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Under the sea

At first glance, the starfish, the whales, the seahorses look too perfect. Surreal.

For three years, Craig Dietrich has photographed creatures under the sea, including tiger sharks and bull sharks, wearing nothing more than a wetsuit.

He’s completed 1,500 dives, capturing images of dolphins, sharks and swirling schools of fish. More than 500 of those dives have been off of the coast of Fort Lauderdale.

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“There’s excitement every time you jump in,” the 44-year-old says. “You have no idea what you’re going to see.”

Already, his photos have gained him an international following. He’s won first place awards in The Blue Wild Expo and Sport Diver magazine’s “Sunburst” contest.

Today, his photos cover the walls at The Atlantic Hotel & Spa and the Ocean Manor Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Yet, talk to Dietrich about his love of the water and he’s quick to point out that he wasn’t always like this.

He hated the water growing up.

“I was scared of the water. I would go to the Jersey Shore, put my feet in the water and that’s as far as I went,” says Dietrich, who recently moved from Pompano Beach to Jupiter.

But on a trip to Mexico in his late 20s, Dietrich was persuaded to put on a wetsuit and jump in.

“I’ve never been the same since,” he says.

Today, his work requires a love of the water. He equates the ocean with peace and quiet.

“This world is very hectic – it’s fast moving, there’s always traffic, we’re always rushing, we’re on our phones. Once you jump in the water, there’s serenity,” he says.

Still, it took Dietrich years to find that peace. After growing up in New Jersey, Dietrich took on an adventurous life in the Navy as a Naval photographer.

With unlimited cameras and the ability to travel the world – including time in Abu Dhabi and Australia – Dietrich left the Navy with the curiosity and the equipment needed to start his own photography business.

He became a portrait artist for children, photographing mothers and their babies for 15 years – a moment that he describes as so intense and powerful that he has trouble putting it into words.

“I knew – this is something that’s going to be around for a long time,” Dietrich says of the intimate portraits.

That experience shapes the way he photographs underwater today.

Dietrich says he sees the image before he takes it. There’s no rapid fire or hoping.

“I spend a lot of time watching, watching, and then I take it as it happens,” the photographer says of his conservative shooting style. “I take it when it’s perfect.”

For every photo, including the photos of the sharks, Dietrich has to be within three feet of the subject. But he says there’s no reason to be afraid.

“You look into their eyes and see their intelligence – they have no desire for you,” the photographer says.

Today, Dietrich hopes his photos raise awareness about ocean conservation. And his plan is to continue capturing life under the sea for the rest of his life.

“It just doesn’t get more beautiful than that,” he says.

Dietrich’s photos, which are printed on specialty metallic paper or high quality aluminum, can be purchased online at dietrichunderwater.com. They range from $15 to $1,500.