sunlight shining through water illuminating a pink coral with a diver in the distance

Deep Learning

Alexis Rosenfeld

“A good underwater photo captivates the viewer and transmits knowledge,” explains Alexis Rosenfeld, adding you’ll know it’s a winner when: “it intrigues children, and they want to ask you lots of questions about it!” Row back several decades, and Alexis was one of those children, drinking in the underwater world and explorations of Jacques Cousteau. “It was the passport I needed to access the extraordinary,” he remembers, “to go to places considered inaccessible and bring back fascinating stories to tell.”

alexis rosenfeld sony A7RM2 brightly coloured fish swimming above a bed of coral © Alexis Rosenfeld | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/80s @ f/8.0, ISO 400

This new world soon became a source of huge comfort for Alexis. “I’m a particularly impatient person, which clashes with the first quality a photographer should have,” he laughs, “but as soon as I'm underwater, I have time, and everything calms down. I like to imagine a photo, its frame, its composition and wait until the combination is there. With animals it’s the same, to take a good photo of their behaviour is a source of great pride.”

Alexis started scuba training at the age of eight, which was a vital step to getting where he is now. “Becoming a professional underwater photographer meant learning to dive at a very good level, he says, “as diving is so technical, so you have to completely master it. Only then can you devote yourself solely to photography.”

alexis rosenfeld sony A7RM2 diver inspects a piece of white coral underwater © Alexis Rosenfeld | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/50s @ f/14, ISO 400

As a photojournalist, it’s even more demanding a role, as Alexis isn’t simply looking for aesthetically pleasing shots. “I cannot be satisfied with just one photo to tell a story,” he explains. “My projects are sometimes several months or years long, and the first photo must be consistent with the last. Together they tell a story that the reader should be able to understand without reading the text.”

For his latest project, ‘Coral Reefs, Heart of the Ocean’, Alexis is telling the story of a threatened ecosystem. “It illustrates the beauty, biodiversity and threats of this extraordinary environment. I was really motivated by this project when I learned that one in three marine species come from coral reefs.”

alexis rosenfeld sony A7RM2 a tree like piece of coral illuminated by flash with a deep blue sea behind © Alexis Rosenfeld | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/200s @ f/11, ISO 400

So how does Alexis find shooting underwater? The underwater environment presents some significant photographic challenges, simply because water is more difficult to shoot through than air. “It has four major drawbacks,” Alexis explains, “it absorbs light, it makes colours disappear, it carries suspended particles that cloud the view, and it behaves like an additional optical lens.” Sounds difficult, but to beat the challenges, Alexis employs a number of techniques. “My lighting makes it possible to avoid particles as much as possible, and good underwater flashes revive colours,” he says “I also shoot at very wide angles to reduce the amount of water between my camera and the subject.”

alexis rosenfeld sony A7RM2 a shoal of yellow and blue fish swimming through a bed of coral © Alexis Rosenfeld | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/125s @ f/14, ISO 800

Alexis’s Sony α7R II camera also helps beneath the waves. “A lot of photos from the ‘Coral Reefs’ project couldn’t have been taken with older or other equipment,” he explains, “and in particular that’s thanks to the quality of the sensor and its dynamic range and performance at high ISOs.” The sensors, he says, “are particularly suited to underwater shooting and allow a very faithful representation of the underwater world. As soon as we sink into the depths, the light of the sun is smothered, and so I often work at 1600 ISO or above. I also use the α7R III for underwater shots, and both cameras’ AF work really well underwater, making it possible to focus on fish and marine mammals even when they’re making fast and unpredictable movements.”

alexis rosenfeld sony A7RM2 a lone ray swims against a deep blue backdrop dappled with sunlight © Alexis Rosenfeld | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/160s @ f/13, ISO 400

“I’ve been using Sony gear for four years now,” he continues, “and on the bodies I have FE 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master, FE 12-24mm f/4 G, FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS, and FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 OSS G Master lenses. To protect them, I work with Swiss-made cases, with ports made from optical glass and the cases are watertight for up to 200m. Because the cases are bespoke, all the controls are available and allow me to manage the operation of the camera. Without the combination of this and the Alpha’s performance and handling, I definitely couldn’t work deep underwater with such ease.”

alexis rosenfeld sony A7RM2 a lone diver dwarfed by a huge elaborate underwater rock formation © Alexis Rosenfeld | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/160s @ f/11, ISO 400

But even though his technique and camera gear make getting his shots as easy as possible, Alexis doesn’t seem to want too simple a life. Otherwise, would the sense of challenge be lost? “Yes,” he agrees, “the day I get comfortable working underwater, I'll stop. I would have no more to learn. Each dive is a new learning experience from a technical point of view and in understanding the environment. The lights, the behaviour of the animals, the colour of the water changes… it’s a mix of things that make it so special, and you soon realise that you can never make the same dive twice.”

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Alexis Rosenfeld

Alexis Rosenfeld | France

Beneath the surface, another world: my universe, where everything looks like a fairy tale, and takes your breath away.

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