Local photographer shares deep sea splendor

Many people dream of deep-sea SCUBA diving along tropical coral reefs in the Caribbean, or through the cold, mysterious waters of New England. For Janna Schneider, however, that dream has become very much a reality, and one that may ultimately, someday, turn into her career.

Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT: Janna Schneider shows one of her underwater photographs at the Beach Cottage in Ocean View. Schneider was a natural swimmer at an early age and she had a good eye, so underwater photography seemed to fit her.Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT
Janna Schneider shows one of her underwater photographs at the Beach Cottage in Ocean View. Schneider was a natural swimmer at an early age and she had a good eye, so underwater photography seemed to fit her.

Her underwater photography, taken from the shores of Maine down to the warm seas of the Caribbean, is completely original, portraying colorful and wildly foreign spectacles that most could never imagine. Equipped with her digital underwater camera, Schneider said she feels more at home in the water sometimes than she does on land.

“I’m really comfortable in the water,” she said. “Actually, I’m kind of clumsy on land, but throw me in the water, and I’ll swim. I’ve always been a competitive swimmer.”

Schneider took to water like a fish at an early age, recounted her mother Carol Schneider, who now owns the Ocean View gift shop The Beach Cottage. “She was swimming at 18 months, right from the start.”

Janna Schneider even participated in the Bay Bridge swim last year. “Some people think I’m crazy, but I would rather swim across than run along the bridge,” Janna Schneider said.

As soon as she turned 18, she became SCUBA-certified, and the open ocean became her second home. “I was hooked with SCUBA-diving ever since I was in a pool and looked up and saw the bubbles.”

Her father, an amateur photographer, seemed to rub off a little on Janna, too.

“I dabbled with a camera in high school,” Schneider said. “I was never much of an artist. My brother was a musician, and a lot of my friends are painters. I was never very good at that stuff, but I’ve always had a pretty good eye. Photography seemed to fit really well.”

Photography became a love of Schneider’s, and before long, she melded the pastime with diving.

Marine life was eminent with Schneider, and it showed with her fascination through study. She graduated from Bucknell with a degree in marine biology, and even spent time as an underwater researcher at Shoals Marine Laboratory in Maine.

“At Shoals,” she said, “I started getting a feel for photography through the class.”

Schneider set off as soon as possible to see what there was to see in the waters all over the East Coast. Her repertoire includes dives in Maine, off the Delaware shore, and in Florida, as well as in tropical locations, such as the Bahamas, Aruba and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Her very first ocean dive was in Cay Sal Banks in the Bahamas, a spot that she likes to return to whenever possible.

“Underwater dives in New England are very different from the tropical ones, but are just as cool, if not cooler. There’s so much to see, wherever you go.”

Schneider has swum along with a New England lobster march, where a great line of Maine lobsters enjoy a midnight stroll along the ocean floor. She has come face-to-face with huge anemones along rocky reefs, and even spotted one of the first stripers seen in the New England area in 15 to 20 years.

Tropical destinations through turquoise waters have taken her past blacktip sharks, colorful parrotfish and the flower-like feather-duster worms. A lot of her work is done in macro-photography, a zoomed-in, up-close look at different sea life.

Last year, during a dive in Cay Sal Banks, Schneider found herself in a predicament when her camera decided to give out at a very inopportune time. Two huge loggerhead turtles, a captivating octopus and a school of squid were all swimming past right as her camera was being uncooperative. “It was frustrating that my camera wasn’t working,” Schneider admitted, “but it’s still really incredible to get the chance to see these creatures.”

During most of her trips, Schneider is accompanied by boyfriend and avid fisherman Kris Enger. “It’s nice that we both share a great connection with the water,” Schneider said. “He’s getting to be a really strong diver, and we go a lot of places together.”

The expense of travel can be a burden at times, she said. “It’s not a cheap hobby,” Schneider noted, “but I’ve been selling some of my photography and it sort of helps. It’s also nice to just get it out there.”

Selling her framed underwater shots was never her plan when she picked up the hobby, but it came at the recommendation of a friend who noticed her talent. “I just really enjoy taking shots when I dive,” she said. Her photos range from all sorts of underwater life — dolphins, sea turtles and the notable flamingo tongue snail. “I love capturing the colors and vibrancy of the underwater world. It’s really awesome when I can bring what I love doing to the average person.

When traveling isn’t convenient, Schneider is still able to get her fix of diving. Every other Tuesday, she drives up to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where she volunteers her time and knowledge as a diver at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. “It really is a blast,” she said.

During each visit, Schneider and her dive team are responsible for caring for and feeding animals in the “Wings in the Water” exhibit, the first main exhibit that guests see upon entering, housing sting rays, green sea turtles and sharks, and the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit, where visitors descend along ramps, observing hundreds of tropical fish and authentic reef systems.

Schneider and her team also play an important role in the outreach program, educating others to promote conservation. “If the kids see someone in the tank and enjoy that,” she said, “they usually think twice about throwing their trash into the ocean or river. It’s always fun when the little kids come and want their picture taken with you. It makes you feel like a rock star in your wetsuit.”

Schneider said she plans to continue her passion of underwater photography as long as she can.

“It’s an entirely different world,” she said. “If you haven’t been under the water to see this stuff, you have to go to an aquarium or an environment like that to get a feel for it, see what it’s all about, and have a better appreciation for what’s out there.”

She plans to return to the Caribbean this August to continue her adored hobby, and hopes in the near future to explore even more, including Belize and the Galapagos Islands. “It’s all pretty expensive,” she said, “but I’m happy if I can get some of my photographs to pay for some of the traveling.”

Currently, her photography is sold at The Beach Cottage, located at 83 Atlantic Avenue in Ocean View. Janna Schneider helps her mother, Carol, run the home furnishing and gift shop when she’s not out snapping more photos.

For more information about Beach Cottage and Janna’s artwork, call (302) 537-4777.

Her photos will also be on display and sold at Delaware Arts gallery as part of an underwater exhibit running the week of July 16, with an artist reception on July 21.

Delaware Arts, operated by artistic couple Chip and Barbara Deitrick, is located along Coastal Highway in Ocean Bay Plaza in Fenwick Island. For more information on the underwater exhibit event, call Delaware Arts at (302) 537-2650.