“Between the underwater and the topside world is what makes photography so special,” says photographer Shane Gross. With a childhood passion for ocean conservation, Gross aspired to spend his life in the ocean. Over time, his path towards marine biology shifted to photography. “I found photography to be a better way to get close to the animals I love,” says Gross.
Today, Gross lives and works in the Bahamas as a dive instructor and pursues his photography year-round. He entered the 2017 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year contest to showcase his photography. “I don't think I'm alone in feeling overwhelmed with all the problems facing our planet, but I believe that putting my skills and passion towards ocean conservation can make some small difference and that is what drives me today,” he says.
Lemon sharks spend their adolescence near mangrove trees that serve as protection from larger predators. To capture this ecosystem, Gross created an under-over, or split-shot, photo of a juvenile lemon shark.
Gross carefully plans his shoots, often working with scientists on location to better understand the animals and environments he’s photographing. While visiting Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen marine reserve, Gross wanted to capture a new perspective of sharks in the region. Gross secured his camera to a rock and pointed it to the ocean surface, using a remote timer to take pictures of the sea life in the area. “These sharks aren't exactly shy, but they still keep a five-foot buffer from divers, so I wanted to take myself out of the equation. I thought there was a chance they might get curious enough to swim down towards the camera if a diver wasn't behind it, scaring them away. I didn't get the shot I had in mind, but this is actually better.”
To capture the reflection of this American Crocodile, Gross slowly approached the animal over the course of two hours in Cuba's Garden of the Queens marine reserve.
To capture an up-close-and-personal frame of a crocodile, Gross’s planning began well ahead of hitting the water. “I had about six months prep before entering the water, so by the time I saw the first crocodile in the mangroves I was excited to get in,” recalls Gross. Patience was key to capturing the striking reflections underwater. “The croc was really shy. It took almost two hours to very slowly move towards the crocodile, before it was okay with my presence. I only took a few shots before the people on the boat were yelling at me that it was time to go. You never get as much time as you want when shooting underwater.”
What’s next for Gross? He’s working on a story about the Nassau grouper, an endangered Caribbean fish that he says still often appears on Caribbean restaurant menus. He will be heading out with a team of scientists to a known spawning site in November 2017. "I tried last year, but we didn't see the event. We did, however, find illegal traps filled with grouper. I hope my luck (and that of the grouper) changes this year.”
Gross remains passionate about educating the public and creating photo stories that tell the story of the ocean and marine life. “If you're not sure if the fish you are eating is sustainable or if you've never asked yourself about the impact of your diet, please consider this your wake-up call. What you buy at the supermarket or restaurant has a huge impact."
See more of Shane Gross’s photography on his website.
Photographs by Shane Gross.
Lead Image: Caribbean reef sharks swim close to a camera in Cuba's Garden of the Queens. "The idea was to set my camera down on a rock pointing straight up to the surface and use a remote trigger to take images as sharks passed. I thought there was a chance they might get curious enough to swim towards the camera if a diver wasn't behind it to scare them away," says photographer Shane Gross. Photo by Shane Gross.