Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures

Expedition Team Bios
Diving Technology
Underwater HD Filming


Meet the Expedition Team

Tom Ordway, Still Photographer

Tom Ordway
Photo credit: Holly Lohuis

Tom Ordway has two loves: photography and the oceans -- and he's been pursuing both since high school. He taught himself the basics of photography before enrolling in the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, then went on to earn a degree in industrial and scientific color technology. He has documented the Fiji Islands environment with Jean-Michel Cousteau, and he's developing a library of marine images from around the world.

Interview with Tom Ordway

What are the challenges of filming underwater in the company of reef sharks?

When filming with sharks, you must always be watching your back. Some sharks are not as aggressive as others, but you should never drop your guard around any wild animals. During one of our dives, we descended to 60 feet in open water and were greeted by some six-foot-long gray reef sharks and one six- to seven-foot-long silvertip shark. The silvertip was way more aggressive than the gray reef sharks. Whereas the gray reef sharks still kept their distance, the silvertip came in so close that I used my camera to push it away. Now try adding the current of the drift dive, watching your back, and trying to frame up the subject in the viewfinder and get an excellent shot. With my camera, you look through a viewfinder located on top of the camera, which lets you keep your eyes on the scene. When using a housed camera, you have to use a mask with a black skirt to keep the light off your face. Now your field of view is limited, and in order to focus the camera, you have to close one eye, compose the shot and shoot. Keeping an eye on your back is now a bit difficult, so the best solution is to have a buddy with you to keep the sharks at bay while you concentrate on the ones you are trying to film.

What kind of education and experiences have you had in order to get you where you are today professionally? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

Since being certified in 1987, I have acquired the following certifications:

  • Advanced Open Water Diver
  • Rescue Diver
  • Nitrox I
  • Advanced Nitrox
  • Atlantis I Rebreather
  • Decompression Procedures
  • Nitrox Filling Tech
I graduated from the Brooks Institute of Photography in 1994 with a B.A. in photography. I put myself through school and dedicated myself to being the best photographer I could be. When I graduated from Brooks, Jean-Michel Cousteau asked me to work full time with his company as their staff photographer. During my time working with Jean-Michel's organizations, I have traveled all over the world to many exotic locations and have photographed some wonderful and exciting images.

Describe your most amazing underwater moment.

The most amazing moment for me on the sharks trip was, when we were starting a dive, we encountered a school of about 50 eagle rays in open water. Jean-Michel and Holly were out in front of me as the eagle rays swam in from the left; I proceeded to swim to the left to get in position to catch the school with Jean-Michel and Holly in the middle of the school. I swam as fast as I could as I descended to 86 feet to get into position for the shot, but the eagle rays were too fast. I now had to swim back toward Jean-Michel and Holly. Once I reached Holly, there was a school of Pacific barracuda just above her, so I motioned to her to look up and ascend into the school. I positioned myself below her and waited for the school to circle around behind her, then I took the shot. I loved that moment — I thought that I had lost a shot, but out of the blue there was another. That was the great thing about diving on this trip — every time you turned around there was another shot.