First Underwater Color Photo
Photograph by Charles Martin & W.H. Longley
Underwater color photography was born with this shot of a hogfish, photographed off the Florida Keys in the Gulf of Mexico by Dr. William Longley and National Geographic staff photographer Charles Martin in 1926. Equipped with cameras encased in waterproof housing and pounds of highly explosive magnesium flash powder for underwater illumination, the pair pioneered underwater photography.
Magnesium Flash Powder Explosion
Photograph by Charles Martin
A blast of highly explosive magnesium flash powder allowed photographers Longley and Martin to photograph underwater life for the first time. When the men wanted to take a photograph, they clicked the camera’s shutter, which tripped a battery on a raft they dragged behind them. The battery, in turn, triggered the magnesium powder explosion, which illuminated the sea down to 15 feet (4.6 meters).
Photograph by Luis Marden
Prolific underwater photographer Luis Marden was heralded for his photos of fish, coral reefs, and archaeological finds, such as this 1,000-year-old pre-Columbian jar being retrieved from the bottom of a Yucatán cenote in Dzibilchaltún, Mexico. Marden’s strength lay in color photography, however, and it wasn’t until he met and collaborated with ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau that his underwater artistry took off.
Photograph by Luis Marden
Legendary French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau examines a school of fish swimming past coral in the Indian Ocean. Together, Cousteau and photographer Marden pioneered the field of ocean exploration and photography. In 1956, Marden accompanied the legendary ocean explorer on a voyage from Toulon, France, to the Suez Canal aboard Cousteau's ship, Calypso. By journey’s end, Marden had 1,200 photographs, the largest collection of underwater color photographs ever taken.
Photograph by Bates Littlehales
Hovering over a bed of brain coral, a coney grouper regards the OceanEye camera used to photograph it. In the 1960s photographer Bates Littlehales, with the help of marine biologist Walter Starck, designed OceanEye, a Plexiglas bubble-encased housing, to allow photographers to use Nikon cameras underwater.
Emperor Penguin, Antarctica
Photograph by Bill Curtsinger
With his crisp, clean photos of whales, seals, penguins, and dolphins, ex-Navy photographer Bill Curtsinger helped the National Geographic Society pioneer the field of underwater marine life photography with stunning pictures such as this shot of an emperor penguin gliding through the waters of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.
Sea Lions, Australia
Photograph by David Doubilet
Called "the Audubon of this century" for the variety and proficiency of his marine photography, photographer David Doubilet has mastered the use of light to produce what one National Geographic editor calls "customary superb Doubilet shots." Among them is this, a light-drenched photo of sea lions swimming in the waters of the Great Australian Bight in the Indian Ocean.
Photograph by Emory Kristof
In the early morning hours of September 1, 1985, oceanographer Robert Ballard and photographer Emory Kristof found and photographed the shipwreck of the century, the R.M.S. Titanic. Kristof and his crew used a submersible search vehicle and a towed sled with a still camera to shoot more than 20,000 frames, including this one of the ocean liner's starboard propeller.
Polar Bear in Hudson Bay, Canada
Photograph by Flip Nicklin
Underwater photographer Charles "Flip" Nicklin created a name for himself photographing whales—humpbacks, killer, and sperm—but recent climate trends brought the photographer to the Arctic to draw attention to the plight of polar bears that are losing their homes to warming temperatures, such as this one swimming among ice floes near Hudson Bay, Canada.
Sea Nettle, Arctic Ocean
Photograph by Emory KristofA leader and technical expert in deep-ocean photography, National Geographic photographer Emory Kristof pioneered the use of robot cameras and remotely operated vehicles, including the preliminary design for Argo, the submersible that found the Titanic. Kristof is known for bringing the technique and technology of shallow-water photography to the deep, introducing the world to such specimens as this ten-foot-long (three-meter-long) sea nettle found by a remotely operated vehicle in the Canada Basin, Arctic Ocean.
Credits: National Geographic