Shark-obsessed Daniel Norwood has a knack for capturing stunning underwater shots. Growing up in the U.K., where visits to the coast were rare as an English sun, Norwood’s dream to swim with sharks seemed ever-distant. But through learning to scuba dive on one of his holidays, it changed everything.
From then on, Norwood describes his attitude towards the big blue as an addiction. Through this enchanting world, he could fulfil a lifelong ambition – to dive with great white sharks. And so he purchased a small underwater camera and set off to South Australia where dream met reality.
Since then, Norwood has created a body of work that has captured his passion for the inhabitants of the underwater world. Through various awards, and being published in some of the world’s most famous ocean magazines, his images have managed to reach a wide-audience and have aided in the conservation of sharks. We spoke to the man to find out more about his fantastic imagery, and photography story:
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
An obsession with sharks! My first real dive adventure was a liveaboard trip with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions in South Australia in 2007 where I would fulfil my childhood dream of coming face to face with the great white. I wanted to capture some images of the experience to share with my friends and family so I bought a small compact camera and plastic housing and I haven’t looked back since!
Your first underwater shot?
A close up of a huge white shark! When I joined the trip I really had no idea about settings and other things that are important to capture good underwater images but the sharks in Australia come so close at times, that all I had to do was point and shoot! I remember being amazed with the results (although they really were nothing special) and it instantly made me want to learn more and photograph all kinds of other marine life. I began to study images by well known wildlife photographers and aspired to do the same thing, explore the underwater world and capture my adventures on film.
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
Although I only got one image I really like of the amazing leafy sea dragon, a lot of effort went into getting the shot.
At the time many sharks had been sighted in the area and just days before I arrived a diver had been attacked and killed by a great white. As a precaution many people were staying out of the water but I had travelled thousands of miles to see this strange creature and was determined to still dive.
Luckily I found a buddy who was happy to join but we were both a little nervous as we entered the water and the dive site was unusually and eerily quite. Although I knew it was very unlikely we would encounter a white shark, I could not help feeling that something was out there watching me as I fiddled with settings and tried to capture the shot I had planned. Like most of the seahorse family, the leafy sea dragon can be particularly camera shy and it took nearly an entire dive before I was able to get the shot I wanted.
Happy to have completed the dive without any further drama we made my way back to the shore only to be confronted by a baffled local fishermen who informed us that a huge white shark had recently been seen swimming under the pier and that we were crazy to even consider getting in the water in the first place!
Where is your favourite dive destination?
I am currently working with my partner to set up our own sustainable shark diving operation, so most of the diving I have been doing in the last two years has been with sharks as part of the research for our project. The Bahamas and Fiji are undoubtedly the best places to have close up encounters with bull sharks and tigers and I never tire of visiting these destinations and spending time underwater with my favourite animals. hopefully soon we will be able to add a new location to that list!
Aside from dedicated shark dives my favourite place in the world is the Galapagos.There really is nowhere else like it and I particularly enjoy the cold water diving where you can see Mola mola, sea lions, penguins and even swimming iguanas all in one day!
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
So many! Although I am constantly travelling there are many places I have not been diving. Cocos Island, Costa Rica is high on the list and I have never been to South Africa either. I really want to spend a month or two exploring both on land and underwater and try to pick the right time to experience the sardine run during the peak of the action. I can’t imagine there are many better experiences than finding oneself surrounded by birds, dolphins, sharks and whales that are all feeding on thousands of other fish!
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
I find most of the animals I see underwater quite weird! While I prefer to shoot big stuff, I am also fascinated by the hundreds of strange critters that can be found muck diving in places like Indonesia and the Philippines. Cephalopods particularly interest me and I recently spent an entire month diving in Dumaguete shooting macro which made a nice change.
One of my strangest dives was in a private Cenote in Mexico. Nobody had visited the site for weeks and on the surface it resembled nothing more than a dirty pond. I soon discovered why my guide was so excited about diving in such conditions when I reached the bottom and found myself swimming among a huge sulphur cloud. The patterns created by our movements and dive lights as we moved around the dive site created an effect that I have never seen anywhere else.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
This summer I upgraded to the Nikon D500. I have always been a Nikon DX format shooter (my previous camera was the D7000) and the fast shooting rate and autofocus system of the D500 made the upgrade a “no brainer”. I use Nauticam housings and could not be happier with the ergonomics and the service. Another reason I love using a cropped sensor camera is its compatibility with the popular Tokina 10-17 fish eye lens. This is probably the most versatile wide angle lens available to underwater photographers and it perfectly matches my photographic style and my preference for shooting big animals.
What is the highlight of your career?
Although I have been diving and taking photographs underwater for a while, I feel like my career in underwater photography is just getting started! I am happy that my work is becoming more recognised and published more often. It is great to be featured on platforms, such as Underwater360, that have previously covered so many other famous and successful underwater photographers.
…And the lowpoint?
I wouldn’t say there has ever really been a low point but there are a few things that can sometimes get tiring. Constantly travelling with bags of dive and photography equipment is not particularly fun and the ongoing battle with weight restrictions is a constant problem. I also spend a lot of time in front of a laptop sending emails, editing photos and video, arranging travel and writing articles. Most of my friends and family think I am on one long never-ending holiday but the truth is underwater photography is a lot of work! That being said I wouldn’t change a thing and consider myself very fortunate to be doing what I love.
Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater photographers?
I often see people who spend tens of thousands of pounds on a camera rig yet do not take the time to learn how to use it properly. To me this is crazy, especially when you consider the resources available to them that make it so much easier to learn.
I would say to anyone starting out to buy what they can afford and take it from there. It is possible to get amazing images with even small compacts these days and for people who only get to dive once or twice a year, the money it costs to buy a big DSLR rig may be better spent on an amazing dive trip. Also try not to get to caught up in recent trends or become obsessed about winning competitions or getting new likes on Facebook. Shoot what makes you happy and enjoy every dive!
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
Where do I start! Orcas, makos, orcas hunting makos! There really is an endless list. I am quite hard on myself so even when I have nice images of a subject I always think I can do better. That being said I try not to focus to much on one particular image or subject and hope that one day I will have the chance to photograph all of the amazing animals that have eluded me so far!