One of the giant bull sharks on a shark dive in Fiji
Chances are, if you have delved into the work of underwater photographers from Australia, you have come across images from Brett Lobwein. A staple of the underwater photography community Down Under, Brett is the owner of Sydney underwater equipment retailer, UW Images. He is also an Isotta ambassador and a Sony Digital Imaging Advocate. Featured in countless magazines and awarded in multiple international competitions, his work has been used to promote conservation and awareness of our planet’s underwater realm.
Brett has combined his passion for underwater photography and his wanderlust to travel to both the Arctic and Antarctic circles and to countless locations in between to make underwater pictures.
A friendly manatee smiles for Brett in Florida, USA
DPG: How and when did you start taking underwater pictures?
I originally I started scuba diving over 20 years ago and was working in a local dive store where I was able to play around with underwater photo and video equipment. Straight away, I loved the technical and creative challenges of capturing images underwater. Of course, I was also excited to be able show off the beauty of the underwater world to those that aren’t lucky enough to see what I saw! It was actually quite a few years that I didn't have a camera, but around 11 years ago, I was able to invest in a full underwater setup. At that point, I began taking underwater shooting more seriously, and as every photographer knows, it is a slippery slope towards full-blown addiction!
A quartet of giant cuttlefish engage in mating activity during the annual cuttlefish aggregation in South Australia
DPG: What equipment do you currently use, and why that particular equipment?
I am very lucky to be a Sony Digital Imaging Advocate. I currently shoot a Sony a1 and a a7SIII—luckily these two cameras fit inside the same housing. The a1 is a beast and is my go-to for stills or hybrid shooting, but when I am focused on video or working in low light then I throw the a7SIII inside the housing.
My favorite lenses for shooting include the Sony 12–24mm GM, Sony 14mm GM, Sony 16–35mm, and the Sony 90mm macro. I also have a Nikon 8–15mm fisheye with Monster Adapter. Perhaps most excitingly, I just got myself a Nikonos 13mm that I am going to be getting converted for Sony E-mount!
An Australian endemic, the weedy seadragon, Sydney, Australia
My current housing is the Isotta A1. I absolutely love the Isotta housing products—and I’m not saying this because I am an Isotta ambassador. The build quality is fantastic, the ergonomics are great, and the design is simple and easily serviceable.
For lighting I mostly use Kraken Sports strobes and Retra Flash Pro X strobes. I am really excited about the range of new strobes about to hit the market! Innovation is fantastic. I will be testing out the new Marelux strobes shortly and hopefully the forthcoming Kraken Sports ones as well. For video lights, I use Kraken Sports Hydra 8000 or 15000. I love the quality of light, the simple controls on the back of the light, and the LED display to show runtime and power settings. The USB-C charging is so handy when traveling.
The jellyfish eater! A pelagic nudibranch that specializes in eating jellyfish including the man o' war
DPG: Do you have a preference between wide angle and macro?
I love shooting big animals like whales, seals and sharks, so I would have to say wide! But I also love the smallest things that call the ocean home as well. Some of my favorite images I have captured are of baby seahorses and Glaucus (pelagic nudibranchs).
DPG: What type of diving and photography excites you the most?
This is a really hard question to answer, as everything about the ocean excites me. It is probably easier to answer what excites me the least! While I love tech diving, it isn’t something that I have combined with my photography. I have generally focused on living things. While subjects that rust don’t feature in my photography often, I am very inspired by photographers like Pete Mesley and Becky Kagan Schott. OK, now let me try actually answer the question: At the moment, I would have to say split shots really excite me. They are technically challenging and need loads of different aspects to align in order to make an image work.
An endangered Australian sea lion snoozes just beneath the surface
DPG: What is your favorite animal to encounter/photograph underwater?
Whales, whales, whales, and whales! Truthfully, I should say cetaceans in general. I have been lucky enough to share the water with a number of species, and each of them really gets the heart racing. There is nothing like dropping into a heat run of 40-foot humpbacks, or watching orcas work as a team to corral a herring baitball in Norway, or minke whales making a beeline for the camera just because they are curious about you.
While whales are my favorite, I love photographing sharks as well. My old agent said to me many years ago “big things with teeth will sell”. Unfortunately this was mostly due to the bad PR agencies that sharks have had since a particular movie was released. I attempt to create and sell images that do not invoke fear. I try to feature images of sharks that help the public to see the beauty in sharks and their importance to the ocean ecosystem.
A humpback whale calf strikes a pose in the waters off Tonga
The ocean’s most famous predator, the great white shark, photographed late in the day off the Neptune Islands, Australia
DPG: Do you have a most memorable marine life encounter or experience?
Wow, another really hard question! If I had to pick one, it would be with a leopard seal. During an expedition down to Antarctica in February 2023, I was lucky enough to have a few in-water encounters with them. Leopard seals have a bit of a reputation for being aggressive animals. While you need to fully respect them as the apex predator they are, while in the water they certainly aren’t mindless killers.
The seal we encountered was up on an iceberg surrounded by brackish water. After a few minutes, the seal slipped into the water. To be perfectly honest, it was pretty unsetting watching the ice and water moving around you by a 300kg [660lb] seal—but not being able to see it most of the time. I have one image from this encounter that combines my answer from the question, What is type of photography excites you? A split shot of this seal with a wide open mouth around almost the entire 12-inch dome, with every enormous tooth visible. I’m keeping that image under wraps for a bit!
The Antarctic’s apex predator (when orcas aren’t around), the leopard seal
DPG: What is your favorite image you have ever captured and the story behind it?
It would have to be “Smile Crocodile,” an image of a Cuban crocodile taken in the Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), Cuba. I remember hearing from other photographers who had gotten in the water with crocs in Cuba and thought it was crazy! As an Aussie, the idea of getting into the water with crocs just seemed out of control considering the crocs we have here in Australia are “salties” and not a croc to spend time in the water with. I have to say it was the most nervous I have ever been getting into the water, but I relaxed upon seeing that these crocs in Cuba are “friendly.” Generally, you try to avoid parallel to a crocodile, but this one was pretty chilled out and with a bit of luck I was able to line it all up. I love the emotion that this image provokes in myself and others when they see it.
The grin of a Cuban crocodile, floating perfectly still at the surface, waiting for a meal
DPG: What other photographers inspire you and why?
Like most underwater photographers, David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes would have to top the list. Over their respective careers, both have pushed the boundaries of what is possible and the images they have created leave you in awe! Just go back to some of David’s earlier work on film and even with all the technology we have in modern cameras today, I think most underwater photographers couldn’t create what he managed to achieve. One of my favorite quotes of David’s is: “My passion is to open people’s eyes to the sea using the power of photography as a universal language to convince the unconvinced among us that the oceans are fragile and finite.” That quote helped me define my audience as a photographer and what impact I want my images to have on those who view them.
Two other photographers that really inspire me are Scott Portelli and Matty Smith, both of whom I am lucky enough to call good friends. There is a good reason these two are constantly winning award after award. They are pushing techniques, skills, equipment and the work behind an image to new limits.
A spectacular sunset split shot over a healthy part of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
DPG: Do you have future plans or projects regarding underwater photography that you can share with us?
My next trip is to East Timor with Insider Divers. I’m really looking forward to just shooting for myself on this trip. I will then be heading back down to Antarctica. Unfortunately, this this time I won’t be able to get in the water, but I still hope to get my housing over the side of the Zodiac whenever I can. Fingers crossed for another friendly leopard seal!
Next year, I will be running a few workshops around Australia, including great white sharks with Rodney Fox Expeditions. I am also planning on humpbacks in Tonga and orcas in Norway in the next few years. Most of my focus these days is spent opening up the amazing world of underwater photography to as many people as possible!
A massive male orca, cruising the cold, dark waters of Norway, searching for herring
DPG: Your Antarctica trip looked incredible. How would you sum up that trip?
This trip was one of the most rewarding and challenging things I have ever done. Not just with regards to underwater photography, but in life. Eight of us spent a month living on a 60 foot sailboat with one toilet… Wait, wait, let me get onto the good stuff! The freedom we had with a small vessel really gave us time in locations to see things that other larger vessels just steamed past, like lunge-feeding humpbacks surrounding our boat for hours on end or being able to spend a day at a penguin colony, watching and documenting all the drama that unfolds.
In terms of underwater shooting, Antarctica really tests your skills as a photographer. The majority of the subjects you are shooting are fast moving, you have to be aware of moving ice, visibility is limited and the water is dark. Not to mention it is freezing! We also needed to be ready to get in the water at any time, as it was impossible to predict when a subject like a leopard seal would show up. Nobody wanted to be caught unprepared.
Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way. One day we were taking a few hours “off” and visiting the Port Lockery Post Office. While walking up to the post office, we saw a leopard seal just offshore with a penguin in its mouth. Matty (Smith) and I quickly ran back to the yacht to get into our suits, but by then the seal had taken its toy/meal and moved on. We ended up in the post office in our drysuits just in case it showed up again. Fortunately, later that day, we did manage to get that fantastic encounter with another seal that I spoke about earlier, but we never witnessed another predation. If Antarctica isn’t on your bucket list, add it! Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
Penguins! An icon of the Antarctic, headed out on a hunt
DPG: What animals or destinations remain on your bucket list?
My bucket list of animals and locations is still very, very long! I find that you can never really tick something off a bucket list. Just because you might have photographed a subject, there is always a new behavior or a new scenario you want to capture. I’ve also found, and I assume others can relate, that you really can't shorten a bucket list either. Once a subject or destination has been checked off, miraculously another swoops in to replace it on the list! Here is my brief list of animals: harp seals, sperm whales, platypuses, southern right whales, Mola molas. And locations: Papua New Guinea, Palau, Azores [Portugal], sub-Antarctic islands like the Falkland Islands and Macquarie Island, Galápagos, Baja, Dominica. OK, I’d better stop there…
DPG: You own UW Images, an underwater photography store in Australia. Can you tell us more about what you do and the services you offer?
UW Images is a specialist distributor of the best underwater photography gear. We are based in Sydney and our brands include Isotta, Marelux, Kraken Sports, Retra UWT, CineBags, Mantis, SAGA, Henderson Wetsuits, and Folding Fins. We provide full sales and service support for every product we sell. We have a small fleet of rental equipment, and we offer consulting services for commercial shoots. UW Images also runs photo workshops to assist our customers’ journey in underwater photography, whether they are a seasoned pro or just starting out.
A curious minke whale kissing its reflection at the surface off the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
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