Nova West, Underwater Cinematographer

Nova West, Underwater Cinematographer

Nova West (they/them) is a creative artist, award-winning filmmaker, published photographer, and environmental educator. West's work focuses on visual arts and camera operation, specializing in wildlife, expedition, and underwater documentary filmmaking.


9 - 12+


Storytelling, Oceanography, Filmmaking, Biology

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...

Early Work

"I grew up in a small farm town in Minnesota, hundreds of miles from the ocean. I was a water kid at heart, but didn’t get to visit the ocean until I was well into middle school. It wasn’t until I got my start at National Geographic following the completion of my college degree in Environmental and Outdoor Education that I was able to begin learning to understand the ocean. This journey ignited my career in the field of underwater cinematography, and has led me to the world of deep-sea exploration."

Most Exciting Part of Your Work

"At present, most of my work revolves around creative storytelling, utilizing film, photography, and art, to tell science and conservation stories. Much of this work takes place aboard the E/V Nautilus, which is a deep-sea exploration vessel operated by Ocean Exploration Trust. On board, I have the honor of documenting deep-sea research and discoveries, such as new shipwrecks, inquisitive sea creatures, and unique environments, with both cinema and ROV camera systems. While not on board, my other projects involve scuba-based underwater filmmaking, which is another highlight of what I do. Having the responsibility of telling our ocean’s stories as one of the world’s first nonbinary underwater cinematographers is certainly a joy and a privilege."

Most Demanding Part of Your Work

"Many people may think that the wild landscapes I work in are the most challenging parts of my work. However, for me it can be more challenging to work around people’s perceptions. While on an expedition, you never know where you’ll go or who you’ll encounter, which can add an extra layer of considerations as a nonbinary explorer. Regardless, telling the stories of our wild planet always keeps me grounded and focused on ways I can be a role model and open doors for others."

What Being an Explorer Means to You

"At the heart of National Geographic’s mission is a drive to explore and share the parts of our planet that have been left out of the spotlight. My National Geographic Storytelling Explorer Grant Project, titled Out in the Wild, specifically focuses on sharing the untold stories of queerness in nature, which is an entire spectrum of behaviors and traits that have historically been omitted from wildlife filmmaking. I’m very excited for the promise of this project, as I have high hopes that it’ll mark a new era of holistic wildlife storytelling."

Explorer Work Showcase

"After over six years of working on high-profile projects with National Geographic, Netflix, and other large productions, I was finally able to begin telling my own stories. My first independent documentary, titled Diving for Rays, follows my friend’s journey as she gets scuba certified and becomes a queer marine conservationist. Since the official release of this film in 2023, I have been working on Out in the Wild, which will carry the momentum of Diving for Rays by further elevating queer stories in wildlife filmmaking. This project is now in production, and is projected to be completed by early 2025!"

So, You Want To Be an Underwater Cinematographer

"Breaking into the field of underwater cinematography can be challenging; with high barriers to entry, such as cost of equipment, training, geographical location, and mentorship opportunities, this field can certainly come easier to some than others. The advice I usually give to aspiring underwater filmmakers is this:

  • Just get started! This sounds harder than it is, especially when it comes to gear. The best thing you can do is use what you already have to tell a story. At this point in time, many people already have decent cameras in their pockets or at their schools or libraries, and you can buy cheap underwater phone cases for most models—it’s less about what you have, and more about how you use it. Once you find access to any camera, start building up your portfolio. I highly recommend creating a website—even just a basic one—or starting a professional social media account. Having a go-to landing spot for potential employers and collaborators to view your work will make all the difference!
  • Reach out to the people already doing what you want to do! With the world at our fingertips, it’s much easier to connect with people now than ever before. You can use this to your advantage to connect with professionals and build your network. Asking them how they got to where they are and any opportunities you should look out for is a great first step in assessing how you can get your start in the field. If you get lucky, you may even find someone who is able to mentor you, lend you their gear, and help you get onto new projects.
  • Use your talents! Everyone has a story to tell, and some stories warrant the use of different mediums. Whether you love to take photos, make illustrations, or come up with new dances, adjacent skill sets are components that you can incorporate into your work to elevate your projects and engage new audiences. The sky’s the limit!"

Get Involved

"I highly recommend checking out 500 Queer Scientists ( to learn more about queer contributions to STEM and the barriers we can face in the field. If you want to learn more about the deep-sea exploration work the E/V Nautilus conducts and how to get involved, you can check out our work on their website ( You can also learn more about my work and story on my website ( or follow along in real-time on my Instagram account (@novawest_creative). I often post about adventures, projects, opportunities, and more, which is a great hotspot for all things deep-sea exploration and underwater filmmaking!"

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Last Updated

June 20, 2024

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources