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Norbert Wu Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1961, in California; Education: Stanford University, B.S. (electrical engineering), 1983, M.S. (engineering science), 1985; graduate study at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


office—Norbert Wu Photography, 1065 Sinex Ave., Pacific Grove, CA 93950.


Diver, photographer, cinematographer, and writer. Cousteau Society, chief still photographer on Jacques Cousteau's Calypso; Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Republic of Panama, research diver, 1983. California Academy of Sciences, research associate. Film work includes: assistant cameraman and guide, The Amber Forest, Howard Hall Productions, 1991; cinematographer, "Shadows in a Desert Sea," PBS Nature, 1992; cinematographer, Sharks: Facts and Fantasy, ABC/Kane Adventure Specials; cinematographer, The Search for the Hammerheads, ABC/Kane Adventure Specials, 1992; cinematographer, "Seasons in the Sea," Nature, PBS; cinematographer, documentary on tiger sharks, Survival Anglia, 1995; director of underwater photography, Secrets of the Ocean Realm, 1995; director of underwater photography, First Breath, Hardy Jones Productions/Audubon Films, 1996; director of underwater photography, Deep Flight, National Geographic Television, 1997; cinematographer, producer, and director, "Under Antarctic Ice" (HDTV), Nature, 2003; and commercials. Primary cinematographer for exhibits at Hall of Ocean Life, American Museum of Natural History. Lecturer and presenter. Exhibitions: Photography exhibited in one-man shows, including "Ocean Views," Stanford University, 1984-85; "Fish Faces," Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, CA, and Museum of Natural History, Pacific Grove, CA, 1987; "Worlds Below," Brooks Institute of Photography, Santa Barbara, CA, 1988; "Ocean Worlds," City of Los Angeles Photography Center, 1988; "A Universe Unfolding," Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA, 1988; "Marine Graffiti," Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, 1988-89; "Life in the Abyss," Sydney Aquarium, Sydney, Australia, 1991, and at the California Academy of Sciences, American Museum of Natural History, National Academy of Sciences, and National Museum of Wildlife Art.


Media Photographers Copyright Association (charter member), American Society of Media Photographers, Advertising Photographers of America, Society of American Travel Writers, Authors Guild, American Society of Picture Professionals.

Honors Awards

Nomination, Literary Award in children's literature, PEN Center USA West, and Golden Kite Award, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, both for Beneath the Waves: Exploring the Hidden World of the Kelp Forest; Certificate of Commendation, John Burroughs Association, 1996, for A City under the Sea: Life in a Coral Reef; artists and writers grants, National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, 1997, 1999, 2000; Pew marine conservation fellowship, 1999; U.S. Antarctic Program Antarctica Service Medal, 2000; Outstanding Science Trade Book designation, National Science Teachers Association (with Jim Mastro), 2003, for Under Antarctic Ice: The Photographs of Norbert Wu; named Outstanding Photographer of the Year, North American Nature Photographers Association.



Life in the Oceans, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.

Beneath the Waves: Exploring the Hidden World of the Kelp Forest, Chronicle Books, 1992.

Fish Faces, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1993.

Splendors of the Seas, Hugh Lauter Levin Associates (Southport, CT), 1994.

How to Photograph Underwater, Stackpole Books, 1994.

A City under the Sea: Life in a Coral Reef, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.

Selling Nature Photographs, Stackpole Books, 1997.

(With Jim Mastro) Antarctic Ice, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.

(Author of photographic notes) Jim Mastro, Under Antarctic Ice: The Photographs of Norbert Wu, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2004.

Also coauthor and photographic contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica's 1996 Yearbook of Science and the Future; contributor to Audubon, GRO, Figaro, Fitness Swimmer, American Way, Illustreret Videnskab (Denmark), Omni, National Geographic, Science Illustre (France), GEO Magazine, International Wildlife, Stern, Time, ASMP Bulletin, Darkroom and Creative Camera Techniques, Scuba Times, Ocean Sports International, Natural History, and Australia.


Leighton Taylor, Creeps from the Deep: Life in the Deep Sea, Chronicle Books, 1997.

Leighton, Taylor, Jellyfish, Lerner, 1998.

Leighton Taylor, The Pacific Ocean, Blackbirch Press (Woodbridge, CT), 1998.

Leighton Taylor, The Red Sea, Blackbirch Press (Wood-bridge, CT), 1998.

Leighton Taylor, The Caribbean Sea, Blackbirch Press (Woodbridge, CT), 1998.

Leighton Taylor, The Indian Ocean, Blackbirch Press (Woodbridge, CT), 1999.

Leighton Taylor, The Mediterranean Sea, Blackbirch Press (Woodbridge, CT), 1999.

Leighton Taylor, Dolphins, Lerner Publications (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.

Laurence P. Pringle, Scholastic Encyclopedia of Animals, Scholastic Reference (New York, NY), 2001.

Leighton Taylor, Octopuses, Lerner Publications (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Kathleen W. Kranking, The Ocean Is …, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.


Nature photographer Norbert Wu has traveled around the world and in the course of his work has, as he once told SATA, "been bitten by sharks, run over by an iceberg, stung nearly to death by sea wasps, and trapped in an underwater cave." Instead of keeping his adventures and discoveries to himself, Wu shares the worlds he captures with his camera with others, in books as well as on film. Featuring sea creatures and plants of all kinds, as well as their underwater habitats, his books for young readers, such as Creeps from the Deep: Life in the Deep Sea, A City under the Sea, and Under Antarctic Ice, provide factual information as well as photos. Critics have raved over Wu's ability, through his still photography, to spark the curiosity of young readers, and his work as an underwater documentary cinematographer has captured the imagination of young and old alike.

Born in California in 1961, Wu wanted to be a marine biologist from the time he reached the second grade, his interest inspired by his family's vacations to Florida. After earning an eminently practical engineering degree from Stanford University in 1983, the twenty-two year old indulged his passion for aquatic wildlife by working as a research diver at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in the Republic of Panama. In Panama he gained experience using a waterproof camera, and continued his photography upon his return to the United States. While going on to complete his master's degree, Wu also began exhibiting his photographs at Stanford, winning an "Our-World-Underwater" scholarship. After working briefly as an engineer, he left his job in Silicon Valley and enrolled in a doctoral program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. As a Ph.D. student he made his first trip to the Arctic, but ultimately left the program in favor of working as an undersea photographer. Wu exhibited his work in northern and southern California during the late 1980s, and also assisted with cinematographic work on programs such as the award-winning PBS Nature documentary "Seasons in the Sea," which depicts the underwater world off the California coast.

Continuing his work in documentary filmmaking, Wu participated in expeditions to Greenland and the Norwegian Seas, and to the North Pacific Gyre. In the early 1990s he decided to share with young readers his enthusiasm for what he discovered through the camera lens. His first children's book, 1991's Life in the Oceans, is, according to Frances E. Millhouser of School Library Journal, "fabulous for browsing," and numbers almost one hundred pages. After explaining how little we know about the ocean, Wu discusses the open ocean, coral reefs, kelp forests, and the deep ocean, concluding with a chapter on the threats facing the ocean. Karen Hutt in Booklist commented that middle-school students may need "background in the subject" to understand Wu's book well.

Wu's second book, Beneath the Waves, is an attempt "to help children discover beauty and life in a world they may otherwise not know at all," the author/photographer once told SATA. Geared for a middle-grade readership, Beneath the Waves takes readers through the events of a single day in a little-discussed habitat: the kelp forest. As Wu shows, diverse creatures—from snails to sea otters—have developed and flourished in the kelp forest in different ways. As in Life in the Oceans, Wu adds a discussion of environmental concerns facing aquatic life. According to Meryl Silverstein, writing in School Library Journal, Wu's color "photographs are of unusually high quality and detail," while Hutt added in Booklist that Beneath the Waves is "cohesive" and "as informative as it is visually appealing."

Wu focuses on a younger readership with Fish Faces, which explores a wide variety of fish using pictures; the accompanying text was described by Patrician Manning in a School Library Journal review as "brief, alliterative," and "rhythmic." Wu does not provide the names of the fish with the photos, but includes them on one page at the end of the book. Writing in Booklist, Stephanie Zvirin lamented the lack of information about each fish, although she went on to note that the limited text forces readers' eyes on the "exquisite" photos, "which is exactly where our attention belongs." According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Wu's photos are "breathtaking."

In A City under the Sea: Life in a Coral Reef Wu takes older elementary-aged readers on a journey that covers a day and a night, and presents photos of a turtle as well as the other inhabitants of a coral reef: anemones, a butterfly fish, cleaner shrimp, cowrie snails, an octopus, and manta ray. He unveils deep-sea creatures in Creeps from the Deep, one of several books that features a text by Leighton Taylor. In Teacher Librarian Jessica Higgs noted that the inspiring photographs in A City under the Sea are enhanced by a text that is "very readable" and "poetic," while in Creeps from the Deep young readers "meet some of the most bizarre and fierce-looking creatures on earth" in "Wu's superb photos."

During the 1990s Wu remained characteristically busy, working in the field as well as in the studio. His film of great white sharks appeared on PBS in Secrets of the Ocean Realm, and tiger sharks for a Survival Anglia natural-history documentary series. Using a series of National Science Foundation artist and writer's grants as well as a commission from New York's Public Television affiliate, beginning in 1997 Wu devoted several years to exploring Antarctica and, during over sixty scuba dives and numerous field excursions, captured the region's marine life on a film for high-definition television. One of the projects that resulted was the Nature television series segment "Under Antarctic Ice"; another was another book for children. With a text by Jim Mastro and Wu, Wu's Antarctic Ice introduces youngsters to life at the bottom of the world, and includes photographs that follow a variety of animals as they adjust to the changing seasons of the south pole. Weddell seals, Adelie and emperor penguins, Orca whales, and a variety of marine creatures are featured in Wu's "clear, colorful photographs," according to Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan. Describing the book as "gloriously photographed," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Antarctic Ice "will spark interest in and appreciation for the frigid polar region," while in School Library Journal Margaret Bush wrote that Wu's volume presents "a striking sense of this stark landscape and watery world."

Considered one of the world's top underwater photographers, Wu has been profiled in many magazines and journals, including Underwater USA and Nature Photographer. In addition to sharing his concern for the future of the marine ecosystem, he also shares the photographic techniques he has devised over years of hard work in both articles and books such as How to Photograph Underwater and Selling Nature Photographs. Wu continues to find new markets for his photographs and new avenues to explore. "I succeeded by lots of failure and perseverence," he explained to Stephanie Gregory for Photo Insider Online, discussing his career. Noting that his job demands both scientific skill and artistic sensibilities, Wu explained that the major reason for his success has been his drive to make his lifelong passion his life's work. However, despite his vast experience, the dangers involved in deep-sea exploration still give Wu pause. As he told Gregory, "Every few years you do something really stupid that makes you stop and think, 'This is a dumb way to die.'"

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, December 1, 1991, Karen Hutt, review of Life in the Oceans, p. 692; July, 1992, Karen Hutt, review of Beneath the Waves, p. 1936; May 1, 1993, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Fish Faces, p. 1601; June 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of A City under the Sea, p. 1716; December 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Antarctic Ice, p. 679.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of Antarctic Ice, p. 1273.

Nature Photographer, November-December, 1991.

Petersen's Photographic, September, 1998, Peter Skinner, "From Rainforests to Icebergs: The Images of Norbert Wu," p. 50.

Photography, July, 1990.

Publishers Weekly, June 14, 1993, review of Fish Faces, p. 69; December 15, 2003, review of Antarctic Ice, p. 72.

School Library Journal, January, 1992, Frances E. Millhouser, review of Life in the Oceans, p. 136; July, 1992, Meryl Silverstein, review of Beneath the Waves, p. 89; April, 1993, Patricia Manning, review of Fish Faces, p. 116; March, 1996, p. 216; February, 2002, Hillary Jan Donitz-Goldstein, review of Scholastic Encyclopedia of Animals, p. 90; August, 2003, Margaret Bush, review of The Ocean Is …, p. 135; November, 2003, Margaret Bush, review of Antarctic Ice, p. 128.

Science World, October 6, 1995, Chana Freiman, "Undersea Critters Strike a Pose for Photographer Norbert Wu," p. 8.

Teacher Librarian, November, 1998, Jessica Higgs, review of Creeps from the Deep and City under the Sea, p. 51.

Underwater USA, February, 1992.


Norbert Wu Photography, http://www.norbertwu.com/ (October 26, 2004).

Photo Insider Online, http://www.photoinsider.com/ Stephanie Gregory, "Norbert Wu."

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