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Scubaverse Underwater Photographer Interview: Jett Britnell



In an ongoing series, Scubaverse’s Underwater Photography Editor Nick Robertson-Brown talks to underwater photographers from around the world that he admires. In this blog: Jett Britnell

NRB: Tell us a little about yourself

JB: I was five years old when I happened to watch an early 60s TV episode of a scuba diving adventure show called, Sea Hunt. I felt so inspired that I grabbed a war surplus gas mask that I had begged my dad to buy me at the local county fair, and ventured out into my backyard. Our backyard had a large iron cauldron that was filled with water and orange goldfish as a lawn feature. My gas mask had goggles and a long hose attached to a canister. Surely, it would work underwater. After putting on the gas mask I heaved myself up on the lip of the cauldron and dunked my head underwater. Not only could I clearly see the goldfish swimming, but I also noticed the flakes of rust lining the bottom of the caldron. Soon enough, water began seeping into the mask. “No worries”, I thought, “I have a breathing hose!” Of course, the gas mask flooded with water and I had to quickly abort my underwater mission. Clearly, something was calling to me as all through my childhood I was hypnotically drawn to scuba diving either through watching TV documentaries such as The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau or thumbing through the pages of National Geographic to follow the shark diving exploits of Australia’s famous shark divers, Ron and Valerie Taylor.

As a professional scuba diving photojournalist based in Vancouver, Canada, I have achieved what is known in explorer circles as being the “Holy Trifecta!” as I’m a Fellow in three of the world’s most prestigious explorer societies, The Explorers Club (New York), the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (Ottawa) and the Royal Geographical Society (London). I’m also a member of the Ocean Artists Society, an Ambassador in EXPLOCEAN’s League of Underwater Explorers, and a consultant to Elephanatics, an elephant advocacy organization based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Descent into Browning Passage – British Columbia – at a dive site called Seven Tree Island – Jett Britnell

The first story I ever wrote was on speculation for Canada’s DIVER Magazine which meant if my writing and photography were not up to snuff, they did not have to publish it. Remarkably, for someone without a writing degree, or any formal photography training, my first published story in August 1987 was a four-page centre spread feature article along with one of my photos gracing the magazine’s front cover. I had arrived, so to speak. Since then, I have amassed almost 60 magazine cover shots, and my images and editorial continue to be published internationally in various media. Apart from freelancing with various scuba publications through the years, I was also a Travel Editor for Dive News Network, and a Contributing Editor to Canada’s Diver Magazine for 12 years. In 2016, I was named one of “122 Inspiring Shooters You Should Know” by Scuba Diver Ocean Planet Magazine. My wife, Kathryn, and I also co-author an exploration, photography and travel column for Luxe Beat Magazine under the banner “Third Age Expeditions,”

NRB: How did your underwater photography start?

JB: My pursuit of underwater photography arose back in the early 80’s when I saw a couple of magazine cover shots in Canada’s DIVER Magazine by local British Columbia underwater photographer Gordy Cox. He remains as being one of the most talented underwater photographers I have ever known. I started shooting with slide film and actually learned how to adjust camera f-stops and shutter speeds 60-feet beneath the sea. While my undersea images were good, and getting better, to get them published in a magazine, I had to write the story to go along with my photos. Writing for magazines I also learned as I went along.

Opalescent nudibranch – Browning Passage – British Columbia – Jett Britnell

I made my first underwater pictures in January 1983 using a Canon AE-1 35mm SLR camera in a Tussey underwater housing. Those early images would not see the light of day today. Around this time, I had met Gordy Cox and we became friends. From the beginning Gordy always told me that I had “a good eye” and not to worry as the lighting will come. I also consider myself fortunate that I also become friends with a couple other talented BC underwater photographers, Neil McDaniel and David Fleetham. Somewhere along the way I was simply accepted as being one of their peers. Sadly, my friend and mentor, Gordy Cox, passed away in 2020.

NRB: What is your favourite u/w camera equipment (past & present) & why?

JB: While I have tried other camera brands underwater, I have largely been Team Nikon since I was first published. Prior to digital photography, I started out shooting slide film and my favorite camera was a Nikon F3 with a sport viewfinder in an underwater housing. I had two of these cameras housed in Aquatica housings, one set up for macro and the other for wide angle.  I switched to digital photography in May 2004 with a Nikon D70 which was a great little 6MP DSLR and have not exposed one roll of film since. Presently, I’ve transitioned from a Nikon D800 to using Nikon Z6 and Z7 mirrorless cameras housed in an Aquatica AZ6/7 underwater housing, with twin Sea & Sea YS-D3 strobes. While I own a variety of prime Nikon lenses, the workhorse lenses for my underwater work are the AF Fisheye-NIKKOR 16mm f/2.8 for wide-angle work and the AF Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8 and Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8 lenses for shooting fish and macro critters. These three lenses pretty much cover it all underwater. I have also started using a Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 which I am quite enjoying.

Baby humpback whale – Tahiti – Jett Britnell

NRB: What would be your advice to anyone new to underwater photography?

JB: Lighting in underwater photography is everything. Study the work of other underwater photographers to gain inspiration and perspective. Try to figure how those underwater photographers used light, the subject matter and composition. Experiment at trying to emulate their style. Never feel you must purchase the most expensive photography equipment. Buy the best you can afford, but never forget that it is the photographer, and not the equipment, that makes the photo. Shoot a lot of images and include both horizontals and verticals. Studying marine life behavior and their habits is vitally important if you wish successfully photograph marine subjects. The goal is to keep working at it and never stop learning. Consider doing photo dives in places where nobody else goes. It is in these places where new discoveries are made. Participate in dedicated underwater photography expeditions. Be sure to friend or follow underwater photo pros and scuba diving editors in social media to keep abreast of what’s happening. Lastly, never worry. The lighting will come as it did for me.

Fish eating tealia anemone – British Columbia – Jett Britnell

NRB: What, or who, has been the single biggest inspiration for your underwater photography?

JB: Apart from the local BC underwater photographers who I dived with regularly, there were also several world-renowned underwater photographers whose work always inspired me. For me, teamwork makes the dream work. I have always been drawn to and admired the photos made by diving couples such as Hans & Lotte Hass, Ron & Valerie Taylor, and Stephen Frink and his dearly departed wife, Barbara Doernbach. Other underwater photo pros whose imagery consistently provided stars to reach for were Amos Nachoum, Chris Newbert, David Doubilet, Howard Hall, Marty Snyderman, and the late Rick Frehsee. They all shot with slide film back in the early days where you only had 36 frames per dive. And then there is what I like to call the new wave of underwater photo pros, the incomparable Ellen Cuylaerts, Michele Westmoreland, Allison Vitsky, Alex Mustard, Ken Kiefer, Eiko Jones, Stewart Sy, Joanna Suan and my brother from another mother and Tobermory’s shipwreck diving legend Stuart Seldon. I would also be remiss if I did not mention Michael Maes who, before turning to the dark side of shooting underwater video, created some stunning underwater still images.

Oceanic whitetip sharks grow up to 4 meters and are “Critically Endangered” in the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic areas – Cat Island – Bahamas – Jett Britnell

NRB: What image are you most proud of and why?

JB: I never fall in love with the images I make. Not unlike searching for the lost chord in music, I’m seemingly always more interested in the next photo I’ve yet to make. That being said, if I had to choose just one photo at the moment it would be an image, I made of an Oceanic Whitetip Shark while snorkeling with Epic Diving ( approximately seven miles offshore at Cat Island, in the Bahamas. It’s an image I held in my mind’s eye after watching the shark documentary “Blue Water, White Death” when I was still a pre-teen.

NRB: Where is your favourite dive location, and is it your favourite for the photography?

JB: I absolutely love diving just about anywhere on this magnificent blue planet. If you were to ask, “If you could only dive in one place for the rest of your life, where would that be?” it would hands down be in British Columbia’s famed Browning Passage, which is situated off the north end of Vancouver Island. I’ve made it known this is where I want my cremated remains scattered after my soul departs on its next great adventure.

Sombrero Island reefscape – Philippines – Jett Britnell

NRB: What are you views on marine life manipulation, moving subjects?

JB: I‘m opposed to marine life manipulation insofar as moving say a nudibranch next to some more colourfully background, or anything like that. Some believe that shark dives where bait is used to attract them into the area is manipulating the shark’s behaviour. I disagree as there have been several studies which support that sharks are merely being opportunistic feeders. I have witnessed underwater photographers move something, and then not put it back. No picture is worth harming or disturbing marine life.

NRB: What do you look for when you are making your images?

JB: First, if I’m shooting wide angle, I always use “jump settings.” In other words, my camera settings are already dialed in for any subject I might encounter after splashing beneath the waves. Down below, I think about composition and photogenic backgrounds. I take my time to look for photo ops. Patience is a virtue as I will wait a considerable amount of time for a critter to move into the right place. Ideally, we are at a dive site inhabited by marine life we are hoping to photograph. If not, it doesn’t matter. I always descend beneath the waves with a mindset that something good will always happen. Some underwater photographers stress themselves out, along with whomever they may be diving with. In order to truly excel at the art of underwater photography on should attach themselves to having a Zen-like attitude as easily as they change a camera lens.

Clown shrimp on Crimson Anemone – copyright by Jett Britnell

NRB: What motivates you to take u/w photos?

JB: I never needed any motivation. I could not have known when I was five years old what I know now and that is I was shaping my destiny when I strapped on an old war surplus gas mask and dunked my head into a big black iron cauldron to look at goldfish. I have a lifelong love for the oceans, rivers and lakes and all that lurks beneath the surface.

NRB: If you could photograph any one thing/place what or where would that be?

JB: There is no one place for me. I would love to photograph marine life in the Arctic and Antarctica, Orcas in Norway, or diving with sharks and whales just about anywhere; exploring ancient shipwrecks in the Greek Isles, and the Philippines presently looms large on our horizon. We have been there twice before and Kathryn and I have been invited to lead a trip there in 2022. It’s a lovely country brimming with kind-hearted, beautiful, people and diving there never ceases to amaze.

Giant Pacific Octopus in BC – Jett Britnell

To see more of Jett’s work follow these links:

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit

Marine Life & Conservation

PADI partners with global skincare brand Medik8



PADI®’s global non-profit the AWARE Foundation™ is teaming up with leading sustainability-focused skincare brand Medik8 to save our most critical ecosystem on the planet – the ocean.

As the new corporate sponsor of the PADI AWARE Foundation’s 2023 Community Grant Programme, Medik8 will be supporting four grassroots conservation projects that range from protecting megafauna like turtles and whales from entanglement to fuelling hands-on citizen science initiatives like seagrass restoration.

The PADI AWARE Community Grant Programme is designed to award ocean protection initiatives that are in direct support of the United Nations Decade of Science for Sustainable Development in five distinct categories: coral restoration, developing marine protected areas, eliminating marine debris, reducing the effects of climate change, and protecting species threatened with extinction like sharks and turtles. In 2022 PADI AWARE™ dedicated nearly one-quarter of its public funds to empower local communities to take action for our shared blue planet.

“Last year we launched the Grant Programme to directly support PADI Members and NGOs driving meaningful conservation projects, often who have little or no funding support,” says Danna Moore, PADI AWARE Foundation’s Global Director. “This year, due to the collaboration with Medik8, we can provide more resources directly to local communities that need them most.  Medik8 is a like-minded organisation that shares our science-based, sustainability-driven, and community-oriented values – and will be a strong partner committed to helping us create positive ocean change.”

Medik8’s support of the PADI AWARE Community Grants programme is in line with their ethos of making a positive impact through driving sustainability strategies with everything they do – from reducing carbon impact and waste to investing in being an ethical business with direct social investments. Their connection and deep love for the ocean is rooted in Medik8’s founder Elliot Isaacs, who is a PADI Master Scuba Diver™.

“As a brand, we strongly believe that increased social investment will allow us to make a more significant mark on wider society,” says Alexandra Florea, Head of Sustainability at Medik8. “Working with grassroots organisations who understand exactly what is needed on the ground will mean we can generate the greatest impact. We chose PADI as our long-term charitable partner because, like us, they put science at the heart of everything they do to bring about positive results.”

The PADI AWARE Grantee projects Medik8 is sponsoring fuel the impact of local citizen science initiatives driving global change like Kosamare Seagrass Restoration in Greece, a grant recipient from 2022 and now 2023. The other three grantee projects have also been selected and range from marine debris removal to climate change mitigation – and are set to be announced in the coming months.

The PADI AWARE Community Grant programme is open to all PADI Dive Centres around the world, along with locally-based NGOs and charities working on marine conservation issues that operate on a budget below $1 Million USD.

“With incredible partners like Medik8 who are equally committed to creating positive ocean change, a swell of hope for our shared blue planet is becoming stronger with every project we support – further proving that the ripples from local action really do have a global impact for us all,” says Moore.

The next round of proposal submissions is on 4 April 2023, with more information at

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Diving with… Ben Williams and Kay Van Leuven, Sunchaser Scuba, British Virgin Islands



In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…

What is your name?

Ben Williams and Kay Van Leuven

What is the name of your business?

Sunchaser Scuba

What is your role within the business?


How long has the business operated for?

32 years in total and we have been here since 2010, working for the previous owner, then bought the current company from him starting in 2015.

How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?

Ben since 2003 and he is a PADI MSDT and SDI instructor
Kay since 2010 and she is a PADI MSDT and SDI instructor

What is your favorite type of diving?

Ben loves pinnacle dives; Kay loves shallow coral dives

If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you, what would it be?

We offer valet diving for a trip of your lifetime. Personal service is key in our business, together with small groups.

What is your favourite dive in your location and why?

Ben favorite dive is the Invisibles because of the amount of marine life; Kay favorite dive is the wreck of the Rhone, because of it’s historical value, marine life and the amount of coral growth on it.

What types of diving are available in your location?

We offer reef and wreck diving, rendez vous diving with your charter boat so we can pick you up straight off your boat.

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

Being able to dive every day and show the underwater world of the BVI

What is your favorite underwater creature?

Ben’s favorite is sharks and for Kay it is dolphins.

As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?

Ever rising supplier prices.

Is your center involved in any environmental work?

Yes, we do treatment for STCLD, shark sightings and beach clean ups

Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?

The hotel we work out of is still recovering from the 2017 hurricane so more places to stay will be coming along in the future. We have an amazing local non profit called Beyond The Reef in the BVI who are always making new artificial reefs.

How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?

We feel it is a great industry and it is very rewarding being able to teach people to dive and therefore increase awareness. One of the biggest changes that would be great to change is to be able to make things cheaper so it is more accessible to our local kids/divers and therefore increase the number of divers in our local community.

Finally, what would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?

The BVI is very underrated and untouched, making it a great destination for both novice and
experienced divers.

Where can our visitors find out more about your business?

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