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“Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.” – (Chinese proverb)
Ever since I took a wide-angle image of a great white breaching at Seal Island in 2008 titled ‘Essence of Seal Island’, I’ve searched for ways to surpass it, even though it is one of my favourites. Sadly, I tried and failed on countless occasions.
Then I designed a mini sled which rode just a few centimetres off the water with my camera completely exposed inside a 3-sided box. Being smaller, it was less distracting and therefore less of a deterrent to the sharks.
The plan was to tow the decoy close to the sled to get the most spectacular angle possible of a shark taking to the air in a predatory burst of flight. It would be an extremely high-risk image to capture: one bad wave, one big splash or a shark hitting the sled would have meant game over for all my gear, but if it worked, it would be hard to beat.
For days we towed the sled with agonisingly close moments. On the penultimate morning, dawn brought an ominously moody sky. It was exactly what I wanted: a scene lending depth, emotion and drama to the image. The stage was set.
I wanted to keep a little of the seal-encrusted island in frame to accentuate the interesting element of the prey in frame and put the situation into context. It all looked too good to be true; we had the perfect canvas but no subject.
Then…it happened! A torpedo-shaped head broke the ocean’s surface, followed by pectoral fins and finally the entire body of a great white shark, arcing 3 metres clear of the water. I pressed the trigger for all I was worth, hoping, praying, that the signal would be relayed, and that the camera would fire. The shark slammed back into the sea, leaving a torrent of water cascading over my camera.
The first breach, ‘The Pearl’, symbolises a career of pushing boundaries, trying new things and never being afraid to take high risks. It also is a reflection of a life working with predators, getting to know them, understanding what their comfort levels and the thresholds within them. I truly feel that with this image I am taking my audience into the ocean with the shark at eye level and showcasing the athleticism of the incredible great white shark in all its predatory glory.