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why I love to photograph in the water

ocean fine art

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I started photographing in the ocean 13 years ago. I bought my first water housing to take with me on a sailing trip from San Diego, CA to Hiva Oa, French Polynesia and beyond. It was an Ewa Marine housing that I used with my Nikon 8008s and I shot with Fujichrome 100-36 frames at a time. Naturally when my children started to spend hours in the ocean, I would want to photograph them there too.

I was inspired by the first image in this series which I captured after our 38′ boat had been bashing against the reef for hours in the middle of the night. We had put anchor down in a very hazardous atoll in the Tuamotus that Charlie’s Charts had deemed a good anchorage. The 40′ coral heads had chafed through the rope end of the rode we had to put out in the 70′ deep anchorage. In this image, my husband is checking the damage.

Upon our return to land 2 years later I started exhibiting my work from the trip. This image won awards and was exhibited all over the country. I knew that someday I would be back in the ocean with my family inspired to make more work like this. I started photographing my children in the ocean in 2010-as soon as they began to play in the deeper waters of the Pacific.

When I am in the ocean, I don’t try to do anything but be myself and observe my children being themselves in this fluid and mysterious environment. I don’t make plans to capture any specific images but let things unfold and respond to their play. I now use an SPL Waterhousing on my Nikon D700. When I set sail in 2000 I considered buying a housing from Sean LaBrie but at the time those housings were custom and cost $4000 or more. My husband and I set out on a limited budget so I didn’t consider that an important piece of equipment for our trip. We bought a radar instead!

I love spending time in the ocean, in the waves and in the deep water past the waves. My favorite place to shoot is in the surf and at anchor off Catalina Island. This summer has been the most spectacular summer for photography because the water has been clear and warm for months on end.

I am so blessed to have this experience with my family. Watching them grow and learn the language of water in their own highly spirited way is a joy to watch and photograph. I would never force them to be any other way in the ocean. I don’t try to make my images look a certain way. I go with the flow and often the flow is rough and unmanageable-especially in the surf where I love to shoot. I especially love the unexpected surprises when I get to editing my work-just like when I used to work in the darkroom.

If you are interested in photographing in the ocean I would say go for it. I do not have a monopoly on the idea and I definitely see a growing trend and support it. Of course photographing in the ocean has been done for decades. One of my favorite and most inspired photographers is Wayne Levin who I learned about when we lived in Hawaii in 2001.

To see more of my work in the ocean visit the “Dreams On Board” and “Rite of Water” galleries on my website.



  1. Reply

    Dawn Shiree

    August 14, 2013

    Your love for the water and your children and your surf community lifestyle speaks loud and clearly. The ocean has a soulful pull on me, even as a land locked city dweller. I can only imagine how very personal these images are to you and your family legacy. Thank you for sharing. <3