Underwater photography is pretty incredible as it gives us a rare look into the mysterious world of life below the surface. From shooting colorful coral reefs to exotic fish and terrifying predators, underwater images can be shocking and beautiful. Today we have the pleasure of learning more about marine conservation photojournalist and recipient of National Geographic’s 2017 Honorable Mention in the nature category, Shane Gross, who’s shark photography is an internet hit.
A hawksbill sea turtle swims through a coral reef crevasse. Hawksbills eat coral sponges and, therefore, depend on healthy reefs for their survival.
What’s the one quote that always fires you up?
SG: “People protect what they love, they love what they understand and they understand what they are taught.” – Jacques-Yves Cousteau
The shape and pattern of a spotted eagle ray from above.
Do you have any particular habits that are a part of how you begin your creative process?
SG: I look at a lot of photographs. Other art too, but especially photographs. I am careful to not copy what I see, but it often gives me ideas. I’ll then write them down or sketch them out. That is one common way.
The other is being out in nature and simply accepting the gifts she gives. Nature is my inspiration and most of what I do is simply trying to show nature, especially aquatic animals, in an honest way. Nature is the greatest art there is.
Caribbean reef sharks are predators high on the food chain. Their presence in large numbers is a key indicator of a healthy ecosystem.
What do you do when you hit a wall during your creative process?
SG: Get outside. Just being out in the wild and slowing down to really see what is around me from big land or seascapes to tiny details. A lot of nature is camouflaged, so if you’re moving quickly you can easily miss it. Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and try to listen, even underwater there are constantly animals making sounds. It informs me that there is a lot more going on than I can see and just thinking about all the mysteries of the sea is extremely inspiring.
What’s your favorite photo you’ve ever captured and why?
SG: Because I know the amount of work, years of work, that went into creating the Lemon At Home shot, and all that process taught me about photography and the ocean environment, it is the most important image I’ve made so far.
A lemon shark pup, no more than six months old, hunting in the mangrove creek she calls home at dusk.
If someone attempted to capture you in a single photo, like, the essence of you in a photo, what would be happening in it?
SG: Well, I’d barely be in it! (laughs) That’s tough. It would somehow have to combine the elements of liquidity, freedom, and being a tiny drop in a big ocean.
What book would you recommend any creative person read?
SG: Ocean Soul by Brian Skerry.
Yes, it’s about ocean photographs which is, sort of, my niche; but, if you look deeper, there is something there everyone can learn from. This pursuit is not easy and takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice. It also taught me to look for the heart and soul of your subject, whatever it may be, and to respect your subject. Lastly, we can, and perhaps should, be using our skills, talents and abilities to try to make the world a better place. In Brian’s case that means using his images to urge the conservation of wild places and species, and I think all photographers are generally lucky people and we ought to give back however and whenever we can.
A sperm whale descends into the inky depth off Sri Lanka.
You can view more of Shane’s work at his website or keep up with him on Instagram.
Dane Johnson was the former Editor of PHLEARN Magazine, where he helped creatives share their stories. Dane currently is the co-founder of Clementine Coffee Roasters and he accepts most assertions of his hipster-ness and millennialism without flinching.