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Whale Sharks and Models: An Underwater Photoshoot

At first glance, you may dismiss this set of photos as yet another attempt at image manipulation, except it’s not.

Marine life photographer Shawn Heinrichs and fashion photographer Kristian Schmidt came up with a brilliant idea for a fashion shoot to raise awareness about the importance of conservation and the implications on the environment. Seeing the world’s largest fish — the whale shark — drift peacefully alongside fashion models puts a whole new meaning to coexistence.

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Heinrichs shares their goal: “To highlight the magnificence of these creatures and bring beauty to a global audience. Our challenge, to turn models into mermaids and create mesmerizing imagery that captured the unique connection between humans and the largest fish in the ocean.”

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The two photographers were able to capture rare moments of stunning visual harmony between human and animal. It takes a strong passion for conservation and protection of our natural world to go through with a project like this, and through their collective efforts, Schmidt and Heinrichs have created a beautiful collection of photographs that epitomize the fragility of nature.

Together, the people involved in this shoot have turmed out some outstanding photographs that have gone viral, leading to a new awareness of the whale shark. This was the plan from the very beginning.

“I’ve been doing underwater filming and photography work since the late 90s and one of the things I’ve come to realize is that there are niche communities of people who are interested in the ocean,” says Heinrichs. “It’s a very small subset of the global population. The whole concept of this shoot was to really break out of that box.”

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Whale sharks are over-fished and sought after because of the high value of their fins. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists whale sharks as a vulnerable species. This means that they are at a high risk of extinction. It’s such a blow to ecotourism programs because whale sharks are known to be gentle creatures. The fishermen from Oslob, hand-feed the sharks, which explains why these animals seem to be accustomed to human interaction. Other ecotourism programs are not as lenienet and try to distance tourists from the fish.

This practice helped the models get remarkably close to the sharks. The less-than-optimal shooting conditions made it difficult for everyone, so compliant sharks were a welcome surprise.

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The long term effects of human/whale interaction are still relatively unknown, but there is much to be said about the great awareness that has come out of Schmidt and Heinrichs’ work.

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I embarrassed to admit that I only found out about the whale sharks in Southern Cebu, Philippines after seeing these pictures on Yahoo’s homepage. Definitely going to spend more time exploring the homeland from now on.

Patricia Ramos the author

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.

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