Editor's Note: These images and more can be seen at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., as a part of the larger exhibit "Portraits of Planet Ocean: The Photography of Brian Skerry" opening on September 17, 2013.
Brian Skerry's blog
A few years ago, I was in New Zealand photographing a story about the value of marine reserves (a type of marine protected area). My last location was a place called the Poor Knights Islands, a spectacular group of small, rocky islands off the North Island of New Zealand, which had been fully protected as a no-take zone in the 1980’s.
As an underwater photographer, time in the field is the most valuable thing I can be given. With time, I can usually overcome challenges and the problems that occur. Time also allows me to learn firsthand about the place in which I am working, what happens at different times of day and how animals behave. But oftentimes the best images are made when something unexpected happens. I love the discoveries that come from taking my time in a place and allowing opportunities to present themselves.
To a photographer, all that matters is the image, the picture that results when the shutter is released. This is what people will see and what will remain of that moment in time, captured forever. But for wildlife photographers and especially underwater wildlife photographers, so much has to happen just to get to that moment when your finger is on the shutter release.
There is of course, no such thing as the perfect photograph, as there is no perfect song, movie, or painting. Photography by its very nature is subjective and what appeals to one viewer may not interest another. There are photographic elements however, that have been proven to make images better, especially things like exposure and composition.
Lying in water only a foot deep, I watched the shark meander lazily through the mangrove, already exuding the confidence inherent of the supreme creature within its domain. It was hot here in Bimini, nearly 100-degrees and mosquitoes were thick and relentless, swarming on to any bare skin. Yet slipping my head just inches below the water’s surface I had entered another realm. I was absolutely transfixed watching these little sharks, perhaps 12 to 18 inches long; swimming beneath mangrove roots and over the muddy bottom with impressive deftness.