10 Feb, 2016 Back to blog

" 10 Things " you might not know about Photographing Sharks !

Kevin Deacon gives us the `need to know’ to get great pictures of the oceans predators.


1:  Shark Feeding

Although this can be a controversial topic, without bait to attract sharks it is ultimately impossible to bring many species in close enough for a good view and absolutely impossible to get them close enough for good photography. Minimal bait is used and good shark diving protocols have been established to reduce risk to divers and the sharks. Thanks to the resulting education, photography and communication and the excellent safety record of many professional shark dive operators worldwide the mindset of sharks being ruthless killers has been diffused and much more support for the protection of sharks has been gained.

Please consider that Shark diving tourism is a valuable resource that stands in the way of the 100 Million sharks currently killed every year in the fishing industry.

For a detailed understanding on the topic of `Sustainable Shark Diving tourism I suggest visiting the following website.


2:  The Human Predator

[caption id="attachment_2197" align="aligncenter" width="393"]0080 I believe Great White shark photography should never be considered without the security of a shark cage. This shark is an ambush predator of large mammals and where there is one shark there can be more. An attack could occur without warning.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2198" align="aligncenter" width="300"]D21_1084 Grey nurse sharks look ferocious as they school together in large numbers and display a mean set of teeth, however these teeth are not suited for large prey so it is safe to interact with them. As these sharks are not shy it is easy to approach and even swim among them which provides wonderful photo opportunities.[/caption]

Although there are over 400 species of sharks only about five are considered dangerous to swimmers. However Scuba Divers have little to fear as sharks are mostly intimidated by our presence in the water with them . Consider that we are a large predator ourselves at over 2 meters in length (including our fins) scuba cylinders adding to our girth and a consistent stream of bubbles bursting into the water column that emulate the threat display of killer whales, it is no wonder we rarely see a shark before it sees us and departs.

[caption id="attachment_2196" align="aligncenter" width="300"]D21_0608 The leopard shark is a very gentle animal and completely safe to interact with. Although it is two meters long, one meter is tail and its mouth is suited mainly for crunching shell fish.[/caption]

3:  Counter shading

[caption id="attachment_2200" align="aligncenter" width="216"]D21_1229 The white undersides of sharks is very apparent in this picture. Consequently strobe lighting needs to be reduced to prevent over exposure of shark images.[/caption]

Sharks are counter shaded in colour with the upper back  quite dark and the undersides very light to white. This allows them camouflage from above and from beneath which helps them avoid their predators and assists them in the pursuit of their prey. Underwater photographers need to be careful to avoid overexposing this part of the sharks body thus losing all the details of the sharks teeth, gums and markings on the undersides.

4:  Strobe Arms

Longer than normal strobe arms are recommended to reduce backscatter from bait particles that are often present during the shark feeds. Also suspended sand is prevalent as the divers and sharks interact close to or on the seafloor.

[caption id="attachment_2208" align="aligncenter" width="300"]KD2_6315 Diver models should be very aware of shark behaviour. Cherie Deacon has much experience working with many species thus minimising risk.[/caption]

5:  Strobe positioning

[caption id="attachment_2202" align="aligncenter" width="300"]D21_1268 Large wobbegongs are easy to approach but this animal is an ambush predator so be careful when you get very close. Their teeth are very sharp and many a careless diver has discovered this to their dismay when they harassed this species.[/caption]

As usual correct strobe positioning is important and I recommend having strobes mounted lower to light up the sharks undersides and jaws. I avoid using diffusers as they often make the strobe beam too wide thus causing backscatter in front of the camera where no strobe light is needed. If you are using two strobes, angle the strobes outwards to create `Edge Lighting’ which will further reduce backscatter.

6:  Camera Settings

[caption id="attachment_2194" align="aligncenter" width="300"]0016 A fast shutter speed of 1/250th froze the sunbeams in the water column with the light pattern on the shark creating an image of art not intimidation.[/caption]

Often a high shutter speed of 1/250th or more is needed to reduce movement blur during the fast action that can occur with sharks and the movements of the photographer. Choose a high ISO of 400 or more, an aperture setting of around F8 or F11 for good depth of field, this should ensure high shutter speeds will be available if the sunlight is prevalent. If not I prefer to increase the ISO further to ensure fast shutter speeds.

[caption id="attachment_2204" align="aligncenter" width="300"]KD1_2192 Caribbean reefs sharks are often curious sometimes coming close enough for a good photo. However when bait is produced they get very excited competing with each other for the food. Incredibly divers can be in the midst of this frenzied activity and yet remain untouched.[/caption]

7:  Shooting from the hip

This is term from the wild west gunslinger days! It refers to the technique of aiming intuitively while shooting to hopefully maintain a good view of what is happening yet `hopefully’ still hitting the target! While I don’t use this technique all the time, sometimes I have found it necessary during moments when the action gets a bit more intense and the shot becomes a little bit less important than keeping ones appendages intact.

8:  Managing the light sources

As you will often be shooting big animals in blue water it is important to expose for the sunlight in the surrounding water column and keep strobes on low power settings just for the purpose of filling in detail and the sharks undersides. If a shark comes very close a low power strobe setting is less likely to overexpose the shark.

[caption id="attachment_2210" align="aligncenter" width="300"]KD2_6673 Up to 20 Silky sharks would circle around the dive boat at dive sites in Gardens of the Queen, Cuba where they are fed a very small amount of fish frequently. The sharks would ignore our entry and exits at the dive ladder as they clearly distinguish between us and their normal diet. However it took a while for us to get used to the idea of surfacing among a school of sharks..[/caption]

9:  Lenses for shark photography

[caption id="attachment_2203" align="aligncenter" width="401"]DSC_2025 Whale sharks are the world’s largest sharks but these gentle giants eat plankton. A very wide angle lens is needed for best photographic results.[/caption]

I recommend a very wide angle zoom lens for most shark photography. The size of the shark will determine the lens angle you will choose and wide angle zooms have enough range to suit most species of sharks. The exception can be whale sharks as these are so large or other shark photography in low visibility. On these occasions I use a full frame fisheye lens and get really close. Mind you this can be a real test of courage to `hold the position’ when 4 great hammerhead sharks emerge simultaneously in just 5 meter visibility and close in on you and the bait feeder. An event that just occurred during my Bahamas great hammerhead shark expedition last month.

10:  Staying safer during shark feeds

[caption id="attachment_2207" align="aligncenter" width="300"]KD1_6298 Fortunately Great Hammerheads are easily turned away by a gentle prod from a shark stick or a large camera, however the world’s most experienced Great Hammerhead dive operator Neal Watson is adept at managing them by hand. Not a technique I would encourage anyone else to try![/caption] Avoid the bait odour corridor at all times. The shark feeder will assess the direction of any current and try to ensure the dive team stay up current of the bait box and the bait. Sharks will typically follow the scent and consistently arrive from down current. Sharks will always give a lot of unwanted attention to anything in the bait scent corridor so you should stay out of it. Keep in mind that the current can change direction so be ready to adjust your position. Usually the bait will be on the bottom and the shark dive team can direct you frequently but sometimes it can be in a bait box suspended from the dive boat and you will need to be more aware of your position relative to the current flow. [caption id="attachment_2209" align="aligncenter" width="300"]KD2_6394 A Silky shark attracted to a bait box hanging below the boat at 7 meters at Gardens of the Queen, Cuba, circles our divers but she is only interested in the scent and the promise of a fish dinner soon.[/caption] Obviously shark diving photography brings a bit more risk than Nudibranch photography so I always take the following precautions - I avoid white or light coloured items of dive equipment or dive suits. I always wear black gloves and I am especially fond of my big camera housing which is a nice weapon when it’s not being used to take photos. The attraction of bright shiny things became very apparent when a 4 meter great hammerhead bit the stainless steel shackle midway along my strobe arm last month!

By Kevin Deacon. Dive 2000 Dive Travel & Photo Centre   Underwater Photography Courses-Dive 2000