Renee Capozzola is an international award-winning underwater photographer who specialises in wide-angle and over-under images. As a Southern California native, the ocean has always been a large part of her life. Since she started scuba diving in 2004, she has been to some of the most remote parts of the world and developed a true appreciation for marine organisms. Renee believes that striking images help increase awareness of our fragile marine ecosystems and encourage others to help protect our oceans.
To that end, her images have won numerous prestigious accolades, including first place in the 2018 Big Picture: Natural World Photography Competition, first place in the 2018 Asia Pacific UW Photo Challenge, first place in the 2017 Ocean Geographic Pictures of the Year, and the Best In Show award at 2017 Beneath The Sea. When she is not in the water with her camera, Renee teaches biology and educates her students about the challenges facing our oceans and the importance of conserving marine ecosystems.
How did you get started in underwater photography?
When I started scuba diving, I quickly fell in love with the underwater world and I wanted to capture on camera all the amazing things I was seeing. I have an artistic background in oil painting and a professional background in biology, so it was a natural transition to photograph marine animals underwater.
What came first – diving or photography?
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
Canon 5D Mark III, Nauticam housing and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
Most challenging dive?
All cold water dives are challenging for me. I don’t own a drysuit and get cold very easily, even in a thick wetsuit. When my hands are cold, I also can’t operate the camera buttons very well.
Who are your diving inspirations?
Rob Stewart who directed the movie Sharkwater is my #1 hero! He cared so much about the ocean and did so much for both shark and marine conservation. He put his life on the line while filming Sharkwater, which increased public awareness of the cruel practice of shark finning.
Ultimately, he tragically passed away during the filming of his sequel to Sharkwater but his efforts still live on. I also really admire Michael Aw who created Ocean Geographic Society. He is so passionate about marine conservation and has done much work during his lifetime towards ocean conservation. Finally, I have to also mention David Doubilet and Alex Mustard whose over-under images have not only inspired me as a photographer but have captured the attention of people around the world to care more about our oceans.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
I would love to visit Antarctica and photograph some of the amazing marine creatures that live there. It would be challenging because of the cold environment, but I would still love to visit this place sometime soon.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
I wish I had purchased a more sophisticated camera sooner. I was afraid of upgrading to a DSLR from a compact camera because of the learning curve, but when I made the plunge, it was well worth it. I would also encourage newer photographers to develop their own style and follow their passions. Photography is a way to express your creativity and share your art with others. You don’t need to ‘master’ every type of underwater photography – focus on what you like best!
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
While diving in Komodo, Indonesia, the skiff from our liveaboard dropped us off at a dive site but was not there when our group and guide surfaced. We spent more than two hours in the water fighting a current to make our way to a nearby deserted island and then were later picked up by a fishing boat. The fear of being stranded at sea was real and I now dive with a radio/GPS device for peace of mind.
Most memorable dive?
My most memorable dive is hard to pin down because there are so many, but I have to say that sharing the ocean with a humpback calf and its mother was one of my most amazing moments underwater. Even though I was snorkelling and not on scuba, being up close with these beautiful and giant creatures was indescribable. I also captured an image of the calf ascending with its mouth wide open around a huge cloud of bubbles coming from its mother resting below. This is a rare behaviour and I feel so privileged to have seen it.