Underwater Photographer: Ryan McInnis

Underwater Photographer: Ryan McInnis

A profile of underwater photographer and filmmaker Ryan McInnis.

Grades

5 - 12+

Subjects

Arts and Music, Biology, Earth Science, Experiential Learning, Filmmaking, Oceanography, Photography

Ryan is currently working for the National Geographic Channel, freediving to take video footage of great white sharks off the coast of Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

EARLY WORK

At 11 years old, Ryan became certified as a scuba diver while growing up in Richmond, Virginia. “My dad got into diving,” he says. “As soon as I was old enough, I got dive lessons, and he and I traveled all over, scuba diving. By the time I was 15, I had hundreds of scuba dives, and I was already infatuated with sharks.”

“I think one of the first real shark experiences I remember was when I was 14,” he says. “My dad and I were in the Sea of Cortez [Mexico] in the middle of nowhere. We dropped down to this deep seamount, and the current was ripping. We grabbed on to the seamount, and this big shoal of hammerheads came by. There were more than you could count.”

At 18, Ryan took a job as a scuba instructor. Three years later, he graduated from University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a bachelor of science degree in marine biology. “Pretty much everything I did from a young age was geared towards trying to make a living while being in the water,” he says.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“When the equipment is working right. And the conditions are right. And the fish are there. Everything comes together.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“I would say that the equipment is the biggest challenge. The way I started was getting easy-to-use equipment and just happening to frame it right. People started wanting more, so I had to get more technical. It’s not about ‘I can hold my breath for a long time.’ It’s about being able to use a camera.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“Being an underwater guy, when I think of a place, I think of what fish are there, what the reef structure looks like. Fiji is known for its soft corals. It’s gorgeous there. Whereas Yap Island in Micronesia is all hard corals and cuttlefish and unique species. Totally different geography.”

GEO-CONNECTION

Even members of the same species, like great white sharks, can behave differently depending on their geographic location.

Ryan says that the behavior of the great white sharks in the eastern Pacific, where he is currently diving, might differ from other populations.

“White sharks are worldwide in temperate waters,” he says. “The work that I’ve done with them is unique to its location. I’ve worked with guys who have done most of their work in South Africa, and they tell me sharks are completely different there. I’m sure they look exactly the same, but they act differently. They eat different things.”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . UNDERWATER FILMMAKER

“The best advice I can give is take every opportunity that you can if there is education involved, even if it’s not specific to what you want to do, so that you develop a broad skill set that will make you the full package,” he says.

GET INVOLVED

To investigate the underwater world, Ryan suggests exploring the nearby coastline with your family or taking a dive class.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writer
Stuart Thornton,
Editors
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West,
Producer
National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact ngimagecollection@natgeo.com for more information and to obtain a license. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. She or he will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to him or her, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.

Media

If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.

Text

Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.

Interactives

Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources