As a kid, I was never told what I could or couldn’t do. Instead, I found my own way and explored the outdoors, be that in my backyard, on the beach, or in the creek near my grandparents’ house. I spent my childhood in Texas swimming pools and learning about life in the ocean with my grandparents. Water was a defining part of my life. I felt connected to all waters, always wanting to see what was in it.
I’ll never forget learning crawfish hide under rocks, tadpoles grow in ponds, and stingrays fly across the sand. At 14, I was given the reins to dive a colorful coral reef in Cozumel where I was awed by giant 300 lb grouper. I was driven by love to see underwater, so it became part of my journey later in life to help others see.
For years, I crafted my diving skills separately from my other passion, creating art. In addition to exploring the outdoors, I spent endless hours of my childhood painting and drawing. Eventually, I attended the University of Texas at Austin where I discovered graphic design and developed an arsenal of skills that included photography.
I became a graphic designer and moonlighted as a dive professional, leading divers in classes as a divemaster and eventually earning an instructor certification. In my design career, I used my skills to communicate clients’ needs and stories.
Diving experiences started to make me believe I needed to share stories of my underwater exploration. I returned to Cozumel as a young adult, where the reef had transformed into rubble compared to the vivid reef I saw at 14. There were no grouper in the shallows and none that rivaled the giant I had seen. I felt as though people must not be able to see the change to allow it to happen and perhaps, I could help us understand.
I took my photography underwater, at first with point-and-shoot cameras. Eventually, I took my professional skills underwater when I invested in a DSLR housing. By then, I was an instructor and beginning technical diver. My buoyancy was excellent and I was ready to share new stories, so I flew on my first professional trip to Tobago where I photographed black coral trees. It was the return home that substantially redirected my career.
A defining moment
Returning home to Texas, I flew across the Gulf of Mexico on the right side window seat of a commercial airplane. Mid-flight, the pilot announced, “On the right side of the plane, you can see the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.” I gazed out and was horrified to see my home’s body of water scorched as numerous tankers tried to burn oil from the water’s surface.
Though my camera was at my feet, I didn’t reach for it. The moment passed and guilt flooded me so that by the time I landed, I vowed I’d do something to reconnect people with local waters to help prevent such events. In talking with dive buddy Ben Castro, we decided we’d dive everywhere and I would photograph it to show people what’s in their backyard. Everywhere became a quest to dive all 50 states. Ben completed 27 states; another 73 buddies joined me throughout the journey.
I became the first woman to dive all 50 states, which gave me the platform and experience to confidently share our waters in as widely reaching way as possible. I wrote and designed An American Immersion, in which I used my photographs to illuminate the beauty of local waters and some of the challenges they face.
My book transformed me from a photographer who loved diving into someone who dedicates their career to telling underwater stories full-time. I created my design firm The Underwater Designer, rebranding soon as Fins Up Creative, so I could dedicate my work to sharing our underwater world. I lead trips to help others experience the underwater world, create underwater photos for a number of clients, and use my design skills to help clients who share my values tell their stories.
I create images to inspire and transform others by illuminating our underwater world.
Jennifer Idol, an expert in diving, design, and visual storytelling, connects people to the natural world so they can experience its wonder through underwater photography and film. She showcased local waters in her book, An American Immersion, a quest in which she became the first woman to dive 50 states.