World Class Ocean Imaging by Renee Capozzola

The underwater world is never seen firsthand by the majority of people. Millions around the world scuba dive and snorkel, but there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet. Of all those fortunate enough to get a glimpse under the sea, those whose lives revolve around being in and under the water still only experience a small sample of what lies beneath the surface. Renee Capozzola is one of those special people who make the most of her access to the world’s oceans.

Renee Capozzola

If not for the work of pioneers like Jacques Cousteau and his collaborators, along with the networks and publications that shared their stories, there would be far less interest in our underwater world. Every image available today was influenced by the work of those who came before. Learn about the pioneers of underwater imaging, and you will be amazed. They truly risked their lives to show us hidden worlds filled with fascinating life forms. The photography of Renee Capozzola is at the cutting edge of what is possible today using modern equipment and modern techniques.

Renee Capozzola
Giorgios Wreck, Neom; Renee Capozzola

Many peoples’ first up-close in-person experience with sea life was at a public aquarium or theme park like SeaWorld. While many of us are critical of these businesses, due to their early failures with animal husbandry (and much worse), the first and possibly the only time we looked a dolphin in the eye was likely at one of these places. Look into the eyes of an animal, and your perspective changes forever. You experience a connection that inspires greater interest and concern.

For some of us, this moment of connection grabbed hold of us. Our interest became a passion, then a near or total obsession. Some of us became scientists. Others discovered careers or avocations which brought them closer to nature on a regular basis. Renee Capozzola discovered scuba and photography. Then she became one of the most accomplished ocean imaging artists I know of.

Renee Capozzola
Sea Angel, Maui; Renee Capozzola

As an artist and photographer myself, I have a pretty good idea what it takes for Renee to create her images. Besides managing a lot of logistics and having significant technical expertise, with lots of real-world experience, Renee makes an array of creative decisions before, after and during her shoots. These include her visualizations and trip preparations as well as her on-site actions and reactions. Her images reflect a lot of things coming together all at once and Renee being able to make the most of the situations. She’s built an exceptional portfolio over a relatively short amount of time.

Renee Capozzola
Paper Nautilus, Philippines; Renee Capozzola

The Photography of Renee Capozzola

When you see an amazing still photograph, you have a chance to study it. However, when you see a still photograph by Renee Capozzola, you may not be able to take your eyes off of it. Her images are so incredible, that you will wonder if they were created on a computer, as if maybe they are not real photographs at all. That, I assure you, is not the case. The images are very real. Exactly how she creates them may be of interest to other photographers, hoping to achieve equally impressive results.

Most people however just love to look at them and marvel at the various subjects which have never been depicted in quite the same way before. I love having still images by great photographers on my walls. It’s always hard to select a favorite to buy, but once you do, the print becomes a valued part of your life.

Honu Sunburst, Maui; Renee Capozzola

First Meeting with the Artist

I first had the honor and pleasure of meeting Renee during a presentation at Blue Water Photo in Culver City. I had been going to this particular underwater photography store, whenever I needed parts or advice. At the time, I was developing multi-media art installation that required underwater video and stills. Whenever I dropped in, Mark Strickland (another amazing photographer I’ve come to greatly admire), was extremely helpful. During my visits, I would marvel at a particular photograph of black tip sharks in very shallow water on display in the shop.

History & Inspiration

It was one of Renee’s early half-and-half images. Mark told me about her passion for photographing these sharks in French Polynesia. The crystal-clear super shallow water drew me in. I could not take my eyes off the photograph. To create these shots, the sharks need to be inches away from the camera. That seems a bit unnerving to me, but black tip sharks are typically not aggressive.

Renee’s first inspiration for underwater photography came when she received a gift of David Doublet’s book Water, Light, Time over 20 years ago. The book included numerous half-and-half images. Those photographs planted the seed of inspiration which influenced the creation of images like the one on the wall, as well as the award winning Sharky Sunset.

Renee Capozzola
Blacktips by Day, Moorea; Renee Capozzola

When Mark told me one day, that I should come to the next gathering at Blue Water Photo for a presentation by Renee, I went. She was showing her work to a group of scuba divers who typically attended the once-monthly presentations for fellowship, education, inspiration, and to plan their next dive trips. The majority of guests at these presentations were scuba divers who shared a love of ocean imaging. Many were photographers themselves.

There was something special about Renee’s focus on shooting sharks in shallow water that really caught my eye. I had seen lots of half-and-half images in the past, but none quite like Renee’s. For those of you who don’t know, half-and-half photographs are created with a large dome in front of the camera lens, attached to a housing which keeps the camera dry.

This setup makes it possible to capture whatever is underwater in the same frame as what is above water. It’s a relatively difficult specialty when it comes to ocean imaging. Getting a balanced composition with interesting subjects both above and below, while also managing the technical aspects of shooting, is a big challenge at first. It’s second nature for Renee at this point, and this gives her more freedom to play with the creative reactive flow while shooting.

Renee Capozzola
Sharky Sunset, Moorea; Renee Capozzola

Sharky Sunset by Renee Capozzola

The moment Sharky Sunset appeared on the display, it blew me away. When you look at the photograph, it does not seem real or even possible. The sun star lining up with the tip of the shark’s fin is something that happens, when an artist is in their flow. Renee pre-visualized the shot, before she even boarded the plane. However, seeing the perfect moment and reacting quickly out of instinct must have played a role in capturing this perfect moment.

Sharky Sunset happens to be the first underwater photograph I ever purchased. When people view it on our wall, they think it was crafted in photoshop. In reality, the only photoshop involved was the basic adjustments we all do. Renee knew what she was after. She had a vision. Having developed her technique and practiced a lot, she pulled it off. The result was an image which is now part of ocean imaging history.

From the Artist

“I believe there were several moments in time when I pondered pursuing underwater photography more seriously and then eventually as a true professional.  One of those moments occurred about ten years ago. I traveled to the island of Moorea with my husband several times after 2005 and during those times I had a small, compact camera which I used to take some casual underwater pictures while diving and snorkeling.”

The artist continued, “While on Moorea in 2012-2013, I came up with an idea for a picture I wanted to create in the shallows, but my little camera was not capable of capturing the shot, because I needed a wide-angle lens and a flash. Shortly thereafter, another photographer came up with a similar idea and successfully published the shot, which made me realize that if I wanted to express my creativity further and capture more professional images, it was time to upgrade my camera gear which I did in 2016.”

Sharks-Skylight, Moorea; Renee Capozzola winner of The Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021

Catching the Shot

The amount of dedication and commitment required to create these images is more than one might imagine. Instead of holding on tight to her process, Renee is an extremely generous person. The artist has shared detailed descriptions of her work with the entire dive community during a story for DAN, a dive publication. She has made it easier for others to follow in her footsteps by sharing everything from locations to lens selections, to aperture, ISO and shutter speed.

Sharing Her Passion

She encourages the creation of ocean imaging. Renee clearly wants us all to care about our Mother Earth. She is not the least bit threatened by future competition. Many years ago, I went to pick up my print of Sharky Sunset. Renee actually told me how she pulled off that shot. I was shocked. Since then, she has created other award-winning photographs. I know a lot of artists who keep their creative processes secret. She loves our planet more than she loves the awards and accolades. 

When I reviewed Renee’s portfolio for this story, I expected to select only her half-and-half images for publication. Then I discovered her wide variety of excellent works, many of which I had never seen. All are among the best I am personally aware of. Renee is well-known for capturing beautiful sunsets with sea life below the water line. Her photos feature perfectly balanced lighting above and below, all in one shot. Nevertheless, her coral reef scenes, blackwater macro images and large animal shots are spectacular.

Raja Reefscape Raja Ampat; Renee Capozzola

What’s Next for Renee Capozzola

In December 2024, Renee will be shooting on the far north of the Great Barrier reef in Australia at Raine Island. This island has the largest green turtle rookery in the world. As many as 60,000 female turtles are estimated to migrate there, to lay their eggs annually. Renee’s photographs of this event will give us all a chance to see a magical natural phenomenon. Do yourself a favor and check out Renee’s online portfolio, using the link below. Then purchase some of her limited-edition prints. You will fall in love with them, and they will keep you connected to nature when you are indoors on dry land.

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