A Conversation With Martin Edge

His awarding winning breakthrough images in 1980s were the result of hard graft, combining his own ideas with the knowledge interrogated from the top shooters of the day. Police detective training has its uses! “Every month Bob [Wrobel, Martin’s long time UW photo buddy] and I were asking questions at BSoUP. We’d work out ahead of time a list of questions for different photographers and I used to say to Bob ‘Go and ask such and such this, and ask it like this’, while I talked to someone else. I got to talk to Doubilet, Howard Hall, Pete Rowlands, Georgette [Douwma], Mike Valentine, Scoonsey [Peter Scoones], Linda Pitkin. I wanted to know how they had got their best shots. The Police Force taught me how to interview people and get them talking! I wasn’t bothered about the settings, I was using the same settings as the best photographers, I wanted to know about the motivation and the mind set that brought the really exceptional images.”

This jellyfish picture represented in landmark in Martin’s photography.

“I remember asking Pete Scoones in detail about the lighting in one of his famous shots and his response was ‘I’ve never been asked that question before.’ And he answered it. He knew exactly what I wanted to know. Rowlands did too.” Martin’s approach was a bit like reverse engineering, he figured out recipes on how to create beautiful images. He taught himself and his approach proved perfect for explaining to others how to do it, too.

The watershed in his development came on an early dive club trip to Cornwall. Despite the expense and long journey, Martin chose to skip the organised diving and snorkel to photograph a jellyfish he had spotted in a tide pool. “It was an important decision. It was a photo that I felt I created, made happen, rather than had just taken on a dive. That was the moment the penny really dropped. The photo did well in everything I entered it. It has been in all my books, it was the moment I realised what went into great photos and that underwater photography had nothing to do with diving.”

So to the 4th Edition of The Underwater Photographer. There is no doubt that digital underwater photography has matured a great deal in the last few years, but having poured so much into the very popular 3rd Edition, the man himself was less sure. “When I wrote the 3rd Edition, I felt that’s it there is nothing else to say. Although the book was pitched to cover both film and digital, the focus was pretty much all digital. So when I was asked to do a 4th Edition, which was about a year ago, before agreeing I asked myself has enough changed? And after a couple of weeks’ research I convinced myself it had. In actual fact, so much new material has come up that my initial writing schedule of 3 months has ballooned to a year. I have even given up my golf for it.”


The 4th Edition of the popular Underwater Photographer.

The new book is due out in early November and as he tells me about it, it is clear that Martin is chomping at the bit to see what people make of it. “We cover all the big topics, but it is also packed full of little tips and tricks that I do all the time, almost sub-consciously, that I have never written or seen anyone else mention. I actually carried a pen and piece of paper with me twenty-four-seven for the last year, and every time something came into my head about underwater photography I wrote it down. I am sure that everything I know, can think of and do is in this bloody book! And it is going to be a big book.”

The 4th Edition promises to be encyclopaedic in its coverage, but one of the reasons for the popularity of Martin’s books is that he tells readers what he thinks. Sometimes endlessly listing the all options available can leave the reader confused. Martin will give you the options and then what he recommends. “In the introduction I say that my intention is to produce the most comprehensive book on underwater photography. However, I also make the point that this is underwater photography through the eyes, mind and philosophy of Martin Edge. And you’ve got to make sure you seek out other opinions too, because other people will agree and disagree on all manner of things.”

That said, Martin has asked a number of underwater photographers to contribute chapters and the opinions of others are also woven into the main text. He reminds me that I am not the only one with a Dictaphone, “You know when I taped you in the car, when we were chatting? I used all that!”

As a photographer, Martin is driven by innovation, yet his own photography is often overlooked artistically, as his shots are usually dissected for teaching purposes. “When people like us are trying to push the boundaries, you are talking about a chinks of light. You’re not going to come up with a whole technique that has never been done. We have to find the little thing, that was perhaps passed over before and exploit it. For example, recently I have been playing with higher ISOs and shooting right at the end of dusk. Technically over exposing, so the water is light instead of dark. I am playing with wishy-washy textures in the water, which gives the ocean a unique blurred look. If that makes sense? I’m talking really dark, ISO 1600 at 1/8th second. I think it’s exciting. The key to finding images that exploit the high ISO capability of the latest cameras is to think ‘where is it dark?’ and shoot there. At these exposure my torch has the power of a HMI light.”


Martin Edge. 2009.

And his closing advice for innovation, “Go and play, set dives aside to be wild, free and silly. So much of what I have found that works has come from mad ideas!” The underwater photography world awaits the 4th Edition of The Underwater Photographer, by Martin Edge, with baited breath.

More info:
Edge Underwater Photography

Next month Alex enjoys a conversation with Spanish Fotosub photographers David Barrio, Carlos Villoch, Carlos Suarez and Arturo Boyra.