Eye in focus by Ally McDowell

Eye in focus captures the glowing eye of a parrotfish © Ally McDowell

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Eye in focus

Ally McDowell's ethereal image of a parrotfish eye is a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award.

Although Ally usually dives deep underwater to photograph new species, it was in warm, shallow waters that she crept up on this sleeping parrotfish.

Diving in Thailand, Ally was on a mission to document colourful creatures.

Many of the parrotfish she came across were hiding under rocks and among corals, but this one was in just the right spot for her to get a clear picture.

'I find things in blazing bright colours,' Ally says, 'and I try to look for new angles to take pictures from.

'Brightly coloured animals are easier to find and photograph in shallow water. You don't have to worry so much about the equipment around you, like you do on deeper dives. You have time and space to be creative and experiment with the shots, capturing things in an artistic way.'

Documenting the ocean depths

Ally specialises in deep, technical diving. After learning to scuba dive in Egypt in 2009, she challenged herself to explore deeper and deeper - now she regularly swims among wrecks and reefs up to 120 metres under the waves.

Her work is an adventure into the unknown, as little scientific research is done on life in oceans between 30 and 150 metres deep. This is due to the safety limitations of scuba diving, in addition to the expense and risks of deeper diving. 

A reef in Thailand where Ally took her image

Ally took her image of a parrotfish eye on these reefs in Thailand © Ally McDowell


Ally often finds new species and has been funding her own research since completing a degree in biological sciences in 2013.

Ally says, 'I love technical diving because you have to be so aware of everything that's going on around you. I enjoy the challenge. I have to be conscious of the depth, the gas mixture I'm breathing, my safety, my colleagues and my photography.

'I love the exploration aspect of the work, and for me, it's a creative outlet. I take pictures because I want to, not because I have to pay the bills with it. I think that's why I still enjoy it.'

Attracting attention

Ally says some of her favourite places to dive are the Philippines and Indonesia, though her craft has taken her across the world, from Panama to Norway.

'I tend to focus on corals and sponges because they don't move too much and you can document them well.

'But sometimes when you are on shallow dives you can experiment with faster-moving creatures like fish. I like capturing them in an artistic way - featuring common species but shooting them differently.

'Anyone can take great underwater pictures. If you can scuba dive and you've got the right camera, it's easy to experiment.

'I think my colourful work in shallow waters attracts interest in my scientific work. By creating a photograph with unusual angles and colours, you get people talking about marine wildlife. You bring attention to underwater creatures, biodiversity and new species.'