“We become a product of our own experiences, what we expose our eyes and hearts to, will determine the impact and influence that our lives will have on others.”
I say this to start off with a word of encouragement, as it’s so easy to lose direction in life being in such an information and opportunity saturated age. Such things I advise prudently, because these days you have to make consistently, conscious choices to feed your eyes and mind the things that will draw you toward your goals and not find yourself distracted by what’s happening all around you.
When i pick up my camera, my goal is to simply inspire others to wonder. And i’m ambitious to create images, that provoke people to think outside the limits of oneself. In addition to what I mentioned above, I believe that whatever we choose to expose ourselves to, can have a directly positive or negative influence on the course of our lives. That’s why I make it my goal to try and produce content that inspires people toward their own personally positive experience.
This motive took me to Australias North West, to find the largest fish in the ocean, the Whale Shark! I've wanted to properly photograph this beautiful animal ever since a brief encounter with one last year in Tonga! My good friend and fellow photographer; Matt Blakers and myself travelled to the small and remote town of Exmouth, about a 12 hour drive north of Perth in Western Australia. It’s a beautiful drive, but after a while the roads become very straight, and very, very long! As you get closer to Exmouth, you see the odd road kill and if you’re lucky you may spot one of the infamous Wedge Tailed Eagles perched on the kill. Those birds are ridiculously amazing, we stopped every time and crept up, trying to get a shot. Failed, every, time. They are just too smart! When we arrived, we checked in and organised our tours, which we had booked in advance with Three Islands Whale Shark Diving, one of several operators in the area that run the eco tours along the Ningaloo coast.
They warmly welcomed us on board and provided a truly memorable day. Everything about the tour was well organised and very accomodating. I can honestly say, it was about as good as it gets, the service, the crew, the food, the experience, just top notch all round! The Coral coast of North West Australia is a magnificent place, they first took us snorkelling over the beautiful Ningaloo coral reefs to start the day, which is a part of the largest fringing reef in the world, with over 500 species of marine life to encounter! I could have easily spent weeks, just appreciating the colours and intricacies of each living creature out there!
During my time in exmouth, I learnt that the abundance of marine life is a result of the warm, nutrient rich Leeuwin current, that flows south along the coral coast, meeting up with the Ningaloo current, that flows north, which creates an eddy of water that keeps plankton in the area, in addition to this, the Coral spawns at the change of season in early autumn, manifesting marine activity and making it the ideal place for Whale Sharks to feed and congregate. Large numbers of them migrate to the Coral Coast every year, showing up around late march and then leaving the area around late August.
When I finally got to swim alongside the Whale Shark, it was an experience like no other. There is a very tranquil and peaceful energy about them. Its sheer size is extraordinary enough, growing to lengths of over 12m, but when you see for yourself the way they gracefully move through the water, you can’t help but be left in a state of awe! They just swam slow enough, for us tiny, fascinated humans to keep up, as if it enjoyed our company for a short while during it’s incredibly lengthy, migratory travels. We were very blessed to have swum with an 8m female for close to an hour, before she descended back into the depths. It was a moment that went further than just amazement, into a feeling of deep gratitude for life and its wonders.
'Creating a photography series on this majestic animal was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, it’s like swimming alongside a living piece of ancient art.'
They are just that beautiful. To me, photography is about turning energy into art, and I found the whale shark to be a beautiful example of co-creating with such a marvellously artistic creator. Many people may say that their patterns and appearance is an evolutionary adaptation, and that’s an opinion they’ve arrived at as result from the things and ideas that they’ve been exposed to. However, I just can't gel with that notion, because through my experience, I’ve discovered nature to exhibit a living spectacle of intricate beauty, come about through thoughtful and creative design. Having personally encountered Gods presence in several powerfully climatic and also vulnerable moments in my life, that have since become the cornerstones of my passions and ambitions, you could say, what I’ve been exposed to, has greatly influenced the course of my life as well! I understand that many people have their own viewpoints, but I can assure you, seeking and experiencing an encounter with God for yourself, on your own terms, will redefine your point of view! But don’t just take my word for it, anymore than you’d take my word on what I have to say about anyone in a position of influence. Positioning oneself for a genuine meet and greet, an eye to eye, a moment of real vulnerability, that’s how my faith was forged.
Amongst my wondrous state, I made sure I wasn’t invasive of their space, which I think is a very important thing to keep in mind when photographing wildlife. The rules that guide the Whale Shark tours are very practical and respectful, prioritising the animals safety and space, which was great! After all, we had strolled into their home, and the last thing I wanted to be, was intrusive.
Photos by @oceanaimee
I took a lot of pictures, as I do, but made sure I soaked in the moment as well, something that can be challenging for us photographers at the best of times! But one of the cool things about going with Three Islands, is that they have Aimee (@oceanaimee), a passionate ocean photographer on board to capture the experience for you. It was great to meet Aimee, and I was inspired by the way she was using her passion for photography and the ocean, to give guests those sentimental memories that they can take home and cherish for a lifetime, as this kind of experience may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for many people, especially those with families.
Photo by Matt Blakers
Part of her job is to also record the visual iD of the sharks which can be determined by their unique skin patterns, that helps researchers learn more about their behaviour and migration routes, as very little is known about where Whale Sharks travel to during the off season.
Sadly, Whale Sharks are, an endangered species, and still hunted for their fins, mainly to supply the unhealthy demand for Shark Fin Soup. After swimming with them, I felt a greater responsibility to educate the people that are generating the demand on this wasteful and destructive practice. The finning industry is clearly run by people that lack conviction but it’s actually fuelled by people that simply lack education, if there was less demand, there would be less resource to fund the fisherman involved in the industry, they are not the enemies, they are mostly just men doing there job, to provide for their own needs. The real solution is to educate the world about the disastrous effects that this seemingly simple asian dish has generated, so that it becomes famously disreputable to serve and even more so to partake of. Speaking Chinese would certainly aid that endeavour.. Nevertheless, sustainable and responsible eco tourism, provide an opportunity to reverse the effects of the fin trade, by increasing public awareness of the facts and the future that these gentle giants face. It’s true, that we only care for, what we love, and I think if enough of us exposed ourselves to a need like this, we can make a lasting difference for every living thing on the planet, including ourselves.
"Open Wide" // Purchase Print
I encourage you to get inspired to have an experience like this for yourself, get passionate about it, because passion always leads to purpose, and a life lived on purpose will inspire others to love and care about this world we live in and the creatures that live within it. I couldn’t imagine a future, that our kids see only photos of these magnificent creatures and are not able to have the same experiences that we’ve been so fortunate to have.
When you set your focus on a goal, it’s amazing what you encounter along the way, and the importance of appreciating the journey has become more and more apparent to me as my photography career progresses. The most rewarding part of achieving success, (I’m still a ways off from my own goals), is knowing that you overcame and endured through the challenges along the way, because the summit of any mountain is only validated by the energy and tenacity that it took to get there. It’s easy to see someone have an experience like this and feel like it’s way beyond your reach, but life is a seasonal thing, there’s a time to work hard, and a time to enjoy the fruits of your labour, the key is simply to remain steadfast and consistent each day, keeping your focus on the goals and passions that God has placed in your heart.
A big shout out to Manfrotto for the best Tripods, bags, and filters in the business! Thanks to Cressi for powering me through the water! And thanks AquaTech for keeping my Canon 5DMKIV nice and dry :)
Thanks for checking out this new series of work and how I created it, I hope you enjoyed it! Check out the 3 minute video below that shows the behind the scenes of creating the series!
See you in the water,
Below is a passionately curated collection of images from my trip to the Ningaloo Coast to swim with the Whale Sharks. Each one has been processed ever so diligently and meticulously, to give everyone that buys a Thurston Photo print, that life long assurance of an increasingly valuable piece of Fine Art Photography.
"Ancient" // Purchase Print
"Celestial" // Purchase Print
"Depths" // Purchase Print
"Direction" // Purchase Print
"Silk" // Purchase Print
"Sub" // Purchase Print
"Vertical" // Purchase Print
"Entourage" // Purchase Print
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