Go for the shark Several species of sharks were willing to pose for me in the past years: the Oceanic, Carribean, Lemon,Tiger,Great hammerhead and Bull shark. Links to the full albums can be found below under Shark pictures. Sharks enjoy a great popularity in the media, in particular newspapers, diving magazines, and the Internet. Just name it. Sadly, some media are still obsessed by the danger aspect, and just love to publish 'jaws like' pictures and stories confirming the stereotype of the shark as a man eating dangerous monster. But not man but sharks are the endangered species, threathened by extinction when killing of sharks continues at the present rate. Fortunately there are still many sharks left for us to visit and admire. Each species of sharks has something special that stimulates our curiosity and drives us to get near it as close as possible with our camera.
Type of lens The fish-eye lens is the most favorite lens to 'shoot' the shark, al least in conditions when it gets very close to the camera. But often sharks tend to keep a larger distance, for instance during unbaited dives or when groups of sharks like the scalopped hammerheads are passing by. In these conditions a wide angle rectilinear lens may give better results. The popular Tokina 10-17 mm fish eye lense (cropped sensor camera) is suitable for both conditions: close up as well as more distant shots of sharks. When a shark is not closing in, zooming to 15 or 17mm will still give a nice and crisp image. If you have a primary fish eye lens (e.g. the Nikon 10.5 mm) a Kenko 1.4 X teleconverter may be useful for more distant shark passings. Since the Kenko enhances the focal length with 40% (to around 15 mm with the Nikon lens), it will reduce the angle of coverage and thus produce a larger image of the shark in the center of your field. The same converter may also be valuable for full frame users with a circular fish eye (e.g. the Canon EF 8-15mm) who want to get close to the shark, but without the circular effect at the short end (8mm becomes 12 mm with the Kenko converter).
Making pictures Uw photography starts with three basic principles: persistence, trial and error and taking many shots once you have found an interesting object. That said, I personally prefer portraits of a shark when its swimming in and facing the UW photographer. Like it is 'posing' for you. Ideal are sharp close ups taken with some sun rays and the strobes at half power to get a more 'crisp' image of details like eyes, pores and gills. Taken in clear blue water, if possible. With natural light and a filter you may also get nice results, but risk that details of the head become less pregnant. A colourful soft or stone coral on the foreground can help a lot to place your shark in a more nauralistic setting and will add some extra perspective with the shark behind it, against the blue backgrond.
The shark could be positioned on the same level or above you. Frontal or diagonal views are ok, or with the shark above you turning away with a twist in the body showing its head and spreading its pectoral fins. The 'best' shot of a shark also depends on the species. The oceanic shark for example comes out very nicely near the surface. With its dorsal fin breaking the surface, its silhoutte reflecting against the surface and the sunlight meandering on its back. Another classic option is an Oceanic thats turns towards you with its majestic pectoral fins spread out. Preferably a bit below you in a 2-8 or 10-4 o'clock position (with the clock in the horizontal plane). These angles allow you to capture the full 'triangle' of pectoral and dorsal fins, including the bright white tips of the dorsal and pectoral fin that are turned towards you. A caribbean reef shark looks great when it swims in open blue water and closes in with its head towards you. The great hammerhead should be a bit above you, exposing its rows of teeth in the mouth that it always keeps slightly opened. And don't miss a close up of its bulging black eye, that remains fixated on you when it passes by. Finally, in post processing cut out all details (bubbles, little fish, or even a diver in an awkward position) with Photoshop that distract your attention from the main object.
Catching some remoras (with the lemon shark) or pilot fish (with the oceanic shark) in your frame is an opportunity that should never be missed. You must be careful with your choice of lense. I prefer the fish eye, because even with a shark coming in real close, it will not fill your entire frame, creating the impression that it is 'locked up'. Its nicer to have some space around it, like the surface, a boat or divers. A shot of a shark facing and closing in to another photographer also works fine to give a impression of the shark-photographer interaction. A fish-eye lense (preferably a Zoom version with a small dome port) allows you to get really close to the shark. If this is what you want. But it also opens the possibility of CFWA (close focus wide angle) shots with a small colourful object on the foreground (like a nice piece of soft coral at 20 cm if you can find it) and the shark on the background at around one meter distance. Some pictures below give an example.
Baiting Baiting is one way to bring in the sharks close. But its only a 'means' and not an 'end' on itself. When it is done sensibly, the shark will not get excited. And the bait is not a substitute for its daily natural food intake. An interesting and effective method is to hide a piece of fish under a coral head or sea fan. Then position yourself downstream of the spot. This methode works well if you want to place the shark in a more attractive natural setting. Although it may sound strange, baiting also makes your dive safer, because it distracts the shark from paying too much attention to you or your camera. I dont like the type of baiting that may trigger a shark frenzy. Like with a 'shark rodeo', a 'chumsicle' or with large lumps of fish thrown in the water. On some shark trips divemasters act like bull fighters (or lion tamers), tempted to spectacular and daring poses with huge tiger or bull sharks. And lets not forget the 'shark bimbos', often beautiful girls in bikini that swim with or even stroke sharks to prove that they are 'sooo sweeet'. This is just to mention some exotic forms of behavior of Homo sapiens elicited by the Carcharhinus or Galeocerdo species. One more thing. With baiting going on from a boat, there may be many small fish particles drifting with the current. Try to remain upstream of the bait, to avoid the backscatter in the beams of your strobes. Or, with little or no current, stay outside the cloud of the chum particles. Red Sea In the Egyptian Red Sea were baiting is prohibited it is difficult to get close to the sharks. Thats why shark close-ups in this area are pretty rare. Also, when you are lucky to get close to a big shark in the Red Sea, you should be on the alert. Since there is no bait in the water to attract the shark, it could see you as a potential bait and not as a bait provider. So, snorkeling happily with the Oceanics is not advisable, because it could end up in disaster. Bahamas The Western Bahamas, located along the edge of the gulfstream are the ultimate place for meeting big sharks of various species. Because baiting is not prohibited the sharks are easy to approach, mostly on shallow and sunlit sea floors. Here, the fish-eye lense is a must. Its also nice that sharks are protected in the Bahamas. Earlier shots in this album were taken during the mid january trip with Shearwater in Bahamas in 2009 and 2012 at Tiger Beach, little Bahama Bank. Containing mostly Tiger, Lemon and Caribbean reef sharks.
Danger When people ask me: are sharks dangerous? I answer yes, but crossing a busy street or riding a bicycle in Amsterdam is probably far more dangerous. Especially when you are a novice biker. So a shark can be dangerous for a diver. For instance, when you loose eye contact with a tiger shark, or when it bumps you with its nose. Bumping can mean two things, the shark is checking out what you are made of (and possibly but not likely a forebode of a bite), or its trying to attract your attention because it expecting some nice piece of bait, similar to a dog. And any shark can mean danger when visibility is low and there are many sharks around you moving rapidly and in various directions. In these conditions even the elegant Caribbean reef shark has a reputation of biting a leg or arm of a diver, just by accident. You certainly don’t what that happen to you. So better stay outside the turmoil and keep your camera in front of you to fend of an occasional (too) brisky shark. In the Red Sea the silvertip shark (C. Albimarginatus) has the reputation of becoming agressive towards divers entering its terrory, especially at dusk. The grey reef shark (C. Amblyrynchus) in the Pacific Ocean (not in the Red Sea or Indian Ocean) may exhibit a threat display, with the snout lifted and a hunched back: a sign for the diver to back off. Finally, some celebrated shark feeding sites like Aqua Trek Beqa in Fiji dont look very safe to me, despite the assurance of the organisers that it is all under control. When I look at some pictures, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=964615393578183&set=a.179392882100442.36603.100000891959033&type=3&theater I just dont believe a word of what they say. Too much adrenaline and sensation and WHOW. And probably not the right environment for the UW photographer.
Oceanic white tip sharks The Oceanic white tip (C. Longimanus: or 'long hands') is a pelagic shark named after the open waters where it can sometimes be seen following ships or pilot whales. Not a particularly comfortable place for a diver to go out to meet this shark. But the Oceanic can also be found in the Red Sea along drop-offs such as Elphinstone reef, the Brothers etc. Often accompanied by its typical escort of pilot fish (Naucrates Ductor). It is a miracle that this magnificent shark hunted for its long pectoral and dorsal fins by Arabian fishermen is still around in the Red Sea. The Oceanic has white markings along the tips of its rounded dorsal fin and its long pectoral fins. Cousteau therefore used to call this shark 'lord of the long arms'. The Oceanic is a bold shark that tends to close in to, and sometimes bump divers. Its colour in the Red Sea is brownish, in other oceans it is more beige. See album: Red Sea Oceanics
In the Bahamas you can also meet Oceanic white tips in the right season, that is from March to June from the diving base at the Greenwood resort on Cat Island. Mostly during baited drift dives with the boat in the environment. These dives require other skills that those that you need on a sandy shallow sea floor. Here snorkeling with the Oceanics is not uncommon. In the Red Sea it is not a recommended practice. See album: Cat island Oceanics
Caribbean reef sharks Carcharhinus perezi is an elegant, greyish and slender shark that is usually found in warmer inshore waters. They can become 3 meters and are swift hunters when they smell a bait or prey. They can be dangerous for divers that get too close when they are excited and congregate around a bait. But a (rare) bite from this shark is probably always a mistake, (oops!) not an act of directed agression. See album: Carribean sharks
Lemon sharks Lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) are a special species of sharks, entirely different from the tiger and carribean reef shark. Negaprion= no saws, meaning that their teeth are smooth. They can grow to 3 meters and live for 10-15 years. On a sandy bottom, with a fish-crate hanging from the boat (like on Tiger Beach Bahamas) they usually congregate in groups circling slowly around the bait close to the sand, and not minding very much about the divers and other shark species. They have a brownish yellow colouring, a mouth with rows of long pointed teeth and a slender body, often with remoras stuck to it. Which makes them a nice target for the UW photographer. The lemon shark is also widely used for research. Observations of Lemon Sharks at Bimini suggest that this species is highly social and site attached. Young lemon sharks depend on murky mangrove habitats. The mangroves of Bimini form a safe haven for young pups feeding on crabs, shrimps and worms. The world wide destroyal of mangrove swamps to make way for hotels and jetties for cruise ships, will endanger the survival of this unique shark. See album: Lemon sharks
Tiger sharks Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) reproduce around 30 to 50 pups every three years. Baby sharks are around 90 cm but can grow out to 4 meters, with female sharks sometimes reaching 5 meters. A famous specimen is Emma a huge female tiger shark that often shows up at Tiger Beach (Litte Bahama Banks) and can even be found on Facebook.Tiger sharks grow relatively fast reaching their maxium size at age 5. Their maximum age is estimated to be 12 years or more. Vertical stripes are found mainly on juveniles. As these sharks mature, the lines begin to fade and almost disappear. Tiger sharks have the reputation of being indiscriminate eaters. In the presence of divers they have a habit of 'sneaking up' from behind you. At shallow depths they seem to behave more timidly in the presence of divers than in deeper water. See the two albums: Tiger sharks (1) and Tiger sharks (2)
Great hammerhead Shots of the Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna Mokarran) were taken in Bimini, in January 2015 and April 2016. I uysed the Nikon D7100/D7200 with strobes or Olympus EPL5 with natural light. The great hammerhead with its huge sickle shaped dorsal fin and impressive 'hammer' with black bulging eyes on the sides, is an absolute marvel. For me its the master of the apex predators. Its large flat head or cephalofoil creates a lift which facilitates swift turning of the head. The hammerhead will not likely 'bump' into you, but if you carefully extend your hand (in glove), you to can feel that hard bony ridge of its head. And the electrical sensors (ampullae of Lorenzini), placed widely apart, helps the GHs swinging head in locating crabs and stingrays and other crustaceans hidden under the sand. See album: Great hammerheads
Bull sharks Bull sharks (Charcharhinus leucas) have a short blunt snout, small beady eyes and a robust compact body. They can reach a maximum length of around 4 meters. My first encounters with bull sharks were at Walkers Cay, a small island with a resort in the more northern part of the Bahamas. This must have been some 16 years ago. Every afternoon there was a shark feed session organised by Gary Adkison. This was on a small beach close to the runway strip of the island. A group of around 10 female bull sharks would then move in for their afternoon lunch of fish, thrown by Gary from the coast into the shallow water. What I remember was their enormous fat bodies (see upper right picture). One of the largest bulls was nicknamed ‘Bahama Momma’ by Jeremy Stafford, who supervised us when we were allowed to snorkel among them after the feeding session. The resort at Walkers Cay was swept away by a tornado some years later.
Bull sharks have the reputation of being dangerous for humans. Under water they sometimes seem to behave erratically. They also swim into brackish and freshwater, even far inland along rivers and tributaries. Some attacks on humans occurred in shallow water with bad visibility. Which opens the possibility that the bullsharks eyesight is not too good, and therefore occasionally bites an arm or leg of a swimmer or diver. If I am right, it might also explain the bull sharks preference for murky water where a sharp eye sight is not essential for survival, and there would (likely) be less competition with other shark species that prefer clear blue water. On Bimini bull sharks sometimes mix in with the Great hammerheads and Nurse sharks. On these occasions they seem to tolerate each other rather well. See some excellent recent pictures of Bull sharks from Jupiter East Florida, taken by Alan Egan.