One of photography’s top storytellers, Jason Bradley uses his images to craft honest and emotive narratives of our aquatic ecosystems. With a unique set of skills, he specialises in more than just underwater photography, also aiming his lens at topside wildlife and Nature.
 
"My motivation was to create a career where I could work in, with, and for the oceans." © Jason Bradley

“My motivation was to create a career where I could work in, with, and for the oceans.” © Jason Bradley

He is also the owner and operator of Bradley Photographic Print Services – a fine art print lab – and leads photographic expeditions around the world. We caught up with Jason for a quick Q&A about his life, career, and imagery:
 
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
Prior to my decision to pick up a camera, I wanted to be a marine biologist. My motivation was to create a career where I could work in, with, and for the oceans. However, just before graduating from college, I changed my mind. Science was not the path for me, but my underlying motivation for being immersed in the ocean remained as strong as ever. One day, a light bulb just went off in my head, and I thought, “I could be an underwater photographer.” Of course, I had no idea what an aperture or a shutter speed was, but it was an idea nonetheless. Fortunately, I fell in love with photography, and not just underwater. I enjoy it all!
 
Your first underwater shot?
That would be a shot of a gorgonian with a Nikonos V I took many years ago, and I used a macro frame attached to the 35mm. It wasn’t my camera. I was diving on a boat and there were a lot of photographers with a Nikonos on board. Someone was nice enough to let me do a dive with one, and I remember being quite excited at the time. But this was long before I made my decision to take photography seriously. I do, though, still have a Cibachrome print of that shot.
 
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“I need my photography to have a narrative, a story. I want my work to speak to things beyond ‘the ocean is pretty’ and ‘diving is cool.’ © Jason Bradley

 
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
Sorry, I don’t really have one. We photographers are funny people and tend to like our most recent images. I, for one, like my most recent work because it’s stylistically aligned more with the kind of images I’m compelled to make now.
 
My old stuff feels… old. Bearing that in mind, at present I’m enjoying my manta and shark images that I just took a few weeks ago in Socorro. I like shooting ambient light and converting it to black and white, which is all I did on my last trip. I loved it!
 
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“At present I’m enjoying my manta and shark images that I just took a few weeks ago in Socorro. I like shooting ambient light and converting it to black and white, which is all I did on my last trip.” © Jason Bradley

 
"Science was not the path for me, but my underlying motivation for being immersed in the ocean remained as strong as ever." © Jason Bradley

“Science was not the path for me, but my underlying motivation for being immersed in the ocean remained as strong as ever.” © Jason Bradley

Where is your favourite dive destination?
Of all the places I’ve travelled to in the world, there is nothing like diving the kelp forests in California. It’s where I was certified, where I live, and where I’ve hung my hat most of my life. Admittedly, there are better places in the world for animal encounters, but there’s nothing like diving through an underwater forest of giant bladder kelp. It’s a magical thing.
 
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
Most definitely with walrus in the Arctic. There are a couple places I’d like to go, but I think Svalbard is the top of my list. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago that sits between Norway and the North Pole.  
 
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
Ummm… everything at Lembeh.
 
What camera equipment are you currently using?
A Nikon D810 in Nauticam housing. For wide angle I use the 15mm fisheye Sigma, and the 105mm Nikon for macro. But I don’t shoot a lot of macro. And I love my old-school Sea & Sea YS-300 strobes. They’re big and yellow, and I love them!
 
What is the highlight of your career?
I’m happy to say right now, as I’m doing some exciting things. As previously said, I’m very excited about my black-and-white work, but I have a new book that just came out called Creative Workflow in Lightroom published through Focal Press, I run a fine art print lab in Monterey, California that’s doing well, and I have some great workshops and underwater photo expeditions lined up for the next couple of years. Things are good!
 
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“I feel we underwater photographers can do good by focusing less on ‘Did I nail the shot?’ and more on: ‘Am I building a cohesive body of work that clearly shares my vision of, and for, the oceans?'” © Jason Bradley

 
…And the low point?
Well, the last two to four years prior to now. I had gone through some sad changes in my personal life, and more than any point in my career I felt totally disconnected from my work. I had no desire to shoot no matter where I travelled, and the work that I was producing was boring to me.
 
"I’m very excited about my black and white work, but I have a new book that just came out called Creative Workflow In Lightroom published through Focal Press" © Jason Bradley

“I’m very excited about my black-and-white work.” © Jason Bradley

Is there any particular shot that
you still want to get?

That list is too long to share, but I will say this, and encourage those reading this to consider the same idea. I’m far less driven by individual photos than I am by the idea of creating a body of work. And this ties a bit into the answer to your last question, as I highlighted the low point in my career. One of the reasons I had the low point is that I had gone through many years of no photo projects. Trip after trip was just gathering pretty underwater photos. As fun as that is, I need my photography to have a narrative, a story, I want my work to speak to things beyond “the ocean is pretty” and “diving is cool.”
 
Fish stocks around the world are being ravaged, coral bleaching is destroying our tropical reefs, and climate change is causing sea levels to rise and changing our the ocean’s chemistry. I feel we underwater photographers can do good by focusing less on “Did I nail the shot?” and more on: “Am I building a cohesive body of work that clearly shares my vision of, and for, the oceans?”
 
For more of Jason’s work, visit his website: www.bradleyphotographic.com
 
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