Three Shark Photographers You Need to Follow

3 minute read

Steven Spielberg’s iconic summer blockbuster, Jaws, first released 40 years ago, is still haunting bathers and surfers today. Depicting a great white shark that attacks vacationers in Amity, in New England, the movie has undoubtedly contributed to the misconception of the powerful animal as an unpredictable, bloodthirsty monster.

It has also fueled the fascination of generations of underwater photographers to capture the majestic yet terrifying fish on camera.

“The photographs and films that I remember most vividly from my childhood were those featuring sharks. The ocean, especially its large predators, was a persistent force that lured me along my life’s path,” says Thomas Peschak, an assignment photojournalist for National Geographic with a background as a marine biologist.

“My first real in-depth photo-reportage was about great whites, the most reviled and misunderstood shark of them all,” he tells TIME. “Rather than adding to the growing stock of menacing, toothy white shark photographs, I was driven to capture the gentler side and prehistoric perfection of this animal,” adds Peschak, who also serves as the director of conservation at Save our Seas Foundation.

As the misconception around sharks seems largely diffuse, professional photographers acquainted with the animal have tried to explore the “darker side” of the relationship between the animal and human beings, highlighting that sharks are not always the predators, but often the prey: fin trade, fishing tournaments and anti-shark nets, as documented in Peschak’s work.

Still the stakes can be high – just ask Hawaii-based surfer and shark attack survivor Mike Coots. Despite the tragic accident that left him mutilated of his right leg below the knee, Coots remains a passionate surfer and returned to his surfboard in a matter of weeks. “It felt incredible the first time back in the water after the shark attack,” he says.

And despite his gruesome encounter, Coots has become a vocal activist for preserving the endangered fish. “The more I read and learned about sharks and their value in our ecosystems, [the more] I felt compelled to help,” he says. “I am in a unique position as a shark attack survivor, and proud to leverage that to help do a little part in creating awareness of these amazing creatures.”

And while shark photography can be lucrative for professionals – “In my business, sharks are box office,” says Jeff Rotman, an underwater photographer for 40 years whose work has been featured in major publications – beginners should remain extremely cautious. “Take it slow. First become an excellent diver and never put yourself in a dangerous situation knowingly,” Rotman suggests. “Spend a lot of time with smaller, more docile sharks,” adds Coots. “Learn the biology and ethology of these animals.”

Framing and adjusting camera settings should also become second nature, says Peschak. “When you are diving with sharks, your mind needs to be 100% focused on the sharks and reading their behavior. You don’t really have the luxury of thinking too long about what f-stop to choose!”

Thomas Peschak is an assignment photographer at National Geographic, director of conservation at the Save our Seas Foundation, and a senior fellow at International League of Conservation Photographers. Follow him on Instagram at @thomaspeschak.

Jeff Rotman is a renowned underwater photographer, whose work has been featured on television, books and magazines worldwide.

Mike Coots is a surfer and a photographer. Follow him on Instagram at @mikecoots

Lucia De Stefani and Ye Ming are writers and contributors to TIME LightBox.

Credit: Thomas P. Peschak/
The water column is a three-dimensional habitat for sharks. Instead of traveling horizontally across the ocean, many species, like blacktip sharks, bounce up and down, repeatedly descending and ascending through the water column, in hopes of picking up any signs of prey. Aliwal Shoal, South Africa.Thomas P. Peschak
Credit: Thomas P. Peschak/
A Red Sea Silky Shark. To survive in the vastness of the open ocean, Silky sharks rely on their boldness and curiosity to investigate every opportunity that might yield a meal. Sharks make up for their lack of hands to investigate things, with thousands of tiny pores, called the Ampullae of Lorenzini, which line the shark’s snout. Northern Red Sea.Thomas P. Peschak
Credit: Thomas P. Peschak/
The whale shark is the world’s largest fish, born with unique spotted skin patterns, which don’t change significantly as the animal ages. Scientists are using the latest in space technology developed by NASA, for fingerprinting and identifying whale sharks based on their spots. In this image scientists from the conservation NGO Manta Trust are measuring a sub-adult whale shark in Baa Atoll, Maldives.Thomas P. Peschak
Credit: Thomas P. Peschak/
Bronze Whaler sharks are the most abundant sharks during the sardine run off South Africa’s east coast every June/July. Hundreds of them patrol the margins of baitballs and charge into the seething mass of fish singly or in small groups to feed.Thomas P. Peschak
Credit: Thomas P. Peschak/
Shark fins are the key ingredient of shark fin a soup, a dish frequenlty consumed at weddings and banquets in China. It is primarily served to demonstrate wealth and honor guests.Thomas P. Peschak
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Head and gills of Juvenile Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna Lewini), Kane'ohe Bay, Hawaii - Pacific Ocean.Jeff Rotman
Spiny Dogfish Shark
Close-up of Spiny Dogfish Shark (Squalus acanthias) born prematurely with egg sac attached. New England, North AtlanticJeff Rotman
Gills of a Lemon Shark at night
Gills of a Lemon Shark at night.Jeff Rotman
Eye of Whitetip Reef Shark
Eye of Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus), Cocos Island, Costa Rica - Pacific Ocean.Jeff Rotman
Caribbean Reef Shark
Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi). Bahamas, Caribbean Sea.Jeff Rotman
An image of Mike Coots taken by his friend Juan Oliphant as they are swimming surrounded by sharks.©JuanOliphant/@Juansharks
Mike Coots “hangs out” with a great white. As he is frequently asked if he is afraid to go back to the water after the attack, Coots has no doubt: “I am positive I was attacked as mistaken identity and the last couple of days [swimming with the sharks] really reiterated the point. Humans are not sharks' prey.”Mike Coots
While babysitting his 6-year-old nephew, the little boy showed the toys to Coots. "It's you uncle Mike," he said. Mike Coots
Coots has been able to return to surf after the shark attack, wearing a prosthesis for his right leg. Coots was just a teenager when a tiger shark attacked him in the deep water of Kauai, an area known to be populated by sharks. Mike Coots
Coots took this photograph with Hero3, a waterproof camera. He observed the white shark being hesitant before eating its meal. “Incredibly beautiful to watch and I never felt threatened once. Completely serene,” Coots wrote on his Instagram feed. Mike Coots

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