In this ongoing series, we’ll chat with prominent and up-and-coming underwater photographers. Today we highlight Jennifer O’Neil.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My dad gave me the greatest gift of my life when he took me for my first dive at age seven. I was instantly hooked and am still addicted to the ocean nearly 40 years later. Experiences like watching 12 adult male humpback whales race past me on a heat run in Tonga, or being lost in a giant bait ball in Bonaire, or watching nudibranchs mate in the Solomon Islands keep me interested in underwater photography. Those moments are so awe-inspiring to me that I want to share them. My photography and my more recent interest in videography allow me to showcase the amazing life in our oceans. Hopefully I encourage a desire to protect our seas as well.
How long have you been an underwater photographer?
I started shooting with film and rented a Nikonos V in the early nineties on a trip to Bonaire. Crushed when my first roll of 36 didn’t look like the pages of a National Geographic, I kept shooting and purchased a Nikonos RS camera. I was probably one of the last people to swap to a digital setup. But once I did, it made it very easy for me to edit my work and begin learning post-production.
How did you become interested in underwater photography?
I fell in love with photography while studying architecture in college. I did a semester in Europe and wanted to document all the amazing spaces I was seeing on film. A diver since childhood, it felt natural to start taking a camera in the water with me.
What is your favorite style of underwater photography?
The incredible vastness of the ocean, it’s creatures and its reef-scapes are the reason I enjoy diving and what I hope to share with people through my photography. You will almost always see me with a wide-angle dome on my housing.
Any favorite subjects? Any favorite destinations?
Bait balls give me the biggest thrill to shoot. The whole circle of life unfolding in front of you and the fast-paced action of so many fish racing to avoid predators is always a rush. I’m very lucky to live part-time in Bonaire where schools of scad often come together in the summer months to form giant bait balls. This gives me lots of opportunities to jump in the water when they appear. Traveling and experiencing new cultures has always been a passion for me, but Bonaire will always be a bit of home and is therefore my favorite spot to dive.
What is your underwater setup?
I’ve been a Canon shooter for quite a while now. I shoot a Canon 1DX Mark II in a Seacam housing or a Nauticam housing with Sea and Sea YS 250 strobes. It has amazing video as well as still capabilities, making it easy to swap between the two mediums.
Do you have any tips for new underwater photographers?
The best tip I can give anyone for stills or video is to dial in your buoyancy and calm your breathing. The better diver you are, the better your photos will be. I will also share the best piece of advice I got when I started out: when you think you’ve gotten close enough to your subject, get even closer.