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Underwater Photographer Spotlight: Isabella Maffei

By Scuba Diving Partner | Updated On August 25, 2023
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Underwater Photographer Spotlight: Isabella Maffei

Isabella Maffei is an Italian underwater photographer with a true passion for the ocean. It was her passion for the underwater world that prompted her to become a scuba diving instructor and eventually manager her own dive center— "Deep Avenue”, in Mendrisio, Switzerland (the Italian side of Switzerland.) Maffei started taking photos underwater of her diving students, so they had a souvenir of their adventure. What started as a business decision has since turned into a deep passion that you will see displayed in her images below.

Jump to Q&A

Behind the Shot

Camera Setup

Camera: Nikon D300S
Lens: Tokina 10-17 f3.5-4.5
Settings: 1/80 F16 ISO250
Housing: Ikelite
Strobes: 2 x Ikelite DS161

sea bream school Italy

Behind the Shot: Aqua fish factory, Lavagna (Genoa-Italy)

Isabella Maffei

It was 7.00 o’clock in the morning, and not a sunny day. The wind was starting to mount from North-East. The fish factory of sea bream was about five minutes from the Lavagna harbor, so I was not afraid about the transfer or the light condition inside the nets.
It was my first time shooting in this environment, and I tried to imagine what the scenery would be like or which kind of exposure to use.

When I arrived on site, I had to jump into the water very fast because the power of the wind started increasing. It was a little bit dangerous standing on the fishermen boat. A diver from the factory assisted me during all assignment when he opened the first net. I could not believe my eyes, millions of sea bream in front of me started. They started to swim so close, touching me and tasting my fins. It was surreal.

The fish were so close to me it was impossible to use the strobe light. I had to wait for natural light coming from the surface, but at the end, I captured this shot.

From that time, my motto has been "watch, wait, shot". It's my witty remark.

Q: How long have you been a scuba diver/what’s your certification level?
A: I’m a MSDT PADI. I’m been scuba diving since 2001.

Q: Do you prefer to shoot while scuba diving or freediving?
A: I prefer to shoot on scuba configuration, it of course permits me to manage my dive time. To be a good freediver, you need practice and training. All my time is dedicated to underwater photography. Sometimes I love to shoot while freediving, especially in shallow waters.

Underwater Coral Reef

Split shot above Wai Island house reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Isabella Maffei

Q: What is your favorite photo-sharing platform?
A: My favorite photo-sharing platform would probably be my own website. I also really love Instagram and Facebook, as well as

Q: What are three of your favorite social-media accounts to follow?
A: My favorite accounts to follow are photography-related of course: BBC Earth, Magnum Photos, and The Photo Society

Q: What hashtag best describes your underwater photography style?
A: #enjoy

Jellyfish Italy

Jellyfish photo taken in Portofino Marine Protected Area.

Isabella Maffei

Q: What or who inspires you?
A: Bill Curtsinger with his work “Extreme Nature”, and David Doubilet with his work “Water, Light, Time”

Q: What do you love most about your work?
A: “To write by light” is like to weave a plot of an amazing, never ending story where we are all embroiled— this is what I love most. To observe the world trough a lens is way to increase my sensitivity towards the environment. A digital image is not just a number of pixels to me, but a powerful way of communication which may be more effective than words.

Besides this, to collect unique images of the marine world may help contribute to saving the environment. By providing to all the spectators (not only the scuba divers) positive feelings and environmental responsiveness.

Photos can evoke devastating emotions; it doesn’t matter if it comes from a dying turtle caught in an abandoned net or from a beautiful landscape of an intact blooming coral barrier. The message is always the same, it is important to preserve and protect the underwater world.

Scorpion fish Italy

Scorpion fish portrait taken in Portofino Marine Protected Area.

Isabella Maffei

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge and/or your most rewarding moment?
A: I was in Portofino Marine Protected Area, there was only one authorized fishing net system, two Bottlenose dolphins were caught in the net accidentally.

I had the permission to dive into the net; it was an emotional experience. The eyes of those dolphins expressed uncertainty and awareness of a potential danger, alarm status and need for an action: escape. It was really difficult shooting pictures; they continuously move, swimming sometimes very close to me, my camera worked very slowly, especially the autofocus, so I had to be very careful to have a well-focused images.

Dolphins Trapped in Underwater Net

These two dolphins were initially caught up in a fishing net but worked together to free themselves.

Isabella Maffei

Fortunately, it was not a strong sunny day, but when the sun went inside the frame, I had to change very fast my exposure. I will never forget I was there, in front of them, only allowed to observe: while one was pushing down the bag using his nose, the other freed himself rolling around on the belly. An example of group strategy, which left me to understand how these mammals apply the result of reasoning to the sheer instinct. One last gentle greeting, a bow to my lens and then off to freedom. I reconsidered the meaning of freedom. No nets or barriers deprive us of freedom, but the helplessness and the resignation to accept a fate we do not master any longer.

Underwater Photographer Isabella Maffei

Underwater Photographer Isabella Maffei

Michele Solca

Q: What was your favorite trip and why?
A: My favorite trip was to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, the pristine coral reef will have my heart forever.

Q: Where do you most want to go?
A: I dream of traveling to Socorro and Revillagigedo Archipelago.

Q: Any advice for budding photographers?
A: Don’t emulate a winning shot! Express yourself and be responsible. You are a testimonial to how much our world underwater is beautiful. Give people a good example!