And so it begins…

Many people often ask how this crazy adventure began.  How did I even get started in Underwater Photography? Let me tell you.  It *is* a bit crazy! Just crazy enough to make my heart soar!

I have shared how I got started in Photography, and adventure that began when I was less than ten years old.  But Underwater Photography is a bit more recent, sort of…

My love affair with the water

The only sport I played growing up was swimming.  The only one.  I was *that* kid that got hurt in every sport she tried – I broke my arm playing at the park, I dislocated my knee playing basketball at summer camp, I got send home when a ball hit me square in the eye in softball, I (not even joking) got my hair stuck to the velcro on the mat in gymnastics to the point that the gym teacher sent someone to find scissors. Do I need to keep going here…

But swimming?  Now that I could do!  And I was good.  Races – and ribbons – and trophies.  I grew up knowing it was *my* sport.  Thank Heaven I had *one*!

My first apartment in Washington DC it was a small basement unit.  Joining a gym with a pool was expensive.  I was interning for a US Senator that summer, so I got a job as a substitute lifeguard at an apartment complex with a pool.  The manager would let me come early and swim laps before my shift.  Then I chose my next apartment based on the fact that it had a pool big enough for laps.  Could I have had a nicer apartment for the same rent? Sure! But that pool!  Even though it would only be open for three months, was worth far more to me than a fresh paint job or a consistently working elevator.

And so the story went – I could write a book on how I would choose a weekend at the beach over other options.  Never leave home without a swimsuit in your suitcase – just in case – big life motto here!  I choose hotels in any city based on how nice their pool is.  And my poor husband is ready to take a trip to Northern Europe on his own because every single vacation we plan somehow gets turned into a trip where I can be near the water…

But back to Underwater Photography…..

Around 2003 a dear friend of mine, Liz Geiger, and I took an amazing adventure to the Grand Cayman Islands.  She planned to dive and I planned to snorkel.  Photography was a huge part of my life at that point – as was the ocean and water – but I don’t believe I had really had much exposure to Underwater Photography.

While on the island we discovered an amazing Underwater Photographer, Cathy Church.  Liz Purchased a large framed print to hang in her home.  But I just couldn’t do it.  Even though I was absolutely fascinated by Cathy’s work.

But right there I promised myself that I would enter this world and be putting my own Underwater Photography on my walls!  So I bought an underwater disposable camera and took these photos of my friend.

How I Got Started In Underwater Photography Scans from my Grand Cayman Diving Trip shooting with first underwater camera, a point and shoot disposable!

Scans of printed photos from a my first Underwater Camera – a disposable point and shoot I bought on a free diving trip to the Grand Caymans around 2003! No idea where the negatives have gone by now.  There was no editing back then, just printed directly from that little disposable camera. I touched them up a tad with a phone app after scanning just so they weren’t a big blue blob for you all!

The Point and Shoot years…

Over the years I bought various point and shoot housings and used them with my boys.  My Cannon Elph Power Shot was a favorite for several summers!  It was light and small and easy to keep in my pool bag – so the boys and I had fun playing with it!

How I Got Started In UnderwaterPhotography jpg files from a Cannon Elph Power Shot of Two Young Boys Swimming Underwater

Digital image shot in jpeg with Cannon Elph Powershot using and Underwater Case.  I may have put a filter on this or done minimal adjustments with brightening/contrast at the time – likely on an iphone app.

The Go Pro

Two years ago my husband surprised me with a trip back to the Grand Cayman Islands in February.  The boys were in on it and surprised me with a GoPro HeroSession5 for my Christmas gift.  Oh the fun I had having it along and using it to explore the island.  I also took three snorkeling trips through the Jean-Michel Cousteau, Ambassadors of the Environment program at the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman. One was an underwater photography adventure and included the use of an Olympus TG3.  (The newer Olympus TG5 is an awesome camera for snorkeling, free-diving, and using with families on vacation – and it now has the capability to shoot in RAW format!)

A nurse shark we followed along in the reef.  Absolutely amazing to be able to capture these creatures in their natural habitat!

Grand Cayman Free Diver shot with Olympus TG 3

I love this photo that one of the other divers captured of me doing exactly what I love! Diving deep and capturing photos of the amazing creatures living in the sea…

My Fishy

How I Got Started In UnderwaterPhotography screen shot from a GoPro Hero Session 5 video of Happy bright eyed baby Swimming Underwater

My sweet fishy boy!!! Oh how he loves the water!! I adore being able to capture him in the water at these early stages, something I missed with my older boys!

We planned a spring break trip to take the boys to Kiawah Island, South Carolina later that year.  Our third son was 16 months old and quite the little fishy already!  We were in the process of building our pool and I had put him in ISR Swim Lessons at the local JCC to help prepare him for having a swimming pool in our yard.

I have to admit.  I had been fascinated by Underwater Photography for years by this point.  But pulling those photos off of the GoPro of Jacob really got the fire going!!  To see what I could capture of his childhood.  To capture that love of swimming and the water that I had grown up with….

Another Adventure

That summer we took the boys on an amazing adventure back to the Grand Caymans.  And oh did we have some fun!  The boys explored everything from Stand Up Paddle Boarding to Snorkeling to Sailing to Swimming with Sting Rays and Giant Starfish!

Underwater tween boy and Mom Snorkeling Shot with GoPro Hero Session5

My Middle son really took to snorkeling and we had a ton of fun exploring together! These were captured with my GoPro Hero 5 and edited in Photoshop

Giant Sea Turtle Grand Cayman Islands Shot with GoPro Hero Session5

These gorgeous girl right here…She was amazing. It was an absolutely incredible experience to be able to swim with her and capture a few photos like this!!

And that brings us to last summer…

In May I “sunk” my Nikon D700 DSLR for the first time.  Nerve wracking?  Oh yes!  Worth it?  I cannot put into words how worth it it was. This photo of my middle son was from that day…

Cool Boy Underwater with Bubbles Shot with Nikon D700 and Ewa Marine Housing

Shot with Nikon D700 and Ewa Marine Housing – My first time in the water with my big camera…


When I pulled the photos off of the camera that night…Well.  I was done.  In that moment I knew that I had found my passion.  I had found the niche I had been searching for.  What makes my heart sing….

Have you explored Underwater Photography?  Is it something that intrigues you but you have been hesitant to try?  I would love to hear from you and to know how I can support you in this journey!

7 on 7

Can you believe it is already Blog Circle Day again?!?  The Day where 7 photographers share 7 photos and we each link to the next.  A chance for you to explore 7 very different styles from around the country and see our adventures in travel, creativity, motherhood, artistry, and business.  So head to my friend Kristina’s blog to see what she has created this month.  I always love peeking into her California World!! But before you go, please let me know what types of questions I can answer about Underwater Photography for you!

RENEE STENGEL Photography | Charlotte Underwater and Portrait Photographer |


And a bit of my current work…

And here we are now! Shooting with my Nikon D750 and Ikelite Housing.  I can’t wait to see where this adventure takes me from here!!




  1. Kris says:

    What a fantastic story!! I can just feel your passion for this.

  2. Cristy Cross says:

    Such an amazing story Renee. I love how your passion for water has turned into your job. Living your best life 🙂

  3. Jen says:

    Amazing images as always. I love hearing how it all started. And I totally get the first plunge with your d700. I hyperventilated a bit reading it 🤣

  4. These are all so stunning and I’d feel the same sinking my camera too. But clearly, it was worth it.

  5. Kristina says:

    What an incredible journey. I love how you found your niche. Your photos are stunning even from the very beginning.