Harry Stone posted a fantastic shot of some blacktip sharks at the surface on Wetpixel’s Facebook page in the past few days. Here is the story behind how he got it.
The photo was made at Aliwal Shoal, off Umkomaas, south of Durban, South Africa. I have made two trips up from my home in Gansbaai this year to get underwater images of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), but unfortunately have not been lucky with sightings. The decline in the number of tiger sharks seen at this location is well documented, and they face many threats globally, but especially off the East Coast of the province of Kwazulu Natal, where the use of gill nets as a shark capturing device deployed along the coast indiscriminately kills anything swimming into its path. Nevertheless, tigers are still encountered on The Shoal, and I shan’t give up just yet. In the meantime, blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) – the oceanic variety rather than reef - are attracted on baited dives with regularity throughout the year there, and make for a captivating alternative.
The blacktips are certainly not shy, and sometimes border on boisterous, but are seldom aggressive. I have spent several dives shooting them from practically every conceivable angle, and being an archetypal-looking requiem shark, they make an eye-catching subject in the blue Indian Ocean waters. I have enjoyed getting up close and personal with them, even if my dome port now has a few more scratches to show for it.
The image here arose from a workshop I attended with well-known South African photographer Allen Walker and co-owner of BluePixel Photo, an UWP Company specialising in shark photography in KZN. He has arguably spent more time photographing sharks on this reef than anyone, and hosts this workshop to allow photographers more exclusive and focused access than the usual dive charters.
The shot was obviously taken at the surface, and I have tried this from in the water, but Allen advocates taking these images from the boat, both for safety’s sake and to maximise the chance of a keeper shot. We had waited until the late afternoon as we wanted some interest in the sky and darker water. That evening was not one of the more colourful South African sunsets, but the dark stormy looking clouds allowed their own atmosphere, and there was even a hint of pastel colour amongst the grey.
We had made a baited dive previously and the bait drum had been brought up to the surface and near to the boat, which a group of sharks had followed. The occasional sardine was thrown into the water by the bait handler to try and steer the action towards us. Holding my camera over the RIB’s pontoon I watched as the sharks patrolled, firing off shots when I thought they were turning or heading straight at the lens. The range of available shots is quite wide, from below the surface with beautiful reflections to splits with the brooding sky. This one worked out well because of the eye contact and the commotion in the water, which I hope captures the dynamism of a pack of hungry blacktips.
Settings: EF 8-15mm f/4L FISHEYE USM @ 15mm, 1/160th sec at f/11.0, ISO 320. Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Nauticam housing, Zen Underwater DP-230 port, and 2 x S&S YS-250 PRO strobes.