Local Photographers Capture Underwater Awe

Meet the local photographers who go below the surface to capture spectacular images of life beneath the sea

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James Ferrara

It takes a lot to frighten James Ferrara. When he is not getting up close and personal with sharks, he works for Martin County Fire Rescue, where he has been a firefighter/paramedic for 16 years. Ferrara, 41, who grew up in Port St. Lucie, bought his first camera just eight years ago and taught himself how to shoot. “Some of my dive buddies were really into shark diving, so my first introduction to the photography world was through them,” he says.

He began joining his friends on diving excursions with his camera in tow shooting sharks and has since expanded his portfolio of work to include a variety of other marine life. This past September, he traveled to Moorea, Tahiti to photograph humpback whales. In November, he was in Magdalena Bay in Mexico photographing scores of striped marlin that come to hunt during the area’s annual sardine migration. “It’s such a surreal experience,” says Ferrara. “To be in the water with marlin and watch them hunt and see the speed, it’s just incredible.” 

His work has garnered acclaim from Oceanographic Magazine, where he was a finalist in the publication’s annual Ocean Photographer of the Year competition in both 2021 and 2023. His stunning photographs are regularly on view at the Kona Kai Resort art gallery in Key Largo. 

Ferrara is currently planning a trip to Antarctica in 2025, where he will spend a month on a sailboat photographing cold-water marine life including leopard seals, penguins, humpback whales, and orcas. jferraragallery.com; @jferraragallery 

Cassandra Scott

The water has long been home to North Palm Beach native Cassandra Scott. “My parents have a house on the Intracoastal with a canal, so I spent my childhood hanging out back there with the critters,” she says. Now 36, she still hangs out with critters—though they are a lot bigger than the lizards, snakes, and horseshoe crabs from her youth. Through her work as an environmental advocate, Scott documents and photographs sharks in an effort to bring much-needed attention to these often-misunderstood creatures. 

Scott always knew she wanted to work with animals and spent some time in college studying biology, engineering, and photography. Then one day, she received a phone call that would set a path for her to pursue her passion. “A buddy was working on one of the shark-diving boats out of Jupiter and asked if I wanted to work on it,” she recalls. She jumped at the opportunity.

Since then, she has gravitated toward conservation and, for the past three years, has been working with the American Shark Conservancy to collect data on sharks. With the goal of better understanding how humans and sharks interact and the impact we have on one another, she photographs the diverse marine life she encounters off the coast of Jupiter. “We have shelves right in our area with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream coming through and bringing lots of different types of creatures—everything from tiny corals to big sharks,” says Scott. “It’s just a big highway. You never know what you are going to see. It’s fun to be able to show people what is under the water and get them excited to go on a dive.”

In 2022, she was contacted by the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, where her photography is currently on display. americansharkconservancy.org; @covascott 

Lazaro Ruda

Stuart resident Lazaro “Laz” Ruda has been fascinated by underwater life for as long as he can remember. “There is this picture of me and my mom on the beach when I was little,” he recalls. “I have a pacifier in my mouth, and I’m wearing a mask.” 

Born in Spain, Ruda, now 50, was 5 months old when his parents moved to Florida. He grew up in Miami, then moved to North Palm Beach in 2005 and bought his first underwater camera while working as a dive master at Scuba Adventures. “People would always ask me what I saw underwater,” he says. Ruda figured answering that question would be easier if he could show them photos of his encounters.

His passion became a career when he was invited to Jupiter’s ArtiGras festival in 2012 as one of the show’s emerging artists. Ruda now sells his work at art festivals throughout Florida during season as well as on his website. 

His vast portfolio of work spans everything from dolphins, manatees, and humpback whales to starfish, seahorses, and jellyfish, most of his photographs captured off the coast of South Florida. “I know the reefs here very well,” he says. “The Breakers Reef is one of my favorites. I’ve had a lot of special experiences there.” 

Ruda currently lives on a sailboat on the Intracoastal and hopes to take a trip around the world on the boat soon to continue exploring. “There’s wonder everywhere you look,” he says. “Being underwater is a very special place for me. It makes me really
appreciate nature and enjoy the little things.”
thelivingsea.com; @thelivingsea 

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