How to Photograph Sharks
Getting Dramatic Shark Photos and Video
Want some tips on how to photograph sharks? Here's a few tips for various situations. It takes time, skill and good equipment to consistently get great shark photographs. The first step is of course being (relatively) safe and comfortable in and on the water. You can't focus on great photography if you are constantly dealing with your diving equipment or the underwater environment. Once you can handle the diving you need to be comfortable with your underwater photography gear - and good equipment is essential. If you can't operate the camera and housing efficiently you will miss most of your shots while you are fiddling with dials and buttons. After you have the diving and equipment dialed in, then you can concentrate on learning animal behavior and where and how to get those great shots.
Have a backup plan
Any given trip something is bound to go wrong. Make sure to bring as much backup equipment as you can manage. At least enough of a repair kit to fix minor problems. Personally I always take a completely redundant camera system, but that's usually more than most people can handle. If you are bringing a low cost underwater point and shoot or a GoPro helmet cam - bring 2. It also helps to have a spare boat motor in case a shark chews one off. It can be a long paddle back to shore.
Test your gear first (especially if rented)
You should never go into the field with new gear you haven't tested. That said, you should always assemble and test your gear before your trip. I've seen so many people rent underwater housings from their local camera or dive shop, show up on the boat and realize they were not given all the parts and wind up having to leave their camera on the dive table the whole trip. Or having to rent all new equipment from the dive operation once they got there (if they are that lucky). Put your camera and housing together and simulate the distance you will be away from the subject in a pool. Or at least in your living room. Get used to how to operate the controls before you get in the water.
Be aware of hazards and how to avoid them
Shark diving and photography means rocking boats, slippery surfaces and sharp objects (not always pointy teeth). Make sure you are securely attached to something and prepared for the unexpected. Sometimes you really, really don't want to slip.
Don't be afraid to get close
There is one given in underwater photography - closer is better. If you want a dramatic image you have to get close to the action. Don't be afraid to stick your camera right in the sharks face - this is also sometimes a necessity to keep a great white shark from following your camera into the cage or to protect yourself from an inquisitive shark.
Keep your hands inside the ride at all times
Everyone gets the same old safety briefing every time to the point people just tune it out. Shark diving isn't a ride at Disney Land. And while divemasters sometimes have your back you always need to be aware of what's going on and be respectful of the animals and the environment. Don't try to pet the sharks and know where your hands are at all times. Sharks can mistake your camera flash or your white ungloved hand flapping in the water for a fish. And fish are food. Nuf said.
Be patient - nature happens on its own schedule
If you get the opportunity to try to photograph breaching great white sharks in False Bay, South Africa patience is a virtue. You might have to sit for hours at a time for days in a small rocking boat in bad weather just waiting for the perfect shot - and you'll only have a split second to capture it. This is when a good zoom lens, fast camera and reflexes come in handy.
Leave the bubbles behind
Want to photograph the schools of hundreds of hammerhead sharks in Costa Rica? Well, you might just have to invest some time learning how to dive a rebreather unless you want to see the sharks way out in the distance - because they are scared away by the sound of your open circuit scuba diving gear which sounds to them like a freight train underwater. If you want a more up close and personal experience and the best photo ops - use a rebreather.
The shark cage is highly overrated
Sometimes you just have to get out of the cage. If you want to see schools of hundreds of silky sharks for example, you can't hang out in a cage off the side of a boat. You have to get out in the deep blue sea and let the sharks find you on their own terms. Just don't let the silky sharks try to peel you away from the group. And get out of the water before dusk...
Dive dry - use a submarine
Okay, this is a bit of a stretch as not too many people get the chance to take a mini submarine ride. Want to see some sharks in more comfy conditions - take a submarine. You might get lucky to spend an hour with a whale shark.
Great White Shark Diving Video - Use a low cost GoPro Hero helmet cam - on a stick
A cheap and easy way to photograph sharks. Stick a GoPro Hero video camera in an underwater mount stuck to the end of a pole from the local lawn and garden center. Okay - its just a little more technical than that. Here's the trick if you want to use your GoPro Hero underwater. Even though the GoPro Hero video camera is waterproof and the housing is rated for a limited depth your images will be blurry due to the curved dome port. You need to get a custom made GoPro Hero flat port mount (see the resource links below on where to get one).
WARNING: There is a little "salty" language in the video soundtrack.
Shark Photography Links
Here are some great resources for shark photography and stuff with sharks on them - like t-shirts, calendars, mugs and other cool stuff. Makes great gifts.
- Cool stuff at this cafe press site.
Get mugs, t-shirts, calendars, posters and lots of other stuff with awesome shark shots. Makes great gifts.
- Great white sharks in False Bay, South Africa
If you want to see flying great white sharks False Bay is the place to go.
- Great white sharks in Guadelupe Mexico
Guadelupe Island, Mexico is one of the three hot spots for going great white shark diving.
- Great white sharks in Australia
Australia is one of the three hot spots for going great white shark diving.
- Custom GoPro Hero Underwater Housing
If you want to use your GoPro Hero helmet cam underwater you really need one of these custom hand made flat ports.
- Seacam underwater housings
If you are serious about shark photography get a Seacam housing. They are pricy but worth every penny.