Keith Ellenbogen captures local and remote marine life and behaviors
Playful and agile sea lions. Translucent shrimp smaller than your thumb. Silhouettes of reef sharks. Some of the world’s most remote coral reefs. These are a few of the colorful, magnificent marine creatures that the underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen captures through his expeditions for marine conservation.
Ellenbogen explores ocean ecosystems— from as far as away as Malaysia, Madagascar, and the Phoenix Islands in the central Pacific to as close as the cold Atlantic waters near his Brooklyn home — to unveil and document often-unknown undersea activities. His inspiring images have helped conservation efforts and brought public awareness to issues affecting marine habitats and life.
Through his work, Ellenbogen hopes to convey the “kinds of animals and diversity of animals that are within the ocean.” He emphasizes that photography is uniquely able to “capture people’s minds and attention” and “spark a level of interest in people to understand the complexity of an ecosystem and an environment.”
Ellenbogen will give a public talk, “Ocean Photography: Inspiring Conservation,” on Monday at 5 p.m. at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. There he will explore the artistry of ocean-based wildlife photography, share the technical challenges of underwater environments, and highlight the intersection between art and conservation and how photography can spark positive social change.
Photograph by Keith Ellenbogen. With its tail curled around the branch of the sea fan, Hippocampus denise has mastered the art of camouflage by imitating the light orange color, and smooth texture of the gorgonian sea fan it in habitats (Acanthogorgia sp.) and (Annella sp.). This species of gorgonian sea fans have the ability to fully retract their coral polyps. Hippocampus denise is extremely small (1.5 cm) and difficult to find within the branches of the sea fan.
Always awed by the marine world, Ellenbogen was a volunteer at the New England Aquarium as a teenager. Fast forward to today, where he still works with organizations like the New England Aquarium to help people “understand a little bit more about the world around us.” Over the past four years, Ellenbogen has worked with the New York Aquarium and Wildlife Conservation Society to showcase the wildlife — including coastal fish, mola, sea turtles, and sharks — that makes its home in the waters off New York, a location that he names as the most extraordinary underwater location to photograph, to many people’s surprise.
The craft of ocean photography is the perfect confluence of Ellenbogen’s interests in arts and diving, both of which began at an early age. His grandfather was an amateur photographer, and he grew up popping in and out of the darkroom. After his grandfather gave him his first underwater camera, a Nikonos V, he put it to use as he learned to dive in Massachusetts waters. Since then, marine environments have proved to be his most interesting subject. He says capturing images of sea life is “incredibly creative: the color patterns, the textures, the body shapes, and their behaviors.”
Photograph by Keith Ellenbogen. A common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) emerging from a coral reef crevice in a lagoon. The common octopus is a cephalopod and is considered to be one of the most intelligent invertebrate animals. It has a mantle length of 10 inches with arms up to 3 feet long. The octopus hunts at dusk and eats mostly crabs, crayfish, and small bivalve mollusks. The octopus has the ability to change its color and camouflage with the surrounding environment. Moorea, French Polynesia.
Photograph by Keith Ellenbogen. A close-up portrait of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the Mediterranean Sea. This is one of the most remarkable fish with its torpedo-shaped body. Renowned for speed, the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna has been recorded to reach speeds of up to 55mph. The body temperature is warm-blooded (unlike most fish), enabling its specialized circulation and muscles to work at high speeds for long distances. Environmental Note: Unfortunately, the red meat has become highly sought after as a delicacy in Japanese sushi markets, causing overfishing and populations to seriously decline. The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is listed as a threatened species.
Photograph by Keith Ellenbogen. A group of charismatic, sleek and agile California Sea Lions.
Photograph by Keith Ellenbogen. The green tentacles of an anemone are visible through the translucent body of this anemone shrimp.
Photography by Keith Ellenbogen. An aerial view of Totoya Island and its barrier reefs. This view from the air showcases the waves breaking over the coral reefs that act as a barrier to tropical Islands around the world. Totoya Island, Fiji, is part of Lau Group or Eastern Archipelago that includes over a hundred islands and atolls.
Photography by Keith Ellenbogen. A school of Bigeye Trevally with two Blacktip Reef Sharks in the background swim within one of the worlds most remote coral reefs within the Central Pacific Ocean.
Photograph by Keith Ellenbogen. A view above and below the water of a juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird as it dives into the water catching a small silver fish. Frigatebirds never land on water, and always take their food items in flight. Juvenile birds have a white head and underparts.
Photograph by Keith Ellenbogen. Each day hundreds of thousands of non-stinging jellyfish and Moon Jellyfish ascend to the surface to collect the sun's rays to feed.