“It’s the mystery, magic, beauty and abundance of life that draws us to the ocean. May these images beyond the ‘blue door’ expand your ocean awareness and inspire you to find your connection with it.” – David Valencia
PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and underwater photographer David Valencia has dedicated his life to learning, experiencing and educating about the marine environment. He took a moment between dives to share what inspires him as a dive instructor, photographer and ocean advocate.
You’ve built your life around the ocean. What inspired you to study marine biology and become a scuba instructor?
The ocean is so beautiful and dynamic, who can avoid being inspired? Since I was a child, I have always been taken by nature and wildlife. As young as 10 years old, I knew I wanted to be near the ocean and never stop learning about it. But it wasn’t until I was in college that I started to understand what that meant. After I earned a degree in Marine Biology, I felt like it was the natural step to become a dive instructor so I could share my passion and experiences with new divers. Now I have been a dive instructor for 12 years. My role as a dive guide/instructor in Socorro and Guadalupe Islands, Mexico allows me to share interactions with giant pacific mantas, dolphins, hammerheads, and great white sharks with divers from all over the world. It always surprises me the wonder and excitement diving can bring to people. And interactions like these can even change a person’s perspective on life. It’s so rewarding for me to see my divers having those experiences for the first time and how meaningful it can be for them. It gives it all back to me. There’s nothing like it.
While you’ve been diving the world for nearly fifteen years, your first time using an underwater camera was only 5 years ago. You’ve already become an award-winning, emerging marine life photographer. Do you have any tips or advice for divers looking to enhance their underwater photography skills?
I guess it goes without saying that I love diving and I love sharing it with people – and photography allows me to share that with people all around the world. However, it wasn’t until one of my jobs allowed me to use a camera that I even found photography. What made me confident was practice and more practice. Not just practice with the camera, but practice in those moments that all photographers are trying to capture. The more we put ourselves in those situations, the more likely we are going to get “the shot.”
What is the biggest challenge you face in capturing the “perfect” image?
I find that biggest challenge in getting a great shot is the inability to control all the factors. Sometimes you think things are lining up just right and somebody swims a little closer than you or an animal reacts a different way than you expected. What I try to do when faced with these challenges is use them to my advantage and just try to go with the flow.
You photographed some incredible animals, everything from whales and dolphins to sharks and mantas to yellowfin tuna and bait balls. What has been your favorite wildlife encounter so far?
I have been so fortunate to regularly dive in a very special corner of the ocean. With that being said, my favorite encounters have to be those with humpback whales, especially mommas and babies. There’s something very emotional about observing something so large, yet so gentle and trusting. When I see them eye to eye, I can’t help but consider the history between whales and man and how we used to, and in some places still do, hunt whales. Despite this history, they still trust us. This type of encounter just makes my heart fill with hope for the future of our ocean.
Is there anything on your bucket list that you haven’t had a chance to photograph yet?
Wow, it’s a big world out there and so many things I would love to see or even see again. But something I have always dreamed about and haven’t had the opportunity to witness yet is the sardine run in South Africa. I would love to feel the high octane energy of predators racing all around. In addition, it’s a highly unpredictable event and you never know what you are going to see. This makes it all even more special.
Where will your next adventure take you?
As you all know, adventure is out there! I am happy where I live now in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The ocean life here is amazing and resilient. I hope in the coming years I can continue to contribute to the conservation of this beautiful place. I want the world to know just how vital it is that we protect this place and places like it so we can have them for generations to come.
David Valencia’s captivating photography is featured on the Blue Water Series limited-edition PADI certification cards, showcasing three incredible interactions that only we as divers will ever get to experience. Choose the one that inspires you and visit a PADI Dive Center or Resort or padi.com to order your new card.