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Ten Photos of Great White Sharks to Take Your Breath Away

Photographing great white sharks for 20 years gives Chris and Monique Fallows front row seats on the amazing behavior and secrets of formidable predators few people see. In this post they share ten of their favorite images of great whites and describe the electric moment when each was made, when conditions came together for a photographic capture of an awesome predator.

By Chris and Monique Fallows

We visit great whites almost daily, in all seasons, often in stomach-churning seas. Our most iconic images are made in “the ring of peril,” a stretch of water above an underwater gully alongside Seal Island at the southern tip of Africa. Visitors from across the world come to see this rocky island’s teeming seal colony and watch for giant sharks lunging from dark depths in pursuit of very wary pinnipeds. It’s a dramatic stage where an ancient evolutionary struggle plays out intensely.

It is rarely possible to capture the full drama in a single photograph. And it is not easy to give a balanced impression of the shark’s life history when the images that get most attention are typically those which focus on aggression and predation.

The true craft in wildlife photography comes in where you can not only show the dramatic and exciting characteristics of a predator but also portray in a beautiful and captivating way its less spectacular, more routine behavior.

With these photographs from our long years of watching great whites, we hope to highlight the many different components that go into the lives of these remarkable, efficient and highly evolved super predators.

Breaches

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With more than 50 international documentaries shot at Seal Island, False Bay, South Africa, there can be few, if any, apex predators that have achieved such fame as the great white shark. The reason for this little island’s sharks stealing so much limelight is their spectacular breaching and hunting behavior that nowhere else in the world is observed with the same degree of intensity.

An image of the world’s most famous fish hunting in its full spectacular glory is the holy grail of nature photography.

“The sight of a great white in full hunting mode is for most people a sight that elicits greater response than any other shark image.”

The sight of a great white in full hunting mode is for most people a sight that elicits greater response than any other shark image. Photographing a massive adult exploding from the water, jaws agape, is a display of this super shark’s full predatory prowess – and anyone lucky enough to capture the moment on camera has landed a dream photograph.

Chris recalls a day in June 2001 when he crouched, cramped intently behind his camera, waiting endlessly for a split second of explosive shark action. In an instant the huge shark above popped like a Polaris missile from the water, and in that same moment vaulted into wildlife photographic history. To this day and several thousand breaches later, we have yet to see anything that matches the photo above.

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Apart from capturing the power of the shark, a huge emphasis of our photography is in leveraging the surrounding light, clouds and backgrounds as canvas on which to portray the many moods of these magnificent creatures.

Shooting a wide-angle breach of a great white is very difficult as obviously the shark needs to be close to the camera. On a particularly moody morning, approaching storm clouds stretched across False Bay. This gave Chris the beautiful opportunity to hopefully capture a great white in flight against a dark background. Luck was on his side and not only did a shark breach (photo above) but it did so in a magnificent display of aerial athleticism showcasing its incredible capabilities.

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On many mornings False Bay wakes up to a dramatic sunrise. Many times on our approach to the island, as the sky transforms into the peachy colors greeting a new day, we would witness the silhouette of a hunting great white shark etched into the morning light. To capture this sight in all its glory, Chris needed the shark to completely clear the water to show its full outline. After hundreds of futile attempts, one golden morning he was able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and finally get a sunrise breach.

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There are times when we simply hope and hope that things will happen: those split seconds where golden shafts of light cascade down onto a small stage of illuminated subjects, or when the subject walks into that tiny opening in a forest before disappearing forever. A dream of ours for a long time had been to capture a shark hunting under a rainbow. Eventually, through great boat handling by Monique, we found our pot of gold.

Predation

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The awesome essence of the great white shark is that it is a potentially lethal predator, and nothing celebrates this capability better than the pas de deux of survival between the great whites and cape fur seals at Seal Island in False Bay.

For a three- to four-month period each year the great whites focus on hunting seals recently weaned off their mothers’ fat-rich milk. These youngsters are then ready to go into the real world to hunt for themselves.

The complexities of this predator versus prey relationship are many and diverse, with survival at all costs being a central theme throughout.

“Seals dive for protracted periods between breaths and then emerge missile-like to escape an unseen predator.”

From a photographic point of view, this is by far the most difficult to capture as seals dive for protracted periods between breaths and then emerge missile-like to escape an unseen predator,  bursting through the surface at upwards of 25 miles per hour. Adding to this a moving boat, choppy sea surface and changing light conditions, it is undoubtedly one of wildlife photography’s more challenging endeavors.

But on occasion all the ingredients are in sync. A massive adult great white launches into a group of seals, its momentum taking it ten foot clear of the water, white belly exposed, mouth agape. Seals flay desperately in all directions, including a grown female tantalizingly in front of the airborne shark’s mouth. One can only imagine the disappointment when a photographer is on the wrong side of the event,  missing narrowly what could have been one of the finest marine wildlife action images ever shot. This is the ever-changing hand that luck plays in pursuit of these images.

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Although the difficulties can be great, the rewards are greater. The scenes that are sometimes captured display a perfectly matched battle of survival where the most minute differences decide life and death. We have seen seals using the teeth of the super predator as a final point of leverage to push themselves out of the closing jaw. We have watched in awe as seals have for split seconds been balanced on the shark’s snout. And we have been humbled on many occasions by the tiny seals’ tremendous instinct and composure under the most extreme pressure. Nothing demonstrates better how only the fittest survive. The battles at Seal Island are right at the top of nature’s classrooms.

Great White, Dark Moon

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As a wildlife photographer and naturalist, you are always looking for different opportunities and behaviors. In 2001 we attempted to observe what the great whites did when the sun went down. With just a glint of torchlight the Apex team watched as the huge sharks glided ghostlike through the shafts of dancing light, their eyes glowing green like those of aliens.

We found that not only did the sharks feed on bait at night, but there were indications that they quite capably hunted seals as well.

Several more expeditions to Seal Island as well as working up the coast in Mossel Bay revealed the incredible after-dark capabilities of these highly sophisticated hunters.

We quickly learnt that it was not smell or vision, as commonly thought, that attracted the sharks to the seals so much as the sounds and vibrations the seals made when they departed and returned to the island under the cloak of darkness.

Moods of the Mighty

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While images of great white shark breaching undeniably stoke awe in audiences everywhere, for us as a wildlife photography team perhaps the most gratifying image is one where the quieter majesty of the apex predator is shown.

To capture this I try to leverage whatever combination of light, clouds or seascapes are available as a canvas on which to convey the magnificence and moods of the animal and the watery world it lives in.

Dorsal Fins

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The dorsal fin is the iconic symbol of a shark, arousing an emotional human response unlike any other shape in the animal world. Here the dorsal fin is photographed from a really low angle to emphasize the famous triangular shape most people associate with a great white shark.

Sharks and people have co-existed in so many ways for centuries, in most cases with humans fearing sharks and sharks being indifferent towards us.

We have had the privilege of spending thousands of days in the company of great whites, so we see these sharks in a very different way than does someone who sees one for the first time. We see their many different behaviors, we watch them grow and mature through different stages of their lives, we witness their vulnerability in the face of threats from humans and nature. But mostly we have come to know them as individuals, each one exhibiting unique traits.

I hope that through our lens and words we show in some small the many facets of these sharks and their lives so that people can more broadly appreciate just how special they are.

Chris and Monique Fallows have shared their photography and filmmaking of this unique aerial display of flying seals and sharks through documentaries for the BBC, National Geographic, and Discovery. Through their company, Apex Predators, they take scientists and tourists to see this wildlife phenomenon up close.

Follow Chris and Monique Fallows on their Apex Shark Expeditions website, Facebook page, and on Instagram (apexsharkexpeditions). Chris’s Photographic Art Prints are available for purchase.

Comments

  1. bee nolas
    Midwest, USA
    July 23, 4:43 pm

    Arguably the most perfected form following function creature on the planet. Magnificent. Majestic. Awe-inspiring. And indeed terrifying (at times). Cancer can’t kill them. They refuse to live in captivity. They’re one of the few species on the planet that slips through the fingers of mankind’s ability to control them. Every life form is here for a reason. It would be a complete and utter tragedy if these titans go extinct…and worse, due to man’s fear of not being the masters of THEIR domain. I don’t have the facts in front of me here, but aren’t great white attacks on humans rarer than commuter plane crash totals on an annual basis…the latter of which are considered relatively scarce in comparison to how many planes take off and land daily world wide? And there have to be more people in the water daily than boarding planes, right? The stats speak for themselves. Man is not on their menu…and the earth would be a sadder place without these incredible creatures helping in their own small way to keep us humble.

  2. bee nolas
    Midwest, USA
    July 23, 4:41 pm

    Arguably the most perfected form following function creature on the planet. Magnificent. Majestic. Awe-inspiring. And indeed terrifying (at times). Cancer can’t kill them. They refuse to live in captivity. They’re one of the few species on the planet that slips through the fingers of mankind’s ability to control them. Every life form is here for a reason. It would be a complete and utter tragedy if these titans go extinct…and worse, due to man’s fear of not being the masters of THEIR domain. I don’t have the facts in front of me here, but aren’t great white attacks on humans rarer than commuter plane crash totals on an annual basis…the latter of which are considered relatively scarce in comparison to how many planes take off and land daily world wide? And there have to be more people in the water daily than boarding planes, right? The stats speak for themselves. Man is not on their menu…and the earth would be a sadder place without these incredible creatures helping in their own small way to keep us humble.

  3. MacKenzie Whyte
    Canada
    July 5, 7:11 am

    I was looking for some cool photos for my business and stumbled upon these awesome shots. Great work! =)

  4. Jeff
    DEEZZ NUTZZZ
    May 18, 8:47 pm

    Matthew Scerri

    Malta
    April 6, 5:32 pm
    This article brought great memories. I’ve spent a week with Chris and Monique just looking at this and even thought it became quickly apparent that getting an image half as good as any portrayed in this article is close to impossible in the time we had, it was a week where I made lots of memories.

    What struck me the most from that week though, was that rather than quell my fascination with this awesome animal, it grew.

    I look forward to coming back again next year!! Keep up the good work Chris & Monique!

    (Oh, and their book is absolutely magnificent too!!)

    calum

    school
    February 29, 6:32 am
    hi

    cristina

    Southern Massachusetts
    February 9, 12:56 pm
    @ YVONNE SCAGLIONE

    Bees and dogs are more responsible of human deaths than sharks… should we kill them too?
    And what make it OK to drawn the sharks that scare us, or the lemon or any of them.
    If we kill the apex ocean predator, who would control the marine mammal population that compete with us for the same food… yep seals like the same stuff people do, oh but wait when the scary sharks are gone and there will be too many marine mammals, we go and kill those too… and it never ends.

    We kill more sharks than they kill us, actually sadly enough we seem to be the only truly scary specie, capable of doing violence ,even to our own specie, without purpose.

    cristina

    Southern Massachusetts
    February 9, 12:31 pm
    Reply @ Rich
    Obviously for a surfer you are not very knowledgeable on this subject , they are fish but not only they don’t ” reproduce like crazy” but not much is known about their reproductive cycle .

    Anyway the sea is THEIR home you choose to enter it at your own risk.
    If you can’t stand the fire stay out of the kitchen.

    Wolf

    October 11, 2015, 6:35 pm
    Those pictures are stunning and beautiful. Kudos to the photographer.
    Shame on everyone else for having a poor understanding of sharks. Very few of them include humans in their diet (the great white is not one of them), shark attacks are rare, and selfies kill more people than sharks. Your chances of being killed by a shark is 1 in over 3 million. A car is one in 84, and heart disease is 1 in 5 but we don’t go hunting and destroying Fords and McDonalds.

    Leandro

    Peru-Lima
    October 11, 2015, 12:21 pm
    Waoo aweome photographys

    Cat

    October 7, 2015, 1:43 pm
    Seriously does no one understand sharks reproductive system, sharks, in particular the Great White, doesn’t start mating till they are 14 feet long, and the pregnancy lasts twice that of a human pregnancy, and even after that it’s a miracle if they have more then one shark pup. They are not like regular fish, that can bread hundreds of offspring within a few days, they are born to be prefect for survival right away not to increase chances for survival. Ignorance really will be the downfall of some of these creatures when we don’t take the time to learn about them.

    Rich

    Norcal
    September 18, 2015, 3:59 pm
    There not endangered people.There fish they breed like crazy.For every shark killed there is one to replace it and for a surfer your chances are not higher to be struck by lightning than ever encountering a great white and its not if, its when.

    dominic maben

    jackson
    August 31, 2015, 10:00 am
    beautiful creatures

    Jo Adams

    August 5, 2015, 4:07 pm
    IVONNE SCAGLIONE
    Honestly your ignorance is frightening. Humans kill million and millions off sharks every year including Great Whites, Bulls, Tigers. Latest figures suggest a shark is killed every 3.67 seconds – can you get that around your head?
    Without sharks we will die. Do some research. Without Sharks the sea will never be the same, we will end up with a barren ocean if the shark, the top predator, is killed off.
    We need sharks more than ever if we keep going and allow all this indiscriminate killing the end will be in sight.

    Beautiful photos Chris I would love to go out with you to try and take the same.

    Dawn Papke

    oxford florida
    July 19, 2015, 1:37 am
    A beautiful being

    Carlos Eduardo Carvalho

    Brasil
    July 16, 2015, 7:37 pm
    I think they are the most beautiful animal on Earth. But they also are really scary !

    KBH

    UK
    July 15, 2015, 5:21 am
    IVONNE SCAGLIONE – What planet are you on??? Your comments are both naive and quite frankly insulting to a community of people looking at this page to marvel at the stunning power and beauty of these critically endangered sharks. A handful of people are killed by sharks each year, whereas thousands of sharks are killed by humans EVERY DAY – wake up!

    Karabo

    Cape Town
    July 13, 2015, 2:52 am
    this is great man, how close do u get to these creatures… sooo brave

    Pete & Vee Ballan

    UK
    July 12, 2015, 6:59 am
    Ivonne Scaglione is WAY off the mark with her comments about Gt.Whites. We humans are the worst thing that ever happened to these creatures. She still lives in the sanitized world of zoo’s, animal collectors and no animal poo. Sharks fin as food is an obscenity, and the world is a much poorer place since humans became what we are. Come on Ivonne, wake up and look around you. Sharks is sharks, and they do what they do. Live with it. They aren’t there for your banal sterile entertainment, and no wild life is merely for your gratuitous pleasure.

    Raven

    Shongweni
    July 12, 2015, 2:48 am
    Wow, reading Ivonne Scaglione’s comment broke my brain… and my heart. Being un- or misinformed is going to be the death of is all. Firstly, the global numbers of death by shark is around 5 people per annum. Lightning kills 24000. So your fear of sharks are irrational as your chances are less than 1:1000000000. Secondly and most importantly, do people actually understand the concept of a species being endangered?? Especially what the impact of removal of the apex predator in a system does? Don’t worry Ivonne, soon they will be extinct, and with them, all of us…

    John

    July 11, 2015, 10:46 pm
    Amazing photos, but this quote cracked me up: “a huge emphasis of our photography is…on portray[ing] the many moods of these magnificent creatures.” The “many moods” of the great white shark. lol I think there are only two: kill and chill.

    zoheir

    Algiers
    July 11, 2015, 6:13 pm
    incredible, awesome!

    whoever

    July 11, 2015, 5:34 pm
    Well done, HomoSapienSuppSaurs!

    Claudine

    New Zealand
    July 11, 2015, 5:02 pm
    Yvonne Scaglione, I think you have the wrong idea! The ocean is THEIR territory….NOT OURS! Should we decide to ignore that, then we face the danger. Thinking they should adjust their behavior to suit us, is about as ridiculous as you can get.

    abu

    india
    July 11, 2015, 4:12 pm
    SubhanAllah

    Karan Chimnani

    Dubai
    July 11, 2015, 1:16 pm
    Spectacular shots!

    What a majestic creature. Fearful but majestic none the less.

    Thanks for sharing Nat Geo

  5. Matthew Scerri
    Malta
    April 6, 5:32 pm

    This article brought great memories. I’ve spent a week with Chris and Monique just looking at this and even thought it became quickly apparent that getting an image half as good as any portrayed in this article is close to impossible in the time we had, it was a week where I made lots of memories.

    What struck me the most from that week though, was that rather than quell my fascination with this awesome animal, it grew.

    I look forward to coming back again next year!! Keep up the good work Chris & Monique!

    (Oh, and their book is absolutely magnificent too!!)

  6. calum
    school
    February 29, 6:32 am

    hi

  7. cristina
    Southern Massachusetts
    February 9, 12:56 pm

    @ YVONNE SCAGLIONE

    Bees and dogs are more responsible of human deaths than sharks… should we kill them too?
    And what make it OK to drawn the sharks that scare us, or the lemon or any of them.
    If we kill the apex ocean predator, who would control the marine mammal population that compete with us for the same food… yep seals like the same stuff people do, oh but wait when the scary sharks are gone and there will be too many marine mammals, we go and kill those too… and it never ends.

    We kill more sharks than they kill us, actually sadly enough we seem to be the only truly scary specie, capable of doing violence ,even to our own specie, without purpose.

  8. cristina
    Southern Massachusetts
    February 9, 12:31 pm

    Reply @ Rich
    Obviously for a surfer you are not very knowledgeable on this subject , they are fish but not only they don’t ” reproduce like crazy” but not much is known about their reproductive cycle .

    Anyway the sea is THEIR home you choose to enter it at your own risk.
    If you can’t stand the fire stay out of the kitchen.

  9. Wolf
    October 11, 2015, 6:35 pm

    Those pictures are stunning and beautiful. Kudos to the photographer.
    Shame on everyone else for having a poor understanding of sharks. Very few of them include humans in their diet (the great white is not one of them), shark attacks are rare, and selfies kill more people than sharks. Your chances of being killed by a shark is 1 in over 3 million. A car is one in 84, and heart disease is 1 in 5 but we don’t go hunting and destroying Fords and McDonalds.

  10. Leandro
    Peru-Lima
    October 11, 2015, 12:21 pm

    Waoo aweome photographys

  11. Cat
    October 7, 2015, 1:43 pm

    Seriously does no one understand sharks reproductive system, sharks, in particular the Great White, doesn’t start mating till they are 14 feet long, and the pregnancy lasts twice that of a human pregnancy, and even after that it’s a miracle if they have more then one shark pup. They are not like regular fish, that can bread hundreds of offspring within a few days, they are born to be prefect for survival right away not to increase chances for survival. Ignorance really will be the downfall of some of these creatures when we don’t take the time to learn about them.

  12. Rich
    Norcal
    September 18, 2015, 3:59 pm

    There not endangered people.There fish they breed like crazy.For every shark killed there is one to replace it and for a surfer your chances are not higher to be struck by lightning than ever encountering a great white and its not if, its when.

  13. dominic maben
    jackson
    August 31, 2015, 10:00 am

    beautiful creatures

  14. Jo Adams
    August 5, 2015, 4:07 pm

    IVONNE SCAGLIONE
    Honestly your ignorance is frightening. Humans kill million and millions off sharks every year including Great Whites, Bulls, Tigers. Latest figures suggest a shark is killed every 3.67 seconds – can you get that around your head?
    Without sharks we will die. Do some research. Without Sharks the sea will never be the same, we will end up with a barren ocean if the shark, the top predator, is killed off.
    We need sharks more than ever if we keep going and allow all this indiscriminate killing the end will be in sight.

    Beautiful photos Chris I would love to go out with you to try and take the same.

  15. Dawn Papke
    oxford florida
    July 19, 2015, 1:37 am

    A beautiful being

  16. Carlos Eduardo Carvalho
    Brasil
    July 16, 2015, 7:37 pm

    I think they are the most beautiful animal on Earth. But they also are really scary !

  17. KBH
    UK
    July 15, 2015, 5:21 am

    IVONNE SCAGLIONE – What planet are you on??? Your comments are both naive and quite frankly insulting to a community of people looking at this page to marvel at the stunning power and beauty of these critically endangered sharks. A handful of people are killed by sharks each year, whereas thousands of sharks are killed by humans EVERY DAY – wake up!

  18. Karabo
    Cape Town
    July 13, 2015, 2:52 am

    this is great man, how close do u get to these creatures… sooo brave

  19. Pete & Vee Ballan
    UK
    July 12, 2015, 6:59 am

    Ivonne Scaglione is WAY off the mark with her comments about Gt.Whites. We humans are the worst thing that ever happened to these creatures. She still lives in the sanitized world of zoo’s, animal collectors and no animal poo. Sharks fin as food is an obscenity, and the world is a much poorer place since humans became what we are. Come on Ivonne, wake up and look around you. Sharks is sharks, and they do what they do. Live with it. They aren’t there for your banal sterile entertainment, and no wild life is merely for your gratuitous pleasure.

  20. Raven
    Shongweni
    July 12, 2015, 2:48 am

    Wow, reading Ivonne Scaglione’s comment broke my brain… and my heart. Being un- or misinformed is going to be the death of is all. Firstly, the global numbers of death by shark is around 5 people per annum. Lightning kills 24000. So your fear of sharks are irrational as your chances are less than 1:1000000000. Secondly and most importantly, do people actually understand the concept of a species being endangered?? Especially what the impact of removal of the apex predator in a system does? Don’t worry Ivonne, soon they will be extinct, and with them, all of us…

  21. John
    July 11, 2015, 10:46 pm

    Amazing photos, but this quote cracked me up: “a huge emphasis of our photography is…on portray[ing] the many moods of these magnificent creatures.” The “many moods” of the great white shark. lol I think there are only two: kill and chill.

  22. zoheir
    Algiers
    July 11, 2015, 6:13 pm

    incredible, awesome!

  23. whoever
    July 11, 2015, 5:34 pm

    Well done, HomoSapienSuppSaurs!

  24. Claudine
    New Zealand
    July 11, 2015, 5:02 pm

    Yvonne Scaglione, I think you have the wrong idea! The ocean is THEIR territory….NOT OURS! Should we decide to ignore that, then we face the danger. Thinking they should adjust their behavior to suit us, is about as ridiculous as you can get.

  25. abu
    india
    July 11, 2015, 4:12 pm

    SubhanAllah

  26. Karan Chimnani
    Dubai
    July 11, 2015, 1:16 pm

    Spectacular shots!

    What a majestic creature. Fearful but majestic none the less.

    Thanks for sharing Nat Geo 🙂

  27. Mikey
    NL
    July 11, 2015, 12:29 pm

    Nicely done

    : )

  28. IVONNE SCAGLIONE
    White plains, ny
    July 11, 2015, 10:19 am

    Nice pics. Honestly though, I really dislike great white sharks. Im.am not talking about all sharks, but the white, the bull, the tiger. The ones.that are responsible for more killings of humans. They are killing machines and in.size they can become monsters. If we dont.control.their population and their size, the ocean will be too dangerous. Humans kill the lemon shark for their fin. Humans are taking on the wrong specie of shark. Those white, tiger and bull are getting too many, closer, too big and the whale, the dolphin and the human population will be affected if no action is taken.

  29. Ali
    Dubai
    July 11, 2015, 7:11 am

    Superb… thanks photographer…

  30. Rebeca
    India
    July 11, 2015, 3:42 am

    Wow these images are so awesome…..

    check these images for more images http://google.com?search=shark+in+action

  31. Lizsa
    Stuttgart, DE
    July 11, 2015, 3:08 am

    Beautiful creatures – thanks for photographing them so well.

  32. Jasper van Weerd
    NL
    July 11, 2015, 2:12 am

    Some HD links behind them would be awesome.

  33. chalabi
    ju
    July 10, 2015, 8:59 pm

    oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

  34. Jehanzeb khan
    July 10, 2015, 2:48 pm

    Loved that photography and efforts 🙂

  35. An S
    Kiev
    July 10, 2015, 2:12 pm

    Amazing!!!

  36. Sanket
    Mumbai india
    July 10, 2015, 12:53 pm

    amazing shots!! superb

  37. Alice Zhao
    NYC, NY
    July 10, 2015, 12:25 pm

    Some very amazing shots!

    Great job!

    –Alice Zhao

  38. Reggie
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    July 10, 2015, 11:59 am

    Nature at it’s best. You got to love nature.

  39. Diane Godbout
    Gilford,NH
    July 10, 2015, 11:53 am

    This is awesome!

  40. Spring
    great state of Idaho
    July 10, 2015, 11:52 am

    Wow! These are terrifyingly awesome and beautiful! I will stay inside today.

  41. nana
    Indonesia
    July 9, 2015, 5:04 pm

    This really is breath taking amazing!