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Pristine Seas

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Published Jun 8, 2016 | View the Assignment | Features Photos From 28 Contributors

    30 photos selected by

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    The pristine corals in Papua and Raja is unique

    #sweetlips #underwater #papua #raja_ampat

    Thank you and congratulations to all who submitted photos to the Pristine Seas assignment. It was very difficult to select 30 photographs from over 9,000 submissions. The quality of the submissions improved over time, and folks responded to my feedback spectacularly. I chose these photos because they all expressed the nature of a pristine ocean in different ways. But, as I said earlier, liking a photo is a subjective issue. There are photos published in National Geographic magazine that editors liked, but which were not the first choice of the photographers who took them. It’s like viewing a painting. You might delight in front of a work by Picasso, but your partner might think it’s awful. So ask yourself why you take photographs and what you want to share through them, and take criticism as a way to improve, not as a personal affront. I liked many photos beyond these 30!

    Whales are one of the few animals that can migrate very long distances in this big planet. In the...

    #underwater

    Editor's Note

    Nice photo of mother humpback whale and calf. What makes this photo unique from the hundreds of humpback photos out there is the army of remoras on the side of the mother.

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    Shot in Bonaire, this photo of tarpon hunting on a school of scad does not show the real predator...

    #landscape #fish #scuba #underwater_behavior #pristine_ocean #oceans #bonaire

    Editor's Note

    Wow, what a fantastic photo. I love the composition, with the scad school undulating as they swim away from their predators. Great example of abundant prey and predators - makes me want to dive rig... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    No one really knows why the sand tiger sharks congregate like this, but it seems to happen around...

    #wildlife #ocean #sand_tiger #adventure #underwater #shark #travel #animals #nature

    Editor's Note

    Simple yet powerful: large abundance of sharks shows the health of the marine environment. Very subtle and nice job balancing the ambient and the strobe light.

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    The view from within a bait ball of Sardines looking out at a hunting Sailfish.

    #sardines #mexico #blue #fish #isla_mujeres #sail_fish #underwater #fast #action #predator

    Editor's Note

    This is a great action shot. I like the composition, and the moving prey fish gives it a strong dynamism. But, what really makes the photo for me is the eye of the sailfish.

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    Each summer Silversides (Dwarf Herring) mass to spawn inside reef tunnels in the Cayman Islands. ...

    #scuba #baitfish #underwater #diver #tunnels #photographer #silversides #tarpon #spawning

    This image was captured at Devil's Grotto in Grand Cayman. I was watching the schooling silversi...

    #hunting #schooling_fish #snapper #school #underwater #silversides

    The Sardine Run along the East coast of South Africa had been described as the one of the biggest...

    #sharks #predators #baitball #sardinerun #cape_gannets

    Editor's Note

    It does not get more "pristine" than this. Great balance of strobe and ambient light (sardines are perfectly exposed). I can feel the energy of this moment, with all those sharks and boobies diving... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    Two green turtles compete over a prized jellyfish meal. A small school of fish who had been usin...

    #eating #wildlife #ocean #australia #underwater #jellyfish #turtle

    Editor's Note

    Not one turtle but two, eating their jellyfish prey. Nice capture of a natural behavior. I like the contrast of the jellyfish and the turtles with the dark background; it's dramatic. A little light... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    On my recent travels, I was lucky to spend a few days in the waters of Ascension Island. I fell i...

    #ascensionisland #ocean #healthy #boatswainbird #ellencuylaerts #underwater #pristine_seas

    Editor's Note

    Sheer abundance! The triggerfish alone would not have made it, but the sharks among them is what makes me like this photo. Good composition.

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    Sadly, these days it can be rare to have four sharks in a frame, especially oceanic white tips. B...

    #oceanicwhitetipsharkcatisland #catisland #pristine_seas_assignment #shark #bahamas

    10 Sharks at the entrance to the cave .. how to get out ??

    #gray_nuerse_shark #australila #cave #underwater #shark

    This picture to me entails everything about my philosophy to my photography. What I have tried to...

    #kelp #capetown #africa #underwater #marine #shark

    Bigeye Trevally forming a "tornado" at Cabo Pulmo National Park, Mexico
. A few years ago, loc...

    #mexico #scuba #jacks #pulmo #cabo

    Editor's Note

    Powerful photograph, and magical atmosphere. The grainy, black and white is very dramatic. I love the relationship between the massive schools of trevally (showing that the environment is in good h... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    The weather was cloudy and the temperature of water was 2°C. Orcas push fish towards the coast as...

    #adventure #underwater #humpack_whale #letexplore #animals #action #nature

    Editor's Note

    This is a beautiful moment. It is already hard to photograph a humpback whale in view of the bottom, but harder still to see small fish swimming away from her. The composition is beautiful with the... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    I went snorkelling to the south pacific to swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga where they migrate ...

    #wildlife #tonga #mammals #underwater #whales #underwaterphotography #humpbackwhales

    A gray whale cow and her calf glide through the kelp forests of Big Sur as they migrate to their ...

    #letsexplore #whale #gray_whale_calf #water #kelp_forest #big_sur #migration #gray_whale

    One of the most ex·hil·a·rat·ing photo I have ever shot, I will never forget this moment! These L...

    #lemonshark #splitshot #underwaterphotograhy #shark #sunset #bahamas

    Editor's Note

    Dramatic lighting and composition. I like the balance between the underwater strobe light - which gives the sharks a dramatic look - and the sky. I want to echo Darren's comments. Splits are diff... More

    Kathy Moran
    National Geographic Senior Photo Editor

    A lemon shark pup uses the tangle of mangrove roots for protection for the first 5-8 years of her...

    #nursery #fish #lemon #snapper #mangroves #underwater #pup #habitat #trees #shark #roots

    Editor's Note

    Great photo of a predator in its environment. The perspective is great and the reflection of the bottom and the fish on the surface make it look like an abstract painting.

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    This particular West Papua bay is very rarely visited by divers or non-westerners for that matter...

    #island #indonesia #fish #overunder #reef #exploration #coral #trees #forest #conservation

    Editor's Note

    Love this split image. The f/18 makes both land and coral reef in focus and sharp. The flat surface gives me an impression of calm and isolation.

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    It took me two trips to Tahiti to nail this shot. I waited in the channel for over an hour and th...

    #trending #sharks #sea #water #underwater #travel #popular #animals #nature

    Editor's Note

    Beautiful split, good composition, and I like the contrast between the light blues underwater with the dark green on the island. It looks like a pristine environment.

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    Nearly every Antarctic animal relies on krill in some way, making it a true keystone species.

    #penguin #antarctica #krill #sustainable #iceberg

    Editor's Note

    This is the most unexpected split photo I've seen. It's both a macro and micro perspective. The lonely krill seems to be checking for the presence of the penguin predator. At the same time, we can ... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    The Ridley turtle reached the Pacific coast in Costa Rica to spawn. Sometimes baby turtles inters...

    #costarica #pacificcoast #babyturtles #guanacaste #turle #ridleyturtle #spawning #pacific

    A behavior unique to the South Carolina and Georgia sea islands, dolphin drive fish onto the beac...

    #south_carolina #wildlife #surf #sea #ocean #beach #anticipatethemoment #dolphin #animals #shore

    A first row seat on beaches along Peninsula Valdes brings with it an adrenaline packed experience...

    #orca #peninsula_valdes #killer_whales #patagonia #beach #pristine_seas #oceans

    Editor's Note

    Bill captured a great moment here. The massive orca is struggling to get into the shallows to capture a sea lion, creating chaos around her, while all the other sea lions on the beach are watching.... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    we were anchored and we had a visit of a humpback whale . it was amazing moment !!

    Editor's Note

    The photo does not look too sharp and it might have been over-processed, but I love what it shows. It's a moment of sheer power, a large animal in a wild landscape.

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    Now, let me share with you how I made my selection. I looked for photographs that made me feel something about a pristine ocean. There were a few hundred photographs that fit that category; colorful sunsets and beautiful portraits of marine animals did not. Among that first cut, I looked for photographs that made me say wow—whether it was the striking composition, the moment captured by the photo, or the dramatic lighting. I did not start with a predetermined search pattern. I let the photos speak for themselves. After I had a short list, I then used two main criteria: technique or a unique moment. There are some photos that capture a unique moment; for those, a little technical blur is OK

    Underwater photography is about mastering light. Some of the selected photos use only ambient light, and they have a magical atmosphere. But seawater is not nice to color as you dive deeper, so the use of underwater strobes is required. I loved the way folks balanced the foreground illumination with strobes with the ambient light. To me, there is no rule of thumb on how predominant the strobe light should be. It all depends on what the environment is like and the atmosphere you want to create.

    A brief moment of slack time while working on the Russian Icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk resupplyin...

    #volcano #erebus #ross_island #antarctica #mcmurdo #minke

    Editor's Note

    I like this photo because it shows a pristine landscape with a large animal (whale) giving it context. The composition is great and plays well with the negative space. Underexpose the snow and give... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    This photo was taken far out on the sea ice in the Davis Straight off the coast of Baffin Island....

    #polar_bear_and_cub #polar_bear #ice_berg #polar_bears #polarbear #polarbears #pristine_seas

    Editor's Note

    Awesome photo. The composition is fantastic. The iceberg gives the scale of the world that the polar bears inhabit, but also the enormity of the challenges they face. The snow falling from the ridg... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    King Penguins, Volunteer Point, Falkland Islands

    #climatechane #natgeoyourshot #penguin #sea #ocean #beach #penguins #rain #sky #falkalnd_islands

    Editor's Note

    Beautiful composition and moment. The penguins looked like conquistadores who just landed on an alien land, and are looking around for locals. I like the contrast between the pristine sand and the ... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    Weston Dove in Point Lobos State Reserve joins with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to...

    #pristineseas #california #coast #bigsur #monterreybay #marinesanctuary #sunset #pacificocean

    Editor's Note

    I like the light and the composition on this photo. The sun is at the perfect spot and my eye travels back and forth from it to the beached kelp on the foreground. Without the kelp, this photo woul... More

    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

    Images of abundant predators show a sign of a healthy environment. Still better (and more difficult), images of predators in action are a dynamic representation of what pristine means. Some of your predator action photos were spectacular, and they made me jealous of not having been there to witness, for example, Bills image of orca trying to eat sea lions on a beach, or Joe's photo of a sailfish chasing a sardine bait ball.

    As a parting word, I’d like to advise everyone again to learn from other people’s photography. When I was a young marine biology student in Spain in the late 1980s, I marveled looking at David Doubilet’s photographs, trying to understand how he used light underwater. And then I tried to repeat those shots (without much success). It’s OK to do that, but just as a training tool to learn shooting techniques. But do not show these photographs as yours. Try to find your own voice. Technique is important, but what will captivate others is either a spectacular marine scene or a spectacularly unique point of view. Some of you achieved that during this assignment. Congratulations and keep shooting!

    Help Enric keep our seas pristine and donate to the mission! 

    About the Editor
    Enric Sala
    National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence
    Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and photographer dedicated to restoring the health and productivity of the ocean. He founded and leads Pristine Seas, a project that combines exploration, scientific research, and media to inspire country leaders to protect the last wild places in the ocean. To date, ...

    Photographers Published In the Story