Kristian Schmidt Interview: Swimming with Sharks and Capturing Beauty

Swimming with Sharks - Kristian Schmidt

Kristian Schmidt loves the wild, feels okay with a charging lion, and takes amazing wildlife/fashion photography. His highly popular Whale Shark Series captured a concept that has never been seen before — beautiful models swimming next to the world’s largest shark – and brought together a team focussed on raising awareness for the at-risk species.

Kristian’s work has been featured on Wired, Complex Magazine, and the Washington Post. He also contributes photos for WildAid.

In this interview, Kristian talks about Swimming with Sharks, was charged by a rhino, and how he came up with the unique Whale Shark Series.

Swimming with Sharks - Complex Magazine

From your work with whale sharks to your wildlife photography, you seem to have a great love for nature. What inspires you to go underwater to photograph a shark or go to Rwanda and capture a gorilla’s pout?

Not sure where it comes from. I think it’s something you are born with and is quite simple. I love the aesthetic of it, and the more I do it the more I learn about myself and what life is all about. It’s incredibly addictive to be out there with these awesome beings. It’s something I would recommend to anyone.

Have you ever put yourself in a very dangerous situation? If so, how did you manage to survive?

Every time I go on a trip it’s usually a very dangerous situation, but I think it’s healthy. We work in big cities where everything is controlled and safe. It wakes you up to have to make proper decisions, or you will die. It makes you present and in the moment which is something you lose being comfortable and safe your whole life.

I’ve been charged by lions, elephants, rhinos, knocked by whale shark tails, have had tiger sharks come straight at me with a big, open mouth. But, in the end, they are more scared of you than anything. There is a respect in animals that humans don’t have. If you use common sense, you will be fine with them. Though getting charged by a lion will give you the shakes for a while and a really weird fake smile on your face. It’s just insane.

Swimming with Sharks - Washington Post

What would you consider the single most important advice to any risk-taking photographer seeking to capture the wild?

Enjoy it, if you love it amazing things will happen. You can also spend 10 days and get nothing, but that shouldn’t stop you because next time you could get the shots that will change your career. Also, research who you will be working with, being organized with professionals is key.

In many of your fashion photos, you combine elements of nature – say a hawk or lion cub – with the careful beauty of a model. Why do you favor this juxtaposition?

In my opinion, seeing wildlife by itself is a different world that is hard to wrap your head around since most of us live in cities, but as soon as you introduce a human into the scene you can immediately relate and see the awesomeness of these incredible beings. It’s more touching and gives a stronger impact.

Swimming with Sharks - dangerous situation

Your fashion photography articulates very much through its post-processing. Could you give us a quick break down of your workflow?

Why photography is so interesting is that with each picture I have to develop new ideas and colors to suit it. I paint on a lot of contrast and clarity — also knowing what to light and darken makes a big difference. My background is in directing, so I add a lot of film colors to what I do.

Swimming with Sharks - photography articulates

Which do you enjoy the most, your wildlife or fashion photography?

Obviously, wildlife is more exciting but also very exhausting. Its a good balance to do both. Gonna have to find something new soon, I’m hosting a travel show at the moment which keeps me very busy.

(Editor’s note: check out it at

Swimming with Sharks - fashion photography

Your Whale Shark Series was highly popular. Could you talk about that experience and how you came up with it?

I was in Isla Mujeres diving with whale sharks, WildAid, and Richard Branson last July and was trying to figure out how to do a fashion shoot underwater with whale sharks in the background.

I met Shawn Heinrichs there, who is a genius underwater photographer and is doing massive amounts to save the oceans. He told me about a place in the Philippines where the whale sharks were not moving as fast and feeding close to land. What he also pointed out was how they were getting finned and time was running out.

Swimming with Sharks - Shark Series

Again applying the concept that adding a human to the scene gives much more of an impact, we put our minds together and made a plan to do a fashion shoot with them to raise awareness and make some pictures that had never been seen before. I had met Hannah Fraser earlier and thought she would be perfect with her years of underwater work, and I also added wing suit diver Roberta Mancino to the mix, with that team it was hard to go wrong. Everyone was astonishingly professional, it was so smooth and fun to shoot that I only have great memories of it. The photos went viral and reached most of the world.

Do you think photography is capable of creating activist change? Why or why not?

I hope so, not everyone can experience what we are doing, so I hope I can make some people dream and eventually take some trip. Because once you have seen how beautiful the world is and the amazing wildlife that is in it, it’s impossible to not help stop the ivory trade, shark finning, and other massacres for money. That is why meeting WildAid was such a perfect fit, how they work is incredibly efficient.

Swimming with Sharks - incredibly efficient

There’s an old ice-breaker, used between animal lovers, that I’m going to share with you. Imagine your favorite animal and now your second. The first is the animal you believe yourself to be, and the second is how you imagine your ideal mate. What is your first and second favorite animal?

Lemur, I’m definitively a Lemur. Though right now, I’m more of a sloth with countless hours of retouching in front of me and the Cape Town sun outside. Second is probably the whale shark. I just got a really disturbing image in my head of a lemur riding a whale shark into the sunset.

(Here’s an link to Kristian’s website and information about the Whale Shark Series.)

Swimming with Sharks - kristianschmidt

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