A new book by Alex Mustard, one of the world's leading underwater photographers, is packed with beautiful images of colourful sea creatures and advice on how to capture photos like these. The book is called Underwater Photography Masterclass, and that's exactly what it aims to be. From information about diving equipment and cameras, to advice on controlling light underwater, this book provides all the background you need before you take the plunge.

Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard
Coral Reef Sunset: “This is a split level image showing a scissortail sergeant (Abudefduf sexfasciatus) swimming over hard corals (Acropora sp.) on a shallow reef at sunset off Gubal Island, Egypt. Split level images are not easy to take, but they are important images to underwater photographers because they show viewers a landscape that they know and at the sometime introduce them to something from our underwater world.”Alex Mustard

Mustard says the book is packed with tips that he picked up shooting all around the world: "It includes everything from how to get a pygmy seahorse to face your camera to why you want to flinch first when playing chicken with a basking shark," he says.

Mustard says there are many reasons for his fascination with underwater photography, not least because water covers much more of our planet than land. He says one of the great joys is being able to move freely in three dimensions. "This means I can approach my subjects from whatever angle I choose, selecting the best viewpoint for a photograph," he says. "Imagine how different photography on land would be if everyone could fly?"

Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard
Damselfish Behind Bars: : “One of the rewards of underwater photography is that there is great subject matter whatever scale you explore. From mighty shipwrecks to tiny scenes like this one, showing a young golden damselfish (Amblyglyphidodon aureus) sheltering between the branches of a coral(Ctenocella sp.). Misool, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia."Alex Mustard
Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard
Barracuda Six: “Successful photos of schools of fish are all about togetherness. I am always on the lookout for organised, not messy schools, ideally forming pleasing shapes. But I couldn’t believe my luck with this school of blackfin barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) swirled into a 6 right in front of my camera. The formation only lasted a second, but with a camera you can preserve it forever. Yolanda Reef, Ras Mohammed Marine Park, Sinai, Egypt. Red Sea.”Alex Mustard
Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard
“The underwater world can be incredibly colourful. However, seawater absorbs red and orange light quickly, which means underwater photography requires artificial light for full colour photos. Much of the challenge of underwater photography is learning to control this light accurately, to reveal the stunning colours of the subject matter which in this case is a vibrant Red Sea reef scene, with orange female scalefin anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis) swarming in front of fire coral (Millepora dichotoma) feeding on plankton brought to the reef by currents. Ras Mohammed Marine Park, Sinai, Egypt.”Alex Mustard

Mustard is now one of the world's few full-time underwater photographers, but he started out a marine biologist, getting his PhD when he was 25. He says his scientific training helps him find and identify his subjects and make sense of their behaviour. However, he says it's a challenge not to photograph like a scientist. "Images have to work visually," he says. "I try to capture personality or character in an animal."

Underwater Photography Masterclass features 280 stunning images across 192 pages. It is packed with advice on subjects such as how to go about diving for your images, how to select the appropriate underwater photographic equipment and how to control the lighting. The book presents techniques for the full range of diving conditions, from clear tropical water, to chilly murky conditions.

Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard
World War II Trucks: “Underwater photography is about much more than fish. There are many different subjects, such as these British Second World War fuel trucks (Bedford OYC), which have been underwater for 75 years, since the ship that was transporting them, the Thistlegorm, was bombed during the war. Wrecks don’t move, but that does not make them easy to photograph. The fish are Red Sea soldierfish (crimson soldierfish: Myripristis murdjan). Sha'ab Ali, Red Sea. Sinai, Egypt.”Alex Mustard
Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard
World War II Motorbike: “The British military transport ship SS Thistlegorm is a remarkable underwater museum, her hold's packed with a range of British military vehicles, which have remained underwater for 75 years since she was sunk by German bomber during the Second World War. A backlit photo of a British World War II BSA M20 motorbike inside Hold 2 of the wreck of the Thistlegorm, with Red Sea soldierfish (crimson soldierfish: Myripristis murdjan). Sha'ab Ali, Red Sea. Sinai, Egypt."Alex Mustard
Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard
Stingrays At Dawn: “You need to get up pretty early to be out in the middle of the sea in time for sunrise. But the rewards are surely worth it. A split level image of two southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana) swimming over a sand bar in the early morning. The female (left) is much larger than the male (right), although the perspective of the photo accentuates the difference. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. British West Indies. Caribbean Sea."Alex Mustard
Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard
“A manta ray (Manta birostris) hovers above a cleaning station on a coral reef, while a diver photographs it from below, off Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. One of the most exciting aspects of photographing wildlife underwater is that it is not frightened by the sight of man. In fact it can be downright curious. This means encounters don’t just yield great images, but they also reward you with memories of a close encounter."Alex Mustard
Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard

Dr Alex Mustard's top five tips for starting underwater photography

  1. Your diving skills must be second nature before you take a camera underwater. Not only could the camera be a potentially dangerous distraction, but also a preoccupied photographer might damage delicate marine life.
  2. Get close, then get closer. Shooting through water robs images of colour, contrast and clarity. Underwater photos are usually taken from within touching distance, different lenses allow you to shoot bigger or small subjects.
  3. You can try out underwater photography with a compact and cheap housing or a GoPro. But if you are serious, it is important to invest in quality equipment. The only thing more expensive than the best underwater camera gear, is buying the cheap option and then having to buy the proper equipment afterwards.
  4. You can't change lenses underwater and the best images come when the equipment is optimised for the shot. Good underwater photographers learn not to just snap at anything, but to go underwater with a clear plan of what they plan to shoot.
  5. Strobes are essential for underwater photography. Once you go deeper than snorkelling depths, colours disappear from images and you need to restore them for the most eye catching pictures. The better you can control strobes, the better your underwater photography.

Underwater Photography Masterclass by Alex Mustard, published by Ammonite Press, RRP £19.99, is available in bookstores and online at thegmcgroup.com.