Martin Edge – A Special Tribute by his friend Dr Alex Mustard MBE

For more than a quarter of a century through five editions of his book, and for almost 40 years through his workshops and 1:1 courses, Martin has been helped the world take better underwater photographs. Most of the world never sees the wonders of the ocean for themselves and our pictures are their window. The more eye-catching our shots, the more engaged the world is with the wonders of the sea and protecting the ocean. Martin made this happen.

Almost all of you will have a well-thumbed edition of Martin’s book, The Underwater Photographer, and will have benefitted from Martin’s insight. Indeed, Martin’s ideas and explanations have become so much a part of underwater photography that they are repeated in almost every article written on the topic as simply the way it is done. Those of us fortunate to have been able to call Martin a friend were never surprised – he was a teaching sensation. The man was addicted to it, a natural-born coach, equally able to help both absolute beginners and the most celebrated names in the business. Allied to this, Martin was armed with the enquiring, analytical mind of a retired Police detective. Martin had the gift at asking searching questions and was disarmingly talented at making you blab! 

Born in the landlocked English county of Staffordshire, with no interest in diving from a family “devoid of anyone artistic”, Martin joined the police force aged 19, in 1974. In 1976, he married Sylvia, and in 1977 they moved, with work, to Dorset. It was here he got his first taste of diving. “These were the days before widespread diving certification,” he told me. “We just went in and I loved it. I was hooked and Sylv and I joined a local dive club.”

Martin always credited much of his success to the vibrant BSoUP scene at the beginning of the 1980s and the generosity of others with their knowledge. “My heroes were Pete Rowlands, his mate Steve Burchill, Pete Scoones, Mike Valentine and others. I joined BSoUP in 1983 and drove up to every meeting. By 1985 I had I won Best Beginner.” 

From here his photography never looked back. He forged his international reputation first with an innovative six projector slideshow set to music, which he put together with AV expert Jim Eldridge. They premiered “Sea Of Dreams” based on photos from the Red Sea at BSoUP, and In Focus recalls that uniquely it received a “spontaneous standing ovation” from the audience of experienced photographers. 

“We followed it up with “Imaginations” set in the Maldives in 1987, following Stan Waterman on the stage at Brighton. I remember Kurt Amsler being very encouraging. We were the first to do these shows with underwater pictures, so we got invited to film festivals across Europe. In Antwerp, Jim and I turned up to the Gala Dinner in our dickey bows and found we were totally overdressed. The only other people in similar outfits were Hans and Lotte Hass, so the four of us spent a delightful evening together as the odd ones out.”

Taking underwater pictures was challenging in the 1980s and photographers typically only talked about equipment and settings. These are important, but Martin was a trailblazer in wanting to understand how to create more artistic and engaging imagery. “I wasn’t bothered about the settings. I was using the same settings as the best photographers. I wanted to know about the motivation and the mindset that brought the really exceptional images.”  

Martin quite literally interrogated the top shooters of the day. “I got to talk to Doubilet, Howard Hall, Pete Rowlands, Georgette, Mike Valentine, Scoonsey, Linda Pitkin… I wanted to know how they had got their best shots. I remember asking Pete Scoones in detail about the lighting in one of his famous shots and his response was ‘I’ve never been asked that question before.’ And he answered it. He knew exactly what I wanted to know. Rowlands did too.” 

What marked Martin out, though, was that rather than hoarding this golden knowledge for himself, he figured out the best way to explain it to others and shared everything he considered important. The result was a revelation in underwater photography teaching. Read the books pre-Edge and they are dominated by gear and, if you are lucky, some comments on settings. Martin invited us to ‘think and consider’ much more, and in doing so photographers learned to add art and engagement to their underwater pictures.

I am 20 years younger than Martin and only got to know him at the end of the 1990s. I started leading trips for British travel agent Divequest, choosing them because that is who Martin used. A highlight of my year was curating the Divequest gallery with Martin, which served as an unofficial contest for best shots taken by British underwater photographers on their travels. It was 3 days together talking underwater photography. The car journey, 5 hours each way, was the highlight, as we’d talk shop from door to door. 

The third piece of the puzzle of Martin’s success was his modesty. He remained addicted to learning and reminded me that he even recorded my responses to questions on those car journeys, at a time that I was very much the apprentice. Such genuine humility is definitely a rare quality amongst leading photographers! The underwater photography community holds Martin in the highest esteem, yet he remained genuinely humble about his massive contribution and his fabulous pictures. 

In the mid-2000s we both decided to switch to Scuba Travel as our travel agent for our trips. And a few years later started presenting together as a two-man show. In 2010 we staged the full day Edge & Mustard On Underwater Photography event sponsored by Cameras Underwater. This one off even brought together a record 250 photographers in a big lecture theatre at Imperial College. A favourite moment was during the Q&A when a photographer submitted some images of critters in seagrass that he was disappointed in. Martin immediately diagnosed the problem – “Do you dive in a shorty?” 

“Yes” replied the slightly bewildered photographer. 

“You need to get your camera lower. Get low, shoot up!”

And over the next 6 years presented our popular two man shows to packed audiences at the UK dive shows. Martin would always encourage me to disagree with him on stage. He didn’t mind being wrong, he wanted to the audience to have the best learning experience “they will all pay attention if you contradict me”.

Ten years ago, when we were pulling together the plan for the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest, choosing Martin (and Peter Rowlands) to judge was a no brainer. For the entrants, the fact Martin Edge had chosen their photo as a winner was huge. His impeccable reputation lent UPY huge credibility and definitely fast- tracked the way the contest has been embraced as THE ONE. His sharp photographic eye not only unwaveringly spotted the big winners, but also unearthed the truly original and outstanding work that has filled the UPY achieve with so many images that live long in the memory. 

Through all this time, we’d never had the chance to dive together. And knowing that Martin was planning to retire from leading workshops, Scuba Travel put together a suitably final hurrah. Bringing the two of us together at the incredible Misool Resort, Raja Ampat in 2019. It was a magical trip. Martin spent much of the workshop foregoing the amazing dive sites, to drop in under the resort’s coral festooned jetty and help guests directly with 1:1 sessions. Something I am sure they will always treasure. 

A pandemic and the rise of online meetings has brought lots of changes for BSoUP in the last five years and face to face meetings have mostly stopped. It is something that makes many miss the old days, because the real benefit of attending BSoUP was not in listening to the main talk, but as Martin demonstrated, being able to quiz the assembled knowledge base, especially when tight lips were suitably lubricated! Keen to have a permanent reason to gather I proposed one special meeting each year, where a star BSoUP member would give a must-see presentation on an important topic. The idea was very popular with the committee and I was volunteered to give the first of these talks, called the annual Martin Edge Lecture. And it was great that Martin and Sylvia travelled to London for the first one in 2022. 

In February of this year, we celebrated 10 years of UPY with our first UPY awards night, with photographers travelling in from around the world to receive their gongs at a glitzy do in London. Martin and Sylvia were invited, of course, but I was pleased to hear that they were travelling to Sharm El Sheikh for some winter sun with the family. “Well next year,” I replied. And now Martin is gone. His loss must be devastating for his loving family. But he also leaves a permanent hole in the fabric of underwater photography. He’ll be missed by all who met him, because Martin only made friends. 

Personally, I’ll always treasure the quality time we spent together, discussing pictures, dissecting techniques and thrilling in amazing underwater imagery. And I’ll always smile when I remember listening to the fabulous stories he told over a beer at the end of long judging days. Martin would always encourage me with my shooting. His closing advice: “Go and play, set dives aside to be wild, free and silly. So much of what I have found that works has come from mad ideas!”. 

We all know he’s up there now coaching the likes of Cousteau and Hass on how to get better shots.