Q&A with Martin Stevens (Sensory Ecology)

We caught up with Martin Stevens, a biologist and underwater and marine photographer in Cornwall, known for the popular Instagram account ‘Sensory Ecology’ and website ‘Wildlife Vision’.

Tell us a bit about yourself and where your love for marine life came from?

I’ve been fascinated by nature my whole life and became a biologist as a career, working as a researcher and lecturer. After moving to Cornwall about 10 years ago I increasingly studied marine animals. In the last 2-3 years, I’ve taken my longstanding hobby of wildlife photography into specialising in underwater photography.

When did you decide to pair ecology research with photography?

I’ve always used image analysis in my research on the coloration of animals, but until recently was mostly taking ID-style shots of marine wildlife. In the last 2-3 years I’ve spent a lot of my spare time developing wildlife photography, especially underwater, as a keen passion and hobby.

What’s been your best achievement to date? 

Last year I had one of the winning images in the Underwater Photography of the Year competition, in the UK waters compact camera category. That was a real honour to have my photographs recognised like that.

Where’s your favourite spot in Cornwall, both on land and in the water…

One of my absolute favourites is Kynance Cove, especially in the spring when there are lots of flowers and the scenery is absolutely stunning. I also really love the Helford Estuary, and it’s one of my favourite places for heading underwater, with the wonderful seagrass.

What can we do as Cornish residents and visitors to help support Cornwall’s marine life?

Humans are having a huge impact on our marine life. One of the most important things is to avoid single-use plastic as much as possible, always take rubbish home, and if you eat seafood to be really careful that it is sustainable and lowest impact on the marine environment possible. The UK also has a serious problem of lack of regulation for things like sewage discharge into our rivers and oceans, which affects both humans and wildlife, and we need to strongly encourage politicians and companies to address this. There are also lots of local marine wildlife and conservation organisations to get involved with. Finally, be respectful of our marine life, keeping a distance and avoiding disturbing sensitive species, such as seals.

When first starting out with underwater photography, were you were nervous about different species and if they might be dangerous/sting?

Honestly, I wasn’t. There’s very few animals that can inflict much harm on humans in UK marine waters, especially if we avoid touching them or handling them. Jellyfish can certainly sting, and sometimes people do swim into them. But most of the time the stings are mild, unless you are unlucky enough to have a reaction.

Have you have any particularly scary and/or incredible encounters when underwater? 

None scary at all! Certainly incredible and exciting. Two that spring to mind are last year diving down and being approached by a friendly cuttlefish that wanted to look at its reflection in my camera lens. And this year snorkelling with blue sharks 15 miles off the coast of Penzance – truly beautiful and majestic animals!

Do you recommend any particular equipment for underwater photography?

It’s a huge question because underwater photography can go from a simple point-and-shoot compact camera for snorkelling like a GoPro, to a large and expensive full-frame camera with lenses, underwater housing, strobes (underwater flash guns), and much more! The thing that matters most is to first of all concentrate on things like composition, technique, and enjoyment, and then even with smaller and less expensive kit you can achieve a lot. Then, if you want to get more serious and upgrade, then really do a lot of research into the camera set-up that is right for you, not just in price but also size, weight and portability.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same route as you?

For underwater photography, it’s important to be comfortable in the water and not overawed by complex camera kit right away. Start with trying to capture things like the underwater scenery, lighting, and working on composition, and then more technical shots can follow.

Where can people find out more about your research?
My research work is at:
My underwater photography is at and on Instagram as sensoryecology.