Photograph of Belinda Seppings and wildlife photographer Edwar Herreno on Playas del Coco beach, Costa Rica
April 15, 2024 0 Artwork spotlight Belinda
Image: MÍRAME co-founder Belinda Seppings and Edwar Herreno on Playa del Coco beach, Costa Rica

Interview between Wildlife Photographer Edwar Herreno and MÍRAME's Belinda Seppings

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica, 28/3/2024

Introduction to Edwar Herreno

Edwar Herreno's love affair with the ocean began long before he ever dipped below its surface.

Hailing from Colombia – 900km – away from the ocean, Herreno's childhood dreams of becoming a Marine Biologist were sparked by the documentaries of Jacques Cousteau. It was a defining moment when, at fifteen, he descended into the waters off Venezuela with his uncle and found himself in love with the ocean.

Fast forward to our conversation in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica, where Edwar shared his extraordinary journey from marine biologist to renowned underwater and wildlife photographer.

See available wildlife photography by Herreno on MÍRAME Fine Art. Visit Edwar Herreno's website.


Belinda Seppings [BS]: Tell me about your early experiences with the ocean and how it felt to go diving for the first time.

Edwar Herreno [EH]: As soon as I put my mask on my face, I realised this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I wanted to be an underwater wildlife photographer. My uncle wasn’t an instructor, it was quite rough and it hurt, but for me, it was a different world.

University introduced me properly to diving, but my passion for wildlife photography led me deeper. When I was a kid, I spent holidays on my grandfather’s farm . He would tell me all the stories of the nature and the wildlife, but I never got to see it. Nothing was documented. I wanted to document the world so that I can show my son and he can know the type of world in which I was living.

BS: So for you, diving and documentary went hand-in-hand from the beginning - for very personal reasons. What was your first professional diving job?

EH: It all began with a simple underwater camera in Colombia that I bought in 1995. Selling my photographs to local operators paved the way for my career as a dive master. My instructor then came to Costa Rica in 2000 and opened a dive shop in Playa Flamingo. I came to help him for one month during my holidays in 2002. This was the first time I visited Costa Rica. I saw the mantas and it was amazing and I said, “I’m going to stay!”.

The biggest thing for me was my job working off Cocos Island. It is one of the best destinations to see sharks with eleven species there. I wrote my thesis in sharks, so Cocos Island was always a place I needed to go. I got a job with the best company in the world with the very best underwater photographers and filmmakers.

I was meeting guys from the BBC and National Geographic. You are all living in a boat for up to 2 weeks sometimes and they all share their knowledge with you, from technical advice to even learning something simple, like patience!

BS: Incredible. It’s like having a private tutor from the world’s best! Do you know how many hours you spent under the water?

EH: Just in Cocos Island, the logbook showed I did 9,000 hours and I worked there for eleven years. We used to dive 4 hours a day, but sometimes 5 or 6. We were there just to dive, nothing else: diving, eating, working, and sleeping! That was all. Non-stop. I loved it. I wanted to stay there.

Marine Life Captured By Herreno, Wildlife Photographer

BS: You’ve had remarkable experiences! What kind of sharks did you see?

EH: The island is famous for big schools of Hammerheads, but there are whitetip, blacktip, reef sharks, whale sharks – the biggest fish in the world – silky, Galapagos and sometimes a thresher and a prickly shark, which is a deep-water shark. We also see Tiger sharks there.

Serene deep blue photograph of hundreds of hammerhead sharks off Cocos Island by award-winning Costa Rican photographer Edwar Herreno. You are looking up at the sharks as they apepar to swim near the surface, with a few close-up near the camera, evoking feelings of awe and wonder. Wildlife photographer, Edwar Herreno Large school of hammerheads shark in the Cocos Island waters, Costa Rica, 2008

BS: I love your photo of the hammerhead sharks, it's beautiful. Was this difficult to shoot?

EH: Well, you don't see pictures of hammerheads like this anymore – in 2008 there were hundreds of hammerheads, but now the population is in decline.

You also never see pictures of with them coming from the front. They are very scared; when they see divers, they swim away. For this image, I had to stop breathing and hide, letting them pass. You can’t make any bubbles. I stopped breathing for a couple of minutes, maybe more. You have to stay very calm because the current is moving you around and it’s difficult to stay quiet. When I was in Colombia years ago, I did free diving so I was able to hold my breath for some minutes. It’s so important to be able to take this sort of picture. As soon as I released my breath, they were gone.

It’s not a case of being at the right place at the right time…, you have to be at the right spot, with all the gear, battle the current, try not to scare them… and the hold your breath! Sometimes I hold the bottom with one hand and try to take the photograph with my other hand, battling against the current. It’s a lot of work and it’s very physical.

BS: The image looks so serene, you wouldn't think it took so much effort to capture! You must have met some interesting people from all over the world. Have you dived with anybody famous? 

EH: I actually taught Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie how to dive back in 2013! We went to Cocos Island and it was pretty crazy because we lived together on this boat for many days. They just seemed like normal people, hanging out watching Lord of the Rings with the crew.

BS: Wow! Leo and Margot! That's crazy. I have so many questions about them, but getting back on track... Cocos Island is difficult to access, it takes 3 days to get there, it’s expensive and you have to be specialist to go. Are there any other Costa Rican dive spots that have left a last impressing on you as a wildlife photographer?

EH: Bat Island is amazing with its resident Bull Sharks and of course Caño Island in the south, near Drake’s Bay.  I recently went to Caño Island and we went far away – 26-35 miles from the island shore – and we saw the biggest congregation of thousands of Spinner Dolphins in the world. It’s a unique spectacle that only happens here in Costa Rica. I tried to capture the sheer number of dolphins in the below image; there were as far as the eye could see.

The BBC came a while ago, hired a boat trying to find the spinners for a month and they didn’t find them. You need the guy with the knowledge and the experience but you also need the passion to see these things. It’s the passion that we will allow you to find this stuff.

Photography by wildlife photographer Edwar Herreno of thousands of spinner dolphins off Caño island. Thousands of spinner dolphins off Caño Island, Costa Rica, 2024

Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the National History Museum in London is the world's most prestigious wildlife photography competition.

BS: Your recent achievements in underwater photography are truly impressive. Tell us about your Wildlife Photographer of Year entries for the Natural History Museum in London. Starting with “No Gentle Affair” which made it to the final of the competition in 2021.

EH: “No Gentle Affair” depicts two male whitetip sharks trying to mate with the female. It’s barbaric because they are essentially raping the female. The action was about 1.8m/ 6feet away from me and it’s difficult because the sharks are spinning really fast. When they spin, they also kick-up the sand and there are 40-50 males trying to reach the female; they are all swimming between you and the subject. The sand made the visibility so difficult, but I just kept taking photos and I managed to get this shot.

Awe-inspiring image of white-tipped reef sharks mating, by award-winning Costa Rican photographer Edwar Herreno. It's a striking image as two sharks are biting down on another that appears upside down on the ocean floor. This image was a finalist at the most prestigious award ceremony: The Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum in London, 2021. Wildlife photographer Edwar Herreno

Finalist at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award, London. No Gentle Affair by Edwar Herreno, 2021

BS: Wow – you make it sound like it would be almost impossible! And this photograph of a cleaner fish on the eye of a whitetip shark?

EH: Ah, this one reached the semi-finals. This shark is one of the fewer species that can stop swimming and lie on the bottom, and it breathes by pumping water through its mouth. The little cleaner fish jumps on the shark and removes the parasites, but it is so fast! I wanted a picture with the shark’s eye and the mouth open, and with the fish on the eye.

Anytime I got close to the shark, the bubbles or the current would make it would swim away. The fish is so small and has a lot of predators, so any movements scare them. I used special equipment that doesn’t make sound or produce bubbles. It took me 20 mins at least to slowly get close and take photos. It was just me; no lighting, no crew. I had to wait 4 years for the perfect moment.

An impossible photograph of a white-tipped reef shark and a cleaner fish on its eye lens, by award-winning Colombian wildlife photographer Edwar Herreno.

Semi-finalist at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, London. A whitetip reef shark and cleaner fish. By Edwar Herreno.

BS: It’s easy to underestimate just how much planning and patience goes into taking these remarkable photographs!  

You’ve just released a new body of terrestrial wildlife photography, which is currently available on MÍRAME. Can you tell us about these works and what inspired the shift away from underwater images?

Hummingbird captured by wildlife photographer, Edwar Herreno. Hummingbird captured by Edwar Herreno

EH: Oh, I’ve been coming to Costa Rica for years and I feel there is so much of the country I need to explore! Despite my deep love for the ocean, I’ve always felt there is so much to see in Costa Rica and so many beautiful animals and birds to capture. I want to take more photographs of these things. For example, last weekend I was in Arenal and we got lucky with how clear it was on the day. We experimented with some split shots of the lake, which have come out really well.

I also took some shots of the second biggest ray in the world, after the Manta. I got them feeding. I also took some great jumping shots of dolphins against the sunset. Last year I was able to take a shot of rays mating, which is very unique.

Photograph of manta ray feeding by Edwar Herreno, taking in Costa Rica. Looking down at the ray you see the enormity of the predator as a large shoal of fish tries to escape below.


As our conversation drew to a close, I couldn't help but be inspired by Edwar's unwavering passion for exploration and discovery. Whether beneath the waves or amidst the lush jungles of Costa Rica, his lens captures the essence of nature's beauty, and his passion for it, in its purest form.

Photograph of Edwar Herreno, sitting in a boat withhis dive gear in front of the ocean backdrop that features a little island. Promoting wildlife photographer on MIRAME Fine Art.

Edwar Herreno diving off the coast of Costa Rica.

About Edwar Herreno

b. Colombia, 1976

Lives and works in Marseille, France.

Click here to download his full CV

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