Aleksander Nordahl

An underwater shot of a pair of bare legs descending through a small hole in an ice-covered lake, taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV by Canon Ambassador Aleksander Nordahl.

Wildlife photographer Aleksander Nordahl took the photos for his Hard Water series in winter, while freediving under the ice. "South African Amber Fillary had been battling depression and addiction," he explains. "The former competition swimmer and freediver discovered a passion for ice cold water and its power to heal. Here, she is swimming under the ice, holding her breath and wearing just a swimsuit." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/3.2 and ISO 800. © Aleksander Nordahl

What is keeping us alive? That's the question that drives freediver and underwater photographer Aleksander Nordahl. The ocean – source of the majority of the world's oxygen – is his safe space, where he finds solace and peace, away from the noise, alone in what could be described as a whole other universe. Aleksander was a documentary journalist and photojournalist for many years, but the sea was constantly calling to him. Now he works as an advisor for an ocean project, which gives him more time to concentrate on his art.

Born in 1971 in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, Aleksander's passion for photography stems from his father who, on his 14th birthday, gifted him a camera. "Soon after that, I fell in love with photography," he recalls. "My first job was at a one-hour photo shop, and with the money I earned, I bought my first camera in 1987 – a Canon EOS 650."

Aleksander's love of photography led him into journalism, and he spent much of his youth working as an assistant for a commercial photographer and at local newspapers. "Instead of being a student out partying all night, I was working evening and night shifts," he laughs. In his early twenties, he took up a staff position at the Norwegian News Agency, but he missed swimming. "I was born on the coast, so I've always been in love with the water," he recalls. "As soon as I got money from that job, I got my diving licence. I've been diving and taking photographs since 1991."

Aleksander found that the stress he experienced when reporting on the news, sometimes from war zones, was alleviated by freediving. "It became a beautiful hobby," he says. "It's all about controlling your breathing and keeping your heart rate down – everything is in slow motion. Your stress levels go down because you're dispelling carbon dioxide and toxins from your body." Aleksander was so entranced by the underwater world that he wanted to show it to others. "It was becoming like a religion," he smiles. "I bought an underwater housing to try to capture memories for myself. It became all-consuming."

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Aleksander Nordahl. © Forest Ocean Media
Location: Oslo, Norway

Specialist areas: Underwater landscapes, underwater still life

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R5
Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM
A man in a freediving suit stands on the seabed, bubbles streaming up around him, in a shot taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV by Canon Ambassador Aleksander Nordahl.

Freediver Helge Løvskar looking at the sulphur bubbles ascending from the seabed off the coast of the Greek island of Milos. "In this series, Waterscapes, I was exploring the underwater world with other freedivers," says Aleksander. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/14 and ISO 800. © Aleksander Nordahl

An overhead shot of a woman swimming, her long blonde hair floating behind her, taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV by Canon Ambassador Aleksander Nordahl.

"The photos in this series, Swim, were taken in my local lake during summer, when hikers, divers and swimmers enjoy the water," says Aleksander. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 1600. © Aleksander Nordahl

Initially, many of Aleksander's underwater photos were of freedivers, but he got tired of photographing people. "People aren't supposed to be there," he explains. "I started to let myself see, and I noticed all these beautiful colours and the silence. I started taking photos of how I felt when everything was quiet, close and personal – when your heart rate is really low. A two-minute dive feels like an hour."

A colourful underwater kelp forest, shot on a Canon EOS R5 by Canon Ambassador Aleksander Nordahl.

For his African Jungle series, Aleksander explored the kelp forests of South Africa. "I shoot what I call underwater still life," says Aleksander. "The fish or the marine mammals aren't the main focus." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/400 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 250. © Aleksander Nordahl

A close-up of a golden kelp forest off the coast of Norway, shot on a Canon EOS R5 by Canon Ambassador Aleksander Nordahl.

Aleksander photographed the kelp forests off the coast of Norway for his Arctic Jungle series. "There are some areas in Norway where the kelp looks beautiful," he says. "But if you really look, you can see there aren't any animals because all the fish have been caught or killed. The kelp is still there, but there's no marine life." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 35mm, 1/320 sec, f/2.5 and ISO 3200. © Aleksander Nordahl

Now, Aleksander photographs kelp forests, algae and underwater landscapes in an effort to show humanity what it is destroying. He also delivers lectures on the importance of the ocean. "Underwater, there are no people, no wars, nothing, but people don't know that the kelp forest is under threat, and it's that story I want to tell. These forests can grow back," he explains. "There are two ways of telling a story – you can show the destruction or the beauty. But if you combine both stories and personalise it by adding, 'This beautiful algae is keeping you alive', you deliver a powerful message."

Why did you choose freediving?

"I was photographing Børge Ousland, the first man to cross Antarctica solo. He was spearfishing and freediving in Norway, and my publication wanted to do a story on him. I rented an underwater camera, had my full scuba gear, but before I could put the breather in my mouth and my big bulky tank on, he was swimming elegantly, diving 10 metres down with the halibut. I took so much time that I almost messed it up. The first thing I did when I came home? I gave my diving kit to my brother and bought new freediving gear – my old kit didn't fit anymore! Also, it would be really dangerous for me to swim into a dense kelp forest wearing scuba gear – I'd get stuck."

What's been your most memorable dive so far?

"It was in May, in the Lofoten Islands, and the visibility was so-so. Suddenly, there was this easterly wind, which is very rare, and the ocean just cleared out. It was like lying in clear air and seeing everything 20 to 30 metres down, and it lasted for three days. To this day, I wish I could be there 24/7. Something similar also happened on the west coast. It's like a big present the ocean gives to you where it opens itself up – the kelp, everything was so clear. Those two times, when the ocean invited me in and showed me everything, those are my most memorable dives."

How do you manage shooting underwater, given that you can't change lenses?

"I use one wide-angle zoom and that's it. If you shoot something flat, it's difficult to get the perspective, so you need light. To shoot landscapes underwater, you need good visibility. You also need to see how the light changes, so it's actually difficult to take good landscapes underwater, especially when it comes to kelp – you need to see the movement. Also, you can't use a 50mm or a 200mm lens when you can only see the next 20 metres. If the wide-angle lens is too wide, it becomes too flat, so it's all about the lighting and where you position yourself in the ocean."

One thing I know

Aleksander Nordahl

"More than 70% of our oxygen is produced by oceans, and 20-30% of that is produced by kelp forests, so to me, it's like the kelp forests and the oceans are the givers of life. I want people to thank the ocean for the oxygen it gives us. There are a lot of amazing photographers who cover conflicts in dangerous places and I respect that, but for me, there's no point in fighting a war if there's no oxygen and we are destroying nature. There are a lot of photographers all over the world, but very few witnesses under the surface."

Facebook: På ett pust - Aleksander Nordahl

Instagram: @freedivingnorway

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Aleksander Nordahl's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs


Canon EOS R5

Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20fps. "The EOS R5 enables me to take pictures without artificial light and wherever I go," says Aleksander. "In Norway, the water is dark and murky, so this camera is the only thing that makes it possible for me to create in the way I do."


Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Capture more, even in low light, with this fast f/2.8 L-series ultra-wide zoom with 5-stops of image stabilisation. "This is my favourite lens and it works really well underwater," says Aleksander. "Everything is really sharp and it makes it possible to shoot landscapes as well as close-ups."

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