Unsure about what to do when shooting sharks underwater? Daniel Norwood provides valuable tips on how to get the perfect shark shot in a responsible way
Sharks are some of the most amazing and successful predators in the animal kingdom, and despite years of rampant overfishing, which has decimated populations globally, it is still possible to dive with them in a number of different locations around the world.
Experienced operators in countries such as Fiji, the Bahamas and Mexico have been introducing people to sharks without incident for many years, and as the public perception of sharks finally begins to change for the better, the number of people wanting to swim with them continues to rise. This is good news for sharks, because participating in sustainable shark tourism provides countries with an economic incentive to protect them and their habitat. It is also the best way for underwater photographers to get close to sharks and capture a variety of iconic species.
Before joining a shark diving trip, it is important to consider your diving ability and experience level, while choosing the location and tour provider carefully. Do some research and dive with responsible people that know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, a small number of individuals in the industry continue to take unnecessary risks and intentionally harass or manipulate animals for attention. Recent trends such as riding sharks and aggressive nose rubbing only encourages other people to do the same, and more importantly shows a complete lack of respect for the animals. If you happen to find yourself on a shark dive where the operator goes too far in an effort to put on a show, refrain from taking or posting images of the incident and by all means voice your concern after the dive. Avoid such dive centres and dive with companies who genuinely care about the welfare of sharks instead. Photographers are also often guilty of pushing the limits in an effort to get a better shot, but no image is worth risking your safety for, so avoid acting foolishly and abide by the rules.
GETTING GREAT IMAGES
Before discussing techniques specific to different types of shark dives, it is important to first prepare your equipment and camera settings.
All shark photography will require some kind of wide-angle lens and ideally two strobes. Always shoot in RAW for non-destructive post-processing and use a shutter speed no slower than 1/125s unless you are intentionally shooting motion blur images. Start with an aperture around f/8 and make adjustments to experiment with different shades of blue water. Finally, increase the ISO if you are deep or if light is an issue. Most modern cameras still produce great results at high ISO levels and on certain dives you will need it.
Now that the camera is ready to go, it is time to consider the type of sharks you will be shooting and how you can make the most of each situation and come away with some great images.
BAITED SHARK DIVES
Contrary to popular belief, most sharks do not normally approach humans, and will avoid groups of divers at all costs. For this reason, it is often necessary to attract them with food. There are a number of ways to do this that all serve the same purpose: to get as close as possible to otherwise elusive species. This type of diving is great for photographing large predatory sharks such as tiger sharks and great hammerheads in the Bahamas, bull sharks in Fiji and Mexico, and blue sharks and makos in the Azores and California.
My lens of choice for these dives is a Tokina 10–17mm (used on a cropped-sensor DSLR), but if you do not like the fisheye effect, a rectilinear lens in the 12–24mm range would also be a good choice. Having the ability to zoom in and out is a huge plus and I tend to make constant adjustments to my focal length throughout each dive. I also manually adjust the power output of my strobes; it can be easy to blow out the white belly of a shark if the light is too bright, so start low and adjust accordingly.