Editor’s Note: If this image looks familiar, that’s because it went viral in 2012. We wanted an insider's perspective on the popular image.
By Daniel Botelho
On an assignment to photograph blue whales off the coast of California, I was surprised to hear the boat captain shout “Mola mola!”
We might have been miles off the coast of San Diego in open water in search of bus-sized cetaceans, but I shouted back to the captain “I want Mola molas!” When I got in the water there were five all together, but when they saw me in the distance they all went away quickly—all except one special animal.
When the Mola mola (also known as the sunfish) started to approach me, I started to think that I might be able to get a stunning image. In fact, it got so close that this giant fish even seemed like a pet that wanted to touch me.
I was shooting with a Nikon D3 with a 16mm lens and a Subal housing with no strobes—a setup designed for capturing the blue whales that we had set out for.
So when the guys in the boat figured out how friendly the 2-ton fish really was, they decided to join me. I was looking for natural history images only, and therefore wasn't happy to have people around, so this image was in a lost folder of undesired images.
It was two years after the image was taken that I found it and thought “this is really beautiful, the image basically took itself.” It might not be my favorite image, but as it turns out it is clearly the fan favorite.
The main thing about this image is how cooperative that Mola mola was. The other photographers were complaining about me because they were trying to get a photo of the fish alone, but as hard I was swimming away from the fish, the fish was swimming harder to stay close to me. One of the crew members still tells the story of Daniel and his pet.
My reaction was that of utter amazement of how strongly a photo can effect people. I was and still am flattered to be the messenger and a voice for these animals, and proud of been following my main rule when working with natur - "always take any opportunity from the wild, even if it looks simple.”
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