordinarily talented and experienced women shooters out there doing the same amount of work and have as much talent as the male shooters in our industry.
DPG: What would you tell a male shooter/dive shop owner who smirked at your ambition or gender?
AC: I sometimes find when I go to a dive shop that I haven’t frequented before, I get a condescending attitude by the male dive shop employees, which is disappointing, but something I typically just ignore. I stopped going to a particular dive shop in my area because one of the employees told me girls should not be diving with sharks because it is a “guy thing” and I was making the male divers who do it look bad!
Anyone who smirks at my ambition or thinks I can’t or shouldn’t be doing what I do because I am a girl simply feeds my fire to work harder and continue to be successful. It also makes me work harder at helping other girls and ladies in the industry succeed.
Autumn Panlilio models for Amanda in a Florida spring
DPG: What is the biggest lesson you have learned? What advice would you give to young shooters?
AC: Never give up. You are going to get rejected; you are going to lose a job or a contest, or miss a perfect opportunity to someone else, but never let that stop you from dusting yourself off and trying again. This is a very competitive industry—you are going to take a few hits along the way—but just keep swimming!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you have to find your niche that allows you to stand out from the crowd. Don’t let your style get lost as you try to fit inside this industry. Don’t lose your own voice that comes through in your imagery; it is more important than you realize.
Shark divers below the Thresher photograph great hammerheads in the waters off Bimini, Bahamas
DPG: Favorite underwater memory?
AC: I have so many incredible memories underwater it makes it hard to pinpoint just one, but a favorite recent memory happened a couple weeks ago at Dominica as we were diving with sperm whales. We had a sub-adult female, two juveniles and a young calf play and socialize while we were in the water with them for what seemed an eternity. We often get socializing behavior where the whales caress, rub and play with each other; but this day the whales were encouraging the three people in the water to participate and kept moving to get closer to us and include us. The young age of the whales made it especially heartwarming.
A magical encounter with sperm whales in Dominica
DPG: Give us a sneak peak at KORU.
AC: I am very excited about KORU, which launches at ADEX in Singapore, in April. The KORU project showcases the connection between the feminine spirit and water—and the need to protect and nurture both.
Images of Cristina Zenato from the KORU project
DPG: What is it about Cristina Zenato that allows her to have such a special bond with sharks? What is it like watching her in action?
AC: Cristina connects with the sharks on many levels, but I believe her approach to her work is what separates her. She waits for the sharks to initiate the connection and feels it on an emotional level when the connection is made. She isn’t down there to just put on a show with the sharks. She wants others to understand them and see them the way she sees them—to really feel them. Everything she does in her actions when she is underwater focuses on this; she is as much tuned in with the divers around her, and how they are connecting to the encounter, as she is with the sharks.
Cristina Zenato with one of her babies, a caribbean reef shark, in the Bahamas
To find out more about Amanda and her work, visit www.acottonphoto.com or check out the following video:
Plan Your Adventure >