Shane Gross is an underwater conservation photographer who grew up in Canada and spent 5 years in the Bahamas. His photos of marine images appeared on National Geographic several times. Follow Shane on his Instagram page to meet with more incredible creatures.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
Time. It just takes time. In the short term, nailing a shot you want, you need to be patient and put in the time. In the long term it takes a time to develop your photographic self.
Why do you take photos? What inspires you?
It’s the animals. The first time I see a new species I am like a little kid, even if it’s a common species, the first one is so special. Then you want to try to capture that being’s essence in a way that hasn’t been done. Then you try to use those images to influence people to care. It’s highly challenging, frustrating and can be extremely rewarding.
Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
There are many, but David Doubilet is the man who pushed underwater photography to where it is today and he is still pushing it. I used to just think about the animal and try to capture a portrait. He taught me to think beyond that, to think about the shapes, textures, background, lighting, gesture and about the overall story. There is a lot going on in a photograph and you want it all to work together to tell a story that draws people in.
What do you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?
I want to show how amazing this animal or habitat is and why you should care about it. How to do that is a question every conservation photographer thinks about. I’m not sure I have the answer, but if the image gets people to ask questions it’s a good start, it means there is some interest. I often try to leave a bit of mystery in my images, but I fail a lot more than I succeed.
What technology/software/camera gear do you use?
I use a Nikon D500 in an Aquatica underwater housing. I usually use two Sea&Sea YS250 flashguns and my go-to lenses are the Tokina 10-17, Nikkor 16-35, Nikkor 60mm macro and 105mm macro. For really tiny subjects I use a Subsee +10 Diopter and a Retra snoot.
How do you choose what you are going to shoot?
Often, its what is close to my home in The Bahamas. I talk to scientists a lot and try to find out what the important issues are in my area and start to shoot with that in mind. If I’m going to start work on a new story or project it often starts with one lucky image. For my story on conch overfishing it started with a single conch who didn’t hide in their shell when I approached so the viewer could see the animal underneath. People were fascinated. That grounded the story and I started building out from there.
What kind of tools do you use for post-processing? Explain your workflow.
I import my images into Lightroom with 95% of the settings I always do. For example, I almost always bring up the shadows and lower the highlights. This cuts down on my post-processing time and let’s me see an image that is closer to being finished which helps with image choice. Then I go through all the images and flag the ones that show some potential. I’ll select one image to work on and get it as close to how I want it as I can before exporting to Photoshop. In Photoshop I might make another tweak or two before saving a tiff and jpg.
Among your works, which one is your favorite? Why?
Whatever I last shot haha. My first love is big animals so my images of whales and sharks are always what I want to show off the most. An image I made of the tail of a sperm whale seems to connect with people and that means a lot.
What was the most curious story behind your photograph?
It’s always amazing when an animal takes an interest in you. It’s extremely rare, though we hear stories about them often because when it does happen its life-changing. I remember this one octopus that played hide-and-seek with me for 45 minutes. I would slowly reach my hand out towards her and she would reach a tentacle out and gently feel my hand. Then I would go hide behind a rock and, sure enough, she would find me. They have such curiosity and intelligence.