Sometimes a photographer’s personal interests dovetail perfectly with a client’s needs, and he or she is hired to do what they love (take photos) while doing something else that they love. In Michael Muller’s case, that something else was swimming with sharks.
For a recent campaign for Aquatimer, a series of high-end diving watches by Switzerland’s International Watch Company (IWC), Muller joined the toothy beasts of the deep and a variety of other underwater creatures in the Galapagos Islands. His photographs from the expedition—which are not product shots but more like oceanic setpieces—are a marvel, and they’re working toward a good cause: The IWC is featuring them in its efforts to support the Charles Darwin Foundation and UNESCO in preserving the Galapagos Islands.
IWC debuted its “Novelties 2009” campaign at a gala event in Geneva earlier this year, with guests including actors Kevin Spacey and Jean Reno and Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster. It’s amazing to think that these images might never have existed if Muller hadn’t already been hunting great whites with his camera as a side project. Here, he talks about shooting the campaign and why the experience was pure “magic.”
Tell me about how you got this campaign and what your brief was.
About a year ago, the president of IWC, Georges Kern, came over to my home for a meeting. I had been working with his company for a year-plus, just plugging their watches on shoots here and there without asking for a thing. I just liked the brand. Well, at this meeting, I also showed him images from my recent great-white shark expedition, where I was documenting them from outside of a cage. He proceeded to give me the Aquatimer campaign on the spot.
How did you prepare?
The campaign was centered on the Galapagos Islands. I did a lot of research, and I did quite a bit of diving with my assistants to get them up to speed. I was also so blessed to receive the 1400 underwater strobe lights that I had been working on for four years from my fabricator the day before I left. I believe these are the strongest waterproof strobes that exist. (I currently have a patent pending on them.) Other than that, I prepared with a big smile for a trip of a lifetime.
You captured on film so many incredible underwater creatures—a hammer-head shark, spotted stingrays that look like they’re in mid-flight, a spiny komodo dragon. How long were you underwater? What were the conditions like?
I shot almost 15,000 images, most of which where underwater, but I did my share above, as well. We were joined in this expedition by UNESCO and the Charles Darwin Foundation, so with their help, the Ecuadorian government allowed our small party to go onto islands that no one is allowed onto to document the habitat. We traveled over 1,200 miles in seven days aboard a 40-foot vessel. Very expedition style—there were 15 of us, so no room for egos. We would dive four times a day at a very hectic pace, and were blessed with every major creature one would hope to see there.
Did you have any close calls?
No, but we did the first dive after an 18-hour boat trip to Wolf Island—a night dive to 80-plus feet in new suits. Not the wisest decision!
Over the years, you’ve accrued an entire portfolio of underwater photography. What were some of your personal highlights from this particular shoot?
Swimming into schools of over 300 hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, dolphins… The whole trip was magic.
To see more of Muller’s shoot, please visit IWC’s website at https://www.iwc.com/messepopup_2009/index-en.asp