Shark Tales: An Underwater Adventure

Preparing for the underwater world

Dylan Closser loves sharks. He’s always loved sharks, and has had a lifelong dream to dive with and photograph them. Andrews University gave him the chance to do both. 

For Dylan, the choice to come to Andrews was always clear. “I wanted to stay in the Adventist system, and among Adventist schools, Andrews was always the top pick, academically and socially,” he says. “The strong photography program was really the deciding factor for me.”

So how did Dylan go about accomplishing his dream to dive with and photograph sharks? The first step was to become scuba-certified so Dylan took scuba classes at the Andrews pool and became a certified diver.

The second step to becoming an underwater photographer is actually learning the skills, and Dylan says that he landed in “a program where my professors were extremely supportive and helped me see my dream come to fruition.” The photography professors, says Dylan, “are more than happy to share their connections with us. They started us networking early on, which really helped down the road.”

A man, a camera, and sharks. Lots of sharks.

With a growing network of contacts, good professors to give him advice, and access to top-quality equipment, the last thing Dylan needed was subjects to photograph—he needed sharks, lots of sharks, and he found those in the waters of Key Largo, Fla.

Dylan clearly recalls the first time shooting underwater. “I remember going down in the protection cage and thinking about stories I'd heard of sharks actually breaking into cages. It was a little nerve-wracking.” But at the same time, the crystal clear, deep royal blue ocean was quiet and peaceful. Then, out of depths of the ocean a 16-foot shark appeared and came up to Dylan’s cage. He calls the experience surreal, and a moment he will never forget. But he was ready to shoot, and make his dream real.

There's something incredible about being a foot away from a 16-foot, 2,000-lb animal.

“Being so close to sharks was amazing, it was just a pure adrenaline rush. I've never experienced anything like it” says Dylan. "Seeing these creatures in their natural element, as opposed to on television was just so amazing. They are actually peaceful. They aren't the monsters we all make them out to be." The whole experience was a life-changing one for Dylan, helping him to grow personally and break out of his shell.

Dylan has since taken as many as 30 dives to the underwater world in places like Guadalupe and the Bahamas. In fact, it was in Couzumel, Mexico, where he took the photographs of Great White Sharks that became his Bachelor of Fine Arts senior exhibition. Dylan free dove with reef, lemon and tiger sharks and some of his images have been posted on several shark diving blogs. One of his images was also selected as one of 15 honorable mentions worldwide for the BBC Planet Earth competition.

“Andrews gave me the opportunity to see the world,” he says, "and not only for diving." Dylan recommends that students participate in any of the trips abroad they can go on and says, "board that plane for the adventure." He found many of his best photography opportunities while traveling with the University. Besides diving trips, Dylan has been to Tanzania shooting in the safaris twice. Each year, hundreds of students travel the world to places like Europe, Jerusalem, India, Australia, Asia and Jordan.

Life above the water

Dylan, a 2012 graduate of Andrews, currently works as a photo assistant in the Whirlpool Corporation Photography Studios in nearby St. Joseph, Mich. On some days there can be up to 10 photographers shooting simultaneously, and Dylan busily assists with lighting setups and teardowns, making sure the product they are photographing is correct, and anything in between. “The job is providing me with great experience, great connections, and the funding to go on trips to build my underwater portfolio,” he says. “It’ll be a long road, but one day I hope to do underwater photography/videography for a living.”

Learn more about the photography program at Andrews University.

Photography courtesy of Dylan Closser