Some photographs are just timeless. A snapshot of a moment, or a feeling, frozen in a frame. Top photographers just seem to have an eye for these moments, an intuition to know when to push the shutter.
Ernest H. Brooks – ambassador to the marine environment, photographer, adventurer, diver and educator – has captured profound images in the blue. Armed with the same camera that he’s used to document life below the waves for over 40 years, through the trademark black and white imagery that he’s used to beautifully present the ocean, Brooks has amassed a portfolio unlike any other.
Winning countless awards, and being published in myriad international publications, Brooks has earned an almost legendary status within the underwater photography community. We caught up with the man to talk about his work and incredible career:
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
I was destined to become a photographer, growing up in a photographic family. My grandmother was a portrait photographer and she handed me her box camera in 1939.
I published my first photograph, in the Lompoc newspaper, of my kindergarden teacher superimposed over my classmates. My uncle was a landscape photographer following in the footsteps of Ansel Adams. My father became a world-famous flower photographer for the Burpee Seed Company in Argentina. Because of my love for swimming, and being raised in Santa Barbara, I chose the ocean!
Your first underwater shot?
My very first underwater photograph was of a jellyfish in 1949 – and of course in black and white.
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
The most memorable shot just happens to be my favourite: “Spot”. At Anacapa Island in 1990, while enjoying freediving in the early morning light, I spotted this harbour seal in the kelp beds. The light was perfect, so I returned to my boat, Just Love, and in doing so this harbour seal swam behind me and stole my snorkel! One of my students aboard handed me my 38mm SWC Hasselblad camera and I swam back to where the harbour seal was in the kelp. Diving down to around 15 metres, and shooting at 1/125s at f/8, I focused at six feet and there she was. I called her “Spot”, and she also stole my heart!
Where is your favourite dive destination?
My favourite dive destination will always be on our ocean planet! Every location has its beauty and charm. I have been so fortunate as to dive in all kinds of locations. Now approaching 82 years of age… maybe just a swimming pool filled with children who love the feel of water.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
The weirdest thing I’ve witnessed within the oceans just happens to be the killing of marine life: whales, sharks, mantas, sailfish, marlin, turtles, and depleting the most precious life on our planet. As photographers, we need to illustrate their place in the chain of life, by presenting their beauty, design and placement in our lives.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
I have used the same camera for over 40 years, a gift from Victor Hasselblad in 1960: a Hasselblad SWC with 38mm lens housed in a corrected port with my favourite film, Kodak T-MAX – 12 exposures!
On the surface I use an infrared camera by Canon, and underwater I use my remaining eye to capture the scene once captured on film.
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
Maybe there is one image I would enjoy capturing in black and white even though I’ve attempted it a few times, and that would be the surface of each ocean, showing a sunrise and a sunset. That would complete my journey.