Story Behind the Shot – Shark Parting the Red Sea

Story Behind the Shot – Shark Parting the Red Sea

As Discovery Channel is continuing to run “Shark Week” this week, I will continue my shark theme here as well!

Grey Reef Shark and Bigeyes

Most photos that you see of sharks don’t hold a lot of colour but instead feature a greyish/blue shark against an otherwise empty blue or green water background.   Not that there is anything wrong with that, in shark photography less is often more and it’s the shark itself that truly captures the eye when looking at a shark photo. However, for myself I always took it as a challenge to capture a photo of a shark that was a little bit different. This photo is one of my personal favourite shark images, as the bright red school of “bigeyes” really makes the image pop, its not just another photo of a grey reef shark. This shot was taken in the Tuamotu Island chain of French Polynesia on a spectacular “pass dive” on the island of Toau. On this site, the dive plan was to jump in the water in the open blue and then drift toward the mouth of the pass until reaching the reef, where an incredibly diverse population of sharks rides the incoming current. The list of sharks that I have encountered in this area reads like a divers top ten list, including silver tips, grey reefs, black tips, white tips, nurse, lemon, and the occasional silky or hammerhead. After watching the sharks at the mouth of the pass, we would then drift with the current down the channel until coming upon a large cut running perpendicular to the pass, lovingly called the “Wrasse Hole”. A resident school of big eyes was always present in this cut as they were able to shelter away from the strong current. Displaying the brains of the smart predators that they are, a second set of resident sharks also lived in and around this cut, patrolling the area ready to pounce upon any sick or injured fish. On this particular photo, I was able to duck down into the school of fish and “hide” myself from the skittish sharks by breathing slowly and staying still. After patiently waiting for a shark to come toward me, I then “popped” out of the schooling fish and captured this shot, “Parting the Red Sea”

Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia, 2003, Nikonos V, 15mm lens, 2 x Sea and Sea YS 120 strobes, Fuji Provia 100 film

Story Behind the Shot – The Grey Reef Shark

As part of a continuing series of posts, the “Story Behind the Shot” are short discussions about photographs from my library highlighting interesting photos or events from 15 years working full time in the diving industry.

Story Behind the Shot – The Grey Reef Shark


Now this shot might not look like the most dramatic photo of all time, and I am not posting it here as an example of such, but rather I am posting it as an example of the changing times in underwater photography.  This was taken at either Blue Corner or New Drop Off in Palau circa 2000-2002 and was shot with a Nikonos V and 20mm lens.  Those two dive sites were incredible places to dive when I worked in Palau from 99-2002 and from all accounts that I hear these days, still are great sites with loads of fish action.  There really is no feeling to compare to hovering over the edge of the drop off with 15 or 20 sharks parading past you while huge schools of fish fight for position in the current.

Looking over some older photos in the last few weeks has opened my eyes to what I shot then compared to what I can shoot now.  This was most likely shot with Fuji Provia 100 film, but I am not sure as I don’t have the slides with me, and I couldn’t say what the settings were, maybe f5.6 and 1/90?  Tough to tell when there is no metadata attached!  For digital photographers out there, could you imagine not being able to change the ISO during a photo shoot?  When loading a roll of 36 into the camera in the morning, I was stuck with that ISO film until I finished the roll, so, if all of a sudden I was down deep and the conditions changed to green and overcast, I was still stuck with that roll of film; nowadays, if the conditions get too dark I can just change my ISO on the fly, simple.  Also, although many images looked great on film, scanning them into digital never worked smoothly and took a LOT of extra time to get rid of any dust or scratches.  I don’t miss that at all!  Another thing I don’t miss?  Going down with a roll of film that had only 10 or 12 shots left on it and having an epic dive and running out of film in the first 15 minutes, that doesn’t happen in digital.

What I want now is the chance to spend another 5 years in Palau and French Polynesia reshooting everything I shot back then but with digital!

Story Behind the Shot, A New Image Series

I am happy to announce a new series of blog posts that I call “Behind the Shot”, basically one photo (or a series of photos) where I will explain what particular technique or idea that I used to get the photo.  Some of the posts will be technical but most will just discuss an interesting photo and what my thoughts were when I was trying to capture it.  These photos will consist of both underwater and land based photographs and will encompass images from my library dating back to the 90s.  Hopefully I will post one or two of these a week and I will also cross post them on the Underwater Tribe Blog as well.


Shark Parade

Grey Reef Sharks

This image is one of my favourites from my time working in French Polynesia back in the early 2000s (I am dying to head back there!)  The lagoon entrance channel where this photo was taken is the epitome of “Pass Flying” dive sites, a narrow channel with a very strong tidal flow that enters the lagoon on a rising tide.  About 3/4s of the way through this channel a large school of grey reefs were resident at around 70ft of depth and would lazily circle the bottom of the channel while us divers “clung” to the sides mesmerized by the constant stream of sharks parading past.  To get this shot I waited until I was low on air and then shot out into the middle of the pass and allowed the current to push me toward the wary pack of sharks while taking a steady stream of photos.  Although many folks falsely believe sharks to be confident and predatory at all times, sharks are actually quite shy and don’t typically allow divers to get too close (unless there is feeding occurring).  Therefore, getting close to this school of sharks was no easy task!  As this shot was taken in the late afternoon, I needed to use a very slow shutter speed in order to separate the sharks from the background which ended up giving a “blurred” sense of motion to the image that I think works quite well in Black and White

Photo taken with Nikonos V and 15mm lens, Provia 100 ISO film, 1/30, f 5.6 depth of around 60ft (18 Metres), French Polynesia circa 2003