Print Page | Contact Us | Sign In | Become a DEMA Member
James D. Watt Obituary
Share |

James D. Watt


The diving industry mourns the loss of photographer Jim Watt, who passed away on July 19, 2007.


Jim made a huge contribution to underwater photography, to conservation and to the diving industry over the course of his career. He worked in our business for more than 25 years and made friends all over the world. His work was highly acclaimed and widely published, and he was very active as a photo pro on the event circuit. He was also very well liked.


Born October 14, 1951 in Santa Monica, California, James D. Watt rose to international prominence as a marine wildlife photographer.  Watt learned to swim and breath-hold dive in the ocean as a young child, and soon was spearing large fish and collecting lobster along the California coast. A lobster he collected as a teenager still holds the record for the largest lobster ever harvested in California. He learned to scuba dive at the age of twelve, later advancing to the rank of scuba instructor. He began taking photographs at age fourteen. In 1969 he was admitted to the Long Beach Neptunes skin diving club, and that same year he was named the G.L.A.C.D. (Greater Los Angeles Council of Divers) Diver of the Year.


Watt pursued a career as a respiratory therapist which took him to the island of Kauai in Hawaii, where he continued to spend most of his spare time diving. He met his wife, Jody, at the hospital on Kauai, where she was treating his dive buddy for a case of the bends. He convinced her to learn to dive, and then to move to the Big Island of Hawaii with him, where they married.


Watt worked part-time as a charter boat captain, then operated his own scuba diving charter business until his dive boat was destroyed by a hurricane.  He began taking underwater photographs in 1979 with a Nikonos amphibious camera. He soon developed his marine life photography into a lucrative second career, and was able to give up his work at the hospital in 1988 in order to establish himself as a full-time nature photographer. He is best known for his portraits of large marine animals, such as whales, dolphins, and sharks, but his keen eye, and enthusiasm for the underwater world prompted him to continually strive for dramatic images of all creatures, large and small.


Although he established his career and reputation in the days of film, he was a pioneer in the use of digital imagery for underwater photography, and soon established himself as a “digital guru”, leading numerous workshops, and coaching a number of the world’s leading underwater photographers during their entry into the digital age. 

Watt’s photographs have been published in uncountable thousands of magazines, books, newspapers, and graphic products such as postcards and posters. Prints and posters of his images hang in numerous museums and aquaria around the world, as well as over a million private residences. His dramatic image of a great white shark gaping at the surface was chosen by Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the top 25 dive pictures ever taken, and honored by Stern Magazine as one of the 100 best photographs (of any kind) ever taken. Within the diving industry Watt was known for the stunning imagery he created, and for the generous help he gave unfailingly to anyone interested in marine life or photography.

He served as a consultant on numerous filming projects for major television and motion picture studios and was a “behind the scenes” factor in many of the famous pictures taken by other photographers. His home and boat in Kona were gathering places for the world’s top marine photographers.

Perhaps more than anything else, Watt is remembered by his friends for his unflinching enthusiasm, optimism, spirit of adventure, and joie de vivre. He was always excited about his next new project, his latest gadget, or the most recent friend he had made. In the weeks just before his sudden death, Watt traveled a quarter of the way across the globe to the islands of the Bahamas and Bonaire, where he photographed everything from tiny coral-dwelling fish, to close-ups of the teeth in the mouths of feeding sharks. In Bonaire he instructed a new generation of photographers in the art of digital photography in the marine environment.


Watt is survived by his wife, Jody Watt, son Ian Watt, daughter Jennifer Watt, and sister Sharon Watt, as well as thousands of admirers around the globe. His family has requested that anyone wishing to honor his memory with a donation make it to the Kona Hospital Foundation, 79-1019 Haukapila Street, Kealekekua HI 96750, 808-322-4587

DEMA, The Diving Equipment & Marketing Association | US Toll Free: (800) 862-3483 | Ph: (858) 616-6408 | Fx: (858) 616-6495 |