Have you ever been to Channel Islands National Park? Sure, taking a boat trip to Anacapa Island is nice, but the park’s true beauty lies in the vibrant biodiversity of its wildlife, both on land and underwater.

Richard Salas, 25 year Santa Barbara resident and acclaimed underwater photographer, lights up the magnificent underwater cultures of Channel Islands National Park in his new exhibit Sea of Light at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

With images whose subjects range from glorious octopi to squishy sea hares, Salas has created a masterpiece that portrays the complex yet volatile underwater world of Channel Islands National Park.

“I try to make myself smaller so that I can truly see into their world,” noted Salas. “If you fall off of a boat, you’re going to see the kind of stuff that is in my book. It might not look the same, but it is there.”

Many of the photographs in Salas’ collection touch on pressing environmental and moral issues surrounding our perception and treatment of underwater animals. The collection includes an image of a soupfin shark, which, as indicated by the name, is the shark popularly found in Asian cuisine (think sharkfin soup). The population of soupfin sharks has declined significantly in the last 60 years.

“I want to introduce people to underwater animals and add some personality to them to provide a different perspective,” said Salas. “You can’t care for something that you don’t love and respect. There is a big disconnect between people and underwater animals; I hope that my work brings light not only to the sea, but also to the soul of its creatures.”

Before attending Brooke’s Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Salas put his life on hold for nine months, bought a bunch of dive gear, and got into the water. “In 1975, right around the release of the original film ‘Jaws,’ everyone was running away from the water while I was diving in,” stated Salas.

Richard Salas
Annie Crawley

After graduating from Brooke’s, Salas parted with diving and ventured into the world of commercial photography, developing art for clients such as May Department Stores Company and See’s Candies. 20 years later, late in the ‘90s, Salas reconnected with his passion for diving on a trip with his son.

But Salas’ passion is not without cost. He admits the work requires a great deal of patience. “With large and small animals abounding, you never know what lens you are going to need and, with little carrying capacity, each excursion is sort of a gamble and is sometimes frustrating,” stated Salas. “Not being connected to the ground, you are constantly moving and swaying about with the ocean current; this is an adventure that never gets boring.”

The exhibit will be on display at the Maritime Museum through September and is free with general admission. For more information on Richard Salas, to purchase signed prints and copies, or to view images from his new book Sea of Light, visit seaoflight.net.


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