Through her dramatic underwater shots, photographer Jennifer Idol has created a unique depiction of the world below the waves. With a serious knack for the visual arts, Idol decided to combine her love for art with her diving experiences.
The first woman to dive 50 states and the author of An American Immersion, Jennifer has earned more than 27 certifications and has been diving for over 20 years. Her photography and articles are widely published in periodicals including DIVER, Alert Diver, SCUBA Diving, and Sport Diver – and she will also be featured in the exciting SD OCEAN PLANET Special Edition. The Lake Murray Wildlife Museum, Jacob’s Well Natural Area, and Texas Association of REALTORS also feature Idol’s work in permanent installations. We caught up with the photographer to showcase her top photographs and to find out more about her incredible career:
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
Since I was a child, I’ve been creating visual work that included photography, painting, and drawing. I studied fine art and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in design through the University of Texas.
As a graphic designer, I worked for a company creating websites, more than 100 issues of a trade publication, and various other print materials. In this job, I also began creating professional photos. Capturing images of people in action felt a lot like following fish underwater.
As a long-time diver, I sought to take my image-making below the waterline. When I flew across the Deepwater Horizon oil spill returning from my first professional photography trip in Tobago, I was deeply affected and felt compelled to use my skills to make a difference for the world around me. I decided to embark on a quest to dive all 50 states and photograph them to illustrate the beauty of local waters through my photography. This was also when I knew that I needed to pursue underwater photography as a profession.
Your first underwater shot?
I began shooting underwater with point and shoot 35mm cameras that included a Nikonus V and a borrowed Sealife camera in Florida. The most memorable of these images was of a flying gurnard, not because the image was wonderful, but because I was entranced by the ability to see this unusual fish and study it long after it swam away.
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
While diving across the United States, I met many talented and inspirational divers. Perhaps the most exciting moment was my first time diving at the hard hat rally with the Northeast Diving Equipment Group at Dutch Springs in Pennsylvania.
Many dreams were becoming a reality on that trip, first by getting to visit with renowned videographer and photographer Becky Kagan Schott, followed by meeting underwater photographer Polina Reznikov, and completed by the wonderful divers at the rally, most notably Fred Barthes who was one of three divers that created the group.
As I approached the dive site, I felt myself winding up like a kid in a candy store. I leapt out of the car and produced an image of my dive buddy, Ben Castro, descending down a slope while donning a Mark V diving helmet and suit. This photo of historic equipment is rooted in history but also speaks to moving forward. Visibility was fair and the blue water brightened the image.
Where is your favourite dive destination?
My favourite dive destination changes as I seek new experiences. I love diving where the photography and camaraderie excel and where diving is regularly accessible. Diving often is important, so I enjoy diving at home in Texas.
The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment both serves significant ecological and educational purposes. Every opportunity to dive in Spring Lake is appreciated. Soon, I will return to Balmorhea Springs in west Texas, where the water is always clear and my dive buddies have fun. I also enjoy diving in Lake Travis at Windy Point Private, the local hotspot for diving.
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
Having gone diving in all the United States and some of the Caribbean, I yearn to visit coral reefs around islands in the Pacific Ocean. I hear it is some of the clearest salt water in the world and I am keen on learning more about the culture of the people who care for these precious resources. I also finally understood why photographers enjoy nudibranchs and would love to see more of these showy animals.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
Paddlefish are extraordinary prehistoric fish that were once prolific in North America. They are native to rivers and are related to sturgeon. I was stunned the first time I saw these filter feeders sifting tiny food through their big mouths in a Tennessee quarry. They are shy fish with a long nose, called a rostrum, that visually resemble a basking shark crossed with a sawfish and grow almost as long as I am tall.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
I create images using professional Nikon DSLRs in Nauticam aluminium housings with two INON strobes, two Light Monkey HID video lights, and a SOLA video light. This equipment is bulky, heavy, and creates resistance in the water.
For any aspiring photographer, I encourage finding equipment that suits your dive objective and skills. Having fun and reducing task loading is important. I have a housing from ProShot for my iPhone and started creating images on point and shoot cameras. My first underwater digital camera was a Canon PowerShot. I choose to create images using Nikon because I like the vivid colors I create with this tool.
What is the highlight of your career?
Meeting other underwater professionals who love our waters is always exciting. When I started creating underwater images, the only other professional I knew of was David Doubilet, who paints with light underwater. I had long studied his image of sea lions, composed with the perfect balance of tension between the sea lions and eye contact with the viewer.
I never dreamt I would not only get to meet him, but also dive with him and his talented wife, Jennifer Hayes, in Grand Cayman. They are both remarkable individuals whom I highly regard. I will never forget this experience, even with the dreaded 60mm lens used in photographing an image of a male jawfish aerating eggs in its mouth.
… And the lowpoint?
Constant travel with heavy equipment to complete dives under the pressure of needing to create useful images in short periods of time is exhausting. My working dives are not like vacation dives and require long hours in the day, both early and late. During my journey diving across the country, these pressures created challenges.
It was an experience sharing my story at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon that I was reassured my journey was valued and meaningful. The next day, I also found rejuvenation on my dive in Little Crater Lake. When I struggle, I remember this experience and press onward.
Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater photographers?
Create images of subjects you love with patience and awareness of your impact while creating those images. When we aspire to make positive change in our lives and those around us, the world can benefit and we with it.
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
Of course. I will always seek to create another image and keep a little black book with me containing a list of these subjects. They include basking sharks, wobbegong sharks, great white sharks, narwhals, guitarfish, swordfish, sailfish, mola mola, blue whales, humpback whales, sawfish, and hammerheads. Dozens more are recorded, but these are kept high on my dream list. I adore unusual looking animals and also enjoy creating images of caves, wrecks, and ice.