Growing up in Los Angeles, Brent Durand developed a love for the ocean since young. After graduating college, he got into landscape photography, shooting the Malibu sunset before packing up his camera gear for a night dive. It was only when he realised that he could take his passion for photography beneath the surface that his career in underwater photography bloomed. Recently, he launched “Lens Life”, a monthly newsletter where he shares video tutorials and articles on photography, post processing, gear and more. We talked to Brent to find out more about his journey as an underwater photographer.
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
Underwater photography was the perfect way to combine two of my passions – the ocean and photography. It’s also challenging, and I’m really attracted to that challenge.
Your first underwater shot?
I believe it was an anemone during a Malibu night dive, using my brother’s SeaLife camera. Even though I was shooting DSLRs on land, I wanted to test the idea of shooting underwater with his camera before starting to piece together my own compact camera and housing from eBay.
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
My most memorable shot is one of my first Malibu reefscapes. Generally, we have about 5-6m visibility on a good day, but during the fall months there are usually a few days where the visibility opens up to 10 and even 12 meters. Most of the time, these days fall during the workweek and I’m left to dive at night, but on this one weekend, all the elements lined up. I had a brand new Ikelite 5D Mk III housing, great visibility on a Saturday, warm water and colourful reef scenes. It was one of those “wow, I really love scuba diving” dives.
Where is your favourite dive destination?
Aside from home, it’s La Paz, Mexico. There’s just something very special about the Baja peninsula. I’m also a big fan of sea puppies (sea lions) and whale sharks, so I always have a blast when visiting La Paz.
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
Oh man! So many. Anywhere with colorful reefs: Fiji’s Rainbow Reef, Komodo, Raja Ampat, Alor. Then of course my dream is to photograph polar bears from the water.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
The market squid run in Redondo Beach, California a few years ago. The event itself is not weird at all, but it’s just a very weird experience to be surrounded by thousands of squid trying to mate and lay eggs. The squid were getting stuck in my strobe arms, in my hand when I grabbed my console computer, etc.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
I’m shooting a Canon 5D Mk IV in Sea and Sea housing. I use Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes and different Kraken Sports Hydra lights for video, macro focus and night dives. The camera and lenses deliver in the areas I want them to while the housing takes the abuse I put it through in the waves, sand, kayak, dusty camping and more. I’m also able to use my 5D Mk III in the housing as a backup body, since redundancy is essential when travelling.
What is the highlight of your career?
I would say that every time someone reaches out with compliments or questions. Underwater photography is a hobby that consumes countless bleary-eyed hours before and after work, so when I see someone enjoy an image, it stokes the fire to keep putting in that work and make new images.
… And the low point?
I really don’t have any distinct low points. I always set the bar very high for myself, so I’d say that the general low point is the constant struggle between work and trying to find time to get in the water and shoot, whether local or for a photo workshop / assignment.
Any advice that you’d like to give to aspiring underwater photographers?
Practice, practice, practice. Many folks ask how to improve their photography when they only shoot on their annual dive trip. My answer is always to shoot more! Go shoot some local sports, shoot flowers, shoot the stars. Good underwater photography is about so much more than just some settings, basic composition and pushing the shutter. It requires an intimate understanding of photography, light and the marine life. The learning curve is endless!
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
I’ve been dreaming of shooting colourful reefscapes for a few years now. I’ve also got some unique ideas, but naturally, I can’t share those yet!