An underwater fashion shoot involving the world's largest sharks? An intriguing concept, to be sure, and an assignment that might seem perilous for the models.
But given that the recent photo shoot in the Philippines involved docile whale sharks, the result was merely a series of stunning images designed to inspire awareness regarding the plight of these amazing plankton-eating creatures.
(Note: This is a reprint from a Pete Thomas story posted Tuesday on the GrindTv.com Outdoor channel.)
Shawn Heinrichs teamed with Kristian Schmidt for the unique project, believed to be the world's first whale shark fashion shoot.
Also involved were models Roberta Mancino (a renowned sky-diver and wingsuit flier), Hannah Fraser, Fazili Krasniqi, and Taro Smith, and an underwater lighting specialist.
(Heinrichs and Schmidt allowed the one-time use of these images for this post. They are protected by copyright laws.)
The goal of the project off the remote village of Oslob, Heinrichs said via email, is "to highlight the magnificence of these creatures and bring their beauty to a global audience."
The challenge, the photographer added, was "to turn models into mermaids and create mesmerizing imagery that captured the unique connection between humans and the largest fish in the ocean, the whale shark."
Whale sharks can measure to about 40 feet and weigh as much as 20 tons. They're considered a vulnerable species and although they support scuba diving tourism businesses in many parts of the world, they're still hunted in some regions, including the Philippines.
It was at Oslob, a year ago, that Heinrichs captured what he said were the first images revealing the close relationship that had developed between local fisherman and whale sharks. The fishermen had befriended the gentle giant by hand-feeding them scoops of tiny shrimp.
Of the recent fashion shoot Heinrichs said: "After a week of intense shooting, overcoming the elements, technical obstacle and fatigue, the team returned home with some of the most innovative and inspiring marine life interaction imagery ever captured."
As far as whale shark photography is concerned, that claim is difficult to dispute.