Behind The Lens: Daniel Browne

Madeline St Clair Baker

This week on Behind the Lens, we talked to Daniel Browne, Australian-based photographer. Keep reading to find out about Daniel's interactions with marine megafuana and how perceptions of sharks are changing, in this short and sweet interview.

Hey Daniel! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hey, my name is Daniel Browne. I am an Underwater Photographer based in Coral Bay on the Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. I work for Coral Bay Eco Tours taking photos of the ever so elegant Manta Ray and everything else we come across.

Your photographs are a testament to your passion for the ocean. Have you always had a connection with the sea?

I grew up as a water baby, first it was fishing and sailing. One day we were out fishing and could see some huge humpback whales breaching out on the distance, after 10 or 15 minutes had passed they seemed to have disappeared into the glassy blue water about 500 meters in front of the boat. Only minutes later a massive silhouette stretched out right next to us and a huge pectoral fin broke the surface only a meter from our tiny boat. A huge eye looked at us as the whale did a quick spy-hop and then sunk. Ever since this day I have been addicted to the thought of what might be below the surface.

Manta ray. Photo: Daniel Browne

Manta ray. Photo: Daniel Browne

What gear do you use underwater?

At the moment I am shooting with a Sony Alpha6000 paired with a Nauticam dive housing. I started with a wide-angle lens but now use a fisheye. I have also taught myself how to use Lightroom which helps clean up photos and correct colours.

Your Instagram showcases an impressive array of ocean life. Can you describe your most memorable encounter with a species?

I absolutely love sharks, living on the Ningaloo we get to see them all the time. There is a drift snorkel site here called Point Maud's, usually there are Manta's on a cleaning station so I took a few friends out, we were so lucky when we got to the station there was a big grey nurse shark. For a while we watched and she wasn’t bothered by our presence so I took a dive down, on my way back to the surface I could hear screams of excitement. I thought it was because of the nurse shark but as I hit the surface I took a look back down to see a huge great hammer head. I will never forget this day, it was epic to share it with some friends too.

Of your works, which are you most proud of?

I love taking photos of tiger sharks because it's my chance to try and change what people think of them. We are misled by the media, who give us all the message that they are man eaters; even I used to have this attitude. Now, after swimming with them and actually seeing how they react to us in the water all I want is for people to know how important they are to our ecosystem. If sharks get wiped from our ocean, our ocean dies.

Whale shark. Photo: Daniel Browne

Whale shark. Photo: Daniel Browne

What is your favourite dive spot and why?

I love taking photos of marine mega-fauna more than anything and out of everywhere I have been in the water I love the Navy Pier in Exmouth. Huge schools of fish, all kinds of sharks, rays, sea snakes and grouper bigger than me.

Whose work has influenced and inspired you?

What has inspired me and got me into underwater photography are the other guys in this area. I love seeing what they capture and how they do it, it drives me to do better and learn more. I also want people to realise how us, the human race, is having such an impact on the state of the ocean. Education through awareness is definitely what drives me to get out there as much as I can.

You photograph a lot of big stuff (megafauna). What challenges, if any, do you face when capturing these creatures on camera?

The biggest challenge for me I think is that its "Wild Life". Animals don’t always swim up and 'pose' for the camera. Some days are amazing and I could be in the water all day, on the other hand some days the visibility and sunlight can be your worst enemy.

We love how much sharks feature in your photography. Do you think public perception of sharks is changing or are they still misunderstood by most?

We continue to be blind-sided by the media. They love the negativity because of the ratings they get. Drum lines and shark nets are in the waters all around Australia and they are taking out a huge range of by-catch. Despite all of this, peoples perspective on sharks is slowly changing, which we have seen first hand on tour.

A playful seal. Photo: Daniel Browne

A playful seal. Photo: Daniel Browne

From whale sharks to mantas, you’ve photographed an envious number of ocean creatures! Are there any species or places still on your bucket list to photograph?

I am definitely going to Tonga to swim with humpback whales, some friends have and it sounds insane. I work with a few people who have been to the Maldives. Hanifaru Bay sounds like a definite bucket list spot as you can swim with 30-50 Mantas at once in a tidal lagoon.

Do you have any tips or tricks for people who want to get into ocean photography?

Start basic, and learn your first camera properly. YouTube helps heaps, you can watch everything from which settings to shoot with, to finishing your photos by editing them.

The ocean has changed rapidly in the last couple of decades. Could you leave us with any words of wisdom about ocean conservation?

We need to fix our ocean, there are so many issues it's hard to tell where to start. Overfishing and pollution are the top culprits, but the brutality of the black-market shark finning trade is what drives me. Education through fascination is one of my favourite quotes, simply because I believe it so much.

Behind the Lens explores the lives of those who capture the underwater world on camera

If you’ve enjoyed this interview with Daniel, follow him here @danielthomasbrowne