Alvaro Herrero Lopez: Photographing Underwater Wildlife Before It Disappears

Alvaro herrero lopez

Álvaro Herrero Lopez is an award-winning underwater photographer who has worked extensively in and around seas and oceans for close to two decades.

His impressive body of work portrays underwater spaces and wildlife in an emotive and thought-provoking way, and he joins us today to talk about cave diving, passion and inspiration, capturing heartbreaking images, and more.

How did your journey into underwater photography begin?

Since I was very little, I have been in contact with the ocean.

My grandfather gave me a mask and a pair of fins when I was 5 years old and my great-uncle, a commercial diver, always told me stories about the underwater world. I was fascinated. 

Alvaro herrero lopez Underwater photography

When I was 12 years old, my father gave me my first camera, which I used to take photos of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects.

When I took my first diving course, my boss at that time gave me my first underwater camera. A canon of 3.2 megapixels.

Since then I have not stopped taking photos underwater.

What drives your passion for nature photography?

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt a great pain inside me seeing how humans destroy nature, and how we do not learn to live in harmony with it, even when we know we need it to survive.

Alvaro herrero lopez underwater photography crocodile

That internal pain is what leads me to try to photograph nature in its most virgin and wild states.

I’m driven by the ability to show the rest of mankind, our future children and generations, how incredible and beautiful nature is… or (very soon) was.

Can you tell us about your most memorable underwater photography shoot?

Probably the most memorable photo I’ve taken is “Hopeless”

It is not a photo that shows nature in its most virgin and beautiful state. It is not a photograph that I am technically or creatively proud of; I think anyone could have taken it. 

'Hopeless' Alvaro herrero Lopez underwater photography whale

But I am proud to have been in the right place at the right time, with the photographic knowledge and skills that I had at the time to be able to capture the image.

I sincerely believe that it is a very powerful image that can help to raise awareness, showing the reality of what we are doing to our planet. It has the potential to generate real change.

You recently won the Save Our Seas Foundation Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year with your powerful photo ‘Hopeless’. What went through your mind when photographing such a heartbreaking moment?

The first thing was anger and frustration. After that came sadness. I tried to transform all that negative energy into something productive.

I spent three days with almost no sleep and a stomach ache.

I have worked as a photographer in swim-with-whale companies, and have had many encounters and many interactions with these animals.

When you spend so much time with these animals, you create a connection with them, and that made the moment even harder.

It really broke my heart to see that giant, that animal so representative of the ocean, such a kind and gentle animal, dying little by little and in such an agonizing and painful way.

How important do you feel competitions are in furthering a photographer’s career?

I think it’s a very solid way to make yourself known, both as an individual and as a professional. 

Alvaro Herrero Lopez underwater photography dolphins

Anyone can get likes on Instagram. But when someone with knowledge, a critical sense, a name, experience in the field, and a career in photography chooses your photo as the winner, it has real value.

What is one piece of gear you couldn’t go without?

This is a complicated question. All and none. To be honest, I think that one of the keys to being a nature photographer is the ability to adapt to the unexpected.

Obviously, I need my camera, my mask, my fins, my scuba gear, my rebreather, my lights…

cave diving Alvaro herrero lopez underwater photography

But if I didn’t have any of them, I would keep looking until I found a way to replace that piece of equipment with something that would enable me to take the picture I have in mind.

How do you prepare for different underwater terrains when moving from open oceans, diving below 100m, to navigating through cave systems?

This is something that cannot be achieved overnight. This is the combination of years of passion, dedication, professionalism, study, and hard work, both physical and mental.

I decided one day that this would be my lifestyle, and I have dedicated every day to it.

cave diving underwater photography Alvaro Herrero Lopez

I decided to work as an underwater photographer in diving centres to have the opportunity to go into the water every day, two or three times a day with my photographic equipment. I also decided to invest the little money I have in equipment, training and travel.

Every day is a training day. If you forget the motivation and challenge yourself every day a little more, you get to this point. Even so, my goals are far from being achieved and I still have a lot of training and learning to get to where I want to be.

What’s the best piece of advice you received when starting out as a professional photographer?

Well, this advice doesn’t just apply to photography. It applies to life in general, although the advice came from a photographer whom I greatly admire.

underwater photography Alvaro herrero lopez

The advice was “Believe in yourself”. Believe that you can get where you want to go and you will get there.

Thanks Angel!

What are some essential tips or techniques you recommend for capturing stunning underwater photographs?

The first thing I always tell my students when they want to learn underwater photography is that they have to feel comfortable in the water.

If you’re diving, you have to master the discipline and automate it so you can focus on photography afterwards. Not the opposite way round. There are no shortcuts here.

underwater photography Alvaro herrero lopez

Afterwards, the most important thing is to respect marine life and understand their behavior.

If you chase any animals, they will leave. 

If you observe their behavior, understand it and respect it, you may have the opportunity to capture stunning images.

If you combine that with patience, then, you will take great images.

Can you tell us what it’s like to be welcomed into the personal space of a whale, and to hold their gaze?

The fact of interacting with these animals is something special, which makes you connect not only with the animal, but with yourself and the universe. It makes you realize that we are not the only sentient and conscious beings. That’s a big thing. 

humpback whale underwater Alvaro herrero lopez

Most of the encounters with animals that take place today are either conditioned by the human being, generally with food, or the result of long persecutions of the animal, until you find it face to face.

When one of these beings turns towards you voluntarily, it approaches and looks you directly in the eyes, without food in between, or persecution is different. It is when that real connection occurs.

What are the key challenges you face as an underwater photographer, and how do you overcome them to capture exceptional images?

I would love to say that the challenge is accessing to remote place or select the right mix of gases. I would love to say that it’s the technical difficulties when photographing in environments with low light conditions, choosing the proper equipment for cold waters, etc.

But sadly, that’s not the case. The main challenge you face today as a marine wildlife photographer is that there is no wildlife.

ray underwater Alvaro Herrero Lopez

The places where they are found are overexploited and unregulated; the places are contaminated and full of plastic.

I truly believe that the solution to this is within us.

I faithfully believe that the solution is personal work, and understanding that happiness is within us.

We don’t need to buy more and have more, we don’t need entertainment, we don’t need plastic toys, clothes, or video games, and we don’t need shopping malls… to be happy and feel fulfilled. 

The only way to obtain happiness is to be in harmony with ourselves and with nature.

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