British photographer Christopher Swann captures stunning shots of cetaceans like whales and dolphins both above and beneath the surface of the ocean. With over 25 years of experience diving and running whale- and dolphin-watching holidays around the world, the photographer has become finely attuned to the behaviors of these majestic creatures, enabling him to venture close to them for intimate and eye-opening portraits.
Swann’s fascinating images are almost minimalist in appearance, focusing on clean composition and subtle tones to bring out the elegance of his subjects up close. Some of his newest photos, which he shared exclusively with us, reveal a black-and-white aesthetic that Swann has been experimenting with lately. Unexpected details are highlighted in these achromatic shots, such as the glimpse of an orca seen through aquatic ripples, or the understated gleam of a dolphin’s tail right below the surface of the water. Subtle and refined, the images bring to life the romance and poetry of the sea and its inhabitants.
We were lucky to ask Swann a few questions about his passion for photographing marine mammals. Check out that exclusive interview, below.
What is it about cetaceans like whales and dolphins that you are drawn to?
I have been at sea sailing since I was 17 (40 years ago) and I love the beauty and perfection of the sea. Cetaceans epitomise that, and nothing is more perfect than any cetacean underwater, but whales are really special. To see animals so huge yet so graceful, so at ease and at one with their surroundings, is exquisite.
Can you tell us about some of your latest images? What made you want to experiment with a new B&W aesthetic?
I have been fiddling about with B&W for a while, but most underwater images, especially those in clear water, are brought singing into life by the vibrancy of the blue. However, sometimes a detail or a shape stands out, and B&W emphasises that.
How do you manage to get so up close and personal with your aquatic subjects?
I have been looking at whales for the last 25 years. It is what I do almost every day. Originally, I ran whale-watching holidays, first in the Hebrides (on my 75 ft. boat, the Marguerite Explorer; the company was called “Western Isles Sailing and Exploration Co. Ltd.”) on the west coast of Scotland and then in the Canary Islands–two very different locations: one cold and grey, the other in clear blue sunlit water–that started my desire to swim with cetaceans. I have spent all that time getting to know many species and how they react, how to get yourself in the right place, etc.
You’ll be saying goodbye to the whale-watching holiday business and focusing exclusively on photography starting in October 2016. What are you most excited about for this next chapter in your life?
I would love to be able to devote my time to whale photography. Running [whale-watching] trips means I have to snatch opportunities, sometimes steering until the very last moment and then running up the deck, often with an obscured view, and endlessly putting other people in the perfect position for a photo while I can only watch. For a few years, I would like to try and take better photos, and that means I must concentrate on that.
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Christopher Swann.