6 Tips for Photographing Sharks Safely

6 Tips for Photographing Sharks Safely

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!                
    Joanna Lentini, underwater photography, staying safe when photographing sharks
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.  

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4 Comments

michaeljin's picture

1. Wait for Shark Week
2. Turn on the TV.
3. Photograph your TV screen.

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1. Visit an aquarium with sharks.

Nils Heininger's picture

Wow. Even though I am not planing to get a shark shot soon, your article made me quite curious. I love that you don't focus on any dangers but the excitment and beauty of photographing sharks. Maybe one day...

Ian Smith's picture

Just over a year ago I obtained my SCUBA license in order to enjoy and capture while below the surface. I'm also diving for the shear experience and to get past my fear of sharks by learning about them. Late last year I encountered my first sharks throughout a weekend of diving beginning with two small nurse sharks, which was a pleasant introduction. Later, on two separate dives we encountered bull sharks the size of my car! They were beautiful, and before I was even able to feel nervous it was gone; just in, then out of visibility. Clearly uninterested in us. It was amazing to see how powerfully and graceful they cut through the water - stealthy as said in the article.
I look forward to having enough time to capture them, but there is also plenty of other beauty to fill a portfolio with besides sharks. : )

Chad D's picture

as I mentioned before dove for a living :) about 2 years of which were shark dives :)

fun to see the dive articles :)

I used to give the old you have twice the chance of being struck by lightning joke :) two of my divers bust out laughing I ask whats up :) he says my buddy here has been struck TWICE by lightning :) hahahahah

I say awesome today we get to witness a shark attack :) just make sure to bring up the rear :)