The Kiwi who's using beautiful underwater photos to turn fear into fascination

By Stacey Hunt

Underwater photographer Matt Draper said the attitude that "a good shark is a dead shark" is where we're going wrong. Photo / Matt Draper
Underwater photographer Matt Draper said the attitude that "a good shark is a dead shark" is where we're going wrong. Photo / Matt Draper

Images of great white sharks often instill fear in people, but one New Zealander is hoping to turn that reaction on its head with his stunning underwater photos of the notorious predator.

Matt Draper, 30, originally from Stokes Valley, threw in his day job, packed up his belongings and took a chance on a dream - all with the hope of educating and inspiring people about life in the ocean.

This female Humpback whale calf was so close she had to use her pectoral fin to determine the distance between herself and Matt ensuring no contact was made when she passed trailing her huge tail fin. Photo / Matt Draper
This female Humpback whale calf was so close she had to use her pectoral fin to determine the distance between herself and Matt ensuring no contact was made when she passed trailing her huge tail fin. Photo / Matt Draper
Curious George. Photo / Matt Draper
Curious George. Photo / Matt Draper
Despite spending lots of time in the ocean Matt said he often can't believe what he's seeing right in front of him. Photo / Matt Draper
Despite spending lots of time in the ocean Matt said he often can't believe what he's seeing right in front of him. Photo / Matt Draper

After moving to Australia's Byron Bay almost three years ago, Mr Draper purchased an underwater housing for his camera and started experimenting with photos of surfers. From that came a chance encounter with a turtle ...

and somewhat larger creatures.

A look at his Instagram account is enough to see his past few years have been filled with encounters beyond most people's imaginations.

"I was sick of carpentry and not being able to express myself, Mr Draper said.

"I love the ocean and wanted to be able to share that with people and show what I was doing, whether that be surfing, or just enjoying the ocean."

Mr Draper said one of his main goals is to turn fear into fascination, to show animals in their natural environment and help people understand them. Particularly when it comes to those that commonly create feelings of trepidation.

"I really want to try put you in the moment. Show you the characteristics of each individual animal in an original way, and foster love for the ocean." Photo / Matt Draper
"I really want to try put you in the moment. Show you the characteristics of each individual animal in an original way, and foster love for the ocean." Photo / Matt Draper
Mother and calf. Photo / Matt Draper
Mother and calf. Photo / Matt Draper
'Cownose'?? taken at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay, Australia. Photo / Matt Draper
'Cownose'?? taken at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay, Australia. Photo / Matt Draper

"Fear-mongering from the media, especially with regards to sharks, is always going to be an issue, so it's more about educating individuals," Mr Draper said.

"I don't want to get underwater with them and show 'hey these guys are cool', I want to show how they're important and misunderstood and need to be respected.

"They're an apex predator, we need to respect their territory. If it was a tiger in the wild people would be more cautious ... we can't just do what we want in the ocean."

Two female Sea Lions off the coast of Hopkins Island, Port Lincoln. Photo / Matt Draper
Two female Sea Lions off the coast of Hopkins Island, Port Lincoln. Photo / Matt Draper
An intimate moment shared with a giant Manta ray. Photo / Matt Draper
An intimate moment shared with a giant Manta ray. Photo / Matt Draper

Great whites, manta rays, humpback whales, seals and turtles are but a few of the creatures to pass in front of Mr Draper's lens, but it's his encounter with a tiger shark in Hawaii that has left the strongest impression.

The few hours he spent with a breed considered one of the most dangerous in the world "changed my whole perspective of them as an animal and a predator".

A Tiger Shark taken in natural light while free diving. Photo / Matt Draper
A Tiger Shark taken in natural light while free diving. Photo / Matt Draper
Great Whites are “one of the most amazing” animals Matt Draper has seen. “As someone that spends nearly everyday in the ocean, I will even have trouble seeing one soon enough with the way we are treating our oceans, we take take take and don't put much back.” Photo / Matt Draper
Great Whites are “one of the most amazing” animals Matt Draper has seen. “As someone that spends nearly everyday in the ocean, I will even have trouble seeing one soon enough with the way we are treating our oceans, we take take take and don't put much back.” Photo / Matt Draper

These experiences are what has led the Kiwi to start classes tutoring others and helping the younger generation chase their dreams too.

"Every day you get in the water and something happens that you could never imagine. I want to try to capture those moments and share them with others."


• Mr Draper's photographs and details about his workshops can be found here. You can also see examples of his work on Instagram.

- nzherald.co.nz

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