There are those who believe that our world is so incredibly tricked-out with images of every place imaginable that it seems near impossible to capture anything that they haven’t seen before. To briefly concur, the Great Barrier Reef has been captured at every angle, in every style – turned black and white, shot under moonlight – that it’s now more an everyday visual than world wonder. And social platforms like Facebook and Instagram throw top images into the mix alongside “selfies” and blurred holiday snapshots.
But still there stand those photographers that hone an ability to capture incredible moments in a frame, and turn common sights into wonders time and time again. Part of the reason we kicked off this Underwater Photographer of the Week series was to pay tribute to these incredible underwater photographers who have an innate ability to spin this sub-aqua world that many experience on a unique axis, and create ever-changing compositions that can continue to wow us and feed our hunger to dive. To continue this, we bring you the amazing work of underwater photographer Brandi Mueller.
Born in landlocked Wisconsin, in the United States, Brandi picked up diving whilst a foreign exchange student in New Zealand at the age of 15. Trading in the snowy peaks and grand lakes for better climate and the ocean, Brandi studied seagrass and seahorses in college in Florida while becoming a divemaster and eventually an instructor (which she has been for 12 years).
Travelling and diving has always been her obsession, and even while working on liveaboards around the world, she spent most of her time visiting other places to dive. Dedicated to giving the ocean a voice through her photography, Brandi talked to UW360 about her career and images:
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
I was working as a dive instructor for Aggressor Fleet and met several professional photographers, and each Aggressor boat has its own photo pro, and I very much admired ours and the shots he would get. Several years later I saved up enough to get my own DSLR and housing, and a few years after that, I went back to work for Aggressor Fleet as one of their photo pros.
Your first underwater shot?
The first camera I took underwater was an Olympus Stylus in a housing, probably 15 years ago. I took a lot of mediocre – or shall we say bad – photos with that. I think the first good image I can remember was from Hawaii on Kona’s manta ray night dive (after getting a DSLR). Two mantas were doing barrel rolls and I caught them belly-to-belly. It won DivePhotoGuide’s photo of the month contest way back when. That was super exciting.
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
That’s so hard! For me, every photo I look at brings back the memories of whatever dive it was – where I was, who I was with, what was going on in my life at that time, and what it took to get the shot. I love getting requests for photos from a certain location and then going back through the photos and instantly feeling like I’m back in that place. I think some of my most popular photos are from the Airplane Graveyard in the Marshall Islands. After WWII excess military equipment wasn’t needed anymore and would have been expensive to transport back to the United States, so over 150 planes in perfect condition were dumped into the lagoon of Kwajalein Atoll. Diving on them is absolutely amazing and no matter how many dives I do on the planes I keep going back for more. There’s something just ghostly about these planes just sitting in the sand as if they might be started up and take off into the sky.
Where is your favourite dive destination?
All of them. I’m just happy underwater. Put me in a bathtub in scuba gear and it’s a good dive!
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
My list is still huge. I like going to places not on everyone’s list. Right now near the top of the next destinations list is New Caledonia, Nauru, Madagascar, and Réunion. I don’t know much about them or if the diving is any good, but it sounds like fun.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
I’m terrified of bobbit worms. I love muck diving and to get good muck shots you usually need to get super low in the sand. Whenever I see their creepy antennae sticking out of the sand I’m scared I’m going to accidentally be close to the sand above them and they will cut off my leg or something. (I don’t really think that could happen, but they can be up to 10 feet long under the sand and they inject toxins that can kill animals much larger than them.)
What camera equipment are you currently using?
Nikon D750 in an Ikelite housing and Ikelite DS-161 strobes. For super macro, I use ReefNet Subsea diopters.
What is the highlight of your career?
It’s all a highlight. Seeing my photos get published in magazines and online never stops being exciting, and the diving that comes with getting the shots is always amazing.
And the low point?
I’ve been super lucky to have worked on, in, and around the ocean for pretty much all of my adult years. Either as a dive instructor or boat captain I have always had easy access to the water and what lies beneath, and I’ve had lots of opportunity to travel, so I can’t really say there’s been a low point. I hope there isn’t.
Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater photographers?
The more time you spend underwater with a camera, the better you will develop your skills and the more chances you will have to see something epic. Go diving, anywhere, as much as you can.
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
All of them. I love trying to take different types of photos of common things – trying to make something that everyone already has a shot of more interesting. I’m not sure if I’m doing that or not, but I’m trying. Lately I’ve been obsessed with doing portrait shoots in pools and in the ocean. I’ve been so lucky to have some amazing friends who are willing to dress up and hold their breath in the pool for the sake of photography. It’s been really fun and I love the fun and creativity that comes along with it.