This article was published on March 10, 2016

The Great Barrier Reef: On assignment with Nat Geo and Microsoft Lumia

The Great Barrier Reef: On assignment with Nat Geo and Microsoft Lumia
Microsoft Lumia
Story by

Microsoft Lumia

Stretching 1,200 miles along the northwest coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is larger than Italy — a daunting subject to photograph.

For National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez, who undertook this challenge as part of his assignment to capture the Seven Natural Wonders of the World with Lumia, the journey brought forth plenty of challenges.

Equipment for a 10 day expedition

While most professional photographers would lug multiple bags of heavy camera equipment for on an assignment of this size and scope, Stephen’s load was refreshingly light.

Traveling with so little equipment is wonderful. Not having 10 cases of equipment was a big deal. It was liberating to be able to work so light.

With not much more than a few Microsoft products – including the Microsoft Lumia 950 and Microsoft Lumia 950 XL – Stephen was able to document one of the largest natural wonders – the structure, aquatic life and surrounding ecosystem.

It’s a camera phone

Stephen is no stranger to capturing beautiful photos with a device that also makes calls.

The imaging capabilities of the Microsoft Lumia 950 and Microsoft Lumia 950 XL are simply extraordinary. Stephen made excellent use of the rear-facing PureView camera with a 20-megapixel advanced BSI sensor, F1.9 Zeiss optics, triple-LED natural flash, fifth-generation optical image stabilization, ISO12800, 4K video, and a 5-megapixel wide-angle front-facing camera to shoot spectacular underwater imagery.

1WP_20151016_08_11_52_Rich (1)

Under the sea

The biggest challenge of all? Most of the Reef lies underwater.

Most of the Great Barrier Reef lies underwater, forcing Stephen to create and build a custom waterproof housing for the Microsoft Lumia 950. This housing (not available for sale) kept the phone dry as he snapped amazing aquatic photos underwater.

Learn how to take the best underwater photos with Stephen’s tips.

Designed from the ground up to help you take beautiful and natural photos every time, while you may not be traveling to one of the greatest wonders, with Microsoft’s advanced imaging hardware and software, your photos will be just as wondrous.

Highlights from Stephen’s journey to the Great Barrier Reef.


A glowing band of dawn sun spotlights a lone figure transfixed by the view along Australia’s coastal Captain Cook Highway north of Cairns.


A humphead maori wrasse floats above spiny fingers of coral on Moore Reef, Australia. Prized for their meat, they are endangered in most of the world. But in the protected waters of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, they find a safe haven and flourish. 


Colors explode in a realm of crystal clear water, vibrant coral, and dramatically patterned fish off Dumbell Island, Australia. Part of the Great Barrier Reef, this marine oasis lies in the Whitsundays–a 74-island archipelago teeming with underwater energy. 


Local guide Taylor Simpkins anticipates sunset on Whitehaven Beach. The more than five-mile stretch of perfect white sand and shallow shore fringes Whitsunday Island in the heart of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. 


A gold ball of fire sinks into the sea, silhouetting Taylor Simpkins on her sunset perch atop Whitsunday Peak. While Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is famed for its underwater splendor, the Whitsunday Islands also provide plenty of grounded grandeur high above the waves. 

Exploring the Great Barrier Reef with National Geographic and the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL

Read next: How to take better photos for Instagram

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.

Also tagged with