Dive into the dangers of underwater cinematography

Highlights

Born in Cuba, Alfredo had to be creative if he wanted to fulfil his dream of becoming an underwater cinematographer
So he moved to Mexico to work as a dive master, and that’s where a chance encounter kick-started his career
Now he’s one of the most respected underwater cinematographers in the world, working with the BBC, National Geographic, Blue Planet and many more platforms
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Earlier this month, we created a mini-documentary and sat down with Emmy BAFTA winner and Artlist creator Alfredo Barroso. Alfredo is an underwater cinematographer and an inspiring example of what you can achieve personally and professionally if you never stop following your passion. Take a deep breath and dive into his unbelievable journey, filled with drive, creativity, and breathtaking moments.

Watch the full video, and discover Alfredo’s story:

Early years

“What are the downsides? Hmm. Let me think.” It takes a while for Alfredo to answer this question. He sits deep in thought, speaking from his home in La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur in Mexico. “I guess the hardest part is the cold and the endless hours on a boat doing nothing,” he says finally. “But I don’t like the word downsides… I guess these are the challenges. It can get uncomfortable.”

“But I don’t like the word downsides… I guess these are the challenges. It can get uncomfortable.”

Alfredo Barroso is an underwater cinematographer. He’s won multiple awards, including an EMMY and a Bafta, and worked for National Geographic, Blue Planet, Discovery Channel, and many more natural history programs. Today, he’s known as one of the most talented, passionate, and dedicated cinematographers in the world – which is all the more impressive considering where he came from. 

“I was born in Cuba, and when I was a kid, I was very afraid of the water,” he says. “But I was very drawn to it even if I was afraid.” When Alfredo was growing up, there weren’t many opportunities in Cuba. It’s a communist island country, which meant people couldn’t access a lot of material goods, and career options were limited. But when Alfredo finally overcame his fears and ventured into the water surrounding his island home, he immediately knew this was exactly where he needed to be. 

“It’s not easy to become a diver in Cuba,” Alfredo says. “It’s not like a normal country where you do a course and become a diver – in Cuba, it didn’t exist. We didn’t even have the kit. It was a long process.”

Alfredo’s first diving experience came in the military. “My very first dive course was not with professional instructors,” he says. “I trained using a Russian commercial diving manual. The first time I ever made a dive, the instructor ran out of air before I did.”

So Alfredo taught himself. He bought magazines and used old gear from the local aquarium. He took another diving course at university, using air tanks from Russia and snorkels made out of garden hoses. “In the meantime, I was trying to go underwater with cameras and making camera housing that didn’t work,” Alfredo says. “So we used to wait for hurricanes to come so we could use the plexiglass that fell off restaurants to make camera housing… not that it worked.”

Despite these challenges — Alfredo eventually managed to become a dive master, along with some friends. But, after three years, he realized he’d have to leave if he wanted to make his dream of being an underwater photographer become a reality.

 

Moving away

Alfredo moved to Montreal, Canada, to get citizenship and then relocated to Mexico. “When I was a dive master in Cuba, I worked with a friend in a dive center,” Alfredo says. “His uncle sent him a VHS cassette, a documentary about the Sea of Cortez. There were hammerheads and sea Lions and manta Rays.” From that moment, Alfredo knew his destiny was to work there as a dive master and explore his passion for underwater cinematography.

While living in Canada, he applied for jobs all over the world, and the first offer he received was at the Sea of Cortez. “I wanted to come mostly because of the hammerheads,” he says.

It took a long time for Alfredo to get his cinematography career off the ground. “I didn’t want to be a dive master; I did it because I wanted to be in the water,” he says. “But I didn’t know how to become a professional cinematographer, I didn’t have the contacts, I didn’t have the networking skills.”

His ambition was to work with the BBC, but he didn’t know how. In the end, fate stepped in. “I was in very bad shape psychologically,” he says. “I was a dive master; I felt like I was too old to fulfill my ambition, and my cameras were broken. And I think God got bored of me complaining.”

One day, a friend of Alfredo’s called him to say some British people had been asking about wildlife, so he’d given them Alfredo’s number. They turned out to be from John Downer Productions, an award-winning media company specializing in wildlife television, feature films, and commercials. Initially, they asked Alfredo to come and watch out for the car in the parking lot because they were filming in an area of Mexico with a high crime rate. So Alfredo went, even though he was only interested in being in the water. Towards the end of filming, a member of the crew asked Alfredo if he’d like to film the last twenty minutes.

So Alfredo ditched the car, did his thing, and they loved his footage. “Want to come to Costa Rica?” They asked. He’s been working with John Downer ever since. 

On the rise

And that was all he needed to get his portfolio off the ground. He started working for a French TV channel, and then National Geographic got in touch. Suddenly, his dreams were coming true. He’s since worked on BBC’s Shark and Blue Planet II, the series Spy in the Wild 1 and 2, National Geographic’s Untamed Americas and Icy Killers, and dozens more. Alfredo spends months at a time on a boat off Thailand or the Caribbean or Alaska; luckily, so does his partner, Liisa Juuti, who is an underwater camera operator. “It would be a lonely life if my partner wasn’t there with me,” Alfredo says.

Alfredo isn’t good with dates but thinks he’s been working with Artlist for several years. He was looking to share his work with a third party that would take care of everything – because all the other publishers required him to upload his work himself, which he found very tedious. “I tried other places, but it was complicated and never really worked,” Alfedo says. “I have a lot of footage that other people might have use for – so I thought perhaps I should try these Artlist people.”

They hit it off right away. Alfredo loved that he could just send his footage to Artlist, and they’d take care of everything else. Then, when Alfredo got his first paycheck, he was even happier. “They’re good, I like the people, they’re serious and easy-going, and I just have to film and send what I have.”

Artlist subscribers have access to Alfredo’s jaw-dropping moving imagery, mostly from his hometown in Mexico. He loves that his footage is used in tons of projects, whether for projections at exhibitions, in short films, or in conservation material. 

Although Alfredo has already achieved so much, he says he hasn’t even scratched the surface of everything he’d like to achieve. “I want to dive McMurdo Sound in Antarctica,” he says. “I want to go to New Zealand in August and ride whales. I want to go to Norway and places in the South Pacific for humpbacks. I want to go to the Pacific Red Sea, I haven’t been there for a long time.”

A few hours after our interview, Alfredo sent an email. “I’ve thought of some more downsides,” he writes. “Staying away from the family for so long… and we miss our dogs and cats (and we know they miss us)!” 

Apart from that, Alfredo says he couldn’t be happier.

Check out Alfredo’s latest collection on Artlist.

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Alice Austin is a freelance writer from London. She writes for Mixmag, Beatportal, Huck, Dummy, Electronic Beats, Red Bulletin and more. She likes to explore youth and sub-culture through the lens of music, a vocation that has led her around the world. You can contact and/or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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