How to Responsibly and Safely Photograph Sharks

Although most shark encounters are quite safe, there is some protocol to follow when you dive with them. Here’s how to responsibly and safely photograph sharks.

While different shark species exhibit different behavior toward divers, the idea that divers must behave responsibly and safely is universal. Photographing sharks is a highlight for many divers, yet many divers, caught up in the moment, will often blindly disregard common sense and the rules of the location to capture their own images. It is crucial for both species that we learn how to responsibly and safely photograph sharks.

Pay attention to the species

No matter the species of shark, whether it be a great white or whitetip reef shark, if provoked they will more often than not retaliate or defend themselves. Listen closely and adhere to the dive briefing and instructors who have experience on the site. Rules are there for your safety, not for you to disregard to get the perfect shot. In Guadalupe Island, for example, divers are not allowed to dangle their limbs outside the cages to get a better shot of a passing great white for obvious reasons. Read up on the particular species you’re diving with. For example, mako sharks look far more menacing than they really are. Just remember to maintain eye contact, stay relaxed and close to other divers when interacting with them.

Limit the number of divers

There is no greater risk on a shark dive than filling the water with people. Sharks are curious about noise and fast movements on the surface, as that is often where they feed. This is dangerous particularly when the group consists of divers with varied experience levels, as the guide will need to spend more time with novices and consequently not be able to watch the rest of the group. Consider the operator carefully when planning a shark dive and check reviews to make sure that the business is run safely and responsibly.

Use techniques for safety

Operators will often tell you to take off shiny bracelets or cover exposed skin for safety, yet oddly enough don’t mention that sharks often love strobes. Oceanic whitetips, blacktips, blue and mako sharks are often quite curious about strobes or large domes. They will often bump into them or try to take a bite. While this can result in spectacular images, make sure to protect your equipment and yourself. With perfect light and shallow depth photographers do not need strobes, which is actually beneficial as this equipment can be cumbersome. A fast shutter speed (unless attempting blur-motion images), high aperture for focus detail, and low ISO are the norm for shooting sharks.

Leave feeding to the professionals

A few species are known to reside at particular locations, and we can find them easily. Others, however, are pelagic and operators must chum for them, blue sharks in the Azores for example. When there is a box or bait drum in the water, under no circumstance should a dive participant attempt to feed the sharks. Let the dive guides handle the chumming.  

There are often many sharks present on dives and some are more rambunctious than others, so keep your head on a swivel as species such as oceanic blacktips enjoy bumping you. Stay where the guide has instructed you to and wear the appropriate equipment. When the dive is over, wait for the guide’s signal and ascend as instructed, spending as little time on the surface as possible. Mind these precautions and listen to your guides — with those pieces in place, it’s quite easy to responsibly and safely photograph sharks.