Conversations with Underwater Photographers: Laurent Ballesta by Henley Spiers

Conversations with Underwater Photographers: Laurent Ballesta by Henley Spiers

Laurent Ballesta - Interview by Henley Spiers

Laurent Ballesta is someone I have looked up to immensely over the last few years and, in late 2018, I had the opportunity to meet him, as he was a judge at the Anilao Shootout. Even in that setting, with many big shot figures from the underwater photography world around, there seemed to be a collective acceptance that here, in Laurent, we were in the presence of underwater royalty. His talk and images on the opening night kept an excited group of revelers in hushed awe.

When he passed by on a dive, clad in a signature, Blancpain sponsored, red wetsuit, and bright yellow Revo rebreather, it felt like a great white shark was passing by, as us mere reef fish just watched with curious fascination. Despite all of this, I sense that Laurent’s celebrity is smaller than it should be when you consider his achievements. He is the closest thing we have today to an heir to Jacques Cousteau, and I feel more people should be aware of his groundbreaking underwater expeditions. I was delighted that Laurent granted me the time to have this conversation and that he was willing to do it in English. I came away tremendously inspired, ready to dream big and break with convention.

One of the things I find most interesting is you have many identities. You are a marine biologist. You’re an extreme diver. You’re a photographer. You’re an explorer. You’re a storyteller. Is there one of those identities which resonate most with you?

It’s not easy to separate what I’m looking for, but I would say that the beginning is exploration. I can’t imagine the other jobs without exploration, and I really care when I use the word exploration because in our time there is exploration everywhere. I mean even tourists talk about expedition and exploration, because people propose them to buy a trip called expedition or exploration, maybe it’s more attractive I don’t know. So yeah, for me exploration is very important, and it’s something serious I would say. I’m ok that nothing is serious in what we do maybe. I mean there is some bigger problem on earth than exploration, but it’s something serious for me. Exploration means going where nobody was before or trying to see something that hasn’t been seen before. And of course that means most of the time to seek a new diving challenge, because if something is new, if a place is new, it’s because it was unreachable, or it was too deep, or it was too cold, or I mean there is a problem, there is an issue that means it’s new. So that’s why, in the second time, I went to a technical diving challenge: because I need it. Really I’m not this kind of technical diver who enjoys so much his equipment and spends time on forums to talk about the use of the D ring. I really don’t care about my equipment, I hate my equipment, it’s so heavy, so big. But I must use all the techniques I can if I want to go to 200 meters to see what happens there, to see the wildlife. You need to have some special equipment if you want to stay for hours and hours under the ice.

It’s really a means to an end. That wasn’t the starting point.

Yeah but you know I would say that it’s following childhood. I mean when you are six years old, and me my parents were not divers at all, they don’t even know how to swim, and so I was alone on the beach, they were just, you know, taking the sun on the beach for days and days and days. All of their free time. So I had to play. So I would say that, if I have to answer what is first: exploration, marine biology, diving or photography, I would say the easiest way to have an idea of that, because I’m not sure, is just to follow the childhood. I mean when I was six years old, I was on the beach with my brother, we were completely alone. In the way that our parent were so scared by the sea. They just loved to take the sun. That’s it. Nothing else. They never go in the water. So you know, going into the water was something dangerous for them, so it was dangerous for us as well, and even forbidden. I mean “stay on the shore,” “don’t go where it’s too deep,” “take care of the jellyfish,” “of the poisonous fish” or you know a lot of fantasies like that in their mind. And so for me going in the water was, at six years old, it was maybe a bigger adventure than right now when I go to the coelacanth. I mean, I have these very sharp memories, of being alone, just with mask and snorkel and trying to be close to a crab. My God, it was so scary! But so fascinating at the same time! I remember that I was swimming along the jetty on the beach and on one side the jetty was just one meter deep. And that was OK with me. And I remember that on the other side of the jetty it was something like maybe four meters. That was the abyss! And you know the corner. I remember that it took me a few years to take this corner. I was swimming with my snorkel. I remember, for example, the day I succeeded to empty my snorkel myself you know. That was such a victory. Yeah, I have all these very sharp memories, a mix of fears and joy and fascination, all these things, and I think it’s really a part of what I am now. And when I was a teenager, you know you fight with your parents of course, and my big fight was that I was so unlucky to have this kind of parents, because you’re not Cousteau family you know, and it would have been so much easier for me if my father was Cousteau to lead expeditions, to learn diving. And now I’m in the little diving school in my little town and OK, I enjoy my diving around, but it’s really not sure that it’s going to be my job later on. But now I realize that I was lucky to have this kind of parents. Because if I had this kind of parents you know, very smart, very clever, very open-minded and all these things. Take my hand and go in the water “look it’s not scary. You can do it.” I’m pretty sure that diving would have been something normal or simple without this atmosphere of such adventure. And I think I’m stupid enough that in this case I would have said: “pfff diving is something for old people!”

I’m very curious about the nature versus nurture arguments. Basically, I wonder, say in you, whether you were born with that instinct to explore?

We are all born with this instinct of exploration. That’s why the parents have to always take care, saying “Where are you? Where are you?” Because you are a fucking explorer when you’re born! Of course. And there is time because of the parent, because of school, because of a lot of things, that you kill the explorer.

So you think everyone is actually really born an explorer and that it gets subdued over time.

Look how you have to take care of your child all the time, I mean you know better than me!

So actually you don’t see yourself as being someone who was born with a different frame of mind. Actually, the only thing is you kept doors open which others close. Is that a good way of putting it?

Yeah, yeah it’s something like that. I don’t know. I don’t know why I never killed the explorer inside. And most of us we kill it. It’s an unconscious thing. Because of social pressure, because if you’re unlucky, if you live in a place that just to find something to eat, or just to avoid being killed by a sniper because it’s the war in your town. Of course, exploration means something else, and it’s better to avoid. But in normal conditions, I think that we have all of us this potential. All of us the curiosity, the thing is how can we not kill the enthusiasm of childhood, the energy of childhood. And yeah that’s not easy to do, and I don’t know how it works, but I presume that so far the explorer in me is still alive. I understand that I am not as enthusiastic as I was, I don’t have energy as I had, but yeah I’m proud enough to try to believe that it’s still the same thing.

What was, and maybe what is today the reason why you take photos underwater.

Oh because I think my deep nature was artistic anyway. You know I made a big mistake when I was a kid is that I was watching Cousteau films on the TV. You know Cousteau? Even if you’re young?

Yep. We still watch!

Yes! Well, I mean sometimes I go into schools, I talk about Cousteau, and the kids don’t know them anymore. I presume that the son and the grandson don’t have the same…mind. And what appears in this film, you see more the adventurer and the divers than the wildlife itself. And you don’t realize, but of course, it’s much easier to be inspired and to want to be the same. So at the beach, I was playing Cousteau, and that’s what I continue to do right now. Be like Cousteau as much as I can. So if you look at the Cousteau film, who is the hero of the film? It’s the marine biologist most of the time. The one who has all the answers. Even Cousteau asks him! That’s incredible - Cousteau asked the marine biologist! He doesn’t know himself! Yes. So for me, that was the highway: to be a marine biologist, to be a scientist. I just forgot that all of these guys, all this team was just artists. And they play more or less marine biologists, sometimes with a real background of marine biology but they were all travelers, and artists, and writers, more than scientists. Anyway. So I took marine biology and, we talk about killing the one we are inside, and I think I killed a little bit the artist. Because when I was a kid, I was spending my time to draw, to paint, to sculpt, to build little stuff. And I remember that my mother was saying all the time that my brother was the one who liked to go outside, and me I was the one who liked to stay home at his desk to draw. And I hate her when she was saying something like that! No, she’s so wrong. No, I’m an explorer! It’s just that the garden is not enough for me! I need Amazonia! That was this kind of feeling, and really, I was really sad when I heard this kind of thing, but that was true. I love to draw, to be in my mind, imagination, all this kind of thing. And then I started diving and learned marine biology on my own, then at school and university. And really soon, when I was at the end of being a teenager, I realized that I was telling my diving story all the time to my family. And I think I bored them a lot! And I remember one special day when…you know, I was in Montpellier - it’s not the best place to dive really in France, but it was a good school at least because the water is murky, the sea is rough, it’s all the time offshore dives. So it’s really good learning. Anyway… But there is not a lot to see actually. And one day we find a school of basking sharks. The smallest was maybe six meters long, ten of them around us. I was in a Cousteau movie this day really for the very first time, and I spent a full day (in winter) swimming with them, on their back. That was unbelievable. I had a fever all night after that, not because of a cold I think, just because of emotion, and I started to have so many strange dreams in the weeks after. That was such a strong experience. I was already passionate for diving, exploration, all of these things, but this one was a kind of a gift of the of the sea gods you know or something like that. That was not humble but no matter at this time. So imagine, I’m back home, I was used to have so many stories to say just about the crab and the shrimps, and suddenly I have a story with six meter long sharks - nobody believed me! I saw the eyes of people around me “yeah yeah of course…six meters long…yeah yeah”. So that was really awful! My god, nobody believes me! And it became obvious that I had to make photos. And at this time that wasn’t that easy. There was no digital, only film, it was very expensive. You have to learn, and I’m a very slow learner. Yeah, really. And so it took me time to decide to buy one (and I didn’t have any money by the way). So it was a hard job to do. But when I started to make photos, all this very young background came back very soon. I had suddenly a new way to express art, as I was drawing or painting as a kid. I thought it was just to continue to dive and have proof of my stories, but in just one dive it became something much more different. During a couple of years, maybe more, I would still wonder when we had a wreck to explore “do I take my camera or not?” because you know to explore the wreck, for example, it’s better not to have anything with you. So during a few years, it was like that, and then I really mix them and et voila.

You purely taught yourself underwater photography? Or you had some teachers and mentors?

No, I really learned myself, and it was a very, very, long process. My God so much film for nothing! Really. Sometimes by chance, you know you do something that you really don’t expect “oh this is good. This one I keep it!”.

I almost can’t imagine film. Digital you can learn so much faster, you have immediate feedback.

Yeah imagine, you take a picture, you don’t know what you do, you have to wait one week, and you forgot what your settings were.

Jade Hoksbergen: I think your parents must have thought you were going crazy. You had a fever all night. You were seeing 6 meter long creatures…

Well, at this time, when all these things happened. I lost my mother quite early, and all these things happened after her. But something I remember for sure…You know in my time, you could not start diving until 14 years old. But I pushed my parents so much. I was talking about diving all the time. That they found a way that I start at 13 years old. And before that, I was just snorkeling, freediving, spearfishing, and all these things I could do. And I didn’t understand during this first part that it was my passion. I didn’t understand because I had a lot of my cousins who had a big passion for horses, or for soccer. You know I would say passions that they are okay. That it was part of the family or something. And me, I remember saying that I have no passion. That was weird because I was spending all my time trying to watch a movie about diving, waiting for the Cousteau movie at the end of the week. And spending my time in the water as soon as the summer was there too and we were at the beach. And for me, it was not a passion because it was not something usual. But of course the first day I went in the dive school (remember there is no internet, on TV except for Cousteau there is nothing else), so I didn’t even know how can look a dive center. I mean I arrive, I see all the tanks. That was the most beautiful view I had ever seen you know! It looked for me like the inside of the Calypso boat. That was so huge, and at this time I was sure that (maybe the only time in my life I was so sure) I will be a professional diver. I knew that it would be my way. And I remember that my mother was a bit scared because I was too much focussed on nothing else. And I remember she would say: “my god, he’s not even interested by girls, only diving, only diving” and she was scared that I never care about girls (she was quite wrong) but during this year nothing was more important.

Speaking of being scared, I don’t know if that’s a word that you will want to use in this context, maybe being stressed or nervous. Which of the expeditions that we know best: the coelacanth, Antarctica, Fakarava with the sharks. Which of those made you most nervous?

OK, but what are you talking about? The photos? I mean the result at the end? The expedition?

I think in water. In water which one?

Oh, definitely the coelacanth. The most stressful was the coelacanth. The toughest was Antarctica, for sure the hardest. But the coelacanth was stressful because you are looking for him and nothing else. So you have this aim, this animal you know that nobody did before. You know that already a few people died trying, and I felt responsible of my team. Because I trust my team so much but at the same time, we were four divers, and two of them were nearly deep dive beginners. But they were so athletic and so strong in their mind. So I knew that I could trust them, maybe more than an experienced deep diver but a bit crazy or too much emotional or I don’t know. And they were really athletic, and this dive is a technical dive, but it’s also really a sport dive. There is so much current and a lot of swell. And when you are deep down, you have to look for the coelacanth, you are not here just to stay and enjoy. You have to explore and every minute counts. So you spend your time at 120m swimming a lot. In the two first years we didn’t have any scooters, and thanks to the GPS we realized that we swam more or less 300 meters every day at the bottom. To check a piece of the canyon from 110m to 130m deep, and over 300 meters long. There are 10 caves in this place, and we have to check all of them. We had 12 minutes to do that. So sometimes we check all the cave, no coelacanth? OK, stop for the day. That means less deco, and we can rest a bit. The worst is when you find the coelacanth at the last minute, and you know you’re going to stay another 15 or 20 minutes, and it’s going to be five hours deco. So that was really the most stressful, for the team and for me. For example, we were four to dive, the dive director, a good friend of mine, Jean-Marc Bellin, who really figured out all our deep protocols during the last 15 years at least, during this expedition with the coelacanth he became so stressed by the dive (maybe because physically it was quite hard for him, a bit more than for us) and twice he cut the loop and took his bail-out as he felt that something was wrong. But nothing was wrong except for himself and his mind, and after this expedition, he told me that “I’m still ok to be part of the expedition, to organize, to plan the dive, but it’s done for me the deep dive.” And another one of the same group, still part of the expedition because he’s a very good organizer, and for the logistics, and as a kind of social contact - an amazing one. So he’s still part of the team and is still diving but only in shallow. He doesn’t want to have the roof of the deco any more as well. So you can imagine it was so stressful because nothing happened, that was a success. Never mind. Two of them don’t want to do it anymore. But in the other way that was the easiest photo to do. You know, the most stressful deep dive, but easy photo. You’re the first, so it’s easy. The coelacanth is not moving. It’s not curious, but it’s not scared. You can do whatever you want when it’s there.

How did your team come together with all these guys?

Naturally. My main partner in Andromede Oceanologie company I studied with at university. We met there and, at the end of the university, anyway we were not good enough to have a lot of job propositions, and we didn’t want to chose to be a researcher at the university. You know you dive once a month or once a year. And I didn’t want to be just the dive guide or a journalist in diving. That was not humble, but I wanted to mix all the things: the scientific background, the diving, the photos, and so we started this association. Just the two of us. No business program was planned, but we were lucky at the beginning, I met Nicolas Hulot, this famous presenter in France, he trusted me and brought me on his program for 12 years. It was just two, maybe three months a year. Never more. But that was a huge opportunity for me to meet him, to spend time with such a smart guy. To learn about how to do an expedition, filming… I met so many incredible people around him. So that was very important.

Back then you were a safety diver? Or you were a videographer? Or…?

No, I was a kind of a little piece of everything. Mainly as a marine biology consultant for him. He liked my telling stories about marine biology. So sometimes I was preparing some programs with the team before leaving, sometimes I leave for a recce tour to check the place. So we leave a lot of times like that, just two or three of us, just to check the place. That was, for example, my first trip in Antarctica, just as a recce tour. And then I had to write what I saw, give some ideas to the directors, and then go back to the place with the film crew. So we’re working with the underwater crew to spot the scene that we want to film. I mean if it’s humpback whales they don’t need me to spot it, but you know when it’s small creatures… When you are here [Anilao], even if you are with very good guides you have to choose some subject to say; “we’re going to film this one better than this one because of the story we want to tell.” And so that was my job. And then on the screen, with the presenter, be the consultant, the famous marine biologist.

The dream came true!

Yeah, not with Cousteau but with Nicolas Hulot for sure. Yeah. And that was great moments. We did a lot of trips all over the world.

So that was really the next part of your education and from there…

The good point was that it was only two, three months a year. The rest of the year was with my partner, my very best friend from the university, trying to do something more sustainable, a little company, and continue to make marine biology studies, and continue to make my own photo project on the side, my first books, and all these things. So that was a good mix to pass from one crazy team and then to something maybe much more discrete and humble, but maybe something more sustainable.

Where do you feel you’re at in your career right now? Do you feel you’re at the apex?

Something for sure is that if I looked back at the last nearly 20 years, I was really lucky because I never had professionally, personally, it’s another story, but professionally I never had a huge depression with nothing to do anymore. Every six months was better than the six months before. Really that’s so incredible. But these last years I realized that… I don’t know if it’s going to be the same for the next 10 years. I’m not sure. After the next expedition, the saturation dives 4 weeks at 120m. It’s going to be quite hard to make something more exciting. And I know that it takes so much money to do this kind of expedition that…I don’t know..You never know. If it’s a big success, next year…

Can you tell us a little bit more about this next project?

Well, It’s something I’m dreaming about for the last 18 years. When I had my first rebreather, that was in 1999, and at this time in France we were very few, maybe my instructor and two or three divers, something like that. And of course that opens so many opportunities to stay long, to go deep, but I realized that you know, it’s like you watch a big cake, but you cannot eat it all, because you know that you can go deep, you can stay long, but the decompression you cannot cut it. So I realized that there is some restriction to your freedom with the rebreather, it’s the long deco if you go deep. And I had the opportunity, thanks to Nicolas Hulot, to meet Henri Germain-Delauze, the founder of COMEX, you know the famous commercial diving society who revolutionized deep diving. In fact, they hold the record for the deepest man ever, 700 meters down, in the laboratory but I mean he was breathing at 70 bar atmosphere! So, I had the opportunity to meet him, but very early in 2000 or something like that. I had just my NGO with my friend, we were just two, no books, I did one program with Nicolas Hulot that’s it, and I have this meeting. I was on the point of canceling it because it looks ridiculous you know. And I had this idea when I saw him say “OK. You are the master of the saturation dive. I mean you developed this way that you don’t care about decompression anymore. So there is no more time limits thanks to your techniques. But there is a problem with your techniques: there is no freedom. You go out of the bell with this huge umbilical, with a big helmet and you’re just a plumber, and you work just below the bell, a few meters. Around is dark because you put so many lights there that the rest is just dark, and you make your job for a full day, but there is no freedom. Me, with my rebreather, I’m the most free diver. I mean for me it looks very strange when we talk about freedivers, how are they free? A few minutes underwater for the best?! You know. And I love them, I’m quite jealous. I would like to be like them, but I mean what does it mean free if you cannot stay as long as you want. So I told him that yeah, me I’m free, but I have a restriction in time. No restrictions in space, but in time. If we mix both, going out of the bell with my rebreather - my god! So you spend your nearly lifetime for exploitation of marine reserves. You work with the most polluting companies in the world. Maybe it’s time to change and to make something for conservation, for exploration by mixing these two techniques, that could be so new and so great”. That was in 2000. And he looks at me this guy, and this guy was a genius and so enthusiast, but he was also very proud, and he says to me: “Ton projet ne m’interesse pas, mais il me plait.” I don’t know if I can translate, but it means; “your project doesn’t interest me, but I like it.” And suddenly this big businessman, I saw his energy. Suddenly Bam! He takes the phone, call someone bam, bam, bam. “I have an idea. There is a saturation bell somewhere in West Africa but not used anymore. I can bring it back to France. I have a new exploration boat, it’s going to be ready next month. We can have both” He starts to make some calculations and says: “OK, you can have the COMEX at cost price: ten thousand euros per day.” Ten thousand euros per day… For me. I didn’t get that for a year you know. It was not even 10. It was 15. I remember exactly fifteen thousand per day. And it looks completely crazy for me at this time. But I was very happy when I left because I say; “hey I succeeded to excite this guy.” So I was happy, even if it looks to me a science fiction you know. And we continue with my friend to dive deeper and deeper and then 2007 and 2008 I reached 200 meters, more than six hours in the water, sometimes in rough conditions. And ok, maybe I’m able now to find some sponsor, maybe we can try again. And I tried to see him again. Unfortunately, he had a brain accident. He was still okay, but he didn’t want to see nobody anymore. So you had to deal with his daughter and some people around, you know like when you are the king and all the people around - much more proud than the big boss himself, even if they never built anything themselves. Anyway. And so I had all these people, and I arrived with the same enthusiasm, maybe more enthusiasm, because the first time I was trying something but now I thought that people will be as him you know. But it was the complete opposite, the first said “but why do you want to go deep?” because nobody goes: “No, you know the deeper you go, the less there is to watch” and all this bullshit. And they are not marine biologists, they are engineers, physiologists, all these things. I would say that that’s my part, let’s just talk techniques “well you know, we already tried rebreather and it doesn’t work deep down” yeah but maybe it was a long time ago, rebreather changed, and there are solutions “and anyway where do you go to find two hundred thousand euros per day?” That was a surprise, and I understood that the problem is not to be competent, it’s to wish, to be enthusiastic, and so it was quite humiliating, and so I left. And during this time, I met two ministers, who were very excited by the project, but both of them were fired two months later (that’s the problem of Minister of Ecology - it’s not a sustainable place even if you’re talking about sustainable development). And so I didn’t find any solution, and only last year I figured out some solution. And it will be a bit more expensive than what COMEX proposed to me, I mean what the founder originally proposed to me, but much cheaper than what they said 10 years later. And so now it’s going to work. I don’t know if I will have enough money for 10 days, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, we’ll see because you just have pay every day, every single day. But it will happen.

So you are going to live at…what depth?

The maximum will be…I mean there is no limit. If you want to make 200m, you can, even more with saturation, but the thing is that it’s for wildlife that I go down. So in France, in the Mediterranean Sea, the most interesting part, the highest diversity, is for me between 60m to 120m so that will be my range. So the maximum will be 120m, maybe a little bit more. So the thing is that every day you go down with the bell. You go out of the bell, with your rebreather, free for hours and hours. Then, when you don’t have any more batteries, or you’re cold or… you go back to the bell, you close the bell of course because you have to stay at the same pressure, you bring the bell back to the surface, you connect the bell to the pressurized living chamber and you rest, you eat, you sleep a bit and, when you are ready again, you go down, and you don’t care about decompression anymore, only at the end of the expedition. And the deco, you know that’s the rule of saturation - bottom time doesn’t count anymore. It’s just the depth which makes the decompression time, only the depth. Because of course after ten hours, or ten days, or ten months, it’s the same level, you’re fully saturated. And it will be 3 to 4 days deco, but just in a bed.

Do you have any idea what to expect?

Yeah, I have a lot of ideas because I did a lot of deep dives during the last 20 years in France so I’m used to it. I’m used to all these ecosystems that I was only able to reach for 20, 30 minutes. But I have a lot, a lot of support along the French coast and of course, with the barge and the trail boat, we are going to visit all of these places, maybe just one day on each but a full day, not 30 minutes anymore, so perhaps one full day will be enough. And of course, I’m going to make photos. I would say that’s the most motivating thing. But you know it’s something serious, and with a lot of money, so it’s not enough. So we’re going to make a lot of science, of inventories. We’re going to study also the capacity of this deep reef to absorb CO2 as well. That’s really important these days because we must protect all the ecosystem able to absorb CO2…the forest, the meadows… the coral reef doesn’t take the CO2, not so much at least because it’s an animal, so it breathes as well, but this kind of deep reef, it’s like stone algae, so the last publication said that it could be a very good absorber of CO2. So we’re going to try to figure it out with a big bell that you have to put on the reef. And we’re going to make also physiological studies on ourselves because that’s the first time we’re going to be with rebreathers outside of the bell. There is a lot of science on saturation divers of course, but this one is a bit different and deserves being studied. Because for me, it’s not just the depth of the work which is the saturation depth, it’s a new surface, and why not consider 100 meters as our surface, and you go deeper, and you make deco to reach back to this new ‘surface.’ That would be something very new. For the moment it’s quite hard to figure out, and if I talk about that to people in saturation diving they just have a heart attack immediately! But you know one year ago, just to say that we’re not going to use umbilical anymore that was unacceptable, and now it’s OK. We made tests, we made tries, we found other safety solution, so why not imagine to go deeper and have some deco to reach back the bell. Imagine you are 100m, and we go to explore 200m for 30 minutes, and you come back to 100m and…I don’t know, we’ll see. Even if we don’t do that it’s going to very exciting.

It sounds incredible, we’ll be watching closely.

I’m just worried about the cold, it could be very cold. And worried about the weather, If we spend too much time without being able to go down and you are stuck in the chamber, just five square meters for four people. And I pay, every day even if we don’t go down.That’s my worries.

One last question: what advice would you give to aspiring underwater photographers?

Try to feel as an explorer and don’t lie to yourself. Find the condition to be an explorer, and that will be good. For me, that is the key for inspiration. If there is this point where I feel really connected to exploration, you know this feeling that you are somewhere for the first time or you are in front of something for the first time, that gives me so much more inspiration and enthusiasm to make photos. If you put me in a place where I see ten other photographers, and I have to wait my turn to take pictures of the pygmy seahorse, I have no inspiration at all. Some people are able, and I’m very impressed by these people who you can put them in front of an anemone with a clownfish, and they do something amazing. It’s another source of inspiration. Me, I really need to feel the kid I was, you know, full of fears, full of strong feelings like that, and if I succeed to have this feeling again, I know that I’m going to make good photos.

You can follow Laurent’s expeditions and imagery on Facebook and Instagram, as well as through his website.

About the author

Henley Spiers is an award-winning underwater photographer and writer with an unquenchable passion for the sea. Half British and half French, he lives in Cebu, Philippines, with his wife (and favourite dive buddy) Jade and their daughter Apolline. To see more of his work check out his website or follow him on Instagram or [Facebook]:(https://www.facebook.com/henleyspiersphotography)

To see more of this interview and other interviews, please see Henley Spier’s blog.