Environment Inspires PV’s Capozzola
• Palos Verdes High AP Biology teacher makes an impact on the environment with her camera.
With the climate crisis and other environmental issues, wildlife conservation is a hot topic now more than ever.
Underwater photographer and Palos Verdes High School biology instructor Renee Capozzola highlights such conservation issue in marine life through photographs of the world below sea level.
Currently, Capozzola uses the Canon 5D Mark III and Nauticam housing.
Her passion for underwater photography began with her love for the ocean. In 2004, she and her husband Damien Capozzola became certified scuba divers and experienced seeing the often-forgotten marine life firsthand.
Her fascination for the underwater world then translated into wanting to capture it through photography. Beginning with simple snapshots, she progressed in her photography skills as she started to buy more advanced camera equipment.
“Originally, my photos were not very good, but I eventually got more serious about my photography, [making me upgrade my equipment],” Capozzola said.
In 2013, she took a step in her photography career by buying an underwater flash called a strobe, which enabled her to take clearer photos in the depths of the ocean.
Then, in 2016, she revamped her instruments to a DSLR camera, which took photographs faster. This purchase marked the beginning of her entries to various photography contests.
“I originally entered a lot of contests to help pay for the rather expensive activities of traveling and scuba diving,” Capozzola said. “But then, I started winning various prizes, such as camera equipment and free trips.”
Capozzola’s love for scuba diving began with her and her husband Damien’s passion for traveling. Hawaii was a location both frequented growing up, and while traveling there the couple discovered an underwater activity called snuba, a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving.
This allowed Renee and Damien to witness underwater life up close while being able to breathe through a regulator that floated on top of the water. After falling in love with snuba, the couple decided to experiment with scuba diving in Maui.
“[Damien and I] were hooked on the first scuba dive,” she said. “We saw a huge turtle which was, according to the divemaster, 80 years old, based on its size. To us, [seeing such creatures] was super exciting, so we were convinced to become certified divers.”
Fast forward to now, she recently accomplished a milestone in an international underwater photography competition called the World Shootout, where she placed as the USA Photographer of the Year competing with photographers in 38 countries.
She also won in USA national team category with two teammates, Ron Watkins and Jeff Milisen.
The award ceremony was held in Germany, and Renee and her husband traveled there to accept the prizes in person. It was one of her 40 international awards in the last few years.
Capozzola’s specialty with her photographs is the split shot, where the image is split between above and below sea level, and she submitted this style of photos as her main entries to the World Shootout. She says her passion for marine conservation, fueled by a career as a biology teacher, crafts her split shots to an award-winning level.
“Besides my passion for photography, another reason why I take part in such competitions is that a lot of these contests use submitted images to promote marine conservation,” Capozzola said.
Marine conservation is a movement she wants to emphasize in her work as a photographer and in her classes at Palos Verdes High School as a biology teacher. Specifically, she likes to perform shark photography, which is represented in one of the main photographs she submitted to the World Shootout.
One contest she recently entered was a United Nations photo competition, where she won first place in the seascapes division. This contest will soon send the winning photographs to a U.N. Conference in New York City that will take place on World Oceans Day in June. These actions will, according to Capozzola, hopefully help delegates pass new laws regarding endangered species and other conservation issues.
“I really like that these various contests are using submitted photographers for a greater cause,” Capozzola said.
In addition to marine conservation, Capozzola wants her photographs to tell a story. The split-shot technique allows her to do just that, as it provides context of the environment, location, and even time of day of a photograph. Split shots also allow her to show a scene beyond the naked eye.
“With the naked eye, we cannot see both above and below the surface at the same time,” Capozzola said. “Thus, a picture that shows such an image naturally draws viewers.”
Now, she hopes to continue participating in competitions and, above all, promote marine conservation through pictures that speak a thousand words. There are always new aspirations for Capozzola as a person, photographer, teacher, mother, and wife, and she will keep pursuing such goals as the years go on.