Guest post: Shark Photography

1 Bull Shark

Bull Shark – Playa Del Carmen Mexico

Today’s guest post on Shark Photography is by Brook Ward (Website|Facebook|Google+|500px|Flickr):

Shark photography….really???? I know that’s what you’re asking at this very moment. Let me come back to that question.

My interest in photography and scuba diving was engrained in me early by my father. In the 1960’s he was scuba diving on shipwrecks in the Great Lakes during the infancy of recreational scuba diving, as we know it today. He also worked as a professional photographer his entire life, so I grew up surrounded by these activities and his passions were passed onto me. Over the last twenty-five years I’ve completed hundreds of dives in all different environments (lakes, quarries, cenotes, rivers, ice, oceans, wrecks, deep dives, reefs, drift diving, big animals, exotic locations, etc.) in over 20 countries and taken tons of photos. I started taking my photography seriously about six years ago. No big shock that I decided to combine my hobbies and purchased an Ikelite underwater housing and strobes for my Nikon D90. Since then, I’ve upgraded my main camera to a Nikon D800 and focused my photography on three areas (HDR Landscapes, HDR Architecture, and underwater images). I use the D800 for the above-water work and continue to use my Nikon D90 setup for the underwater work.

2 Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark – Bahamas

Photographing sharks in their native environment is one of the things I love most. So back to the question about “shark photography…really?” Yes really!! Now I realize that scuba diving isn’t for everyone. And scuba diving with some of the most dangerous animals on earth really isn’t for everyone. I’ve had countless people ask me why? Why risk it? Why would I even want to be that close? Why get in the water with these animals? In the end, the answer is the same….. I love seeing these beautiful animals up close and for those brief encounters trying to just experience the moment. I don’t find them scary and have never been threatened by them for a second. I honestly don’t think they see humans as anything other then something odd in their world. In the past I’ve dove with Great Whites, Tiger Sharks, Lemon Sharks, Reef Sharks, etc…. So when we were planning our last trip and decided on the Playa del Carmen area of Mexico, I knew it was an opportunity to dive with and photograph Bull Sharks.

3 Bull Shark Guide

Mark from Phocea Mexico

So I booked my dives in advance with Phocea Mexico. I must say they were the friendliest, most well organized, and greatest value of any dive operator I’ve encountered in all my travels. During the months of November through March, they do a daily Bull Shark dive about a quarter of a mile out from the main swimming beach in Playa del Carmen Mexico. Earlier in the day, I completed two reef dives with them and saw Bull Sharks in the distance during those dives. On all of my past shark dives, the crew used chum to get the sharks to come in close to us. Not here!!!! We literally took the boat out from the beach, went over the side and quickly dropped to the sandy bottom at about 60 feet deep and waited. Within minutes the sharks found us and came in close for a peek at the visitors in their territory. After about ten minutes the numerous sharks got bored of us and moved off…..I thought. Later when we started to swim back up to the boat, one of them followed us right up to the surface. Nothing like looking down and finding a 10-foot Bull Shark right below your feet…. I loved every minute.

4 Bull Shark

Bull Shark – Playa Del Carmen Mexico

On the Bull Shark dive, I photographed them using my Nikon D90 in the Ikelite housing with two Ikelite strobes. I had the camera set in Manual mode at f8, ISO 100, and 120th of a second, RAW format with the shark about 10 feet away. Top side, I used Photomatix Pro to tone map the image and convert it into a black and white (B/W) image in Photoshop CS6. I felt converting it into a B/W helped make the shark pop out of the image. The original picture was very blue since there isn’t much light to distinguish colors below 30 feet. The color image was a little flat.

5 Great White Shark

Great While Shark – Guadalupe Island Mexico

6 Great White Shark

Great White Shark – Guadalupe Island Mexico

7 Bull Shark

Bull Shark – Playa Del Carmen Mexico

If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here.

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  • bull shark

    This article is full of B.S. (no sh*t)

  • Foolishcfo

    Bravo Brook! I too love photographing sharks with my favorite being Scalloped Hammerheads. I’ve been to Galapagos twice, the first time using a D200 and last year with a D800. Guadalupe is still high on my list as is South Africa.

    • Brook

      South Africa is on my soon to do list as well. Maybe this year… Thanks for reading.

  • Fishguy

    Great images — especially the bull sharks. Attached is a portrait I took of a blacktip reef shark in my aquarium, through 3″ of acrylic and from 10′ away….but I was a lot safer than this photographer!

    • nano5u

      Amazing! How did you escape from such a danger?!

    • How big an aquarium do you have? What happens to the shark if/when he outgrows the tank?

  • Max

    diving with sharks is awsome, everyone should try it once!
    shame i don’t have pictures of them yet…

  • Very cool, elegant creatures! I especially like your B&W images.

    • Brook


  • Chris Cheek

    Nice..Bull sharks are very aggressive normally.Consider yourself lucky that day..

    • cal

      wow! sharks don’t attack when you strobe them?

      • 103David

        Oddly enough, most animals, including lions, tigers, and bears (0h, my!) not to mention sharks & such, don’t seem to even see a strobe. Apparently an electronic flash is of such short duration it doesn’t even register to them. Please note, however, while it’s unlikely you’ll be using bulbs, if you do dust off the old polaroid or something using the innocuous AG-1 jelly-bean, the flash duration is much longer and the mountain lion or racoon you find in your backyard eating the cat-food (or the cat itself) may have a VERY adverse reaction to your photo hobby.
        And please don’t think it can’t happen in an urban area like, say the SF Bay area where we’ve had at least three fatal incidents (to the big cats) in the last four years, including one almost in my back yard.
        No sharks yet, though.

        • Shepherd

          When preparing for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike I heard that flash photography is not a good idea with bears. Strangely I never encountered any bears on the entire hike, but I did not plan to test this as I almost exclusively use available light. Interesting idea that strobes are of such a short duration that they may not recognize them though.

          • 103David

            I worked at an animal park for several years, especially with big cats, but with zebra, elephants and just about everything else. Included in that was the occasional dive into “The Big Tank” populated with several types of (mostly benign) sharks among the other (mostly benign) fish-type critters. Using a Nikonos with flash below water I don’t ever recall so much as a blink or reaction from any of them. With the dry land mammals, mostly the same thing. The exceptions i’ve see were with the primates and, oddly enough, the seals, who seem to see the electronic flash quite well…and don’t like them much…just like us.
            The theory we had was that on the veldt or in the wild, the occasional lightening storm would cause mass panic and evolutional dead ends if sensitivity to sudden flashes became the norm, hence evolutionarily edited out. Sounds like there could be a master thesis there.

  • Pablo

    Can you share what lens you use on your D90?

    • Brook

      I use the very kit lens (Nikon 18-105mm lens). Nothing fancy.

  • Kynikos

    Great images. Thank you very much for sharing them.

  • guest

    Nice! I really like the Subject/BG separation in the B&W images. Does the lake of red light contribute to this? Also, nice vortex off the tail of the Great White.

  • James

    Brook-great photos especially the first one thanks for the interesting post. Out of curiosity what company did you go with for the great whites. Thanks

    • Brook

      James…. I honestly don’t remember. It was a San Diego based charter boat…. I’d have to seriously dig into my files to find it. Sorry I am not more help. If you really need the info, let me know and I’ll find it. Brook

  • bull shark

    I’ll say it again: This article is full of B.S.!

    Bull Sharks!

  • Spy Black

    Seems like you prefer available light, or you’re diving with an assistant handling light. Good way to minimize particulate matter, although it seems you’re fortunate enough to be in very clear water. Great work.

  • Squidward

    I love the first picture. It’s so dramatic. This was my point about speed with the D3xxx/D5xxx discussion. This was the right guy, in the right spot, at the right time, with the right settings. A second later, and the dramatism is gone.

    Being able to manipulate your camera quickly increases your chances of getting a shot like that exponentially. Beyond that, it’s just dumb luck.

    • CSIROC

      Really poor example. He had everything set well before this shot. “I had the camera set in Manual mode at f8, ISO 100, and 120th of a second, RAW format”

      Even if he had decided to change the ISO, shutter speed or aperture, they are all VERY easily changed on the fly with a D3xxx/D5xxx.

      While I absolutely love my D90/D600 controls because they are indeed faster…the fact is, once you are in an environment (especially a relatively stable one like that), you shouldn’t have to dig in to the settings for every single shot. In fact, pretty much anything you would tweak on the fly is readily available on the D3xxx/D5xxx.

      It is when you are constantly switching lighting and subjects that you need those easily accessed controls.

      • Squidward

        No, but I change apeture and shutter speed constantly. Where’s the second command dial? What if Mr Sharky gets a bit agitated and starts moving faster? You need a faster shutter speed if you want to freeze him, or a slower one if you want the motion blur. Then you need an apeture change, but you may not want to change the DOF, so ISO needs a bit of adjustment.

        Nothing is static, and neither should your camera be.

        • CSIROC

          Easy, you turn the dial for shutter speed, hold down +/- and turn the dial for aperture. Push the fn button and twist the dial for ISO. All readily accessible and easily changed on the fly.

          Those really aren’t the controls that show off the more advanced cameras speed advantage.

          • orpickaname

            “Those really aren’t the controls that show off the more advanced cameras speed advantage.”

            Really? OK, even if we dismiss the dedicated ISO button for a moment, but *two* very conveniently-positioned command dials don’t give you the speed advantage?

            Sorry, but I think you’re being on the defensive there.

            • CSIROC

              Defensive of what? A camera system I’ve never owned and purposefully avoided because of the control system? I think not.

              Dedicated ISO button is easily fixed using the programmable Fn button. The single command dial will control shutter speed and aperture. You switch which one you are changing by pressing one other button at the same time. The ONLY speed advantage you get with the twin command dials is if you change both shutter speed and aperture at the same time. That hardly adds up to a significant boost. Besides, Canon has used the single wheel quite successfully on their high end cameras…its not like twin dials are the only way to control a camera, even at the highest professional levels.

              Seriously people, have you even used these cameras? Try changing the metering mode…try changing the white balance…try setting up bracketed shots. And that is just scratching the surface! But something as simple as the shutter speed/aperture? Sorry…but no. If you can’t change those quickly on the D3xxx/D5xxx, you aren’t using them correctly.

            • Squidward

              Metering? Yes, I change that constantly. What about focus? Single point, 3d tracking, multi point, area, etc. Constantly changing depending on l what I want to achieve (twin dials needed). Exposure comp, I wear it out, but even then it doesn’t always give me the shot I see in my mind, so I need manual, fast. Then apeture and shutter quickly, to get it before I loose it ( twin dials again).

              I could never knock anyone for their camera choice. But for me, those cameras don’t give me what I need fast enough. It’s personal preference. For me, the more external buttons, the easier and faster I can shoot.

              Personal preference. Nothing more. Twin dials do more than shutter and apeture. Try it, you’ll be surprised, then try to go back to single dial.

            • CSIROC

              You’re starting to get it…changing the metering modes, focus modes…that is where you start hurting with the D3xxx/D5xxx…you *have* to dig into the menus to start changing that stuff. You have to have the rear display on constantly to see the changes you’re making with the cheaper cameras…eats up quite a bit of battery life. The higher end cameras are indeed faster with those types of changes, but

              You seem to be missing the part where I specifically stated I prefer my D90/D600 controls to these cameras…far and away. You seem to think I own a D3xxx/D5xxx and am defending it as my choice…I am not. I don’t own a D3xxx/D5xxx…don’t care to either. But it disingenuous to claim that they are difficult to change these basic settings with. It is very simple to change aperture, shutter speed, and yes even exposure compensation on the fly with the D3xxx/D5xxx. You are used to the higher end controls, and that is perfectly fine – I am too. But I can tell you, a friend of mine uses a D5100 marvelously and can change those very basic settings every bit as fast as I can on my 600, and I’d wager a good deal of money every bit as fast as you can on your preferred camera as well. So again, this was a poor example of the high end cameras’ true benefit.

            • orpickaname

              >> Canon have had *two* control wheels in the higher end bodies since the film EOS days, the front/main dial and the rear wheel/”quick control dial”. Try fiddling with one, you may like it.

              >> “Pressing one other button at the same time” to switch between the two most basic functions? *Every single time* you change aperture (or speed)? Yeah, doable, but given other options… no thanks. Sure I’ve used a D3100 before, on a family vacation. Have I mastered it to a ninja level of proficiency? Admittedly not.

              >> The other dedicated controls, like you said, are obvious. It all adds up.

            • CSIROC

              I gave Canon a chance both for DX and for FX…didn’t like the controls or the grip. Went D90 for DX and D600 for FX (didn’t have any FX lenses before making the switch, so i was able to shop around).

              Yes every single time you want to change aperture in manual mode only you must press a whole button while turning a wheel…no different than changing your ISO or exposure compensation (literally on this one, it is the exposure compensation button!). It really isn’t that difficult…especially for those used to it. Think about it this way, someone used to D3xxx/D5xxx would not like having to figure out which wheel changes which setting (I have heard this complaint from people making the switch). Being used to one camera system is no reason to bash another.

              Yes, the other controls are where it really starts showing, and you’d spend a good bit of time navigating the menus on the lower end cameras which very well could cost you a shot. But basic changes to aperture/shutter speed/exposure compensation/ISO (programmed Fn button) aren’t where it is at.

            • orpickaname

              Pardon me, but bashing?

              Really, I like the lightweight D3000/5000 series for casual video and casual photography–maybe A mode with everything else on auto. There, I’m neither bashing or defending it. How about full manual? … Oh, this is going in circles. … *Every little thing does add up*.

              For example, your D90 (and D7x00 series I guess) has the “Easy ISO” option (direct ISO selection in A or S mode using the other/unused wheel) which is kinda nifty and should be added to the higher end bodies. For the rest of the two-dial bodies, there’s the “Easy exposure compensation”. Yes, it ‘only’ saves the user from clicking/holding one button. Makes the shooting flow just a little smoother. Not much? Again, it all adds up. Less step needed to operate the camera while dealing with the subject.

              Same thing with “clicking/holding a button simultaneously *each time* you change aperture in the M mode” using a single-dial body. I use M the most, and that ‘just one more button’ would quickly add up as I’m going through changing lights. Eventually it means a LOT of extra clicking/holding at the end of the day. Yes, EVEN for the BASIC exposure control, the advantage (of a higher-end body) is THERE. That’s my point (yes, I’ve been countering your core argument).

              Don’t worry about the D3x00/5×00 owners, no one’s bashing them or their camera. They’ll still make great pictures.

              And. If I had to give up the Fn button to compensate for a basic function, that means there is one less shortcut to another potentially time/fiddle-saving function (e.g. any of the metering options I keep coming back to, bracketing–e.g. if using a D700 which doesn’t have “BKT” button, or whatever option available in the menu that suits me at the moment). That’s the consequence of having ISO set through the Fn button.

              See, no one’s bashing anything here. If anything, you *might* 😉 have made two assumptions against me so far (not using the D3x00/5×00 properly, bashing the D3x00/5×00) but I’ll consider that’s fair, since I too have assumed you’re being on the defensive.


  • Sleeper

    Very awesome stuff. Thumbs up!!!!

  • goldringguy

    Quite amazing to say the least. I applaud your courage. That said, I think some of the compositions are not all that great, with clipped tails or fins Even though I have no clue how difficult composing is under these circumstances, I think that placement of the animals in the frames could be improved.

    • Brook

      I agree. The clipped tails or fins are just how they got posted on this site. My original images don’t clip these items. Sorry they didn’t display well. You can see some of them here without that problem:

  • lord eels

    too much sloppy noise reduction. learn better post in 2014!

  • Mark Byland

    Dare I say that you are effing nuts! This is crazier than photographing lightning while standing next to a lightning rod (tripod) with a camera on top of it! I love the fact that you’re doing what you do. The Great White Image was a jaw dropper. As a lover of the black and white medium, I sincerely appreciate these being presented in that form. Keep doing what you do and PLEASE be careful out there.

  • what amazing photography of an amazing animal

  • Brook

    All: Thanks for reading my article and all the comments below. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Thanks…. Brook

    • Speed Nut

      Brook, well captured with the challenging underwater lighting. Superbly done!

      I’m freaking out a bit though… I was swimming at Playa Del Carmen last August and I remember seeing a huge “fish” swim real close (~1m) on an incoming wave, then swam away quickly. I didn’t know what it was, but it made me nervous. After seeing your photos, I recognized the tail fin of the bull shark as being exactly the same as the “big fish” that spooked me while swimming. Googling further information about bull sharks hasn’t calmed my nerves any…
      Nonetheless, really appreciate you writing and sharing this article with us!

      • Brook Ward

        Speed Nut: Glad you like the article and didn’t have any trouble with your new friend.

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