Recently, Justin Bastien was commissioned to help launch Microsoft’s Instagram—photographing 29 shoots in 10 countries for their “Do More Campaign.” The campaign had Justin adventuring all over the world, from the jungles of Borneo to the ice-covered peak of Mount Baldy, to photograph inspiring people who go above-and-beyond. While the Los Angeles-based photographer is certainly no stranger to risk-taking, there was one shoot during the campaign that had him living out an experience he never saw himself doing: swimming with sharks in New Zealand… without a cage.
Even with all the efforts from conservationists and shark biologists to reinforce the notion that shark attacks are rare and unusual occurrences, I still probably wouldn’t put myself in the water with a few hungry great whites. Luckily, we can all live vicariously through Justin, as he’s kindly shared his awesome images from the experience as well as some thoughts about taking the dive. Read more below!
How did you get involved in the Microsoft Instagram campaign? How did it compare (in terms of scope) with other campaigns you have shot?
The Edelman agency was looking for a photographer to shoot photos for an Instagram campaign for Microsoft and my name was thrown in there. This campaign was much different from anything I have ever done in terms of the day-to-day diversity. One day I would be shark diving and the next shooting fashion.
When did you hear about the shark diving? What were your initial thoughts?
They talked about possible scenarios and shark diving was one of them—they left out the part about not being in a cage. I was definitely scared. I have done a lot of things that most people would fear and think is crazy, but I never thought I would be jumping into shark-infested waters without a cage or some sort of protection. It was not only super exciting but very informative. I learned all kinds of interesting things on that shoot from an environmental perspective and how important sharks are to the ecosystem. Riley Elliott (the shark scientist) did an amazing job keeping me safe and teaching us about the sharks. I am so appreciative for experiences like this in my line of work. It’s one of the reasons why I like my job so much.
What was pre-pro like for the shark dive? How was this different from the other underwater shoots you’ve done?
There was a lot of safety to go over with what to do if the shark charges or gets too close. Also, mentally I was preparing myself to be more aware of my surroundings. Most of my underwater shoots have been safer environments, but this one was two guys in the water with sharks. I had to be constantly aware of my surroundings, what the sharks were doing, where the boat was and also make sure I got the shot. It was an intense experience!
Were you terrified? What was the experience like?
We spent three days chumming, diving and looking for sharks. So, there was always this building fear of what would happen when we finally saw one. While free diving, you are always scanning the water 360 degrees around you at all times. Knowing there is something out there and making sure you see it before it sees you. The problem was the visibility wasn’t great most of the time and there were a lot of dark places in the rock, deep water and kelp beds for the sharks to hide. I had no idea what to expect at each turn so there was definitely a constant fear going through my head. When we finally did have a shark appear, seeing it breach out of the water with it’s mouth open, eyes rolled back in it’s head and all of those teeth wasn’t exactly the most inviting invitation to jump in the cold, dark water.
Would you do it again?
Definitely! My perception of sharks was changed by Riley and I’ve been talking to him about getting back out there to shoot more. I can’t wait for the next shoot! There’s nothing like challenging your own fears and trying to make great photos as the same time.
For more of Justin’s work, visit justinbastien.com, and check out a cool behind-the-scenes video from the shoot below!