Student Captures Ocean's Depths - Kingswood Oxford

Creative Arts News

October 13, 2023

Student Captures Ocean’s Depths

All photographers are forever searching for that elusive perfect shot. But imagine shooting underwater, at depths of 65 to 106 feet,  and you’ll understand Ilianna Brett’s feat of capturing the mysteries of the deep – sharks, string rays, sea turtles, coral reef forests, lionfish – with her Canon G7X Powershot.


After impressing her KO photography teacher Greg Scranton with her photographic talents, Brett was awarded the Patricia Rosoff Fund for the Visual Arts, which an anonymous donor created to reinforce and enhance the creative growth of a Kingswood Oxford student or faculty member. An avid scuba diver with 100 dives under her belt, Brett decided to pursue her art intensive in the Bahamas for three weeks, diving a total of 40 times along with her camera and artistic eye.


“This is my favorite thing in the world,” she said. “The feeling of being able to breathe with all the animals is incredible.”  


Underwater photography proves notoriously tricky. Due to the lack of natural light, a blue undertone permeates everything Brett shot, and the deeper one dives the bluer and darker the image becomes. To ameliorate this issue, Brett adjusts the balance and uses color wheel hues in post-production.


“When you’re diving, your eyes adjust to see more color,” she said. “Your eyes know what color everything should be.  But, when I look at my photos, I think, ‘It looked so much more vibrant underwater ‘ so I do the color editing to what I would see naturally.”


In addition to the lack of light, buoyancy adds to the difficulty of underwater photography. In one dramatic shot of a shark, Brett said she was in completely open ocean, controlling her buoyancy and remaining very still. The camera is also tied to her wrist so that it doesn’t float upward. “This photo of the shark I’m most proud of because I used the flash at just the right moment,” she said. “It took seven or eight times of it going by before I got the shot. It’s very backlit, and I’m looking up at it.”



Brett is unflappable when confronting the sharks. She said that they are predictable creatures who are attracted to splashing and quick movements. “If you stay chill, they swim by you and you sit in awe,” she said. “The way they move is with a full body wiggle. You can do a certain call with your throat and they come towards you; they like to go to things that are injured.”


Another stunning photo is of the highly invasive lionfish. Containing venomous spines, this species has no natural predators. In the Bahamas you can legally spear them, so one member of the group did just that. After removing the poisonous spines, the group dined on it ceviche-style!


Some of Brett’s work consists of magnificent, vibrant coral – some as great as 60 feet tall. Part of Brett’s intention with her work is spreading awareness about climate change. During her trip, many of the locations where they dove had bleached coral which cannot sustain animal life.


In her artist statement, Brett writes, “ My images speak to the fragility of these otherworldly worlds, painting with my camera the vivid hues of the coral reefs as vast forests along the ocean floor. Through the powerful vessel of photography, I will continue to carry the enduring spirit of exploration while diving into the ocean’s depths to find answers. By doing so, I can raise awareness about the Earth’s life support system by connecting the arts and sciences through my images and being in the moment.


“I’m very proud of the work. It was a big process,” she said. “I took thousands of photos, and it took a lot to narrow down.”


You can view Brett’s work in the art gallery in Roberts. 

Read her artist statement

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