Merche Llobera: 'I love playing with light'
Underwater photographer Merche Llobera has just won the Female Fifty Fathoms award in 2023's Ocean Photographer of the Year competition. In this interview, she speaks to Oceanographic about what the award means to her, the importance of boosting the visibility of female photographers in a male-dominated industry, and more.
The Female Fifty Fathoms award, presented by Blancpain, celebrates inspirational women in ocean photography. This year, Spanish underwater and wildlife photographer Merche Llobera impressed the Ocean Photographer of the Year judging panel with her portfolio. Since starting her full-time career as a photographer in 2019, she has travelled the world ever since, while capturing images that showcase the underwater world in a unique way. Her work has been recognised in several competitions and has been published in various media outlets and magazines, including National Geographic Spain.
Oceanographic: When did you first connect with the ocean?
Merche Llobera: I have loved the ocean for as long as I can remember. Although I live in Madrid, and we don’t have the sea here, my family has an apartment in Mallorca, and I’ve been going there every summer since I was a few months old. Since being a child, I’ve always loved diving into the sea and back then, I constantly dreamed of learning to scuba dive and see those animals that I would see in magazines and documentaries for myself. Finally, as I grew up, I got my diving certification. I started travelling and have had many mesmerising underwater adventures.
Oceanographic: How did you get into underwater photography? What’s your background?
Merche Llobera: I’ve always liked photography, and it has been a part of my life since I was young. Back then, however, it was more of a hobby. The idea of being able to freeze moments in time seemed magical to me. When I started diving, I wanted to take photos, so I used a GoPro to capture stills from videos. Every time I considered buying an underwater housing, the high prices discouraged me, and I completely dismissed the idea. In 2019, my life changed because I sold the family business. To celebrate, I decided to fulfil my dream of going to the Galápagos Islands and thought: how can you go to Galápagos without a camera? So, I decided to buy all the equipment. My underwater photography adventure began… I initially didn’t expect it to go so far. I fell even more in love with photography and decided that I wanted to pursue it professionally.
Oceanographic: How would you describe your photography style?
Merche Llobera: I love playing with light. The way light rays penetrate the water is one of the most magical aspects of underwater photography for me. I enjoy close-up shots, of course, but I also appreciate those wider pictures that require a bit more editing due to a lot of water between the camera and the subject, but they capture the surrounding environment. Whether it’s the vastness of the ocean, schools of fish, or just a sandy bottom, I love it all. In essence, I try to capture the beauty of wildlife and the underwater world. My love for animals is reflected in each of my images, transporting the viewer to a world full of life and emotion. Through my images, I aim to convey an important message about the importance of animal conservation and their natural habitat.
Oceanographic: What do you try to achieve with your photography?
Merche Llobera: I want people to feel something when they see my photos. I’m deeply passionate about the animal world, both underwater and on land. I’d like people to fall in love with animals as much as I do, to understand that we’re not so different, that we have many things in common. I hope that this, in turn, makes them want to protect them. We can’t continue destroying nature and being so selfish. There’s so much life beyond us.
Oceanographic: How did you feel when hearing about winning the FFF award?
Merche Llobera: I couldn’t believe it. I was jumping for joy. For me, it’s an absolute honour to receive this award, and the news made me the happiest person ever.
Oceanographic: What does the award mean to you?
Merche Llobera: It means continued growth, and confirms that I’m on the right path. Through it, I’ve gained recognition, and learned to have more confidence in myself, which can be a challenge for me sometimes. Knowing that, among all the amazing photos submitted, the judging panel chose my portfolio is an honour and a true boost of confidence.
Oceanographic: How do you try to inspire other female underwater photographers?
Merche Llobera: I think sometimes we inspire without even realising it. A few months ago, I gave a photography talk, and one of the attendees wrote to me recently to thank me for the advice and for inspiring her to continue her own photography journey. That made me very happy. I try to keep learning and improving every day and enjoy the journey wherever it takes me. I believe the most important thing is to be passionate about what you do, and I absolutely love it.
Oceanographic: Why is it important to advance female visibility in the industry?
Merche Llobera: Because women are just as capable as men. Although photography and diving have historically been male-dominated fields, they are changing, and they should continue to do so. In my recent travels, I’ve noticed more women, which I find fantastic. In the past, it was mostly men with a few women, but now there are more talented and strong women who aren’t afraid to pursue their passions and demonstrate their worth. I think this award is a great way to give us more visibility.
Oceanographic: Why did you decide to enter the Ocean Photographer of the Year 2023?
Merche Llobera: I’ve known about the competition for three years and dreamed of being a finalist, although I admit I had doubts about achieving it. But dreams come true with hard work, passion, and dedication, and this year, in addition to this award, I have three finalist photos in other categories. It’s incredible! I think it’s an important competition due to the high level of images each year, my admiration for the creators, and the fact that the entry fees go to a charitable cause.
Oceanographic: Tell us about the background behind your winning portfolio.
Merche Llobera: The portfolio is a mix of different moments and places. It encompasses a whale shark at night in the Maldives, which was one of the first underwater photos I took over three years ago, a friendly humpback whale image that I took on my last trip to Turks and Caicos, as well as a shot where I pass through Crystal River with those lovely manatees. You can also see a shot from Costa Rica with mobulas and, of course, images from Baja California Sur which is for sure my favourite place on earth because of its sheer biodiversity. Some of the photos were taking scuba diving but most of them where taken while snorkelling or freediving.
Oceanographic: Any advice for female ocean photographers?
Merche Llobera: Simply practice and enjoy what you do. When you love something and it makes you happy, it becomes much easier. And above all, have confidence. Have confidence in yourselves, which is something I sometimes struggle with, but I’m learning to do more and more.
Oceanographic: What else do you have planned for this and next year? Any exciting plans?
Merche Llobera: Of course! I’m thinking of going to Australia. I’ve wanted to go for a long time and considering that the exhibition of the competition this year is in Sydney, it seems like a perfect excuse to stay there for a month, explore as much as I can, and of course, go diving. I also want to visit Mauritius, India for the tigers and Argentina to see the southern right whales.
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