HomeUnderwater PhotographyUnderwater Photographer of the Week: Sarah Lee

Underwater Photographer of the Week: Sarah Lee

Hailing from Hawaii, freediver and surfer Sarah Lee has a unique underwater portfolio that hasn’t come easily. She shares her awesome images with Scuba Diver and discusses how experimenting with your camera under the waves is where the magic is at


How did you get started in underwater photography?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

My love for water photography emerged through years of competitive swimming, water polo, open water distance races, and surfing in Hawaii. Spending hours in the water, I noticed I would get distracted by the movement and gracefulness of my peers. The dance of light over their bodies in the water drew me to capture those moments when I got into photography.

What came first – diving or photography?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

Swimming! Then photography, then freediving. I have my open water diver cert, but prefer to freedive with or without a camera.

What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

I go between a full frame Canon 5Ds and a Canon 5D Mk IV, depending on what I’m shooting.  I’ve been using a 8-16mm fisheye lens for underwater, 24-105mm when I’m mixing top-side and underwater, 50mm for topside sunset shots, and 70-200mm f/4 for surf action. I go between an Aquatech surf housing and an Outex water cover.

Other than camera gear, I rely on Dafin bodysurfing fins to get around in the water, a freedive mask for anything underwater, MANDA sun paste keep my skin protected, and occasionally a weight belt in non-surf situations to sink down to desired depths.

Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

A number of spots along the Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii. I have never found more consistently clear water than I have in my hometown!

Most challenging dive (and why)?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

I haven’t had any incredibly challenging dives yet, but my most challenging swim in the water was on a surf adventure in India to chase down a wave that had supposedly never been surfed before. Being eaten alive by horse flies onshore, I opted to jump in this filthy brown, fast-moving, possibly crocodile-infested water to get surf shots of the boys. Within 10 minutes I was pulled all the way down the beach, so I ran back up to take laps to get my timing right with the surfers. It was totally worth it (image above) and I didn’t end up with any skin eating diseases.

Who are your diving inspirations?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

Freedivers Kimi Werner, Kurt Chambers, and Perrin James.

Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

Perrin James’s photos of orcas are insane. It would be a dream to get photos of orcas in the water.

What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

I like to approach everything I shoot as an experiment. Be open to whatever nature and the elements give you, collaborate with it, and see where your curiosities take you. Those moments in between are where the magic is at. So far that approach has worked out for me with my photography.

Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

I don’t have anything that comes to mind! I swim within my limits and haven’t run into anything that’s really bothered me yet.

What is your most memorable dive and why?

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week
Photo taken with a Canon 5Ds | Canon 16-35mm | Outex water cover

A few years back I did a project with adventure filmmaker and entertainer, Alison Teal. We went to the Yucatán Peninsula to freedive in cenotes and team up with experts in the field to get an in-depth look at one of the last pristine sources of fresh water on the planet. 

Freediving in this cenote with Alison Teal and Julien Borde with one single light beam to light up the entire cavern that could fit an aeroplane in it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Sarah Lee

Sarah Lee Underwater Photographer of the Week

Born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Sarah grew up as a long-distance competitive swimmer, water polo player and an avid surfer. She bought her first camera at age 15, and quickly became as attached to her viewfinder as she was to the sea. Photographic artistry also came naturally, and she was quickly hired to capture people’s most precious moments. While Sarah snapped her first few photos on land, as soon as she went beneath the surface of the ocean, her talent for photography and ease at working in some of the most difficult environments catapulted the demand for her work.

In the last decade, Sarah’s photos have appeared on the home page National Geographic, Instagram, CNN, and in magazines from Cosmopolitan to the covers of The Surfer’s Journal and Standup Journal. She’s also appeared in magazines like Marie Claire who featured a behind-the-scenes look into her fashion shoot for an Italian designer. Her images have a distinct style that’s also recognised on social media where she has tens of thousands of followers.

See more of Sarah’s work on her website www.sarahlee.photo or follow her on Instagram @hisarahlee


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