Caught In The Undershow

Photos by Donald Miralle

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Donald Miralle swam competitively while attending UCLA and dove into underwater photography by shooting his college teammates. In the years since, his work with and under water has landed him more than 40 internationally significant photography awards. With such a mountain of accolades under his belt, it's easy to assume Miralle's nearing the end of a stellar career, but his prestigious awards actually outnumber the years since his birth.

In mid-May, PacificSD sent the 38-year-old, San Diego-based photographer to Oahu, Hawaii, to photograph this issue's cover model, Ocean Ramsey, in her element - swimming with sharks.

PacificSD: How was the trip?
Donald Miralle: I felt immediately at home with Ocean and Juan [Ramsey's friend, photographer Juan Oliphant]. They were very easygoing people who have the same interests as me, so it was a true pleasure to hang out with them for a couple days.

You didn't get up-close and personal with tiger sharks. Did that bum you out?
Yes, but everything you do in the ocean is dependent on the conditions, whether it's surfing, sailing, fishing or diving with sharks. If those conditions aren't right, you will probably not have a good experience, or, even worse, you can risk your safety.

What's been your favorite shoot of your career so far?
I would have to say the eight Olympic Games I've shot probably rank as the most memorable and challenging experiences I've had as a photographer. I also feel like it's the arena where I've made my most significant photographs as a photojournalist. There's is nothing harder in the world of sports photography than covering an Olympic Games in a foreign country, logging 20-hour days for 20 days straight.

If you could photograph anyone in the world, living or dead, who would you choose?
I would have loved to shoot portraits of larger-than-life people that have passed, like Mahatma Gandhi, Bob Marley, Jimmy Hendrix and John Lennon, or figures who are alive today, like the Dalai Lama. I enjoy doing one-on-one portraits with celebrity types, because, as they're sitting for you and passing the time chatting, you get an insight into who they are. you realize they are real people just like you, and it's always a challenge trying to capture that personality in a still image and freeze it forever.

What do you love to do besides photography?
Nowadays, I'm in the ocean, paddling, surfing or swimming every morning. My wife, Lauren, and I exposed our sons Luke and Micah to the water at a very young age, not only for safety reasons but also to share the love of being in the water that I have. There is a rich history of great surfers and paddlers in our area, and I am lucky to have a great group of like-minded people at north County Paddlers that I train with every week.

Do you have a favorite spot in San Diego?
By far my favorite place, not only in San Diego, but in the entire world, is my home in the small community of Leucadia. We're minutes from some great breaks like Beacons, Grandview, Ponto, and a little further south is Swamis and Cardiff Reef. I feel like my family and I are fortunate to live in the best place on the planet, and no matter where I fly to for an assignment, it's a great feeling touching back down in S.D.

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