Ricardo Nascimento has always been drawn to the water. “I've been bodyboarding and catching waves since I was 12. My father always had a huge passion for the ocean, and we would spend time fishing in tiny boats when I was younger,” he recalls. Now Ricardo spends his professional life shooting in the water, photographing, and filming the incredible creatures that live beneath the waves with his Sony Alpha 1.
Recently Ricardo has been shooting in the Azores with Futurismo Azores Adventures, who provide trips for tourists wanting to see whales and incredible sea life around the islands from a boat. The company are certified by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA), the world's largest marine conservation organisation, and they go even further by employing marine biologists who track and research sperm whales and other creatures to learn more about their behaviour. This is where Ricardo comes in.
“I film and photograph everything I see underwater,” he says. “I shoot sperm whales, pilot whales, turtles, dolphins, octopus, jellyfish - the more content I shoot, the better the biologists can identify and research individual creatures.”
With the Sony Alpha 1's 50 megapixel resolution for still images and 8k resolution for video, Ricardo can capture footage with enough detail to help track individual whales and learn about their behaviour. Like other wildlife conservation projects, the photos and video also tell a story that Ricardo hopes will resonate with people.
“Sperm Whales were hunted in The Azores for more than 200 years for their oil but are now a protected species. They are incredible – diving to 2,500m deep and remaining underwater for 45 minutes at a time – but if people don't see these animals, people don't feel for them, and will never try to protect the ocean. Because we can identify the whales and have given them names, I think it gets easier for people to understand. When you tell the story of an individual animal, you feel for the animal. It is one of the things I discovered I could do with a camera, lens, and underwater housing.”
When Ricardo first put his Sony Alpha 1 in an underwater housing, he knew it was the camera for him. “Once I tried the Alpha 1, I thought, 'Okay, I need to change'.” Not only was Ricardo dissatisfied with how his previous DSLR camera worked underwater, but also the fact that he had to use a heavy cinema camera if he wanted to shoot video. Now, with the Alpha 1, Ricardo can combine both those cameras into one that does it all – offering amazing video and photo in the same camera body.
“My cinema camera and lens weighs around 14kg when all set up. I am jumping off a boat, diving down with that weight, swimming back up and pulling it out of the water – I sometimes do up to 50 dives daily; it takes its toll on my body. The Alpha 1 weighs a lot less and is much more manoeuvrable. I can swim faster and, as a result, have a better chance at taking incredible photos and video.”
It’s worth pointing out here that Ricardo is a freediver - he doesn't use scuba diving equipment but instead holds his breath and dives as deep as he can for as long as he can. “I can hold my breath for up to 2 minutes whilst freediving,” he says. “I always seem to get in the zone when I shoot video and become so relaxed. There's something beautiful about being with an animal in the water but you must always think, 'I can't stay here too long' because accidents can happen.”
Under the water, Ricardo also fights against the shooting conditions. “Light is not the biggest problem, as that is easily solvable. I can confidently increase the Alpha 1 to ISO 4000,” says Ricardo. “The hard part is that you lose colours when you go to certain depths, meaning that when you take a photo close to the surface it looks amazing, but at 10 metres down it will look very blue, for example. With the Alpha 1 I can shoot uncompressed raw images to get the most detail and then colour correct those files individually.”
Capturing details is vital as it helps the biologists identify the whales, which interestingly is done by looking at the tail. “Most photos and videos people capture are from the surface, as the whale breaches before it dives. So, you have thousands of photographs of whales' tails that you can easily access and identify. Underwater, I need to get the detail in the tail so we can identify the whale and add its location to the database.” Biologists are used to seeing these animals from the boat, but we offer them the ability to see these animals’ behaviour underwater.
To help capture that detail and mesmerising underwater scenes, Ricardo mounts one of two Sony lenses to his Alpha 1 - the FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM or the FE PZ 16-35mm f/4 G. “I usually use the 12-24mm if I know I'm just shooting whales, but if the objective is to shoot a variety of subjects, for example, whales at 15m away, dolphins at 2m away and a Portuguese man o'war jellyfish at 30cm away, I will use the 16-35mm. That lens is my go-to workhorse in the water.”
Sony has supported Ricardo on his recent marine projects with help and advice instrumental to his work. “One of the things about lenses is that they behave differently underwater,” says Ricardo. “Sony's support has allowed me to test different lenses to see how they perform in the water without needing to buy them. It gives me much freedom to pick the best tools to work on the project. I can also call them and ask technical questions about the cameras. It has been a great partnership.”
With underwater photography being such a physically demanding profession, Ricardo sometimes questions what he does. “It's hard – a lot of the time, your body starts hurting. Every single day you spend hours and hours in the water. When you get home, you need to wash all the gear. You need to back up your images and video. You need to pack all your bags correctly again, charge the phone, charge the cameras, clean the underwater camera housing, and then try to get six hours of sleep so you can go again the next day. It always looks much more romantic in the photos or videos than it really is, but it’s worth it for the moments when I find myself humbled and in awe of being so close to these incredible creatures.”
“I love it. I love the whole process. If it were easy, I wouldn't do it, but the adaptability of the Alpha 1 certainly helps me get those shots I might have missed with my old camera system.”