Dive Photographer Alex Dawson
In episode #35, host Brett Stanley chats with dive photographer Alex Dawson.
Alex talks about his experiences diving in his homeland of Sweden, learning to cave dive in old mines, and how he evolved his lighting styles. They cover his approach to photographing wrecks and divers, and how his fear of water has made him a better diver.
Follow their work: Instagram
Discuss the episode in our facebook group.
About Alex Dawson – Underwater Dive Photographer
Swedish underwater photographer, Alex Dawson, has a unique photography style that is hard to ignore. His imagery manages to showcase the depth and true magnitude of already impressive wrecks. His ability to light up wrecks and use of aspect to portray size has made his imagery iconic within the scuba diving industry. Alex has a unique style which is instantly recognisable.
Ep 35 – Alex Dawson
Brett Stanley: [00:00:00] Welcome back to the underwater podcast. And this is our second season, which is pretty exciting. To kick us off. We have an interview I did at the end of 2020 with dive photographer, Alex Dawson. Alex talks about his experience diving in his Homeland of Sweden.
Learning to cave, dive in old mines and how he evolved his lighting style. We cover his approach to photographing Rex and divers and how his fear of water has made him a better diver. All right. Let’s dive in. Alex welcome to the underwater podcast.
Alex Dawson: [00:00:33] Thank you very much.
Brett Stanley: [00:00:34] you’re based in Sweden, is that right?
Alex Dawson: [00:00:36] That is very correct. I’m based in Stockholm, Sweden uh, , uh, born and raised here.
Brett Stanley: [00:00:41] Oh, nice. Yeah. Um, so you’re kind of used to the cold, cold water.
Alex Dawson: [00:00:45] I’m very used to cold water. Uh, since I’m a diver I’ve been experiencing the cold water basically for almost 30 years now. So
Brett Stanley: [00:00:56] Yeah. So, how did you get into it or like, was this something that you kind of did as, as a kid or did you get into it later in life?
Alex Dawson: [00:01:02] Diving I got into as a 19 year old, made a friend, went to Crete in Greece and Ireland, and , uh, went to sunbathing and partying in our young years. And we happened to me, two other Swedish girls that were in the same location and they were talking about scuba diving and snorkeling and things like that.
And we got kind of interested. We didn’t know anything about it. So we got ourselves some gear and we went snorkeling with them and we were like complaining about our heads were hurting when we were diving down and things like that. And they’re like, you have to equalize because the pressure increases as you go onto water.
And so they taught us that and , uh, and they told us. Scary stories about how they have friends who dive in lakes in Sweden at night, and they switch off the lights at the bottom of a Lake. And I was like, my whole body was just panicking. You know, it’s everything. I hate like sea bottom darkness , uh, the unknown, everything just said don’t do this.
But yeah, after we came home, we signed up for stupid diving lessons. Pretty fast, I would say. And that’s, that was the start of it. I’ve been diving on an average, about hundred dives a year for the past 27 years now, so
Brett Stanley: [00:02:20] that’s great. And it’s so interesting that you say that you kind of, you know, you had the fear and the panic
Alex Dawson: [00:02:24] And still do it To some point, I would say. Well, I mean, I would basically say in some ways I would call it almost a water phobia, you know, I’m in a dry suit, so I’m, I feel, I feel okay when I’m in a dry suit, I don’t touch the water. It’s kinda silly, but , uh, yeah. It’s it’s yeah, I don’t like the cold. I don’t like the dark and still I’m. Doing this. I don’t know
how it happened. I think I’m challenging myself, I guess.
Brett Stanley: [00:02:51] yeah. I mean, you’re a, you’re a cave diver, right?
Alex Dawson: [00:02:54] yeah. Yeah. Full cave. Diverse in say October this year.
Brett Stanley: [00:02:58] so how does that, how does that reconcile with these kinds of fears that you have? You know, like you’re being in a confined dark spot. What are you kind of doing mentally to
Alex Dawson: [00:03:07] I’ve gone through so much. I’ve gone through so much in my diving. I mean, I started diving in 1993. And I started diving a lot in Sweden and already the first winter, we started with some very bad diving. And then by judgment things that we did as 19 year olds, we started diving in. In lakes that were frozen and, or actually inquiries that were frozen and that were connected with tunnels between the quarries.
And we were diving under the ice without any safety lines, single tanks, just single torch. And we went through caves and stuff like that. We were young and we were very, I dunno, thought that we could do anything. Yeah, exactly. And , uh, we were lucky we made it through that. And then I trained 1996 as a military diver.
So I got to experience very bad visibility and darkness, and just sensing around underwater with just my census and touching things. And that also helped a lot. And it’s hard. It’s very difficult to stress me under water, but to the thought of it scares me. But when I’m there, I’m, I’m totally fine. But the thought of it still scares me.
Brett Stanley: [00:04:21] Do you, do you think that that, that fear of it and that kind of the stress of it kind of makes you a better diver because you are worried about, about things going wrong. So
Alex Dawson: [00:04:29] I am cautious and I am a very, I would say I take high safety in my diving and what I say yes to and doing and things, things like that. But the. It’s it’s kind of important. I mean, it’s no pine point making fun dives, if you don’t survive them, you have to kind of stay the night. So , uh, that drive is of course very strongly with, for most diverse, I would say of course, but some people seem to not care about it.
Brett Stanley: [00:04:58] But it’s very interesting because we had Jill Heiner on the show , um, a few months ago and she’s, she’s, I feel like she’s totally the opposite where she doesn’t feel, she feels the safest and the happiest when she’s in a cast under the water,
Alex Dawson: [00:05:11] Yeah, I feel safe when I’m diving, eh, during the dives totally safe, totally safe, but it’s, it’s just the thought of it that can scare me. And, and , um, also how I prepare myself. I, I might have, I might not have the best. Self-confidence always in diving, even though I have so much experience. Um, so
Brett Stanley: [00:05:33] Do you think the experience is what’s made you so confident?
Alex Dawson: [00:05:36] it definitely is part of it.
I mean, it took me 26 years to start proper cave diving training. It took me a good 15 years before I started technical diving. It took me 23 years, 22 years before I started to reread there. So I would say I, I went fairly slow.
Brett Stanley: [00:05:57] Yeah.
Alex Dawson: [00:05:58] I did a few stupid dives back in the nineties because I was young and, you know, male under 25, we do crazy things.
But , um, um, but after that day I took it really easy. And um, , um, yeah. and now I really enjoy training. Yeah.
Brett Stanley: [00:06:13] write, so you, you enjoy the, the process of, of the, of the training of, of kind of
Alex Dawson: [00:06:17] Yeah. Yeah. And I like to slowly grow into these things , uh, to the advanced diving. And I’m still not super comfortable with great depth. I mean, I think I’ve done maybe five dives so far, maybe below 70 meters. In my 27 years. So that’s very few for being also technical diver for 12 years, rubbery the diver for five years.
so I don’t do that much advanced,
Brett Stanley: [00:06:43] Um, so, so with those kind of, when you say you’re not super comfortable with those sorts of things, is it the sort of thing where you’re like the, the increase of something going wrong, you know, is not worth the risk that the joy of doing it?
Alex Dawson: [00:06:55] It’s always a great risks. It depends on the team. There’s so much uncertainty with visibility currents. Uh , uh, if you’re diving a wreck in the middle of the sea, you don’t know if, if the boat , uh, captain will hit the wreck with the Moring line, or if it’s going to miss it and you have to do a search at 60 meters depth, then maybe move that and, or whatever they’re dropping.
So there’s so many. There’s so many F’s and I like, if I don’t have to be the first diver down, that’s always the preference of mine. And I always carry so much gear. Eh, I was just thinking about it this weekend. When we were cave diving in Sweden, I was thinking about it’s insane. How much gear I be? I basically fill the van with the gear every time I go diving.
And that’s just for me.
it’s. It’s crazy.
It’s 15 boxes.
Brett Stanley: [00:07:47] yeah. Right. And is that stuff you would take on every
Alex Dawson: [00:07:50] Yeah. It’s yeah. It goes on every dime. Yeah.
Brett Stanley: [00:07:54] That’s incredible. I mean the cave diving, I’m not a cave diver. It freaks me out too much, but the, the, the redundancy that all the cave divers have, and I guess that’s what the training is, you
Alex Dawson: [00:08:05] absolutely. That’s what the training is about. It’s two have everything that you need and if you don’t need it, don’t bring it. So, yeah. It’s and it’s also about the team you’re diving with and about the conditions in the particular cave or mine and yeah, there’s many things
Brett Stanley: [00:08:21] Yeah. So a lot of your photography is either , um, cave diving or rec diving. Um, it’s usually, or even under the ice, it’s, it’s usually sort of , uh, either the outside of a confined space or the inside of a confined space. Is there something that draws you to those spaces?
Alex Dawson: [00:08:36] Oh, it’s what we have. So it’s basically, this is what I’m offered at home. I mean, You would think that I’ve traveled the whole world during my 27 years as a diver and I haven’t, I’ve never dived Southeast Asia ever. Uh, I haven’t been to Hawaii. I’ve only been to two of the islands in the Caribbean and it’s.
I’ve I’ve dived a lot in the Mediterranean sea and around there and Scandinavia, but I’m not that experienced in , uh, in , uh, many parts of the world that most photographers and underwater photographers have. Vinted, uh, I’ve only heard of the places and because I do a lot of diving I’ve family, so I have not been traveling so much for the past 10 years.
I just started like two years ago. Again. And , uh, so it’s been a lot of diving in Sweden and Norway and Sweden. Norway, I would say is basically where I dive most.
Brett Stanley: [00:09:29] Is there a lot of Cape systems in that area,
Alex Dawson: [00:09:31] We have no capes in Sweden , uh, to dive in, but we have mines , uh, so old mines, silver mines, iron mines. And , uh, and then we have great bricks because the Baltic is the. It’s a brackish water Lake. See, so it’s very low salty. So there’s no ship worms there that heats the old wooden brick. So we can dive on 15 16th century wrecks
and the deep, yeah, they’re totally preserved.
And the deeper you go, the more untouched they are I’ve I haven’t dived on this wreck, but there is one rank at 115 meters, which is like , uh, 400 feet almost or something. And which has like a, do you call it like a galleon in the front of the shape of a horse, uh, and uh, you know, really beautiful , uh, decoration song.
So there’s so many fantastic rec exactly like , uh, like an old, like , uh, I don’t know, Royal shit, basically.
So really cool stuff exists. Yeah. And everything is like totally intact. Cannons can be on board and yeah, it’s, there’s some pretty cool stuff in the Baltic sea. since the salt is so low, it’s , uh, also the, the, the ship breaks doesn’t rust so fast to the state shapes.
Like if we talk the steamers from late agent’s century, beginning of 19th century, which are fantastic wrecks, and there are so many that are assigned during first world war with all the mines that were floating around in the Baltic sea and, and other stuff. So yeah, a lot of history.
Brett Stanley: [00:11:00] are they hard to get to the, these sorts of wrecks? So they far out.
Alex Dawson: [00:11:03] The good ones are all far out, I would say, or the best ones are all far out that we know of. And , uh, I mean, there’s so many people looking for wrecks in all the Baltic sea countries, but they’re mostly searching close to shore or like 10 now go miles out from shore. So if you go farther out, there’s so much touch territory, we can do pretty amazing discoveries.
If you’ve put a lot of effort and time into it.
Brett Stanley: [00:11:30] Yeah. So your approach to, to the wreck kind of photography, and I’ve had other people mention this to me as well, is that you, you do tend to shoot very wide and, and sort of not push in as much as other divers probably would. Is there a, is there a, like a, a conscious thought behind that? Or was it just an aesthetic that you’d liked?
Alex Dawson: [00:11:48] it’s a, it comes from my background as a nature photographer. I’m into the landscape photographer. I mean, At the, at the same time as I started shooting on the water, I started landscape photography and I really love landscape photography. I’m a big fan of going to Iceland and shooting landscapes there.
And for example, it’s so beautiful. Then the top side I’m talking. And so, and I kind of like the idea of showing. What you see? And I don’t, that’s why I never really capture closeups. So I do, but I usually don’t publish them because I don’t like them. I, I like, I like the wide shot where you can see the whole space.
It kind of puts people, especially people that don’t dive. You kind of puts them in the eyes of being a diver in a different way when they get the whole environment. Because if you just shoot like the door of the break, With a diabetic coming out, doesn’t say so much for a non diver, I would say. And I’m always trying to create with my images.
Uh, I want to be there feeling. And the landscape photographers that shoot , uh, and are very famous, like on Instagram and Facebook, these days, they could shoot something called hero shots, where they basically take a beautiful landscape scene and they put a person somewhere out of the picture. I mean, it’s in the picture, but out of the frame, towards the sides or somewhere in a nice composition, just to give a sense of.
Uh, sys with a human, because if you just see a landscape, you can never understand the size of anything, but if you put a small human somewhere can be hidden on those or like, you know , uh, and those are called hero shots. So it’s kind of, I took the hero shot idea underwater, I would say.
Brett Stanley: [00:13:35] I mean, it’s a great technique because it is, like you say, it’s, it’s an excuse the pun, but it’s very immersive, you know, you kind of get a very good idea of, of what’s what’s all around that, that wreck, you know, and it doesn’t look too distorted either. Like it’s, it’s very. Uh, naturalistic.
Alex Dawson: [00:13:50] Yeah. Yeah. I try to, I try to make it as natural as possible. And of course you have to enhance a lot in post-production, which you always do in Hollywood too. If you shoot a movie, you shoot in log or roll. And if you look at the longer raw material, it doesn’t look anything like the final product. And this is exactly how my images are.
If anybody would see my raw images, they would say, wow, That’s nothing special. No, but you need to know how to shoot, how to bring it. I’ve learned how to use their own material, how to shoot it so I can use it to my full advantage. Uh, in post and Iowa always battled with the dark. So I always battled with shutter times.
I would need to go as low as I can without burying the shot. And we’re talking, it can be very find some diets. I get only blurry shots and some dives, I get a hundred percent sharp, even though I’m at the same time. It. Depends on so many things. Like if there’s a current, if my model divers are moving too fast or if they’re moving slow last, like I asked them to, or , uh, yeah.
And, and of course the light. So, and I’m always trying to, I have, I really need a camera that can shoot that. 50,000 ISO with 15 stops dynamic range and no noise, but those cameras doesn’t exist. Not yet. They’re not even close to that.
Brett Stanley: [00:15:09] no no exactly. I
mean, how do you battle that?
I mean, you’re in, you’re in some questionable kind of some visible, questionable lighting situations and questionable
Alex Dawson: [00:15:18] Yeah. Oh, always. I always battled the light. It’s always, you always shoot in darkness basically. So I have to bring all the light myself. It’s an a and I don’t like using ISOs the sensitivity over the sensor over. 3,200 is really where I, I don’t want to push it higher than that. Deny shoot tonight can be a da 50, which is a fantastic landscape camera and fantastic dynamic range.
And, and , uh, can pull so much detail out of that camera. But at 3,200, it’s. It’s really starting to crack for the work I do anyway. Eh, of course you can shoot at 3,200, if you shoot in daylight, it’s no problem at all. Yeah. But not in total darkness. I promise it doesn’t work. I mean, it works, but it’s, it’s really the border.
Brett Stanley: [00:16:06] Absolutely. Yeah. And so with, with this work that you’re producing , uh, where is it being? Is it being used? Is it, are these commercial shots, are they being used for something or is it just via
Alex Dawson: [00:16:16] Uh, it’s it, it varies. It’s , uh, can be commercial shots. It can be for a brand. The brands that , uh, I collaborate with, it can be for the editorials. It could be for friends or a lot of the shooting I did, especially in Sweden is purely training because. I mean, you need to die. You need to shoot to get better at it.
And so I would say 50% of all the diving I do is purely for training and getting better. And I’ve done so much cave training the past two years of the past year, I would say. So it’s a totally new environment. Like one and a half year ago, I had basically not shot single shot in mines or caves ever. So I had to learn, I had to learn something new.
So I did about 50 to 70 cave dives, mind dives this year, uh, to get better at that. And I would say not, not many of them have been worked. It’s mostly been, uh, for training for getting better in that environment.
Brett Stanley: [00:17:16] The , uh, the mind diving that you’re doing. And, and so, as I said, I’m not sure. Yeah, I, I keep diving freaks me out, but it fascinates me as well. And a few years ago , um, I had the chance to do some cave diving in Hungary, in Budapest,
and the, the reason it was kind of attractive to me. And I thought I might try and, you know, I might try and push past my fears was because there is an old mine outside of Budapest.
That’s that’s. Filled up full of fresh water. And that to me is, is so interesting. And so , um, unique that I felt maybe I could push past my fear for this. It didn’t happen. Um, but no, you know, for whatever reason, but , um, but that, that sort of environment just fascinates me. What’s it like, sort of going into these, these old mines that are now flooded.
Alex Dawson: [00:18:02] It’s uh, yeah, I have to try to think back to like my first, I can’t really think back to the nineties cause that that’s a different era. And so I don’t even count that as, as it happened. So that’s talk modern time. Like. Last year when I started my first mind diving course, it was never scary. It’s very fascinating.
It’s uh, the mind that I’ve been training in is quite big. It’s quite huge. So you very often, you can’t even see the walls to the side or walls in the ceiling. Uh, so you had just have this line, like going in the center and you have the bottom below you, then you really don’t know in which space you are.
And you were so focused on the training, obviously also. So there’s a lot of tasks loading. Uh, so that takes away. Of course, from all the thoughts you’d normally would get, I guess, uh , uh, no, it’s, it’s, it’s it’s it’s the focus. And, and during the course, I mean, you do 10. 10 to 15 hours, I would say on a course is what we did and you have your only, or primary light, and it’s a beam and you’re so focused on what you point that beam at and which is basically only on the line, because the line is your lifeline out.
Again, if you lose that line and get lost, not in all caves and not in all minds, but in some, then you’re gone. I mean, it’s you got to keep the track of that line. You got to keep track of your, body’s got to keep track of your gas consumption. Cause there’s no surface things straight up ever. So it’s, it’s quite much discipline that’s required for cave diving in mind diving.
And, and so the focus is high. So it’s, you’re focusing on the line and your team all the time. And , uh, and I think. When you get that many hours of it. I think after those 15 hours, you were so comfortable already in the VR environment when you’re starting to actually dive around and look after your course when you’re done.
So you’re actually quite comfortable and most people would probably start diving in the mind where you did your course, which that’s what we did. And , uh, So we felt comfortable because we recognized ourselves and we’re like, Oh, here’s this place. And, Oh, this is where you had to bail out blinded blindfolded and had to share a gas with your body through the restriction.
And you remember all these things and we kind of left for itself a little bit. And it’s it’s it’s it’s it’s great.
Brett Stanley: [00:20:26] Yeah, I guess once you’ve got that with the, with the mine and with the cave as well, you kind of feel a lot more comfortable because it’s not as
Alex Dawson: [00:20:32] Absolutely. Absolutely. And you have like small mini goals you want to, Oh, when I get certified, I want to go and check that part. And this part you’ve kind of seen it on the, during the chorus, but you knew couldn’t go there then, but then after you’re like, Oh, I can go there. Or maybe you have to go to the full cave course where you can do jumps and.
More teas or you can do decompression and things like that, that you can go to other spots that you know of since you’re chorus, but you weren’t allowed to go there. So, so you have like these small goals and then you set new goals all the time, deeper and deeper and longer into the caves and mines
Brett Stanley: [00:21:10] Is there a , um, do you have a preference between mines or, or natural caves? Is there a difference?
Alex Dawson: [00:21:16] Total difference. I’ve only done mines in Sweden. Uh, the one , uh, called tuna has the Bay , uh, Evan, Tish Qdoba, and I’ve done that long bun and Sila syllabi, but those are the, it’s a celebrate mind. The last one I mentioned. Yeah, I’ve done those minds. They are all very different from each other, but they’re all minds.
And then I’ve died caves in Mexico. And that’s totally different
because the caves in Mexico are. Yeah, exactly. They are old dry caves that when the water level was much lower. So they were land caves at one point. So they’re full of static, tights and stuck mites. Visibility’s in tree tradable there and.
Even there. The caves are so different depending on where you dive. And what’s quite common in Mexico is that you have a halocline between 10 and 20 meters where fresh water, fresh water, mix this with salt water. So you get like this total crazy halocline dizziness. When you go through it, if you swim behind the diver, when the waters are mixing, it gets all blurry in front of you.
You can barely see like a meter. You can’t see anything clear at all. So then you have to go. Deeper or to the side or up to get the care missed again, because it’s threatening, it’s clear in the fresh water and it’s clear in the salt, but when they mix, it gets really messy.
Brett Stanley: [00:22:34] And so with that, with that, with that , um, with that halocline is, is it kind of like mixing two syrups together? Like it’s not like it’s cloudy so much as just like two clear things that you can like blow, right.
Alex Dawson: [00:22:44] Yeah. It’s to clear things that doesn’t blend well together. So it turns into like the heat waves over a road in the summer, basically. Yeah. Yeah. So, and yeah, and it it’s, it gets really messy in your mind. So if, if I swim behind a diver, I always offset myself to the left or the right. So I’m not behind the diver.
And then it’s scary again. So
it’s, it’s really cool.
Brett Stanley: [00:23:09] And there’s, I mean, I think I’ve had this before. Like just even when the cold and the hot water kind of meet , uh, out in the
Alex Dawson: [00:23:15] Yes. Yeah. That’s it. And that’s called a not halocline thermocline thermocline. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. That happens
Brett Stanley: [00:23:24] That, and so it’s always interesting when you see that. Cause you know, it’s about to get called
Alex Dawson: [00:23:27] Yeah. Oh yeah. But then it’s nice when you get up also in the end of the day, when you go, Oh, now it’s nice and fresh.
Brett Stanley: [00:23:36] I mean, you’re in a dry suit. You perceive you probably not really feeling it that much, but um,
Alex Dawson: [00:23:39] It gets cold.
Brett Stanley: [00:23:40] enjoy it.
Alex Dawson: [00:23:40] Yeah, no, you can definitely feel it in a dry suit too. Cause usually when we have those thermal clients, it’s usually four degrees in the cold water and then maybe like 10, 11 up in the warm. So it’s always a huge difference. Cause at four you get cold. You get very cold. If you don’t have like heating electric heating, vests, and like super thick undergarments, but.
You usually don’t have to think things. Cause if it’s 11 on the surface, it’s probably even warmer up in the boat. So you have to survive before you get in the water also.
Brett Stanley: [00:24:12] Yeah, totally. I did my dry suit training here in LA and
it was like, it was boiling hot on the surface
Alex Dawson: [00:24:19] Oh
Brett Stanley: [00:24:20] then it was freezing cold down the bottom. So it was like you were either sweating or freezing it wasn’t
Alex Dawson: [00:24:24] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s it’s it’s tricky. Yeah. That’s the tricky part with a dry suit in a medium temporary rated a seat.
Brett Stanley: [00:24:33] Yeah. So what’s your approach to when you are in these caves and in these minds? I mean, your photos are just spectacular, but again, they are. So they are so wide, they give such a massive idea of the expanse of some of these minds. What’s your approach to that in terms of being able to move away from your team and, and turn back and take those shots.
Alex Dawson: [00:24:51] And yeah, there is definitely team separation, but already S a and rubbery the diver. You’re basically, it pays basically. It depends on you being self-sufficient the, and technical diving too. It’s your. Individual diverse, but diving together that can help each other. But everything is like, I have my, there is the rate of fails.
I have exactly all the guests that I would need for decompression and deep bail and everything with me also. So I have redundant systems there and usually I have a lightning diver quite close to me anyway. I mean, Not close, close, but like within 10 meters and maybe the models are 20 meters away. And. And, and, and I’m not, I used to back 10 years, years ago, I used to swing her up, swim around in the darkness, also in the Baltic sea, you know, and just shoot shots. Then I would be like 10, 15 meters off the rec and the divers were on the wreck and they had no idea where I was because I was out in the dark.
But these days I have a small light. That’s always on my camera, but shines straight up just, or like backwards, just so they can see that, Oh, he’s over there. But , uh, the light doesn’t interfere with the, with the
Brett Stanley: [00:26:09] And does it, does that like, kind of give them a way to know where you are in terms of getting the shots as well?
Alex Dawson: [00:26:15] It’s purely for it so they can see where I am in the darkness. Yeah, yeah.
Brett Stanley: [00:26:21] When you’re doing these kinds of shots with models and with talent and the crew , um, do you kind of plan the shots before you go under? Or is there a communication down there where you’re kind of like you’re after something specific?
Alex Dawson: [00:26:32] Yeah. Usually the good shots are always planned. Uh, they’re not planned like as in weeks ahead, but they’re planned on the debriefing before we sit down for half an hour before the dive talk about what we want to do, where we want to go, what we want to do. And then they ask if I have any particular lightning ideas or angles, I want to shoot.
And , um, And then we discussed that, then it doesn’t always follow the plan because I might get a new idea during the diet. But , uh, we have always had a general idea and people always have a task during, before the dive and, and usually they also do what they’re being told. So it’s yeah, no. And then usually the outcome is really good.
Brett Stanley: [00:27:15] Yeah. I mean, it looks amazing. Yeah. And what sort of diversity you’re working with? Are you working with people that are doing rebreathers and who I used to this sort of stuff, or you kind of have to deal with other people depending on the project.
Alex Dawson: [00:27:28] I deal with all kinds of people, but mostly I, I mean, The dive team that I’ve had , uh, for the past year is the people that has done the mind diving course with me , uh, Sarah and magnets. And , uh, they also did the full kit with me. So we have done on those 70, 80 dives, I think the last year. Together. So we’re very, we have a trained hard together, so we know each other on the water very well.
And , uh, and then we add other people into the team when we need more people. Or if there’s more people that want to join like this weekend, we were five people in the team and we had a really good almost three-hour dive in , uh, one of the mines, which was fantastic. Really good.
Brett Stanley: [00:28:10] And when you, when you’re doing these sorts of dives, where you’re going down and needing to get specific shots, do you have a diver that is, is just sort of helping you with lighting? How are you approaching the lighting situation?
Alex Dawson: [00:28:21] Uh, every, every diver usually gets a light. And if there’s a new diver or so that doesn’t feel so comfortable with lightning, I might not give them any light, but. If they’re experienced diverse and uh, well-trained and I know them a little bit, then I usually give them some kind of a lightning job to do, and they brief them a little bit on what to do and what not to do before.
And they get usually quite scared and they feel that it’s complicated, but I feel it’s quite simple instructions they give, but of course it’s , uh, it’s, it’s new to them. It’s difficult. For me to understand how they feel, but I’m trying to do it as easy as possible for them, I would say. And usually they do the job just perfect.
I would say so.
Brett Stanley: [00:29:07] And is it all constant lighting or are you using strobes under that?
Alex Dawson: [00:29:09] I stopped using strokes 2008 when , uh, I discovered the continuous lightning, a brand from Germany that had really good lights in 2008. And since then, I. Stopped using strobes. I try, I tried using strobes, say, think like a few years ago and I was like, I still don’t like it. So I sold them. So now I don’t even own any pair, pero strokes and a macro lens.
I haven’t done since I participated in the world champion in the CMS world championship of underwater photography, 2005, uh, I didn’t place well in any category there , uh, it was unfilled, so it wasn’t digital and. That’s after that competition, I decided I’m not going to shoot macro anymore. So, so if I only own five different wide angles,
Brett Stanley: [00:29:56] right. Yeah.
Alex Dawson: [00:29:57] that’s what I
Brett Stanley: [00:29:58] definitely, yeah, it shows that that’s what you’re like, you know, the images that we’ve, that I see. Yeah. I can’t imagine you shooting macro stuff
the, the, the wide angle is so much
Alex Dawson: [00:30:08] There are so many other photographers that are still good at that. Um, and I, I, I really want to show the landscape underwater. I really want to show down to Waterworld for people that are not, not diving that’s that’s, that’s what I like. Eh, and I get a lot of positive feedback from non diverse. So I, yeah, that’s, that’s what I like the landscape photography.
Brett Stanley: [00:30:31] yeah. I come from a landscape photography background as well, and
Alex Dawson: [00:30:35] Yeah.
Brett Stanley: [00:30:35] make people feel like they’re there, that they’re actually in that
Alex Dawson: [00:30:39] That’s such a good feeling. Exactly. Yeah. You want to make people? I wish I was there. That’s like. That’s that’s what I call it. Like I wish I was there images.
Brett Stanley: [00:30:48] yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Alex Dawson: [00:30:50] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I, I see other people taking those images on Instagram all the time was like, Oh wow. I really wish I could see this.
Or I want to go here. That’s them. That’s when I feel that’s an image with the right impact that I want.
Brett Stanley: [00:31:03] absolutely. Yeah. So how do you deal being in like a, in a small confined space, like the inside of a, of a wreck, but still trying to shoot wide. Are you dealing with the, the distortion in post or
Alex Dawson: [00:31:16] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah. I deal with a distortion in post and sometimes cropping and things like that, but I, I always, I always look for white spaces. I look for white spaces
Brett Stanley: [00:31:30] Right. That’s what you’re searching for.
Alex Dawson: [00:31:32] It’s it’s in mines in caves, like when I went to Mexico and I asked the. Uh, the dive center and the guy that I was using, like where can I find the widest space in this particular cave?
And he would say like, you can go here, here, and here, this other white spaces. And we would go there and that’s where we shopped them. That’s where it got the great shots. So I need the bigger space I can get the better, the better visibility in the bigger space I can get. The better the shop will be.
Brett Stanley: [00:31:59] Yeah.
Alex Dawson: [00:32:00] So, so large spaces is what I want.
Brett Stanley: [00:32:03] right. Yeah. And are there certain, are there certain places in the world that you, you prefer to go to to get those sorts of things?
Alex Dawson: [00:32:11] I haven’t been , uh, I mean, red sea I’ve been to a lot and , uh, I liked shooting in the red sea and I have a few ideas that I would like to, I haven’t dived the red sea. In the really, really beautiful reefs, like elephant stone brothers and things like that since I worked there 1997, uh, so I haven’t been back ever with a good camera or with a professional camera or anything.
I mean, I’ve been to the Northern red sea where there are. Fairly nice coral places like Russ Mohammad is very nice. The nature is so that’s beautiful. But , uh, so, so I would like to try my techniques on coral reefs also, like maybe in Russia or somewhere in Solomon Islands or yeah, Fiji, maybe there’s uh, yeah.
There’s so many places that they think gay could shoot my style, but with. No wrecks and no case, but just corals and stuff. And I think that could be pretty cool. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve been wanting to do it for the past 10 years. So, um, it’s it’s yeah. After Corona, I think.
Brett Stanley: [00:33:14] Yeah. But what’s the vaccine sort of kicks in.
Alex Dawson: [00:33:17] Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
We need that vaccine now.
Brett Stanley: [00:33:20] And so talking about the natural side of stuff, is there a you, is there any interest in shooting with wildlife as well?
Alex Dawson: [00:33:25] uh, I do love diving with sharks. Sharks has fantastic. It’s it’s such a fascinating animal and I love being around sharks. Uh, I went to French Polynesia last summer, then dive the fucker Harbor pass and did night diving there with. Yeah, there’s a documentary called 700 sharks in the dark, which is a fantastic documentary that I would recommend people
seeing. Uh, and it’s night diving in the, in the Eastern Strait of fuck out of our total in French Polynesia. And you can have like, like the title says up to like 700 sharks, eh, circling around you and they are. Pretty wild at night. I have to say they’re very different from daytime.
Brett Stanley: [00:34:12] at night, right?
Alex Dawson: [00:34:12] They are only hunting and wherever you shine your torch, and if you accidentally shine your torch on a fish, that fish becomes a target.
And , uh, then there’s 50 sharks. After that fish, then it goes into the corals. Then, then the sharks, they break so much. Carl’s I thought diverse were the ones diving, just drawing the coral reefs. But my God I’ve seen sharks destroying coral, Greece.
Brett Stanley: [00:34:33] just because they’re trying to get in there and squeeze in to get
Alex Dawson: [00:34:35] Oh, yes. Oh yeah. The whitetip reef sharks that are very long and slim.
They dig themselves in and try to hunt the fish out and they get the fish out and then the gray reef sharks come after and they just, they bounce into the corals. The corals are flying left and right. I can tell you.
Brett Stanley: [00:34:54] That’s crazy. Yeah.
Alex Dawson: [00:34:56] it was pretty fascinating to see.
Brett Stanley: [00:34:58] I
Alex Dawson: [00:34:58] I,
Brett Stanley: [00:35:00] I have heard that story of, you know, like where you shine your light, you’re basically signing the death warrant of whatever’s in
Alex Dawson: [00:35:05] Yeah, basically, but, but also, I mean, they, they find efficient the dark hole, so, but, but if you put the light on it that it helps.
Brett Stanley: [00:35:13] Yeah.
Alex Dawson: [00:35:14] and, and I think it’s because the fish moves when he put the light on it. So it’s because the sharks have very bad eyesight. From what I understand, I’m not a hundred percent sure of that, but that’s what I’ve heard.
So I think, but then the fish does the Twitch when you shine the light on, and that’s when the shark senses the movement in the water and they
Brett Stanley: [00:35:33] That’s amazing. Yeah. Um, so a lot of your shots are in. Um, in places where there’s there’s sunken tanks, there’s like a, there’s like, it looks like a jetliner or they I’m assuming a lot of those are artificial reefs. Like there’ve been sunk for
Alex Dawson: [00:35:47] all of these , uh, all of those that you mentioned are artificial and the. The sink. The lonely tank was saying in 1999 by King Abdullah of Jordan in the middle East. And he’s a diaper himself, the King there. And so he’s saying, get us an artificial reef. And as for a study and stuff like that, then it turned into Carl’s started growing on the tank and everything.
Totally amazing when I was there the first time, 2002. And, but then it got so popular because I mean, it’s, the images started spreading of this tank underwater all over the world. So the people would come basically just to Jordan, just to dive this tank , uh, because it was unheard of. Basically, unless you would go to like truck lagoon or other places in Pacific from the second and first world war.
And so after that, they started doing more artificials with the Reeves. So like three, four years ago they sank a Hercules , uh, at 17 meters steps. And then
after that they know a hurricane is a military airplane
and that, yeah. And then , uh, A couple of years or one or two years later, they sank the whole military museum, which is basically a combine on the underwater, which is to Cobra helicopters, to how bits cannons and a couple of tanks and empty aircraft tanks and Jeeps.
And , uh, yeah, rocket launches. It’s EV everything. It’s, it’s, it’s re it’s a really cool dive and , uh,
Brett Stanley: [00:37:25] Cause you’ve got some, you’ve got some shots of that and
Alex Dawson: [00:37:28] yeah. Yeah. I will say invited , uh, by the Jordanian tourist board to, to promote that for dotting magazines and yeah. Social media and stuff like that. So I’ve been to Jordan quite a lot, actually.
Brett Stanley: [00:37:42] when when you were
there? Was it quite soon after they had it? Was it quite soon after they’d sunk everything?
Alex Dawson: [00:37:47] I was there fairly soon after the, I think less than a one month or something like that after they sunk it. Yeah. I think it was last summer in August. I was there and
Brett Stanley: [00:37:58] cause I think the, the shut that I use that I love is the shot of the Cobra helicopter , um, sitting on the bottom, there’s two divers next to it. And what I love about that is that it doesn’t seem like it’s been there very long. Like it’s not covered in coral or anything. It looks so surreal.
Alex Dawson: [00:38:13] That shot, this , uh, taken in December last year, about a year ago on the day, basically. Uh, and it had been sitting there less than day, six months.
Yeah. And I dived it again in March this year, and it had changed a lot. It was already all the color was gone and Carl’s starting to grow on it and yeah.
Big change just in three months.
And, and now with COVID I think, eh, the coral growth does there tends to be less diving tourism, obviously. So I think the Carl’s have probably grown quite a lot on the whole military museum. Now during knockdowns
Brett Stanley: [00:38:52] Yeah. How do you feel about that? Do you like, do you prefer these sorts of places when they are new and pristine and surreal? Or do you like them later on when they’re sort of starting to become more baked? Basically go back to nature.
Alex Dawson: [00:39:04] I like both, I would say, eh, I mean, if you, I would say the easiest thing is probably to say, I mean, I like, I love architecture and I love yeah. Modern homes and design and stuff like that, but I also love like , uh, abandoned places. When, you know, there’s Moss on the walls and a beautiful old windows and round staircases with a lot of detail and stuff.
I mean, so it doesn’t really matter anything beautiful. I mean, and, and. I’ve dived there. You mentioned also the airplane. I think another airplane, which is the passenger plane, the , uh, Tri-Star Lockheed, which is also sunk in Jordan. That one, I was there for the scuttling. So I was there while they were scuttling the plane last year in August.
and we drove it two days later. And of course it was still. Perfectly white and everything. And , uh, that was pretty cool. I have to say to dive on a freshly sunk airplane, very, very cool with, with all the colors and everything we’re like, as it should be. And the seats, everything was fresh, you know, it was, it was nice.
And then I dive it’s nine months later. I mean, in March this year, And it’s, it’s basically sediment over everything. So it’s like Brown over everything. Cause it’s, it’s located a little bit closer to the Harbor. And so there’s a lot of particles in the water and stuff like that. So it’s, it’s all covered in like a thin layer of sediment, I would say.
And so it doesn’t look as appealing, I think, uh , uh, it’s still a great day. But it’s , um, it’s, it’s just different. I liked it when it was fresh, fresh.
Brett Stanley: [00:40:46] There’s a shot you have on your Instagram. And I think I saw this, you know, out, you know, not in the context of your Instagram. I think it showed up in my feed one day and it’s basically. Following someone through the fuselage, through the, the passenger cabin. And I am not sure if the plane’s upside down or if the pitcher’s upside down, but all the seats bottoms are now either, you know, they’re, they’re kind of floating to the surface of the, of the plane.
Cause they’re all, it
looks like it’s a crashed plane that you’re going through. It’s so
Alex Dawson: [00:41:13] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, no I, yeah. And that, that those shots were taken just after the scuttling they were taken. Yeah. Yeah. Very shortly. I’m trying to remember when that scuttling was. I’m mixing everything together, I think, but yeah.
Brett Stanley: [00:41:30] Yeah.
I think the image that you posted was on September the third, 2019,
Alex Dawson: [00:41:37] okay. September. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So it was probably scuttled in August last year then. Yeah,
Brett Stanley: [00:41:42] right? Yeah. I mean it’s it’s, it must be so surreal to swim through something like that, you know, where
Alex Dawson: [00:41:48] yeah. Yeah. I mean,
yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I fly a lot, so yeah, it’s, it’s a, it’s a bit crazy feeling. I mean, uh , uh, too, but the image is not shocked. The diverse actually diving upside down. So the plane is not upside down. The plane is setting. Correct. Yeah, yeah, Yeah. Yeah. I thought I would make something fun now to it.
Cause he was such a good side Mount diver and he could dive upside down. So I was like, why not flip the image? I like to screw people’s minds up. I mean, if I can, if I can confuse people, I will do it. Because it brings, it brings attention. And then I like that. I like to mess up people’s minds when they look at something and they don’t really understand what they see.
I mean, that’s kind of fun. I think it’s challenges the mind, the mind, and
I think it’s fun to do that.
It’s fun for me
Brett Stanley: [00:42:42] It’s an amazing thing to do in the Instagram age as well. Since when people are just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling,
and know, like, they’ll take it. They’ll look at an image for two seconds and think they know what it is, but with something like that, where you go, hang on, what was that again?
And they go
Alex Dawson: [00:42:55] Yeah. And you go scroll back. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I like to create things. I, I’m not so much for a copying. I prefer to. The, I like to invent things like I like to do shots that haven’t been done or that at least that I haven’t seen,
uh, I like to, I like to create ideas from scratch and not necessarily copy other people.
Uh, sometimes I copy other people and try to enhance some idea, but I prefer if I have a. Brand new idea that just comes randomly , uh, like this top lightning that I’m using, which I call selfie lights on many of my images that was born during a Christmas concert. Uh, in Stockholm three years ago, we were sitting at a Christmas concert when I was like, wow.
That’s really cool lightning on stage right now. I’m going to use that on the water then. So I started using that underwater and, and it was actually a huge success. So,
Brett Stanley: [00:43:53] So what does that look like? What’s the effect.
Alex Dawson: [00:43:55] it’s it’s it’s it’s it’s you know, like a stage light from top, just a top lightning, just to give this hard shadows straight down instead.
And so if you have a diverse swimming, like half a meter over the bottom, you get the perfect shadow of a diver on the bottom and it just. Bring so much interest to them and I think, and it, it makes it very atmospheric and it looks good on stage and it looks good on the water too. So
Brett Stanley: [00:44:22] interesting you say that. Cause I spend, you know, I’m, I’m a big fan of lighting and lighting kind of drives a lot of my photography. And so I do spend a lot of my time at concerts when we could go to concerts, looking at the light and going, Ooh, that’s cool. How can I take that under water?
Alex Dawson: [00:44:36] yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and that’s what I, um, I’m not gonna , uh, I’m gonna sound a little bit critical now towards macro photographers or many underwater photography centers, but it’s quite common that diverse that shoot. Uh, subjects closer, they just lit a subject. They don’t set a lightning, they just eliminate the surface.
But illuminating the surface is not setting a lightning. I have 15 years from the commercial industry and fashion in , uh, in studio work. Eh, I was shooting for many big brands and , uh, but I just stopped with two years ago. And. So I’m used to setting lightning with strobes and reflectors and shading off light from that direction and using, you know, yeah.
Constructing, you’re creating a feeling with the light and that’s what I took under water also because I got tired of this illumination photography. I wanted dynamic cause. Photography light. I mean, photography to me is about light. I mean, how you use light. That’s why sunset looks better than a daytime shot.
It’s because the light is nice with a low angle, hard shadow, long shadows, and the softer shadows because of this guy is reflecting a lot and instead of the hard midday light. So this is what I wanted to bring onto water.
Brett Stanley: [00:46:05] Well, a lot of what I love about your work is, is that it is cinematic. Like some of these shots look like they’re almost a behind the scenes shot of a movie set. You know,
the way that it’s lit
Alex Dawson: [00:46:16] yeah, yeah,
yeah. I tried to try to work that way and , um, yeah. And, and what’s funny about it is I watch basic. I don’t watch, I haven’t basically watched any TV series ever on Netflix then I don’t watch. Any movies at all. So you would think that I am a big fan of the movies and stuff, but not really.
I think I just created my own way, but it’s it, it’s very similar to what they use in the film industry, because I see STEM in still images. I watch a lot of still images since that. And, and , uh, so I see movie scenes, but as it’s still images, then I guess maybe that’s how I get the ideas also.
So I would say definitely it comes from Hollywood.
Brett Stanley: [00:47:00] Yeah. And a lot of it, I think with your work is, is you’re telling a story which is similar to, you know, to movies, but you’re telling a story in that single shot with that, with that lighting, you know, it’s not like, Oh, here’s a ship and someone in it,
Alex Dawson: [00:47:12] Yeah. Yeah. That’s that’s, that’s, I’m happy to happy to hear that. Do you feel that way? Because that’s. That’s I’m happy if that’s how, how you look at it or other people look at it because it’s what I would like it to be.
Brett Stanley: [00:47:25] Yeah, I was definitely coming
across that way. Yeah. So in, in terms of, you know, the whole world now is, you know, it’s very Instagram based. The whole photography industry is, you know, Instagram is now our business cards basically.
Are you following other people on Instagram that you’re finding their work is, is, is quite innovative or people that are getting you excited about, about other work
Alex Dawson: [00:47:48] Yeah. I mean, I, I would say probably 50% of what I follow is basically friends in some way. Uh, but then I have a few accounts which are really good inspiration and usually not. Underwater? Um, no, not much underwater. I follow underwater photographers, but they’re friends, but my inspiration usually comes from nature photographers, I would say, eh, especially like people from Iceland.
Uh, and , uh, who else am I thinking of? Yeah. And a lot of free diving , uh, shot salsa. That inspired me a lot. And, and , uh, some , uh, some people that shoot a lot of whales and stuff like that can inspire me.
it’s it’s um, yeah, and , uh, feel follow a few filmmakers also because I like. I like that. I’m trying to get into shooting more and more video.
I got myself a camera this year and beginning of this year that you had raw videos. So I’ve been shooting a little bit of video. And the few tries I had , uh, been fairly lucky. I mean, the first movie I released or my first real that I released, I think it had over 2 million views , uh, between my end and other account where it was shared.
So. Uh, it’s, it’s, it’s a good reach
Brett Stanley: [00:49:03] Yeah. And, and with the video stuff with the motion, are you, are you looking to sort of , uh, basically take the, the style that you’ve got now and just put into,
Alex Dawson: [00:49:10] absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, I’m gonna, I’m going to basically do what I do now, but I’m gonna, instead of having static images, I’m going to have the subject move, so it’s going to be still images, but with moving contents, So I’ll still do exactly the same thing that I do, but it’s going to demand extremely much more from my team mates and lightening new guys and everything like that.
So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s way more complicated, way more. Uh, still images is so easy compared to shooting video. I mean, it would, in my mind, I’m thinking to be realistic every. Every day, if you can maybe accomplish three to 10 seconds finished cuttered video
and we’re talking like a two hour guide and you get 10 seconds of content.
So if you want to do some something, that’s like a half an hour long, then my God diving.
Brett Stanley: [00:50:09] that. Yeah,
Alex Dawson: [00:50:11] Yeah.
Brett Stanley: [00:50:12] great. Alex. Thank you so much. This has been, this has been absolutely amazing.
Alex Dawson: [00:50:15] Yeah, thank you. It was a thank you for having this chat with me and I really enjoyed it. Uh it’s it’s good to talk to people with similar interests and knowledge.
Brett Stanley: [00:50:27] Absolutely.
Well, thanks. And hopefully people can , uh, can check out your Instagram and, and get lost in your
Alex Dawson: [00:50:33] Yeah. Thank you. I hope I hope they enjoy it.