Ernie Brooks II | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Ernie Brooks II, the famed under-ocean photographer, died today at the age of 85. Photography was in his blood as the son of the man who created the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and the grandson of a Portuguese woman who was a professional portrait photographer.

Brooks not only graduated from his father’s institute and studied with Hans Haas, a pioneer of underwater documentaries, but he established the school’s underwater photography courses and was one of its champions during difficult financial times. The school was sold in 1999 and closed in 2016.

As a pilot with the U.S. Air Force as a young man, Brooks flew across the world, meeting Jacques Cousteau in Africa where his boat the Calypso was being built. They worked together for 17 years, traveling the world as Brooks trained his photographers.

His work was recognized in many awards and tributes, including one during the Santa Barbara Underwater Film Festival in 2013. His former students and living legends of underwater film and photography celebrated Brooks’s work and mentorship, a night Brooks called a highlight of his career.

His friend Leslie Leaney credited Brooks’s generosity with helping numerous nonprofits, among them the UC Santa Barbara Leaney-Brooks Diving History Archive: “A study of diving history that will outlive us both,” said Leaney. “Ernie’s spirit will live on in the photographs of his accomplished students, and the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to have known him.”

Of this photo, Ernie Brooks said he met “Spot” after she stole a swim fin and then brought her pup to meet him. (Journal of Diving History, Michel Gilbert, Daniel Alary, courtesy Bret Gilliam’s Diving Pioneers and Innovators.)


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