Great white sharks are one of my favorite sharks to photograph. This isn't me saying that other sharks aren’t charismatic, but there’s just something about great whites that I find absolutely captivating when I’m behind the lens. The coloration, the scars, those colorful eyes and powerful teeth. They’re an apex predator and that really shows through photographs.
It makes sense, then, that one of my favorite photographers is George Probst from Blacksburg, Virginia. He knows how to capture these sharks just so. His story with these sharks began as another story ended; money set aside for a ring was instead used for an adventure with great white sharks. Here, another love story began… and one The Fins United Initiative hopes doesn’t end any time soon.
The Fins United Initiative: Thanks, George, for taking time to answer some questions about your life as a shark photographer! First things first, do you have any projects going on?
George Probst: I don't currently have any projects in the works, unfortunately.
TFUI: I've read that your first photography experience was with great white sharks after money freed itself up due to some circumstances. Not that I disagree with your choice, but why go great white shark diving?
GP: I have been fascinated with sharks and dinosaurs ever since I can remember. I can remember my first trip to the library as a small child, when I checked out a few books on sharks and dinosaurs. One of the books had a close-up of a great white shark in it, and I just thought that was one of the coolest pictures I had ever seen. From that point on, it was always my favorite shark species.
TFUI: That is great to hear that your reading fired up your fascination for these animals! We hope that our summer reading list can stoke this early childhood curiosity and lead to a lifelong passion.
GP: As I got older, I told myself that I wanted to see a white shark in the wild before I died. When the opportunity presented itself, I made the decision to go white shark diving at Guadalupe. (I still haven't seen a dinosaur in the wild, though.)
TFUI: Well, we’ve all seen how Jurassic Park turned out, so I think that’s a good thing! If not marine photography, what other field interests you?
GP: I really enjoy macro photography, wildlife photography of all kinds, and long-exposure photography. I love going through the work of other photographers and spend quite a bit of time on photo sharing sites.
TFUI: As do we! You produce quality work and many of your photographs are The Fins United Initiative's favorites. What has been your favorite picture- and why?
GP: My favorite photo that I've taken is (see above). It is not one of my more popular shots, but to me it really captures the essence of the great white shark, as a species. So often, the shots that we see of white sharks tend to focus on them feeding or with their jaws agape, yet they spend a vast majority of their time just calmly swimming about. Since most people only ever experience great white sharks through photos and video, I think it's important to capture them as they are typically seen, and I think this photo a good representation of how a white shark would be seen in the wild.
My favorite shark photo out there, right now, is probably Eric Hanauer's white shark photo that has been featured by National Geographic I like this shot for the same reasons I mentioned above.
TFUI: Oh, wow, that is a beautiful shot. It truly captures how majestic these animals are. In regard to photography, what has been the biggest source of inspiration in your work?
GP: The sharks themselves are the biggest inspiration. I never set out to be a shark photographer. My first shark dive was supposed to be a "one and done" bucket list trip. I had bought a little point-and-shoot camera and housing, just so that I had some photos to remember the trip by. After spending just a short amount of time in the water with the sharks, I was hooked.
TFUI: I feel like a lot of shark lovers know exactly what you’re talking about! It’s an addicting experience!
GP: My photos from the first trip help to serve as a springboard to discuss sharks with people. Admittedly, prior to my first trip, I had a lot of the same misconceptions about white sharks that most people do. I was worried about a shark grabbing me off the ladder while climbing down into the cage, even. Now, that I have spent a fair amount of time in the water with many different shark species, I have a much greater appreciation for them, than I did before I started diving, and that's something that I can share with other people who might not have the opportunity to see sharks in their natural habitat. Photographs also help to open the door to discussions about the importance of sharks to environment and some of the threats that many shark species are facing.
TFUI: That is a great point to make. Personal anecdotes with sharks tend to weigh more than just scientific facts. We’re glad that you use your experiences and photographers to speak out for sharks!
GP: The work of other shark photographers has also been a huge inspiration. Of course, the big name National Geographic wildlife photographers, Thomas Peschak, David Doubilet, Brian Skerry, and Paul Nicklen have taken some inspiring shots over the years. I also find inspiration from the work of Amanda Cotton, Andy Murch, and Joe Romeiro, among others.
TFUI: A list of great talent right there! We’re hoping to see Brian Skerry in October, when he visits Wellington, New Zealand and talks about whales, dolphins and seals.
GP: I also find inspiration from the work of Amanda Cotton, Andy Murch, and Joe Romeiro, among others.
TFUI: They all produce great content. What a list! Let’s switch gears and talk about specifics. Do you prefer Nikon or Canon, other? And what’s your favorite lens?
GP: I'm currently shooting with a Canon 5D iii and 17-40L lens for underwater shots.
TFUI: Do you prefer RAW or jpg? Why?
GP: RAW, always. JPG throws out so much data right out of the gate. I do almost all of my post-processing (which typically consists of lens distortion correction, white balance, and noise reduction) with Adobe Camera Raw. The difference between an in-camera JPG and a processed RAW file can be huge, particularly when it comes to white balance.
TFUI: Good advice we’ll keep in mind as we branch out in our photography endeavors. Got any more advice you would like to offer new photographers?
GP: Go out and shoot as much as you can, but be sure to think about what you're shooting and why you’re shooting it. I was at a photo-walk recently led by National Geographic photographer, Lynn Johnson, earlier this year. She sent everybody off for the first two minutes to shoot photos. When we came back she was reviewing one of the photographer's shots and asked her, "Why did you shoot this?" The photographer had no answer. That stuck with me, because if you think about what you're shooting and why you're shooting it, you will look at the whole process from a better perspective than just blindly clicking the shutter.
TFUI: That’s going to stick with us too. Great advice, George. Speaking about photography, what’s a "myth" about being a shark photographer that you want to clear the record about?
GP: The most obvious one is that you're in imminent danger being around sharks. I often see comments about how "scary" it must be, when in reality it can be quite tranquil. Of course, there is certainly a level of caution that must be taken, which varies depending on the species of sharks, but I think so many people have this misconception that any and every shark will immediately swim up and bite you if you get in the water with them. There's always a risk when interacting with wild animals that you might be on the receiving end of a bite, but the risk is minimal if you follow reasonable safety measures. A lot of the time, the sharks don't want anything to do with divers and will often keep their distance.
TFUI: Sharks tend to be either attracted to the big cameras or shy away from them. Fascinating to see!
GP: I think a good analogy would be to compare it to walking along a busy street. Cars can potentially be deadly, if you don't use a certain level of caution around them, but if you watch what you're doing and look both ways when crossing, the risk of something bad happening is pretty small.
TFUI: I like that analogy! Alright, one more question before we let you go. What do you do besides traveling? I’m jealous you’ve gotten to go to Guadalupe- that’s a dream!
GP: Outside of diving and photography, I also enjoy running, travelling to Metallica shows, reading, movies (mainly action, sci-fi, and horror films), sketching, hanging out with my dog, and spending time with my family.
TFUI: We look forward to seeing all future photographs from you, George! Thanks for your time!
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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