Sharks often get a bad rap simply because people are afraid of them.
Muller was not originally a nature photographer. He is actually well-known for his celebrity work, having shot the cover of Rihanna’s Unapologetic album and the movie poster for Deadpool. He has also photographed Michael Phelps during the Olympics.
But over the last decade, he has developed a fascination with sharks after his wife had booked him his a cage-diving trip for his birthday. Of course, Muller told Business Insider, before he went, he was a little apprehensive — especially after seeing the movie “Jaws.” But despite that fear, he felt compelled to go.
“I went out to Guadalupe Island, about 200 nautical miles off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula; it’s a volcanic island,” he said. “I was the first one in the water at six in the morning … I was down there for about five minutes, and out of the darkness comes this first great white. It just swims right by me and we lock eyes, and I was like ‘I see you and I know you see me’. There was a connection.”
From that point on, he said, he knew that he had to continue to dive and photograph these majestic creatures. Here are some of his breathtaking photos.
Muller received his first camera from his father when he was living in Saudi Arabia in about fourth grade. It was a Minolta Weathermatics.
With that camera, he took a photo of a photo of a shark in National Geographic, processed the film, and showed all of his school buddies, telling them that he had shot it in the Red Sea. Muller said they were all blown away, but eventually, he did confess to the truth. Still, he said, this is when he realised just how powerful photography can be.
It was then that he decided to become a professional photographer.
At the beginning of his shark career, Muller knew that he needed new technology to capture the true beauty of sharks.
While photographing Michael Phelps and other Olympic swimmers, Muller started looking for better underwater lighting. After looking around online -- and being unsatisfied with everything he found -- he decided created his own underwater lights to effectively bring his photography studio underwater.
After a few false starts, he ended up partnerting with a team of people that included an engineer from the Jet Propulsion Labs at NASA. They worked together to create something that hadn't before existed.
They used these newly invented lights for the first time in the Galapagos, photographing hundreds of hammerheads.
It was while photographing those hammerheads that he got the idea for his book. Before that dive, he said, he was unaware of millions of sharks that were being killed each year.
'I looked around and said 'I don't know if my daughters are going to be able to see what I'm seeing now'. And then I said 'maybe I can change people's perceptions',' Muller declared.
He went back to Guadalupe about six months later with seven assistants, strobe lights, the first submersible self-propelled cage, and cinema cage with no grates to start shooting the photos that would ultimately make it into his book.
Muller has had the chance to swim with a huge variety of sharks, from lemon sharks to bull sharks to whale sharks. And each species is a little different to swim with.
For example, 'with tiger sharks, you can chill,' Muller said. Sometimes they would swim right up him and he would just gently push them away. But, he added, that doesn't mean you don't have to be aware at all times. 'If they think you're a fish and bite you, you're not getting whatever limb it was back.'
Swimming with great whites is completely different than swimming with any other species, Muller said. You always have to be aware when swimming with these animals and you can't get mesmerised by the one in front of you because there might be another one behind you that you can't see.
'You can't make a mistake. You make a mistake, and you're dead,' he said. But, it keeps you 'in the moment,' he added.
Muller said that one of his most memorable experiences happened while free diving with great whites.
There are two ways great white sharks approach you -- either they are curious and take their time, or they come in for an attack. So what do you do when one is swimming straight at you at over 30 miles per hour? Swim right at it, Muller said, and it will bank off before getting too close.
'I had to learn this the hard way,' he continued. This works because 'nothing swims towards a great white. Everything in the other swims away from it, except for killer whales.' Killer whales are the great white's only real predator.
Muller was the first photographer to ever capture a shot of a great white breaching at night. No one was sure if sharks even breached at night before Muller saw it happen at False Bay in 2013.
Thanks to his underwater lights, he also captured a photo that shows the iris of a great white shark (not just a black hole).
Muller has come to know a lot of people in conservation, some of whom helped form his strong passion for marine creatures.
Muller has met many conservationists while photographing sharks, but one man has had a particularly influence on him:
Paul Watson, the wildlife marine conservation and environmental activist who founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. It was this man that challenged Muller to think of ways that he could help sharks with his photography.
'(It) hit me...' Muller said, 'I've sold $10 billion in movie posters. Maybe I can sell this. So even if I only make a dent, I can try.'
'One of the most commonly asked questions I get, because I don't use cages and suits and really don't have protection, is 'aren't you afraid of getting killed?'' said Muller. 'And I turn the question back to the audience and I say how many sharks do you think we kill a year?'
Not a single person has ever guess correctly, he said. 'When I tell them we're up to 98 million sharks, the room goes dead silent. You can hear a pin drop.'
In comparison, according to National Geographic, on average, only five people are killed by sharks every year.
Michael Muller's book SHARKS from Taschen is currently available for purchase online and a Collector's Edition version -- that comes in its own shark cage -- will also be in stores in October.
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