From filming an 18th century Spanish Galleon with military uniform clad skeletons in Uruguay for National Geographic TV, to great whites in South Africa for the BBC, Zena Holloway lives to take her camera underwater. Discover her fascinating experiences and breathtaking fashion portfolio in this week’s Q&A…

  • How did you get started in underwater photography?

At 18 I went on a scuba diving holiday and didn’t come home for a year. I became a diving instructor, travelled around, picked up a camera and taught myself to use it. Back then we were filling cameras with film so my efforts were a roller coaster of success and failure – mostly the latter.

  • What came first – diving or photography?

Diving.  The photography has grown from a fascination with light and life beneath the waves. Photography is a way to bring back some of the magic.

– What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?

My weapon of choice is the Canon 1DC, I love that I can shoot hi-res film and stills with the same camera so effortlessly.  A flick of the switch and I’ve moved from one medium to the other. The 1DC fits very snugly into my Seacam housing and I sometimes use Ikelite flash – purely because I can throw them around and they still tend to work.  There’s also a very large pile of terry towels which are essential to the kit list.

  • Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?

I could say one of the many Caribbean Islands but that’s rather cliché so I’m going to suggest a weird and wonderful location in the River Plate, Uruguay. Filming for National Geographic TV I found myself on a Spanish Galleon sunk in the 18th century and littered with gold and silver treasure of all kinds. Skeletons galore, still preserved in their military uniforms with shoe leather and copper buttons in place, it was honestly the stuff of movie sets. I sucked my tank dry before reluctantly having to surface after a 1:40 hour dive.  Its protected by the rough water of the river and plenty of Uruguayan politics so its location was a secret and I only had the opportunity to make one dive to capture imagery and tell the story.

  • Most challenging dive (and why)?

A training dive at Stony Cove on a rebreather, in the middle of winter.  Need I say more?

  • Who are your diving inspirations?

Louis Boutan (1859-1934). In 1893 he’s credited with creating the 1st underwater portrait.

  • Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?

My log book is filled with many thousands of amazing dives from around the globe, but I’ve never seen a manta (!) It’s a cause for great concern and much ridicule from people who know me.

  • What responsibility do you think uw photographers have to raise awareness about the environment?

Underwater photographers are in a very privileged position to not only see but to capture what goes on underwater.  I recently worked with Amanda Holden and PETA to raise awareness about orcas in captivity and I have an ongoing project to about the plight of chalk rivers in the UK.  In my twenty years of being a diver I’ve seen the oceans fill up with plastic.  Photographs capture truths and there are a whole lot of truths about man’s impact underwater that need sharing.

  • What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?

Get a better camera.

– Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?

Filming Great Whites for the BBC in South Africa…. I was seriously over-weighted with led, carrying a massive camera and wearing and ill-fitting dry suit.  As I clambered over the side of the boat to get into the chicken wire cage I remember thinking ‘if I miss the entrance to this thing it’s going to be a very long way back in chummed water, surrounded by some very excited sharks’.

  • What is your most memorable dive and why?

My first night dive, aged 16.  I found a baby octopus that sat on my hand, touching and feeling my face for close to an hour.  At the end of the dive I put him back where I had found him, which happened to be next to another, larger octopus. I didn’t know back then that octopi are canaballs. I was utterly horrified when the inevitable occurred …

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