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How did you get started in underwater photography?
With a disposable point and shoot. I was backpacking around Australia for a year with some friends and would dive and shoot when the opportunity came up. Even then I was obsessed with it even though the results were less than average. Those were back in the film days and one of the developers I took my film to commented that he liked my compositions but needed to upgrade my camera gear to get better lighting. This planted a seed.
A few months later I opened a magazine and saw the most amazing image you can imagine. Doug Perrine’s sharks feeding on sardines during the sardine run that won Wildlife Photographer of the Year that year. In that moment, I decided I would take underwater photography up seriously. After my year in Australia I got a desk job, payed off my debt and worked to save up for a rig that would give me control over the lighting of the image. It took three years behind a desk, but I finally got it. I will always remember when the delivery man rang the doorbell during dinner that evening, my life had a new direction.
What came first – diving or photography?
I come from a diving family so that came first. I was always interested in photography, but never knew anyone else who was, so I didn’t really start to develop that until after I had been diving for several years.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
Nikon D500, Aquatica Housing, Sea&Sea YS250 Strobes are all in my core kit. My go-to lenses are the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye, Nikkor 16-35mm, Nikkor 60mm and 105mm macro. Then too many little accessories to list.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
I moved to The Bahamas in 2012 and do 99% of my shooting here, so it has to be my favourite. I do have a soft spot for the Yucatan area as well. Bull sharks and sailfish in the winter, and whale sharks and manta rays in the summer, and for three of those amazing species, it is arguably the best place in the world to encounter them.
Most challenging dive?
It may not technically be a dive, but trying to photograph the blue whales of Sri Lanka was extremely difficult. They may be the biggest animal to ever live, but they are incredibly shy and move very fast. Trying to get close enough to them for a descent photograph is highly challenging.
Who are your diving inspirations?
The list is long, but the first one that comes to mind is Laurent Ballesta. He has made the deepest ever dive under Antarctica, photographed Coelacanths at 600 feet in South Africa and completed a 24-hour dive to document the grouper spawning (and sharks feeding) in the South Pacific. Enough said.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list?
This may be an even longer list! I’ve never seen or photographed: orca, thresher sharks, mola mola, narwhal, leopard seal, weedy sea dragon, penguins… I could keep going, there is a lot left to see and explore.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
Photograph close to home. I lived in Saskatchewan most of my life which has 100,000 lakes, but I did all my photography at that time in foreign countries then put my camera away when I got home. If I lived there today I would shoot a lot in those lakes. There are many interesting, important stories there.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
I was diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. When we entered the water conditions were perfect, but things changed halfway through. A huge, unexpected current came up. It was tough slogging back to the boat, but I could make progress by digging my hands into the sand at 60 feet. My dive buddy however, was up doing her safety stop at 15 feet, drifting away.
I had a choice to make. Do I try to make it back to the boat and alert the crew to my buddy’s situation? Or stick with my buddy? I decided to stick with my buddy. I slowly rose to meet her and did my safety stop thinking we’d be spending the night drifting in the open ocean. When we reached the surface the rescue boat was there to pick us up. All the dive buddy teams were in the same situation. I give kudos to the topside team for paying attention and rescuing us.
What is your most memorable dive and why?
I think the most memorable time in the water was shooting the sailfish of Isla Mujeres. They are just such incredible animals, the fastest swimmers in the ocean and have these beautiful sails and change colours. We got to watch them feed on a baitball of sardines for over an hour. It was spectacular.
Shane Gross is an award-winning Canadian marine conservation photojournalist based in The Bahamas. He has shot stories focused on issues such as the Atlantic Lionfish Invasion, Conch Conservation, Mangroves and Lemon Sharks, Cuba’s Famous Marine Protected Area and Sri Lanka’s Whales, among others. He is focused on using his images to promote positive conservation change for our oceans. Follow Shane on Instagram here.