Shark photography is a popular and exciting part of shooting underwater. Many photographers travel the world over to get up close and personal with these mysterious creatures. If you are planning to start photographing sharks, it’s important to have a read through some of the items below to keep yourself and the very creatures you are in awe of safe.
The sensationalism surrounding sharks is not a new thing. While more people are killed each year by cows, sharks are still very much demonized. Photographing these misunderstood creatures gives us an opportunity to open minds, but, as with all wildlife photography safety precautions need to be taken. I hope this list helps in some way:
- Don’t Act Like Prey: It’s one of those common sense pieces of advice, yet it’s interesting how often people tend to forget this. Some dives dedicated to shark photography revolve around divers over-weighting themselves to help with any currents that might be present. The weight helps divers quickly reach the seafloor and stay put once they are there. Jerky movements intrigue sharks and really should be minimized. This is especially true of your fins. Keeping everything planted and steady is really key.
- Wear Appropriate Gear: Most shark dive operators will advise you to wear a full-length black wetsuit, hood, and gloves, with the idea of exposing as little skin as possible. While I have seen some less risk averse shark operators diving in nothing but board shorts, I think it’s a fair suggestion to cover up. There are plenty of things in the ocean besides sharks that a wetsuit can protect you from.
- Leave Your Shiny Equipment at Home: Apparently, some sharks are also intrigued by shiny equipment. And I don't blame them! For example, I love my shiny face mask, but for shark dives, I’ve had to swap it for something less reflective. Every so often, sharks are also attracted to camera strobes. If a shark shows interest in your strobe, do keep in mind it’s a fight you won’t win, so don't try!
- Personal Space: Some sharks, particularly the larger, more confident species, don't really get the personal space thing. Your camera housing adds a nice barrier between you and an overly curious shark. But please don't bump the sharks with it. If you are uncomfortable, you can use the housing to steer them away without touching them.
- Keep an Eye Behind You: Great hammerhead sharks are some of the most pliable creatures I have photographed. Keep an eye behind you once they pass by. They literally bend in half and switch directions in mere seconds. Tiger sharks are not so agile as they are stealthy. They have been known to sneak up behind divers on occasion. I realize that given their size, it's a little confusing how that can be true. Just keep your eyes open and do not take anything for granted. Before booking your trip, It's worth asking if the operator has a safety diver. An extra pair of eyes can certainly help in less than ideal conditions.
- Keep Out of the Chum Line: Unless you want to smell like a dead fish, avoid positioning yourself in the chum line. Rather, plant yourself to either side of the chum line. The chum, which is used to attract sharks, moves with the current and can change multiple times during the course of a dive. Keep an eye on your guide and stay a good distance from the box and off to their right or left. The chum line is useful in that it helps photographers anticipate where the sharks will come from. However, if the current dies off, sharks may appear confused as the chum will linger in the water column. At this point, sharks may come from all directions. This is a good time to stop making images and focus your eyes more carefully on your surroundings.
While there are other safety precautions you can take, these are among the most important. Be sure to research the operator well, and listen to what they tell you—they know best. All of the items above have been communicated to me by various shark diving operators around the world.
Photographing sharks is one of the most amazing things you can do with a camera, but please show them the respect they deserve. We are guests in their home and we should use our images to inspire others, rather than evoke fear. If you have any questions on shark photography, check out my recent article on the subject or reach out to discuss.