There is a raw feel to Doug Perrine’s images. Capturing moments within the ocean that few ever knew take place – his images “Humpback Bubble Art” and “Bronze Whalers” are top examples – these shots of incredible animal behaviour are captured so perfectly, to a rhythm so unique. In an age of advanced post-production in photography, Perrine reminds us that it is still all about the initial image. Just like a good song can stand alone “unplugged” without the hammering of a catchy electric riff, Perrine’s images still hold the eye without the “string bends and slides” of post-production.
Earning a master’s degree in marine biology from the University of Miami and going on to work as a marine biologist, naturalist/educator, and scuba instructor, Perrine went through a number of ocean-related occupations before taking up Nature photography and writing as a full-time profession. Perrine is now widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost marine wildlife photographers. His photographs have been published in thousands of magazines (including National Geographic, Time, BBC Wildlife, Scuba Diver OCEAN PLANET, etc.), books, calendars and other graphic products.
Perrine is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles on marine life. His images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, the British Museum of Natural History, and many other prestigious institutions, and won a number of awards, including the grand prize in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2004. He has continued to be involved in marine science, including 20 years as a volunteer with the Hawaii Whale Research Foundation, studying humpback whales. Perrine currently lives in Kona, Hawaii. We caught up with the man for a quick Q&A about his incredible career and to take a look at his top images:
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
I was working as a dive guide and wanted to be able to show the amazing things I was seeing underwater to people who weren’t able to go diving and see those things for themselves.
Your first underwater shot?
A clownfish in an anemone.
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
My photo of two sharks bursting through a bait ball with their mouths full of sardines was the culmination of three years of expeditions to South Africa during the Sardine Run. I was diving solo, on scuba, with about 200 sharks in my immediate field of view, while the microlite pilot said that he could see thousands streaming toward the feeding frenzy. The sardines were getting hammered by birds, tuna, sharks, and occasionally dolphins. Sometimes the water was so full of fish blood and scales that I could barely see what was happening. The large dominant sharks were blasting through the shoal of fish, opening up holes in it with each pass. However the smaller, subordinate sharks were merely circling the perimeter, and it was these sharks that were a nuisance, coming up to me from behind and bumping me as I was trying to focus on my shots.
Where is your favourite dive destination?
Wherever I’m diving at the moment – which at this moment happens to be Kona, Hawaii, where I live.
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
Perhaps that little island in a remote part of Indonesia where leatherback turtles feast on jellyfish seasonally.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
Apart from humans? Maybe it was the orca chewing on a bigeye thresher shark.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
Underwater I use a Nikon D800E in a Nauticam housing and a Sony a7R II in a Nauticam housing.
What is the highlight of your career?
Possibly, it would be winning the overall BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year award in 2004.
…And the low point?
Too many to name. There have been at least five occasions when I had an opportunity to photograph dramatic, never-before-seen big animal behaviours that were destroyed when another boat came in and ran over the action at high speed. And the last 15 years has been one long decline in prices and demand for professional photography.
Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater photographers?
Don’t quit your day job. Think of the business of selling photographs as a separate enterprise from the activity of taking them. There are many, many economic activities that will enable you to fund your love of diving and photography at a higher level, with less effort, than trying to sell those photographs in an era when almost nobody is willing to pay for them.
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
Too many to enumerate. Most of the interesting things that
go on in the ocean have still yet to be photographed.
Want to swim with humpback whales in 2017?
Doug Perrine is leading a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snorkel with humpback whales and observe their unique behaviour from both above and below the surface. Taking place in Vava’u, Tonga, a destination famed for its whale encounters, the trip will allow participants to spend six full days snorkelling with the humpbacks and explore the many coral gardens just off the coast.
Trip date: September 11 – 20, 2017