From Hollywood to the sea? How an A-list photographer captures sharks

Updated 27th September 2016
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From Hollywood to the sea? How an A-list photographer captures sharks
Written by Allyssia Alleyne, CNN
Marvel's go-to film photographer, Michael Muller, has shot blockbuster movie posters (including "Captain America: Civil War" and "Deadpool" this year alone), platinum-selling album covers for the likes of Rihanna and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and campaigns for Nike, Speedo, Sony and HBO, among others.
But for the last decade, he's also been photographing sharks in the wild, armed with nothing but a camera and hardened nerves, to raise awareness about their endangered populations.
Muller made his first shark dive in 2006, but it wasn't until luxury watch manufacturers IWC Schaffhausen asked him to shoot a campaign for their Aquatimer in the Galapagos Islands in 2008 that he decided to make this pet project his primary cause.
"That was the trip when I learned what was going on with our oceans," Muller says of the trip, where he was accompanied by educators from the Charles Darwin Foundation and UNESCO.
"I learned about the 60 to 70 million sharks we were killing every year at the time; about the plastic in the Pacific Ocean that's the size of Texas, about the Great Barrier Reef being destroyed."
His most breathtaking shots have been brought together in "Michael Muller: Sharks, Face-To-Face with the Ocean's Endangered Predator," a coffee table book published by Taschen. Following the release of a new collector's edition, Muller spoke to CNN Style about activism, "Jaws," and the one things sharks and A-listers have in common.
CNN Style: You're known for shooting musicians and actors. Why turn your lens on sharks?
Michael Muller: About 10 or 11 years ago, I got a bug in me that I was like 'I want to see the great whites.'
Since childhood I've always had a deep, deep fear mixed with fascination for sharks -- especially with great whites, but sharks in general. "Jaws" had a huge impact on me as a young boy watching that movie, creating a lot of anxiety and fear. Even swimming in a pool at one point.
When I moved back to Northern California (from Saudi Arabia as a child), I started surfing at a pretty young age. Surfing up in Northern California is pretty much surfing in shark-infested cold water, so we knew they were out there.
When did you realize this was a subject you wanted to pursue seriously?
I sat on a boat one night in the Galapagos, and I had this fulfillment shooting these animals -- shooting underwater with these lights and doing what I was doing -- that I hadn't really felt doing my commercial work. Even though I was shooting a watch campaign, there was a bigger cause behind it.
I've sold $10 billion dollars in movie posters and Nike shoes and this and that; maybe I can help sell this planet and these animals that most people haven't seen before.
How do you get the sharks to pose for you?
If we're not chumming in the water, the sharks aren't even going to be there. They're either skittish about us, afraid of us, or have no interest in us, so for me to photograph the sharks, we have to bring the chum into the water and feed them.
How does an underwater shark shoot differ from working with celebrities?
They're just like people. They have a body language. We can very easily tell when there's one that's aggressive. I've been taught how to handle myself if they are aggressive and it certainly comes down to you becoming the predator. So you can't have a fear when you're down there.
That said, I can't really direct the sharks. I have a very small amount of control -- maybe where I put the food, where I set my light, where I position myself.
Other than that, I can't tell the shark 'Hey, time to raise your dorsal fin,' whereas with people, when they step on the mark, for the most part I am directing them, telling them where to look, what to do, or collaborating with them. The amazing ones, we collaborate together. They bring to the table an experience, but for the most part I'm directing them.
It's also real quiet underwater, and not so quiet on photo shoots.
How has shooting sharks impacted the way you work with your human subjects?
For me, when you're looking at a 16-18 foot great white shark, the power, the perfection of evolution at that... I sort of look at people and -- even in my field -- I'm not really impressed. I don't put people up on pedestals anymore. We all share the same sun.