The jaw-dropping underwater photography of Assistant Professor Keith Ellenbogen helps preserve marine wildlife

Keith Ellenbogen’s extraordinary images, featuring endangered animals and plants in marine settings, help the viewer feel connected to the world beneath the sea and to fragile ecosystems worth saving. “I try to show there’s a social, environmental, or conservation angle in photography,” says Ellenbogen, an assistant professor of Photography at FIT. “You begin to care; care turns into conservation.”

The Boston native, who as a teenager volunteered at the New England Aquarium, took his first undersea shots off Cape Cod with a Nikonos V camera from his grandfather, an amateur photographer. Ellenbogen explored further through an underwater thesis for his Parsons School of Design MFA and a “pivotal” 2006-07 U.S. Fulbright fellowship “to create environmental awareness about Malaysian coral reefs.”

Now a senior fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), Ellenbogen routinely tackles daunting logistics to reach exotic destinations. Using a Canon 5D Mark II with varying lenses and strobes, he reveals stunning creatures and undersea settings that headline environmental initiatives aimed at awareness and action. His images appear on the site for Ocean Health Index, a scientific assessment of the oceans’ capacity to sustainably provide resources such as food, coastal protection, and biodiversity. He has also contributed to ecological video projects, such as Oceans at the Tipping Point, narrated by Harrison Ford. (View the trailer at hue.fitnyc.edu.)

Ellenbogen urges his students to find their own focus, whether it’s conservation, art, or fashion. “One of the things I can do is inspire them,” he says. “They won’t go underwater necessarily, but there are plenty of things on the surface.”

– Moira Baileygreyline2

Featured Image: Ellenbogen found these otherworldly floating orbs in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. On assignment for Conservation International and the Ocean Health Index, he was searching for images emblematic of biodiversity. Swimming in the warm water of a remote lake, he felt “lots of little love kisses, very soft” from clouds of stingless jellyfish. Ellenbogen shot them bobbing near the surface to catch the sun’s rays, enabling the symbiotic algae living within their bodies to photosynthesize. His goal: “Making sure you could actually see the light coming through the water—those rays are important to me.”  


Ellenbogen shot the underwater video for a documentary about the Ocean Health Index, “Oceans at the Tipping Point,” narrated by Harrison Ford. Watch the trailer here.