A Conversation With Espen Rekdal

A Conversation With… ESPEN REKDAL

Welcome to the fourth instalment in this series, to add to the previous interviews A Conversation With Todd Mintz and Rand McMeins, a A Conversation With Martin Edge and A Conversation With the Fotosub boys.

This month you join me with the World Champion! In June, at Jeju Island South Korea, Espen Rekdal of Norway was named the 12th CMAS World Champion of Underwater Photography. The CMAS world championship is usually held every other year and typically attracts between 35-50 photographers from 20-30 nations. The first world championship took place in 1979 and was won my Mario Zucchi of Italy.


Espen and his wife Shanay with medals and trophy from the World Championship. Photo: Per Eide

Now its fair to say that many readers might be surprised to learn that underwater photography has a world champion. That is not to belittle their achievements it is more a reflection on the press coverage, or rather lack of it, the event attracts. Hopefully, Espen’s success will change this. He is no competition specialist and I have long been a fan of his images.

Stylistically, I believe he is an intelligent and technical shooter, he shoots supermacros with breathtaking control of focus and depth of field, and faultlessly lit wide angle images. But he is also and artist, and has the vision to turn everyday subjects into graphic masterpieces. And finally, his training as a marine biologist means his portfolio contains many rare and unique images, particularly from his home waters of Norway, where he lives with his wife Shanay and daughter Elena.

Since Espen is technical shooter, this interview was a chance to get my teeth into some quality techie stuff on lighting, strobes and techniques. We discuss not just controlling the quantity of light in photos, but also what goes into producing the quality of light we want in our underwater images. We also talk a bit about fisheye photography and supermacro, including one of Espen’s recent specialities, open water supermacro.


Supermacro of a shrimp eye, uncropped. Photo: Espen Rekdal.

Finally, when photographers get together they invariably discuss the work of well known photographers. We all do it and it is often fascinating, but hard to put in print without risking offending. Espen and I get into the Doubilet versus Newbert classic, which actually reads fine, so it makes the edit for once! Hopefully everyone will read it in the respectful tone it was spoken!

Alex: Congratulations Mr World Champion! Was it an enjoyable event? Or only after the results?!
Espen: Thanks. Well, I actually didn’t have any expectation this time. I have had quite a few disappointments down the years, because of the way the points work. Especially when I have won the most categories, but not overall.
Alex: So despite winning this time, it probably wasn’t your best performance in a world championship?
Espen: Yeah, I think I did better in Marseille and in l’Estatit…
Alex: Interesting. So will this be the start of a Carlos Minguell style domination or is this a chance for you to draw a line under competing?
Espen: Who knows? I’d be quite happy to retire now, but there is always the temptation of free trips! But I have three bronzes and one gold from the last four events I’ve entered. It is hard to top, and in all probability I won’t win next time. So maybe it is a good time to give it up.
Competing is a great way to get yourself known, but you might do yourself a disservice if you stay in it too long, because you become too influenced by what does well in competition rather than what is good photography. You might stop playing around with ideas. Some people say you have to be creative in competitions, but I think it is actually the opposite. You become less creative because you are trying to please someone else [the judges] the whole time.
Alex: Most of the judges have similar tastes. Competition shots have to wow, there is no room for subtlety.
Espen: Exactly, if you do a photo story not every image should have that impact. They need to work together to build the story. There is much more to photography than competition photography.

Continued on page 2


Espen and his wife Shanay in El Hierro. Photo: Alex Mustard