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5 ocean photographers that help us learn more about the underwater world

Ocean photography captures a world of unknowns miles below the surface. The creatures, their behaviors, and their environments are brilliant subject matters that make arresting images. Underwater photographers, many of them skilled divers, give us a glimpse into these hidden ecosystems, often with the goal of providing photography for ocean conservation. 

But in recent years, ocean photography has taken on a role in conservation efforts. Through the fascination that ocean photography inspires, these photographers are attempting to save our oceans.

ocean photographers
Image by Elena Kalis

Elena Kalis

Elena Kalis is an underwater photographer based in the Bahamas, known for her surreal imagery.

Some of her well-known works feature models underwater fully clothed, behaving as they would on land but instead suspended in shallow waters.

ocean photography
Elena Kalis, image via Ikelite

Her work has been featured in magazines worldwide and was recently featured in a campaign for Samsung that demonstrates the underwater photo technology of its cellphones.

Together with her daughter, who has been appointed the first ambassador for Bahamas National Trust, Kalis works in her photography to bring attention to the ocean conservation of her local marine environment in the Bahamas.

An island that depends on tourism for economic stability, there is also a financial imperative to protect its native creatures.

Elena Kalis for Samsung

By showcasing the different national parks and reefs around the island through her awe-inspiring photography, Kalis hopes to inspire audiences to join the movement to protect her homeland. 

Karim Ilya

Karim Ilya is the most recent winner of the Marine Conservation category for Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition 2021.

ocean conservation photography
Aerial view of a crowded island in Guan Yala by Karim Ilya. Image via Underwater Photographer of the Year.

The image ‘Aerial view of a crowded island in Guan Yala’ struck judges for its display of how human beings have consumed land.

Iliya, who is based in Hawaii and Colorado, specializes in photographing whales, threatened wildlife, and delicate ecosystems.

National Geographic Magazine has published his work with humpback whales and aerial photography, using the Ilya’s talents to tell larger stories. Ilya’s work documenting and framing perspective on human impact in the environment continues to stir a sense of urgency in audiences. 

Christine Shepard

Christine Shepard is a researcher, photographer, and, most notably, a shark specialist. Her work researching and photographing sharks moved her into the spotlight as part of the University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation program.

ocean photographers
Christine Shepard. Image via Searaya

The group is an active shark research group, but is set apart from other institutions by the scale of its engagement online. This social media presence features a great deal of Shepard’s critically acclaimed photography.

The vibrant colors and dynamic lines make for brilliant images that compound her work as a researcher. She is passionate about conservation and views her photography as a way to permeate the consciousness of a wider audience.

ocean conservation photography
Image by Christine Shepard via Coral Cove Imagery

As a scientist and a photographer in contact with mass media, she is often at the intersection of trying to make something marketable while still keeping it grounded in the facts. For Shepard, being one of many crucial ocean photographers is an uncompromising means of maintaining that integral balance. 

Renee Capozzola

Another star from this years Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition 2021, is Renee Capozzola. This photographer took home first place for her piece ‘Shark’s skylight,’ that displays two black tipped reef sharks beneath parallel seagulls in uncanny synchronicity.

Renee Capozzola
‘Shark’s skylight’ by Renee Capozzola, image via Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021.

Capozzola credits her affinity to French Prolynesia, where this image was created, to its efforts to protect its sharks.

With a background in painting and professional work in biology, Capozzola’s eye is able to capture the larger than life movements of deep sea creatures.

Renee Capozolla, image via Bluewater Travel

This [‘Shark’s skylight’] is a photograph of hope, a glimpse of how the ocean can be when we give it a chance, thriving with spectacular life both below and above the surface.

Judges announcing the winner of the 2021 Underwater Photographer of the Year

She has won over forty international awards, including 2019 United Nations World Oceans Day Photo Competition and ‘USA Photographer of the Year’ in the 2019 World Shootout.

When she is not in the water with the sharks, Capozzola teaches biology in hopes of raising awareness and engagement in combating threats to our marine ecosystems today. 

Lewis Burnett

Working out of Australia’s Southwest is Lewis Burnett, recently featured on Ocean Conservancy as a 2020 Photo Contest Winner.

lewis burnett
Lewis Burnett, image via Ocean Conservation

A lifelong interest in life underwater culminated for Burnett when he took his first solo trip around Southeast Asia. Since then, the photographer has been trying to bring about positive change in our marine environments through individual self-awareness.

lewis burnett
Image by Lewis Burnett via Ocean Conservation

Burnett credits the crisis in our oceans to the loss of connection between mankind and their natural home. He hopes, by partnering with conservation agencies and continuing to produce vibrant photographs, to inspire others. 

The necessity of ocean conservation photographers

Conservation efforts are complicated. With large scale industrial neglect and ever growing consumption, the oceans are not safe.

An impending sense of doom threatens to overtake grassroots efforts to save our marine ecosystems. But these photographers keep a sense of hope alive by dedicating their lives and careers to the ocean. These individuals are stoking consciousness that has the potential to change our reality.