Ernie Brooks was born on January 8, 1935 in Santa Maria, California. He grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. His father loved boating and diving. It was natural for Ernie Brooks to inherit a love for the sea. He was destined to spend the rest of his life doing what was meant to be, exploring and documenting the sea. The influence his father gave him in photography was substantial. He was given a camera and a roll of film to photograph his first day in kindergarten. At the age of 4, Ernie Brooks went with his father in photographing California’s Pismo Beach with his large 8x10 view camera. He was right there during the many hours of photo processing in the darkroom.
His first venture beneath the surface of the sea was at Sterns Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA. In 1949 he dove extensively around the marker buoy one-mile off the entrance to Santa Barbara Harbor. He used an early Perrelli drysuit and an old squeaking regulator. In 1950 he made his first venture to the Channel Islands off Southern California. Brooks began his education in under water photography in 1956. At the age of 19 Brooks built his first underwater camera housing. He graduated from the world-renowned Brooks Institute of Photography.
Ernest Brooks Sr. founded the Brooks Institute of Photography in 1945. Ernest Brooks, II worked diligently at the Institute for many years, becoming President in 1971. Brooks Institute is recognised as one of the most extensive underwater photography programs in the world. In addition, Brooks Institute has been utilized as a major research and testing center for underwater photography.
He pioneered the undersea photography program at Brooks Institute. As a professional photographer, his personal photo skills have been featured in exhibits at the Photography Hall of Fame of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Yugoslavia Man-in-the-Sea, Our World Underwater, the Photography Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, and others. Brooks is known internationally for his spectacular black-and-white underwater photos. Brooks has been Project Leader in many international programs, including: Photo documentation of Arctic research station activities, sponsored by the McGinnis Foundation of Toronto, Canada (1977); Photographic investigation into the Shroud of Turin (1978); International panel in the “Focus On New Zealand” (1985); Photographic research and travel expedition to the Sea of Cortez aboard the Brooks vessel Just Love (1986); and others.
Ernie Brooks has been a consultant to many organizations. He was an Advisor on the International Panel for the New Zealand Centre For Photography. President of Backstreet Publications in Santa Barbara, California. The company concentrates on ocean-related subjects. Brooks has been a keynote speaker at conventions over the past 30 years. His presentations have been for organizations such as: The Dillingham Corporation; Hasselblad Incorporated; California Department of Fish and Game; the U.S. National Parks Service; Texaco Corporation; Nikon, Inc.; Professional Photographers of Michigan; Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences; and others. He has created multi-image presentations with compassionate words and visual portrayal of life through his productions Bless the Beast and the Children, In Search of Tomorrow, The Shroud of Turin, A Dive Beneath the Polar Ice-Cap, Feelings, Just Love, Treasure Island and Remember Me. The extremely high photographic quality of Brooks has been published in many periodicals, including Ocean Real Magazine, Outside, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Communication Arts, Westways, Scuba Times, Skin Diver, Foto-World, Sous-Marine, Professional Photographer of America, Photography Annual, and others For his many contributions to underwater photography and diving, Ernie Brooks has received many awards and honours: Honoured Photographer at the International Underwater Film Festival in Santa Monica, CA (1959); Underwater Photography Hall of Fame (1971); Triton Award at the Inner Space Pacifica Convention (1973); NOGI Award for Arts from Underwater Society of America (now presented by The Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences) (1974); National Award from the Professional Photographers of America (1977); Hall of Fame Elector from the Photographic Art and Science Foundation (1971 through 1980); Cameracraftsmen of America (one of only 40 photographers in the world) (on the National Advisory Council of the National Society of Arts and Letters) (1978); listed in Who’s Who In Scuba Diving by the Academy of Marine Science and Underwater Research (1993); American Ocean-Partnership Award (1996); Diver of the Year, Beneath The Sea Conference (1998); An Evening With Ernie Brooks, Metropolitan Museum, Sydney, Australia(1999); Ernie Brooks Exhibits Work, De Young Museum of Art, San Francisco (1999); Ernie Brooks Exhibit, Yugoslovia (1999); and others.