Alicia Ward — better known as “Alicia Underwater” thanks to her wildly popular Instagram account — is on a mission: Show off the amazing aquatic wildlife of Hawaii in the most respectful way, not disturbing the environment and, in fact, making it a nicer place for all. Ward isn’t just a nature photographer or a travel photographer, she’s an adventurer and a conservationist, and she and her husband, Jim, have made a concerted effort to leave their backdrops better than when they arrived by cleaning up after themselves and those who came before them.
Not only does Ward take photos of nature, she also creates a fantasy behind her photos, snapping pics of friends and clients who want to transform themselves to become a part of the aquatic backdrop as mermaids and mermen. Her company, See Through Sea, features a “Mermaid Experience” — creating some of the most vivid, imaginative photos on the Internet.
This week, we spoke to Alicia about taking nature photography to a new level, using her skills to create images of what could be, and showing off the beauty of Hawaii while, through it all, making sure the land she loves so much will remain preserved throughout generations.
What’s your motivation for your photos?
I think as a kid, I always felt drawn to the ocean and to the wildlife within it. So I thought as a young child, that I just wanted to be a marine biologist. But my mom was a hobbyist photographer, and so right around the age of 15, I discovered free diving, and I had actually applied for a job as a deckhand on a boat. My first day, I met the photographer on board, and she was telling me how she worked seven days a week and she was looking for someone to hire, and I said, “Well, I’ve always wanted to do photography, and I’ve never done underwater photography, but I’d like to help you.” So she handed me her entire camera rig, and she told me when we pulled up to a snorkel spot, she said, “If you can free dive down 25 feet and take a picture of the school of fish below us, I’ll hire you. I’ll talk to the owner of the company, and instead of being a deckhand, you can be a photographer.”
So that’s how I really got thrown into it, because I started to work the very next day.
Yeah, but it was a great space for me to grow and learn and develop my own eye, because I had been thrown into it. I just had to start.
So you already loved the animals you were seeing. But the ocean is a wild place… are there any that make you nervous?
I’m not afraid of any animal in particular. I’d say that I’m a little more wary of animals like eels. One of my friends was bitten by an eel. It was probably about five years ago, but what’d happened was she caught an octopus, and eels will eat octopus, so she’s swimming above the reef with this octopus in her hand, and an eel came out and grabbed onto her arm, and her body went into toxic shock because of the bacteria in the eel’s mouth. She had to be airlifted to the hospital. That was a pretty scary experience, but other than that, as far as sharks and whatnot go, I don’t fear them.
I think that I have a healthy respect for them, but I’m not afraid of them.