The Island of Guadelupe off the coast of Mexico is a gathering place for giants. Ocean-dwelling apex predators whose ancestors battled Dinosaurs are these giants: Great White Sharks.
Since I was a kid, the idea of a White Shark has sent chills up my spine as frigid as the Pacific water they reside in. Like almost everyone else, I, too, was lied to by popular culture about the true nature of these polarizing yet vital animals sitting atop the food pyramid in our marine ecosystem. When I don’t understand something, or better yet when I fear it, I feel compelled to try and understand it.
My first trip to Guadelupe in 2019 allowed me the opportunity to get up close and personal with my first White Sharks. They aggregate to the island to find a mate and to feed. It’s important to understand the dynamics of an animal‘s behavior within a location to properly and safely document them. White Sharks have a calming but powerful presence to them. They glide around effortlessly and at ease, but you better know not to lose eye contact.
I wanted to capture an image that reflected both of those vibes in one instance: ease and brutal strength. The whole week I spent trying to freeze a Shark in my frame after it re-entered the water from a breach. An entire week with one image in mind, I was obsessed. To say the water was freezing is an understatement. My lips and jaw were so numb after two hours of dive time that my oxygen regulator would often fall out of my mouth and I would consciously remind myself, “Hang onto your reg. Don’t lose your reg. You have to breathe…you can’t do your job if you’re not breathing.” \
After firing off thousands of frames over the first few days, I was left with only a growing dissatisfaction. I had to switch up my technique. Trying to “freeze” the Shark by shooting at high frame rates and a quick shutter only resulted in images without motion or emotion. White Sharks are never at a standstill. Even while resting they have to keep moving in order to oxygenate by passing water through their gills-- it’s how they breathe.
Then it clicked: I had to hold them in my frame while capturing their motion. I added two underwater flashes (strobes), slowed down the shutter speed, and went after one single image rather than a series of motionless freeze frames.
This confident and assertive male breached right in front of me, careened back into the water and I shot one frame. I don’t even remember him hitting the water; my impulse to click the shutter was triggered by the sound of a loud thunderous splash, not by sight of the actual Shark. I'm proud of this image because I was able to do three things: conquer my irrational fear of Great White Sharks, capture the element of motion within a single frame and survive the frigid temperatures of the Pacific Ocean while spending 13 hours a day in the water wearing a 3mm wetsuit.
It was a hell of a trip.