No cages here: Daring shark photography gets up close and personal

Underwater expedition leader Andy Murch dares to go where few photographers or divers would ever dream.

Coming face-to-face with sharks, Murch snaps stunning underwater pictures that showcase these much-maligned creatures and shows them in different light. Though it might seem like the work of a daredevil stuntman, the photographer says his work has more significant meaning than just shock images.

“I try to convey excitement but with a strong conservation message in the text,” Murch told “Many shark species have collapsed due to shark finning, overfishing and bycatch in other fisheries.”

With nearly 20 years of diving experience, Murch now leads under water tours through Big Fish Expeditions that give explorers an intimate look at some of the most beloved and most feared sea animals including sharks, giant squids, dolphins, whales and more.

Murch tells about how he got into photographing sharks and how he prepares for one his extreme shoots. Why did you get into diving?

Andy Murch: I have always wanted to know what is around the next corner. That curiosity drove me to explore 70 countries in my youth and ultimately led me into diving. After all, most of the planet is underwater and that is the most interesting and only truly wild place left to explore. What inspired you to start taking intimate shark shots?

Andy Murch: I used to concentrate on more passive images of sharks because I didn't want to demonize them. I finally realized that the best way to get people to pay attention to my message about how endangered many shark species have become, is to show them images that make them go 'wow' and then explain that yes this is a ferocious looking animal but like many of our top predators on land, it is in grave danger of becoming extinct due to overfishing. How do you prepare for one of your photography expeditions?

Andy Murch: I do try to avoid wearing anything small and flashy just in case the sharks think it's a fish and give it an exploratory nibble. For most shark encounters, you really don't need cages or chain mail, but it's important to read the sharks to make sure they are not getting too agitated. The sharks show up because they smell fish. They can easily tell the difference between a diver and an offered fish. Do you ever get scared that something may go wrong?

Andy Murch: Not really. I stay very aware of my environment and limit the amount of food in the water to make sure that the sharks don't get too excited. The only life threatening encounter I've had while shark diving was when my breathing equipment malfunctioned at 100ft and I wasn't sure I could make it to the surface. Do you have a favorite sea creature to photograph?

Andy Murch: Of course I love sharks but my favorite group are the shallow water catsharks; tiny animals with big eyes and beautiful patterns all over their bodies. Any advice to prepare people for one of your expeditions?

Andy Murch: Go for it! Shark diving is a wonderful and instantly addictive sport. It's a good idea to buy a black wetsuit and fins and wear dark gloves for some of the more aggressive species that I run trips with.