Shark photographer Andy Casagrande combines steel nerves and clever rigs

Picture by Nathaniel Welch
Date:22 October 2013 Tags:,

Underwater cameraman Andy Casagrande builds his own rigs and films fearlessly to capture unique footage of sharks like no one else. By Bill Morris

Andy Casagrande had dreamed of swimming with sharks ever since he was a kid growing up in a small town near Pittsburgh. He finally got his chance in 2005. Armed with nothing but a Sony Handycam in a DIY waterproof case and his own nerve, Casagrande slipped over the side of a boat and into the waters known as Shark Alley, off Gaansbaai in the Western Cape.

Within seconds Casagrande’s dream was coming all too true: a great white shark came gliding towards him. The sleek, 2 000-kg beast slid past, close enough to touch. Casagrande calls the moment surreal, but it was more than that. “The biggest struggle is the mental battle,” he says. “You’re looking at a prehistoric predator, and everything in your body tells you to flee. But you just need to Zen out, slow down your breathing. Never swim away: if you act like prey they’ll treat you like prey – chase you, catch you and eat you.”

The shark turned and made another pass. Then another. Casagrande was winning the mental battle. His breathing remained slow and regular. He began to relax. “When the shark made the third close pass and didn’t eat me, I figured we were cool.”

His full and proper name is Andy Brandy Casagrande IV, an unusual moniker that befits an unusually talented person. His camera work for the National Geographic series Great Migrations won him the 2011 Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography – Nature. But his defining work is his innovative – and, frankly, harrowing – filming for Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s annual programming extravaganza featuring shows such as Into the Shark Bite and Impossible Shot.

Read more in PM’s November 2013 issue – on sale 21 October.

Video: Watch Andy Casagrande’s Shark Dream video, which gets up close and distinctly personal with these misunderstood predators