Ain't no second chances with Great Whites but this amazing technique works every time for photography great Mikey Muller!
As well as being a close pal of my fav shaper Matt Biolos, the American photographer Mike Muller is noted for a lot of things: his celeb portraits of Hollywood’s A-List, Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Downey Jnr etc, the covers for VF, Elle and Esquire, the poster images for Spiderman, the Avengers and his advertising work for the big guns, including Dolce and Gabbana’s handbag campaign with Sharon Stone last year.
But what thrills, and what drives the fifty-two-year-old snowboarder from northern California, is his work with Great White sharks, specifically filming ‘em in the wild, with a full studio-style rig, outside of cages.
“I knew that I couldn’t bring the Great White to the studio,” Michael has said, “so I had to bring the studio to the Great White.”
Muller has just released an “immersive 360 degree video experience” for Oculus VR goggles called Into the Now. Four dollars fifty puts you next to a pregnant whale shark, amid a school of hammerheads and face to beak with the most feared predator of ‘em all, the Great White.
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I don’t got the goggles but it’s almost enough to get me melting the plastic on a five-hundred dollar pair.
But what is real interesting about Muller is his technique for avoiding getting mauled while shooting. This is the Great White, after all. Ain’t no second chances.
“Great Whites are ambush predators,” says Muller. “It’s not the shark that you see, not the twenty-foot shark just over there – as long as we have eye contact …my head is on a swivel because eventually I’ll look down and see that two-and-a-half tons coming at me at twenty miles per hour like a missile. I then have to turn and swim head on at the shark. The minute I start swimming towards it, it looks at me, (thinks) I don’t like you, you’re a potential predator.”
In a podcast recorded with Rich Roll, Muller describes the day eight years ago when he learned the technique from the legendary South African diver and photographer Morne Hardenberg.
“My flippers were down and I see a shark coming at me, like, full speed,” says Muller. “I grab my camera and I remember thinking rubber meets the road, here we go, I’m ready. I’m looking down and off this shoulder Mornay, holding his RED camera with two arms and the lights, goes head-on straight on at it. I watched it bank off and my first thought was, that’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in my life.
“Second thought was, he just saved my life.
“Third thought was, that looks like that’s what you do. When we got to the surface he said, okay, when they come at you, you have to turn and swim head-on at them… the next day we were out of the cage, and we had two of ‘em come at us. One at him. One at me. I had no choice. I did it, alright here we go. If you freeze you’re done.”
Why’s it work?
“Here’s the thing,” says Muller. “Everything in the ocean, besides Orcas, swim away from that animal. Everything. The minute you start swimming towards it, that’s something they’re not used to. And, nothing touches that animal. Give it a little pinch and it’s gone.”