Photographing Africa's "Flying Sharks" (Part Two)

Ryan Mitchell and David Braun
National Geographic News
Updated July 26, 2004

<< Back to Part One

What tips would you give amateur divers and underwater photographers who want to make photographs or video of sharks?

Learn to walk before you run. If you live near the coast, try to find a small local shallow-water species that will allow you to get close and take a few images of it.

You will learn about the comfort zone of these animals, how different angles affect your lighting, how patience is really important, and at the same time build up fitness and experience for those red-hot days in clear water when the great hammerhead pays you a visit.

Do not be afraid to burn film if the opportunity arises, and when you get the film developed, pay attention to mistakes or success and try to improve each time you dive.

Also invest in the best possible equipment that you can afford if you are wanting to take your photography seriously. Good gear can go a long way to helping catch special moments, especially in low light or with fast-moving subjects.

When you are feeling comfortable to make that trip to your dream destination to film your ultimate shark, make sure that you choose an operator that understands your needs, has experience working with your chosen subjects, and is respectful of the animal you are wishing to see. Also make sure that the operator explains to you the best time to see the sharks, as many species are highly seasonal, and that you book accordingly.

How have you learned to understand shark behavior? Can you tell when you are in potential trouble and need to back off?

The first thing you need to learn is respect. You are in their world and must play by their rules.

One of the greatest things that you learn is that sharks all have unique personalities. We see many of the same great whites each year, and every year they display the same personality traits. Some of the sharks we encounter have been seen over 60 times by us, and we have really come to love these locals and anxiously await their return each year.

Many of them get given names such as Rasta, a 4-meter [13-foot] female that I first saw in 1997 as a 2.5-meter [8-foot] baby. She is loved by all, as her relaxed behavior around the boat and her spy-hopping antics make her difficult not to be emotional about.

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