Michael Muller spends his days photographing celebrities. Even if you don’t know his name, you will recognize his work, from portraits of Olympic athletes to blockbuster movie posters. But Muller knows the importance of taking a break from the nine-to-five and finding time to work on personal projects. For him, that means being trapped in a cage, underwater, off the coast of South Africa to shoot photos of great white sharks.
Writing in a post on the Phase One blog, Muller details the technical challenges of the shoot. Putting his studio experience to work, he built a custom underwater lighting rig, to which he has been awarded patent rights. By lighting the sharks, he was able to control the environment and add drama and emotion to the scene. He claims his custom system is the most powerful underwater flash setup in the world, and admits he and his assistants breathed a sigh of relief when they tested it and found the sharks didn’t seem to mind.
The camera of choice was also straight out of the studio: a Phase One XF IQ3 digital medium format camera that features an 80MP sensor. Secured inside an underwater housing, the Phase One helped reveal detail not possible in other systems, allowing Muller to zoom into the images and crop them while still maintaining sufficient resolution.
Between the camera and the lighting, Muller’s photographs are unlike any other shark photos most people would be familiar with. They humanize the creatures by looking into their eyes and revealing the scars that crisscross their faces.
Great whites are fearsome predators, and from Jaws to Shark Week, humans love portraying them as such. Muller’s goal, however, was to tell another side of the story. His images present great white sharks (an endangered species) not as monsters, but as victims. The photographs were compiled into a book to help spread that message.