Shooting Florida Gators with Shawn Jackson

Shooting Florida Gators with Shawn Jackson

We caught up with Ikelite Ambassador Shawn Jackson to get the story about his latest photo shoot with the Florida alligator. 

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I’m originally from the Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras. I started working as an underwater photographer and videographer when I was just out of school. I worked in the photo department at a resort for a while before going out on my own and starting my own firm.

Underwater Alligator Copyright Shawn Jackson

What kind of shooting do you normally do? 

I do underwater fine art photography, mainly. I also do a lot of commercial photography that is related to the water, so I use my housings in much of my work. I work with water-related clients like Salt Life where I spend much of the commercial shoot in the water shooting underwater or split shots, so it is definitely a staple. 

Underwater Alligator Copyright Shawn Jackson

Where was your last shoot?

I just came back from a shooting trip to Florida with Salt Life. I was there to photograph alligators, which I’ve actually never done before. We have crocs in Roatan and we saw them more frequently when I was growing up, not so much anymore. This shoot was a cool experience. It may not be what most people would sign up for but I was excited to try it. I do a lot of shark diving, which is a somewhat similar experience though that is done while SCUBA diving and this was in shallow water.

Underwater Alligator Copyright Shawn Jackson

What was the most challenging part of shooting the alligators?

It was challenging to be shooting without dive gear on. We wore weight belts to help with the shallow water buoyancy, but obviously it's so much easier to move around in dive gear.

Underwater Alligator Copyright Shawn Jackson

What lens were you using?

I was using a Nikon 8-15mm Fisheye for this project.

Were you scared you were going to get bit?

You know, I have great respect for wildlife. I spend much of my life around marine life. I do a lot of shark diving but I had never interacted with gators before. I was certainly very sure to listen carefully to those leading the project but really I wasn't very nervous.

I enjoy getting to see and photograph animals I've never seen before and it was really interesting. I was obviously more careful and aware than I would be just diving the reef, but I wasn't very afraid of being bitten. The funny thing was, one of the people leading us joked that I was safest because my Ikelite gear would be between me and the gator!

Underwater Alligator Copyright Shawn Jackson

Why do you choose Ikelite? 

Ikelite has great laid-back systems. When I made the switch over, I was so surprised by how easy the systems were to use. I’ve used a number of different housing systems over the years including the older Ikelite systems and there are some great options out there. But for me, shooting underwater isn’t something I want to make into a big complicated process. It’s what I do. I literally don’t go diving without my camera, so being able to easily get my gear ready and trust that my camera is protected is what’s most important.

The handles are sturdy and have a great grip; it makes it easy to use the housing while working in a lot of situations. The new Dry Lock port system really makes the port connection more secure. The 8" dome port is my go-to for most things. I really like the strobe arms, they tighten well and stay in the position you put them in but you can very easily change their position while diving. The housing itself is way lighter but it’s also incredibly sturdy.

Underwater Alligator Copyright Shawn Jackson

What's next for you?

I have some topside shoots going on at the moment in the United States but then I will head back down to Roatan for some SCUBA and commercial shoots coming up next month. I have Salt Life’s annual commercial shoot coming up which is always a high point of the year. I’ll travel throughout the Bay Islands of Honduras to Utila and Guanaja for some commercial shoots as well.


Images Copyright © 2019 Shawn Jackson

Cover Photo Copyright © 2019 Chris Gillette


Additional Reading

Shawn Jackson Ambassador Profile

Crocodiles, Cenotes, and Chinchorro with Ken and Kimber Kiefer

How to Shoot Split Shots (Half-In, Half-Out of the Water)

Nikon 8-15mm Fisheye Underwater Photos

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