OPY x Rapanui

The Ocean Photographer of the Year (OPY) is a celebration of our beautiful blue planet, as well as a platform to highlight the many plights it is facing. OPY has now collaborated with sustainable surf brand Rapanui to connect two distinct artforms, photography and illustration, all while raising money for the ocean.

Words by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Tim Burgess, Merche Llobera, Max Holba & Renee Capozzola


Rapanui‘s in-house illustrators have picked a selection of some of this year’s world-class photography to graphically interpret. Their mission: to turn each photograph into a wearable piece of art, without losing the essence of the original image.

The first in this series features a photograph by Tim Burgess, an Australian aerial photographer. His image of surfers paddling out was a finalist in the Adventure category of this year’s Ocean Photographer of the Year. About the image, Burgess said: “Whilst travelling to Queensland, I stopped at the turquoise waters of Byron Bay. I was unassumingly filming a pod of dolphins joyfully swimming, when a large group of surfers appeared close by amongst the swell.”

“The unique swirling textures of the sand mixing with the waves created the perfect canvas as they patiently waited for the next wave. In the distance was a rocky shore which they were paddling to try and avoid, aligning them perfectly for a brief second with the swell. This moment highlighted the beautiful bond we have when surfing, harnessing the energy brewing beneath the surface,” he added.

Tim Burgess is an Australian aerial photographer with a passion for the ocean. In 2022, he won the 2022 Australian Aerial Photographer of the Year. His photography showcases moments captured in the ethereal realm above glistening water, masterfully employing the art of symmetry, while bringing marine life and the human spirit to life as the focal subject. His photo was a finalist in the adventure category of Ocean Photographer of the Year 2023.

We spoke to both the photographer and the design team to find out more about the story behind the image and the process of turning it into an illustration to be worn.

When asked what he loves most about the image, he told us: “With the large swell forming unique patterns in the water – I was fascinated by the shapes and textures I was witnessing. As I began to track these surfers trying to avoid the rocky shore to the right, they lined up briefly for one perfect moment.”

“I love the natural symmetry of the surfers accompanied by the textures of the sands beneath them from the swell. Byron Bay is known for its stunning blue waters which was the perfect touch for the location”. 

“The ocean is the one place on earth where no matter how many times you visit it, it is always different. It is for this reason I keep finding myself drawn to the water to capture its beauty. Every wave is a moment in time to witness something special.” 

As part of our collaboration with Ocean Photographer of the Year, a portion of the proceeds goes to a charity chosen by each photographer. Tim has chosen the Australian Marine Conservation Society. We asked him why this charity is important to him.

“Being a father, it has become extremely important to me to ensure that my children can enjoy our oceans and all life within them as they grow old. AMCS’s goal is to ensure that the Australian coastline is healthy for future generations through conservation campaigns, education and awareness. I believe these values will help ensure the livelihood of our oceans for us to enjoy which is why I have chosen them,” he explained.

When it comes to the designs, Rapanui’s talented design team turned Tim’s photo into an illustration made to be worn. 

“The first thing we were drawn to was the colours and texture of the water, which is really pleasing on the eye. It’s quite mysterious, it sort of looks like clouds. We wanted to get that right, as it’s almost like the canvas behind the surfers,” they said and continued: “We split up the surfers to break up the illustration a bit, and it almost looks like frames from a film. We included the coordinates of where the photo was taken, and added the QR code which goes to Tim’s Instagram to make it easy to find the basis for this illustration.”

The second design in this t-shirt series features Merche Llobera, a Spanish photographer who has dedicated her career to capturing the beauty and essence of wildlife and the underwater world. Her photography captures the emotion and the visual spectacle of moments in the wild.

Her image of gliding devil rays was Highly Commended in this year’s Ocean Fine Art Photographer of the Year category. “In the midst of the Pacific Ocean’s azure waters off Costa Rica, I waited for the perfect shot,” says Llobera. “Two Chilean devil rays were gliding gracefully through a swirling baitball of lantern fish. I marvelled at their synchronised movements, each dive and turn executed with precision. Patiently, I observed their collaboration, a masterful display of teamwork in pursuit of sustenance. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for arrived: the rays moved in unison around an almost perfectly round baitball and the sunbeams lit up the background.”

The sunbeams shining through the school of fish gives an ethereal quality to the image. We asked Merche what she likes about the photo: “I love it when all the elements align. As nature photographers, we can never predict what will happen, how the animals will behave, or plan the image too much. In this photo, I am fascinated by the almost-perfect formation of the school of fish, the two synchronised mobulas, and the sunbeams radiating from the centre of the image, making it symmetrical and filling it with magic.”

She continued: “I have loved the ocean for as long as I can remember. When I was a child I could stay in the water for hours going down and up hundreds of times. The ocean is my happy place so it’s not only for taking photos. I love the ocean and the animals more than I can explain with words. Just being there watching those mobulas dancing, catching my breath to try to dive with amazing dolphins or having fun scuba diving with playful sea lions makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world. And of course, If I can photograph them and freeze those moments in time forever it’s even better. Because with those photos you can make people travel to places where they haven’t been, you can make them feel emotions, and you can create awareness. I could never get tired of this.” 

Rapanui’s in-house illustrators turned Merche’s photo into an illustration made to be worn. About the process, they commented: “We wanted to capture the ethereal atmosphere, which is hauntingly beautiful. The sunbeams were the hardest to get right, and took a few goes. Like all the illustrations in this series we included the coordinates of the location where the photo was taken, and the QR code of the photographer’s instagram. It’s nice to create something people can interact with and trace the source of the image, both geographically and be able to find out who the incredibly talented person that took it is.” 

As part of the collaboration with Rapanui, a portion of the proceeds goes to a charity chosen by each photographer. Merche has chosen Sea Shepherd. Llobera said: “The first organisation that comes to my mind when I think about protecting the ocean is Sea Shepherd. I think they do amazing work, fight so many different campaigns, and inspire people to change the world.”

The third design in this series features Max Holba, an Austrian ocean photographer based in Indonesia. His image of silhouetted divers, whale sharks and fishing boats was Highly Commended in the Human Connection: People & Planet Ocean category. It tells a complex story of the relationship between humans and nature.

Born and raised in land-locked Austria, Max Holba started scuba diving at the age of 10. About a decade (and many dives) later, his passion became a profession. He became a diving instructor and subsequently a dive resort manager and owner, as well as a professional underwater photographer. 

We spoke to both the photographer and the illustrator to find out about the story behind the image and the process of turning it into a design to be worn.

Oceanographic: Can you describe the moments leading up to taking this shot? 

Max Holba (MH): I was in the Philippines with my girlfriend and it was my birthday. We wanted to do something special, so we opted to go for the whale shark tour in Oslob – despite it being very controversial. We are both experienced divers and the location is an easily accessible shore dive. We swam out for a short while and soon noticed huge shadows above our heads. Looking up we saw several whale sharks surrounded by local fishing-turned-tour-boats. Next, chaos ensued, manic kicking and shouting – I still believe to this very day that I could hear the hysterical screams of all the people, even while being underwater! 

Seeing these huge animals gently gliding by above your head is unforgettable, however the amount of people made me sad. I wanted to capture the beauty and madness in one image so I turned off my strobes, pointed my camera upwards and was rewarded with this interesting silhouette shot of the whole experience.

Oceanographic: What do you love about this photo?

MH: I hope my photograph shines light on an activity of great controversy: While the Oslob whale shark tours enable the local communities to have a steady income and present them with an alternative to killing the animals for their meat and fins, the ever increasing amount of people that get too close to the animals, potentially touching and harming them, is a worrying development.

Sadly, poaching still happens, despite whale sharks being legally protected in the Philippines since 1998. David Doubilet noted in an 2018 National Geographic interview that “the scene at Oslob is chaotic, and the controversy is real, but the sharks are alive and not lying dead, fins removed, in cold storage somewhere in Asia.” I think my photo tells this story quite well.

Oceanographic: You’ve chosen proceeds from this t-shirt to go to Thresher Shark Indonesia (TSI). Why did you choose this charity?

MH: I have been living and working in the remote region of Alor, Indonesia, for several years now and TSI being based here, I wanted to give something back to a place I deeply care about. The locals of Alor are incredibly kind and welcoming. Many of them depend on the ocean and what it provides as their livelihoods – at times, this will also be catching sharks. Simply disallowing and punishing local communities for catching sharks however is not a long term solution, after all people need to make a living. 

TSI has a very promising approach: They present shark fishers with alternatives, such as farming or catching different species of fish in a sustainable manner, and furthermore offer continuous support. TSI also runs projects in elementary schools in Alor, hopefully inspiring the next generation of conservationists and ocean advocates. TSI’s work is important in my opinion and I am hoping to give them a bit of support with the Rapanui x OPY project.

Oceanographic: What keeps you coming back to the ocean environment to take photographs?

MH: It’s quite simple: I just love the ocean! Which is a bit funny as I was born and raised in landlocked Austria, however I started to scuba dive quite young when I was only 10 years old. 

From a young age my parents would bring me to countries with direct ocean access, introducing me to its wonders and I simply fell in love with, and developed a deep care for the ocean. Ultimately I became a dive instructor and dive resort manager and owner, and with my photography I am now able to share this life long passion with others while also raising awareness for ocean protection.

We also spoke with the design team who turned Max’s photo into an illustration made to be worn. The first thing they were drawn to were the silhouettes of the whale sharks. “They are kind of mysterious,” they told us.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on with the boats and marine life. Whilst people and animals should be able to live side by side, over-tourism can be a threat to wildlife. We wanted this design to reflect the delicate balance of humans and nature, so we decided the marine life would be swimming in circles. We thought it kind of looks like an eye too, which wasn’t deliberate, but perhaps speaks to the need to observe and appreciate the intricate interplay between humans and nature.”

The fourth in this t-shirt series features a photograph by Renee Capozzola, an American ocean photographer who grew up in Southern California. Her image of a wandering green sea turtle was part of a wider portfolio of ten images that won second place in the Ocean Portfolio category. As part of our collaboration with Rapanui, a portion of the proceeds goes to a charity chosen by each photographer. Renee has chosen People’s Fund Maui.

She explained: “The recent fires in Lahaina have completely devastated the town, the local community and the diving industry on West Maui. Many people have lost their homes, jobs, and businesses. The People’s Fund of Maui provides direct financial assistance to Maui community members experiencing loss from the fires.”

Growing up in Southern California, the ocean has always been a large part of Renee’s life.  She has since travelled across the globe, diving in some of the most remote parts of the world. Renee is a conservation-oriented underwater photographer who has received over 50 prestigious international awards for her work.

When asked about the significance of the green sea turtle shot, Renee said: “I took this photograph early in the morning off Lahaina, Hawaii at a local dive site. While observing the green sea turtles around a cleaning station, the sun came out and I noticed the beautiful rays piercing through the surface so I ascended into very shallow water where some of the turtles will often pass by or hang out. Soon thereafter, this young turtle with a prominent white belly approached and then remained stationary, seeming to enjoy getting cleaned by the black tangs. I slowly approached, careful not to exhale any bubbles, and captured this image.”

The photo captures a moment where the turtle is almost posing, full of personality. Renee told us why she loves the photo: “I love that the turtle has its head up high and seems to be looking at the camera while it is framed by the rays above and the darker water below. It’s also a bonus that the black tangs are there, cleaning the algae off the turtle’s carapace or shell.” 

“The ocean is not only a beautiful and adventurous place but also where I feel at peace and in harmony with my surroundings.  I am passionate about taking pictures that I hope will help to preserve the health of our marine ecosystems and encourage others to protect our oceans,” she added.

Rapanui’s in-house design team chose Renee’s turtle image to turn into an illustration made to be worn because of its vivid colours. “We really wanted to convey the personality of the turtle and show off the colours,” they explained. “One of the first things that struck us in this photograph was the rays coming from above, and we really wanted to keep that element. We hope we’ve created a design that’s fun and gives the stage to just one of the creatures that are crucial to a thriving marine ecosystem. As with all the other designs in the series, we added a QR code to the photographer’s Instagram, so the photo can be traced back to the original creator.” 


Stay tuned for more t-shirt reveals which will be announced soon. 

Find out more about the t-shirts that are available for men and women here.


Photographs by Tim Burgess, Merche Llobera, Max Holba & Renee Capozzola

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