Our Monday Motivation series on GuinnessWorldRecords.com profiles the inspiring stories of commitment, courage and dedication behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on a world-renowned photographer who has dedicated his to preserving South American landscapes from environmental destruction.
Marcio Cabral has always respected the world around him.
At times in his early twenties, he would often explore the landscapes of his local area of Brasilia, Brazil, which offered everything from grassy highlands to tropical wetlands.
His love of nature was first kindled while studying geography at college.
“Geography is the science of the earth, it is the study of the natural and anthropic landscape. It is something that i tangible to our everyday lives, it’s a science that makes you appreciate the Earth“, he explains.
To the young Brazilian, the earth’s surface offered so much to see, and much more to preserve.
That need for protection was often fueled by other’s lack of regard for the places he loved most; in his homeland environmental issues had grown in the past decade, with the Amazonian region suffering from deforestation, poaching of animals, water pollution and severe oil spills.
“I have always enjoyed visiting nature sites such as waterfalls, caves and beaches. I traveled to nature locations all the time, but had an amateur camera - and I was not happy with my images. I wanted to make photos like I had seen in nature magazines, so I bought my first DSLR camera and did a Photography course in 1996.”
As with many amateurs intent on becoming a professional, Marcio used his previous training alongside dedicated practice to improve his technique in a new field.
"At that time the photograph was analogous, and it was much more difficult because you had a limited number of photos and did not see the image, so if you make a mistake you could only discover it after revealing the film."
But in 2004, Marcio was able to benefit from the incredible revolution of the digital camera, allowing him to further his skill, and better understand the medium he was working with.
“I quickly learned that in photography, you always learn from your mistakes. Using geography helped me to be a better photographer of landscapes because it allowed me to predict the weather conditions and the best position of the stars, improving the overall production of the images.”
But as time went on, Marcio began to notice changes in the natural Brazilian environment he often used as his subject.
In the rivers and jungles he ventured to, he would come across garbage and polluted lakes, showing a blatant disregard for nature.
Marcio felt the need to find a way to showcase the landscapes he appreciated so deeply.
To the photographer, the only way to get others to take an interest in conservation was to expose the value in what was being destroyed.
“I knew photography could influence the environment, because it had the ability to testify and denounce environmental crimes. It makes people aware of the importance of saving the environment, by showing them images of preserved sites.”
So Marico drew his own idea from a photographer he admired most, Richard Chesher, whose work would lead him to produce the image he’d become known for around the world.
“Richard Chesher developed the first underwater panoramas in the world, about 10 years ago in the New Caledonia. When I first saw his images, I was so impressed; it inspired me to develop my own underwater panoramas for Brazil.”
In 2010, inspired by the techniques of Chesher, he gathered the necessary equipment needed to produce an image of his first location, Nascente Olho D’Agua in Bonito, Brazil – an ecosystem known for is clear rivers, tropical fish and glowing caverns.
“Taking fully spherical 360° panoramas that are the top-of-the-line are difficult to create. They not only capture the full view around you but also up and down. The best spherical 360s are also created in a way so that the photographer and their equipment is not visible in the panorama, which is no easy task.”
Baring that in mind, Marcio arrived at the river basin prepared to try his hand at the demanding photography project.
It had been 14 years since he had started taking photography seriously, but taking his work to another world entirely, particularly one below surface level, would present new challenges, conditions, and obstacles entirely.
“Many don’t realize how much light affects the final image. In a cave-like atmosphere, the loss of light and color temperature can cause issues, especially when you increase depth in the water. The lower you go, the more adjustments you have to make with shutter timing, lens width, and film speed to get the natural but outstanding visuals you see when one puts on goggles. The currents within the water can also make it difficult to photograph in the sea and rivers, you need to work together with nature to receive the result you desire.”
Using all his skill, the environmental photographer managed to obtain the pictures he set out to capture, with coral, teal reflections, trickling sunlight, and sand-covered bottoms brought to life outside of the water's depths.
It took an articulate process of stitching individual images together digitally in PhotoSHop, making sure every seam was aligned perfectly to produce a flawless, smooth final image – with the final results nothing less than breathtaking.
“The photograph instantly reminded me of the importance and need to protect nature. It made me want to respect the environment and different cultures even more.”
Enthused by the project, Marcio set out to continue producing more panoramic underwater images in 2012, this time in the banks of Cuba, with a school of sharks.
While the artist was furthering his skillset in becoming a professional underwater photographer, he was also being recognised around the world for his unique work.
Cabral frequently entered worldwide photo competitions using the nature photographs he captured on a daily basis.
Remarkably, his work not only placed, but often won several of those competitions, including Sony WPA, Oasis, PX3 Prix and Loupe Awards.
In 2013, three of his images even made it to the front page of Bing.com international – Microsoft's search engine that receives millions of user traffic from around the globe.
Marcio’s growing success in the photography industry served as a dual victory; he was finally being recognised on a larger scale for his work with nature, but so was his cause to save the environment.
More publicity equaled more coverage of the ecosystems he wanted to protect, and provided those who viewed his work with the immersive experience he felt when taking images of landscapes.
“We should give more value to things that most people find banal, like enjoying the sunset or a moonrise. My passion is a natural landscape, including the oceans, and photography has allowed me to eternalize what I've seen, so the places I've visited and the moments I've lived can be shared with others.”
For the past 15 years, Marcio’s work, which has been submitted for global competitions, was also serving a greater purpose as the lead images for the Mais Cerrado Foundation.
The foundation’s main purpose is to raise money with environmental partners to protect the native landscapes of Brazil’s Cerrado region – a mission that coincides with the photographer’s own passion project.
“I have a project called the Last Refuges of Cerrado, which I have worked on for several years. The Cerrado is the most biodiverse savannah in the world and it is located in the central part of Brazil, where I take a majority of my images. The area is crucial as most of the rivers in Brazil are born in the Cerrado, being of vital importance to preserve this biome.”
Seeing his work be well-received by masters of the photo industry prompted Marcio to develop his technique as a 360 photographer.
Knowing that the Cerrado has only 10% of protected areas and more than 60% of its area has already been deforested for agriculture and planting the transgenic soybean, he was driven to create art that would bring attention to this endangered area.
In 2015 he captured an image within the Sucuri river, in Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil (a part of the Cerrado), known for being one of the most clear rivers in the world.
The setting was ideal for depicting the natural underwater plant life and schools of fish that resided in the river.
“After I produced this image I searched the internet, wondering what image held the highest resolution for a panoramic image. Seeing there was none, I contacted Guinness World Records for the image to be analysed. Receiving this record was very important to me and the Sucuri River.”
Upon further research, it was determined that Marcio had made history for himself and the river he cherished, creating the world’s Largest underwater panoramic image at 220.5 megapixels.
Later that year when he acquired his official certificate in the mail, Cabral sent a picture of his prestigious award to the local manager of the Sucuri.
The certificate, which now hung prominently at the tourist site, did more than commemorate his progression as a landscape photographer.
Most notably, it caused an upsurge in national media, which focused their attention on the crystalline river Marcio hoped to safeguard from pollution.
“Shooting underwater is a fascinating experience. The visibility is smaller, the movements are slower and the controls and operation of the camera is limited, but there are greater possibilities of compositions and outcomes, due to the absence of gravity; it is another world entirely.”
Inspired by the recognition his record-breaking image had received, Marcio knew that he could beat his own record by using a more advanced camera.
So later on in 2015, he acquired a Canon 5DS R and set his sights on capturing the Lagoa Misteriosa, in Jardim, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.
“I chose the pond because it is perfect for the new record title", he explains.
"Its called the ‘Mysterious Lagoon’ and is one of the most impressive sites for freshwater diving. It is a flooded cave and the visibility under the water can reach more than 60 meters from the surface. Once in 2011 I made the first spherical image in this place, it was the first pic of this type made in a cave, but it wasn’t anything close to what I was trying to produce.
“Knowing that The Mysterious Lagoon has more than 220 meters of depth, has no current, a good amount of natural light, and a much greater depth than that of the Sucuri River, the new spherical 360 image could have much more information of the ground and the sky.”
Marcio got to work once more, practicing what he has come to know best. After a series of still, careful shots taken of the surrounding underwater cavern, the results were stunning.
Marcio managed to almost double his record with an incredible new total of 495.7 megapixel image, while also taking another visual of the threatened Cerrado region.
“Breaking my own record proved to me that hat any record can be bettered. I enjoyed this game that seemed to push my own limits, and it inspired me to try and break the record again this year, this time with a larger production which will include professional divers.”
Since setting a new standard for his own record, Marcio has gone on to become a major influence in the realm of nature photography.
In 2016, his work dominated the Nature Talks International Nature Photography Competition, a contest dedicated to conserving and encapsulating the natural beauty of the environment.
He was honored as the overall winner of the competition, as well as for the categories Plants and Fungi, and Animals.
Marcio’s accomplishments have now made him one of the most famous panoramic photographers in the world, but he doesn’t plan on stopping his efforts to preserve natural landscapes.
After recently helping the Mais Cerrado Foundation on a campaign to expand the National Park of Chapada dos Veadeiros, the President of Brazil has signed a decree which will extend the area from 65 k hectares to 240 k hectares.
“I have acquired a great reputation with my work and my pictures have already been published on magazines and tourism guides, but I love the nature photography because it can eternalize what I've seen, so the places I've visited and the moments I've lived can be shared and saved.”