The Maldives is more than high end resorts. Beyond the masses it is easy to hide among the islands and even have an adventure or two. Our Photographer of the Month, Alexander Brown, stayed many months in the Maldives and has some great photos and videos to prove it.
Even adventure sport enthusiasts like Alexander – British photographer, filmmaker, and former kite surfer – can get their fill by exploring local islands. We asked Alexander about his photography and about being in the Maldives so that his experience can inspire your travels.
Here’s a video from his team at Basement Vision:
Interview with Maldives photographer/filmmaker Alexander Brown
Q1: What made you get into underwater photography and photography in general?
Alexander: I was travelling the world in my teens as a professional kite surfer (and making promo films) where I found myself on a trip to the Maldives in 2007 for a video shoot. Long story short, I had a pretty bad accident (which led to the end of my pro career) and started snorkelling while on the trip to get some fitness back. This was the first time I saw a coral reef in real life and I was amazed.
Over the next 3-4 years I became passionate about this new marine world and ended up wanting to do my bit to raise awareness and help the conservation efforts. It was during my university degree where I wrote and directed my first documentary film, which I ended up shooting in the Maldives. I did my open water diving course right before flying out for the production phase!
But everything was totally un-planned for. My Dad was a Navy bomb disposal diver and had spent years training and becoming a real expert. Diving had never appealed to me despite my Dad as a role model (with a really crazy job) bringing home all sorts of diving stories. It really was those first times I snorkelled after my accident when I realised I had to find out more about the underwater world.
Q2: How would you describe your style of photography and what you want to “say” with your photographs?
Alexander: I admire the style and natural style of the type of material that National Geographic and the BBC produce, so that was always my benchmark for producing the perfect picture “in-camera” as opposed to manipulating a shot in post.
Being more focused on the filming side of things, I always aimed to create sequences that educate the viewer or tell a story. My Maldives work was really conservational based, even though I worked with a handful of resorts for commercial purpose too. But most of all what I want to say through all my work, both under water and above, is how one should chase whatever it is that they really want.
After leaving the Maldives mid last year for Australia, I have pursued my other passion for outdoor adventure, travelling the country in a self-built campervan and documenting the travel. I really love to explore and capture it all on camera, and I try to make that happen by any way I can.
Q3: When did you first go to the Maldives and what attracted you to go there? Was photography a motivation or an afterthought?
Alexander: As I mentioned, my first trip to the Maldives was for the kite surfing film shoot. In fact, I was producing the shoot and we were filming a new kite model that my key sponsor was about to release. I chose the Maldives as the location not because it was a world-class kite surf spot, but because it represented total escape with its perfect tropical coral islands, clear turquoise water and innocent nature.
I guess I didn’t know it back then, but the whole kite surfing approach as a natural wind driven sport, really supports the need for greater awareness of climate change impacts that’s having effect on such fragile paradises.
Luxury water bungalows built on what was once a natural and beautiful coral reef. The destroyed reef now needs human help to re-grow at this luxury resort.
Q4: What are some of the challenges of underwater photography and how do you overcome them? What are some of the most challenging things you have photographed?
Alexander: Well I went straight from the training pool back in England to the tropics of the Indian Ocean, so I was really lucky that my first open water dives I could enjoy in such warm waters with magnificent views. What I did have though is the pressure of having a camera in my hand from that very first OW dive and the need to shoot perfect shots from the start.
My photography theory was easy to transfer after I got used to operating my camera through the housing, and luckily enough I never had a problem with my buoyancy etc. The hardest thing I actually shot was a half/half shot of water bungalows built over a dead coral reef – there was a super strong current and I only had an hour to get the shot. It got some attention on the National Geographic “your shot” web site which was great.
Q5: Where are your favourite spots, above and below the surface, to take photographs in the Maldives? What makes them ideal?
Alexander: I really cannot get enough of shooting the Maldives from the air. I had some great flights in the seaplanes for various jobs, some days had fantastic views while overs the visibility was terrible. Just like underwater. In the Baa Atoll, there was one reef that I visited frequently called Hatta Giri and it was just an endless landscape of the most perfect hard corals. That was really great to see.
A beautiful piece of Indian Ocean coral reef. Hatta Giri, a submerged Thila in Baa Atoll, Maldives. Photo: Alexander Brown
Q6: What is it like to stay in the Maldives?
Alexander: Tell us about your average day when you’re there. I lived on an island called Velidhoo for over a year. The owners of Palm Villa, a guesthouse there, really supported the work I was doing and invited me back to stay after my documentary film trip. Thanks to them, my partner and I had a base within the country. This allowed us to work on our projects and travel the country to explore the real Maldives, outside of the resorts. It’s a fascinating place when you get living alongside with the locals.
Q7: What is one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photographs in the Maldives? Do you have any tips for visitors trying to capture their moments in the region?
Alexander: If only I had known how much more was outside the resort I first stayed on. If you want a high-class vacation, cocktails, great food; then book a resort. If you want adventure in a place that has no schedule nor is tainted by mass tourism; then get yourself to some local islands!
Q8: What technology/software/camera gear do you use to capture and process your stunning tropical & underwater scenes?
Alexander: I use Canon DSLRs and run Mac computer systems. Its industry standard really. I don’t look into the newest camera gear, simply because I cannot afford it. My 7D/5D setups are good enough for print magazine and indie cinema – so they are more than sufficient for my needs. Video editing is actually my favourite part of the process. It is so creative and you can completely craft a story or emotion through choices like music or colour grading.
A group of tourists snorkel alongside giant manta ray swimming in Hanifaru Bay, Maldives Baa Atoll. Photo: Alexander Brown
Q9: If your camera was to get stuck in one mode or setting, what one would you hope it would be? Why?
Alexander: My last shoot in the Maldives was actually with countless manta ray at Hanifaru Bay, with the Manta Trust team from the Four Seasons. My camera did get stuck and wouldn’t focus which was such a bummer. But I slowed the shutter speed a little and gave the animals motion in my images. I thought it highlighted their movement with a softer image, as they are actually really fast swimmers! All the other pictures I had seen before just showed the ray in super crisp detail, almost motionless.
Q10: What projects do you have in the pipeline that we can look forward to seeing?
Alexander:I actually just quit a really rubbish office job in Brisbane, and bought a Lonely Planet Guide to New Zealand today. I really want to get in the ocean there to go find penguins, orca whales and other amazing marine life. Along with living life from my campervan of course.
Alexander Brown is an aspiring British outdoor photographer and filmmaker. Now in year 10 of living from a suitcase, he continues to share his appreciation for natural world through various adventures and ramblings. You can read more from him on his blog here and see more videos and photos.
Thanks to Alexander for his time and his team at Basement Vision for their talent and expertise. We look forward to seeing more of what they produce about the Maldives and Beyond.
Get yourself to the Maldives where the mantas are waiting! Nautilus Two has all inclusive packages on for a great price this August during Manta season. Check out the dive cruise special price here.