Fiji is known to ecotourists around the world for its world-class shark dives.

As a photographer looking to create meaningful work, this was the perfect opportunity for me to create a series of images that would promote their beauty while advocating for their protection.

Sharks are almost always depicted as menacing and terrifying, yet it is humans that are responsible for killing them in the millions just to make soup. I wanted to create a series of images that would help break those stereotypes and show that it is possible for us to co-exist together in perfect harmony.

One problem: I didn’t know anyone in Fiji that would help me tie down a model while sharks swam around.

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Finding a dive shop that would be interested in helping me transform my vision into reality was a huge challenge. Not only did they have to be available, they also had to believe that creating a shot like this would be possible.  Although there was some interest, it wasn’t until a few days after I landed in Fiji that things started to fall into place.

Through the help of a couple supporters, Ropate & Konrad, along with a half-dozen emails and phone calls, I was finally introduced to the right people: Tourism Fiji and the Barefoot Collection. Despite the tight time frame, they would provide us with a full team of support divers as well as their in-house marine biologist & shark expert Thomas Vignaud. Just like that, we found ourselves creating a shark shepherd to promote the creation of shark conservations.

See the magic come together in this two-minute video:

Like this project? Support us & add your signature!! 

www.SharkShepherds.com

Shooting a model with sharks was even more complicated than shooting models in an underwater shipwreck.

In addition to the standard complications of shooting underwater – Limited oxygen, complex communication, specialized equipment and experienced divers – we only had a tiny two-hour window every day, between 11 AM and 1 PM, where the sharks would be active and light rays visible.

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Divers Kris McBride & Steve Hathaway get model Amber Bourke into position. Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mmNauticam Housing + DP170 dome port | ISO400, 16mm, f/5.6, 1/320

For each and every shot we would weigh down Amber Bourke, our champion freediver, onto the perfectly lit rock formation where light was falling. The ethereal white dress, designed specifically for this shoot by Ali Charisma, would have to be carefully placed so that it would flow beautifully into the image. When all was finally in position, we would hand over the three-piece plastic shepherds crook to amber and begin the wait.

Over the course of three days, we waited over six hours.

Von Wong's Shark Shepherd
Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mmNauticam Housing + 180mm Dome Port | ISO400, 16mm, f/5.6, 1/320

Though popular media would tell you that sharks come swarming at the slightest scent of blood, death and suffering, our experience with them was the complete opposite.

Similar to squirrels at a park, the white tipped reef sharks would hover around us curiously only to scamper off if anyone got too close.

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Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mmNauticam Housing + DP170 Dome Port | ISO400, 16mm, f/5.0, 1/200

Hoping to get the sharks in perfect position, our entire team tried their best to hug the walls and not make any sudden movements to not startle the timid creatures.

Once one of them got deep enough into the cave and we thought there was a good chance of us capturing a shot, Amber would take a deep breath, rip off her mask and strike a couple of poses for as long as she could.

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Unedited outtakes
Von Wong's Shark Shepherd
Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mmNauticam Housing + DP170 Dome Port | ISO400, 16mm, f/4.0, 1/200

Having the privilege to dive with sharks, learn more about them and showcase their unique beauty, was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of. Although Sharks are currently on the road to extinction, it is still possible to find pockets of magic like these.

I hope that everyone gets the chance to experience their grace in person – but until then, join me in encouraging the creation of shark sanctuaries by signing this petition.

Click here and come be a shark shepherd with me!

Media Requests

  • Feel free to quote and publish the photos on your online publication (please credit & link back to the original). High-rez press images, BTS and more can be found in this dropbox link.
  • Commercial requests and rights: suzy@suzyjohnston.com
  • Interview requests: ben@vonwong.com

Credits:

Photography: Von Wong
Video editing: Adam Frimer
Sound Design: Andrew Kesler
Model: Amber Bourke
Dress designer: Ali Charisma
Underwater video operator: Steve HathawayYoung Oceans Explorers
Drone operator: Joost Glaser
Shark Expert: Thomas Vignaud
Dive Team:  Lydia Murray, Kris Mcbride, Rachel Young, Carlo Acosta
Special thanks: Barefoot Collection, Tourism Fiji, Nauticam
Screenwriting: Yonatan Kanaskevich
Copywriting: Marlies Gabriele Prinzl

Conservation partner: Shark Stewards

Shark facts:

  1. Sharks are a keystone species and are responsible for the health of ocean ecosystems. They eliminate the weak, the diseased and the dead, maintaining the ecological balance and the future health of the ocean.
  2. Every year, tens of millions of sharks are killed by humans. On average, sharks kill less than 10 people a year.
  3. Shark fins contain mercury and nearly no nutritional value. Most shark meat is unpalatable. They are mostly eaten as a status symbol by the Chinese.
  4. Currently, shark ecotourism brings almost 1 Billion US worldwide, and is expected to grow 2 fold in the next 20 years.
  5. There are over 450 species of sharks, most cause no harm to humans.

Gear Used:

Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mmNauticam Housing + 180mm Dome Port

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Announcements:

  • Want to collaborate with me on conservation projects? Send me a message!
  • I’ll be in New Zealand and Bhutan in February. Will you be around? Join my facebook groups – NZ / Bhutan
  • 20% off my retouching tutorial with promo code: SHARK20

MORE AWESOMENESS:

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  • Nicole MacKenzie

    test comment: Love the pics! OK, it posted but I had to log in with FB and I don’t know where that icon came from. WEIRD. Edit #3: Now my pic is fine.

  • Shantel Rich

    Do you ever get tired of out doing yourself?! 😉

  • Jen Brook

    Absolutely fantastic images and such a worthy cause. When the oceans die, so do we. The quicker society realises that, the greater chance we have of survival in the world as we know it.

  • Marco Ter Beek

    Awesome again really awesome!!!!!! Thumbs up (if you still have em 🙂

  • aithyne

    Utterly incredible and inspiring.

  • domnic

    Incredible job once again and congratulations…Keep the inspirations flowing.. Just got a quick question and I am being pixel peeper, these images are showing incredible noise, was this deliberate or was this the fault of the camera??

    • Luke

      Might be particles in the water + some JPEG artifacts.

    • A combination of particles in the water, exposing for the highlights and shooting at ISO400. The only way to have made these images cleaner was to have more controlled lighting but we simply didn’t have the time, resources or manpower for that.

  • Kaitlyn Coglianese

    Simply amazing and very inspirational. I am a student in school for photography and seeing other artist work has always inspired me for ideals for shoots in the future. Your concept of the shoot is such an awesome ideal it’s beautiful but also very educational I didn’t know that much about sharks until watching the video and seeing the facts. It would be a honor to work with someone of great talent and really appreciate the combination of art and nature. You have really utilized your natural surroundings and I am blowned away. I am very glad I came across this thanks for your great work

  • Oscar Ph Nieto

    Hi Von Wong!
    Tu trabajo es impresionante.
    Tus proyectos anteriores son fantásticos, este es súper fantástico.
    Creo que no hay límite para tu creatividad y tu pasión.
    Admiro muchísimo todo esto que haces.
    Si algún día pasas por Colombia y requieres colaboración, estaré listo en primera fila para lo que sea

    • Mallygut

      Hi Von Wong!
      Your work is impressive!
      Your previous works are fantastic, this is super fantastic!
      I believe there is no limit to your creativity and passion.
      I so much admire all that you do.
      If you are in Colombia and need collaboration, I will be ready in the first row to do whatever.
      I am a turtle.

      • Oscar Ph Nieto

        haha I’m not a turtle (not yet), but thx for the translation

        • Mallygut

          The turtle line was added by the translator for personal entertainment purposes.

  • waadsdasdasd

    what camera did you use for the filming?

  • Nadia Rae Lovko

    I absolutely love these! I’d love to get a print or get this on canvas. Do you have an official shop or anything for this?

  • abfabfrog

    Thanks for sharing your inspiration and the information about shark shepards. Both are fascinating and beautiful!

  • Amazing photo and great initiative to protect a very misunderstood animal!

  • Is the original available anywhere? I prefer the blue colour to the edited versions.

    • John Smith

      Agreed. The originals look amazing.

      • Nope, sorry but you can always go out and shoot it yourself! 😀

        • John Smith

          Sounds like a plan. Hey, can I borrow your boat…and your camera, and your hot model, and that shepherd’s crook of yours?

  • Xinuo Gao

    Absolutely amazing, the images and the meaning behind it.

  • Prophet

    Hi Ben. Very very good work. My compliments!
    Tell us a little secret… I see some divers with little cages in their hands. Looks like you attract sharks with some food. Didn’t you?

    • The smell of food rather than food itself. If the sharks ate the food, they’d get full and leave which we didn’t want 🙂

  • Ken S.

    Creating beautiful photos with a cause behind it is a challenge in itself. You conquered that without question. The lighting in these photos is amazing and the subject matter is so surreal with or without the sharks.

  • Lori Paul

    Thank you for bringing positive attention to the plight of sharks. (As opposed to the sensationalist fear generated by “Shark Week” on cable TV and the like.) The video was as inspirational as the final still photos, because we can understand the setting and see the origin of your concepts. The musical score on the video was beautiful. Can you tell us what soundtrack or source you used? If I hear it in the future, it will certainly bring sharks and the sea to mind. I have signed the Shark Shepherds petition supporting the establishment of a Malaysian Shark Sanctuary… and passed it on to others. Good luck with your emphasis on conservation. The world needs more individuals like you.

  • shresth

    awesome work is always appreciated ,you are creating such a beautiful photoshoot, lighting of photo shoot backgroung all thing are perfect in photo shoot!

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  • Dave Flynn

    Mind well and truly blown… You are a true visual wizard.

  • godsakes

    I sweat when I’m shopping around charity shops for photo props, how on earth do you fund a shoot like this? where you’re going to destroy a dress, fly yourself (and probably assistants/model) around the world (probably a pre-scouting trip for yourself) and hire a team of divers to make it happen??

    • I was teaching a workshop in Fiji so I had a free plane ticket. The model paid for her own plane ticket and I bought the plane ticket of the video guy who volunteered his time and equipment. The dress designer paid for the shipping and the dress. Barefoot (the island) sponsored our lodging, food and dives.

      There was no pre-scouting trip, the whole project came together in about 5 days.

      I think its about finding the right people to work with. Purpose over money.

      • Kat Smith

        I love how you have the guts to just go for it – These pictures are amazing!