Q&A with Brian Skerry
What is the single most important piece of non-essential gear for you to have in the field, and why?
I would say that my satellite phone is perhaps most important. I bought this in 2008 and take it with me on nearly every assignment. I use it to call home or NGM headquarters from remote locations, such as on a ship far out at sea. It’s wonderful to be able to communicate with family or my editor and it gives me peace of mind knowing I have this with me.
What’s your favorite snack to take in the field? (Does your subject matter or environment ever limit your food choices?)
My environment definitely dictates what snacks I can bring with me in the field. And my choices have evolved over the years. I remember a period when I loved Fig Newtons, but these days I often bring fresh fruit or maybe Kind Bars. And I always love to have chocolate with me. Even on days when everything is going wrong, a piece of fine chocolate makes it all a little better!
Complete this sentence: When I started working with National Geographic, I never thought I would be ....
A conservationist. This wasn’t really on my radar in the beginning. But there’s been somewhat of an evolution in my career, in that I have seen many problems occurring in our world’s oceans and as a journalist I felt a sense of responsibility and a sense or urgency to cover these issues as well as the celebratory stories.
What is the most breathtaking view you’ve enjoyed while in the field? In your response, tell us where it is and why you ended up there.
I’ve had so many extraordinary views out there and its nearly impossible to select just one as the most breathtaking. Among the many, one that stands out was being on the pack ice in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence with harp seals. I was photographing a story on harp seals and was living for weeks aboard a 65-foot, steel-hulled crab fishing boat. We used the ship like an icebreaker and I was able to live amongst the seal herd day and night. I can remember sunset in this place; no one around for miles, only thick pack ice speckled with seals. It was very cold and the ice glistened with the disappearing sunrays. Harp seal pups lay on the ice crying for their mothers and the moms emerged from breathing holes and crawled towards their pups. It was a pristine, icy wilderness and I wanted to soak up every sight, sound and smell. Truly amazing!
What is the most treacherous terrain/environment or unpredictable situation you have encountered?
There have been a lot of unpredictable situations, from being under polar ice to deep dives in the North Atlantic. But I would say that perhaps some of the most risky situations have been while diving in the open ocean, far from land. These places are not very forgiving and one mistake can result in tragedy. Strong currents can be difficult to swim against and if you surface away from the boat, you might drift away and never be seen. Years ago I surfaced from a dive in Ireland and wasn’t seen by the boat. I drifted for 2 ½ hours in the Atlantic, in my drysuit, not knowing I’d be rescued. Eventually, I was picked up by a fishing boat. But on some expeditions, like those in the middle of the Pacific, there is almost zero chance of being picked up if you drift away. You really have to be vigilant on those dives and pay attention to every detail. No room for error.
What is the most important piece of advice for aspiring photographers?
Pursue your passion, never quit and have a plan. I think it is so important for young photographers to develop a strategy to get from where they are today to where they want to be in several years. Come up with the steps necessary to achieve your goals and understand exactly what it takes.
Who determines the brief of a project? How much flexibility do you have, as your subject matter can be so unpredictable?
Nearly every story I photograph for NGM is my idea. I select subjects that interest me or stories that I believe need to be told. I discuss these with my editor Kathy Moran and together we craft the proposal. Once we have the story approved I write a coverage plan that outlines what I hope to photograph. But things do change sometimes once I’m in the field and I do have flexibility to alter the coverage. I’m in pretty frequent contact with Kathy and we make decisions as things evolve.
What drew you into underwater photography?
I was a diver first; began when I was 15 years old and just wanted to be an ocean explorer. But I quickly discovered that I loved storytelling, especial through visual media and realized that the perfect career for me was to be an ocean explorer with a camera and storyteller of all that I discovered.
What message would you like to share with the world about ocean conservation? What are the main environmental problems threatening our marine life?
There are many problems facing the oceans today. Some of the most damaging include:
Over Fishing, Loss of Coral Reefs, Acidification, Plastics.
The real game changer is climate change and many of the above items are influenced directly by this.
See Brian Skerry as part of the 2015 National Geographic LIVE! Events Series:
On October 17th, we hope that you’ll join us at the Sydney Opera House and listen to Brian Skerry weave stories about his underwater adventures while imploring you to get proactive about preserving the ocean and marine life at this year’s Nat Geo Live!
2015 National Geographic LIVE! Events - Brian Skerry:
Sydney - Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall
Saturday, October 17th, 2015 at 2:00 pm
Perth - State Theatre, Heath Ledger Theatre
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 at 2:00 pm
Melbourne - Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall
Thursday, October 29th, 2015 at 8:00 pm
Auckland - Auckland Live, ASB Theatre
Wednesday, October 21st, 2015 at 7:30 pm
Wellington - Te Papa, Soundings Theatre
Thursday, October 22nd, 2015 at 7:30 pm
To find out more about Brian Skerry or to find more information about this event, enquire here.
For more information visit the National Geographic LIVE! events page. Stay tuned for more updates across Adventure World's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels!