Be mindful of your subject and other divers – respect the animal’s space so as not to scare them off Equipment: Nikon D300, Nikkor 10.5mm lens, Nauticam housing Settings: f/10, 1/200s, ISO200

IF YOU’RE AN underwater animal lover, pelagics are the ultimate goal: Nothing compares to facing a wall of silky sharks, being checked out by a mola mola or swimming side by side with grey whales. Chasing after pelagic wildlife is extremely exciting and also very demanding physically. Subjects are usually big animals, which makes them fast and elusive. The pursuit is as thrilling as getting the shot.

Pelagic photography is key to conservation because it offers a vision of a fragile ecosystem not exposed to the wider public very often. Every single image you bring back helps to create awareness, and therefore encourages others to appreciate and protect the wonders of the open ocean.

Pelagic Pickings
Most popular subjects are always migrating and/or feeding. The best approach is to stay close to the food source, whether that’s chum, a giant bait ball or infinitesimal krill. Baitballs are a guarantee for pelagic shoots and my personal favourites. Sailfish and striped marlin, for example, chase sardine baitballs, herding them from the bottom to the surface, and then taking turns to hit the ball with their bills. They are neither curious about nor scared of divers, but always focused on the baitball. They move extremely fast – and to keep up, so should you! Keep an eye out for tuna, sharks and birds hitting the baitball – they will always spice up your frames.

Sharks are often curious about divers. You can get some good passes if you wait patiently in one spot. Whale sharks, in the Mexican Caribbean, are the ideal first encounter. These gentle giants gather by the dozen – sometimes hundreds – to slowly feed on the surface. Water is usually Caribbean-blue and whale sharks are forgiving when it comes to missing the shot; you will most probably get another ten chances at the exact same framing. You have plenty of room to play with different settings, split shots and counter light shots.

With fast-moving subjects, being in the right spot is essential Equipment: Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10-24mm lens at 10mm, Ikelite housing, dual Ikelite 160 strobes Settings: f/8, 1/125s, ISO200

Whales are shy and skittish, especially if they have calves around. Try jumping way ahead of their path and diving down immediately. Don’t move: let them come to you. I’ve found this to be the hardest subject to capture. Other than in waters of the Dominican Republic or Tonga, whales avoid both boats and floating divers. Still, with patience it can be done.

Many other surprises can pop up out of the blue, literally. Great examples are mola molas. Sometimes they take off immediately and other times they will play for hours. Remember to always approach any animal slowly and calmly. Don’t get in their way and try not to touch them or bump into them. You don’t want to hurt them or scare them off.

Stay close to baitballs even if you don’t see any predators – you never know what’s around the corner Equipment: Nikon D300, Nikkor 10.5mm lens, Nauticam housing Settings: f/8, 1/160s, ISO200

Many other surprises can pop up out of the blue, literally. Great examples are mola molas. Sometimes they take off immediately and other times they will play for hours. Remember to always approach any animal slowly and calmly. Don’t get in their way and try not to touch them or bump into them. You don’t want to hurt them or scare them off.

Essential Gear
DSLRs are vital for proper pelagic photography because the action usually happens so fast – too fast for the shutter lag common in compacts. If you use a compact, try to predict the animal’s movement or behaviour, and shoot before it happens. With practice, you’ll be surprised how many times you can nail a good shot. Consider also wider framing, in case the subject makes a sudden turn.

Another great advantage of DSLR cameras is burst shooting. All models now offer some kind of burst mode, which is a real boon when you only have one good pass. Strobes are not the rule; rather, they’re the exception. Most probably, you’ll have a pelagic encounter whilst snorkelling, so the power of the sun is on your side. Strobes and arms also generate noticeable drag, which will slow you down.

For the rest of this article (Scuba Diver Issue 6/2013 TTL No.8) and other stories, check out our past issues here or download digital copy here.

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