Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shark Photography - can it be taught?

A few weeks ago somebody asked me whether I was a professional shark photographer - well, you all know I am not, so I told the guy that shark photography was just a hobby, and that I learned taking underwater pics by doing.

He then asked: "What precisely does it take to become proficient in shark photography?"

Some tough question!

I said: "Simply put, as in any type of photography, you have to have a burning passion for your subject - in this specific case you have to love sharks. Other than that, you need to train your eye for some basic rules such as composition, contrast, and drama.

How can you go about that? Easy. Go to the best school there is: Look at the work of the masters - that's what I did.

See what David Doubilet does. Analyze and absorb his images; the art of pros like him should be your standard.

No shark photographs are more boring than those where you can tell that the author saw the sharks and thoughtlessly released the shutter.
You have to have the images you want to take already in your head before you frame your subject."

Folks who know me call me a purist: I have an old Nikonos V, and only two moderate wide angle lenses (28 and 20mm) - I would never use a fisheye because of the distortion. Extreme wide-angles, preferred by many underwater photographers, make for interesting, sometimes very dramatic effects but they do not reproduce reality. And I am for the real stuff. Anyway, that is the way I feel. De gustibus non est disputandum.

The same is true of flash: No flash for me, just available light. Sharks don't like flash either, especially when you (or they) get really close.

Ah, yes, and I love black and white film. Black and white images are both classically retro and excitingly avant-garde; what else can I say?...

What is essential: Composition, composition, composition. Talent? Obviously, but you also need luck - lots of it!

Sometimes I tilt the camera a bit to get the sharks diagonally.

Interaction with divers has to be dramatic; if either the diver or the shark is cropped in the process of photographing them - no problem.

Avoid anything that sidetracks the view from the subject; get the shark, if possible, against a clean background.

Nothing is more annoying than having the perfect shot in your viewfinder, finger on the shutter, when all of a sudden another fish gets into the frame - however, with a little luck this could greatly enhance your composition. I have included some of such images here.

Portraits: Get close to the shark. Ideally, let it come toward you. Never ever 'chase' a shark to get his (or her) pic. It is completely ineffective and disrespectful. If you have shark diving experience you will have sensed that sharks are shy and dignified animals.

Practice at lot, learn from your mistakes - and don't despair. Most of your and everybody else's pics, including those of David Doubilet will be / are disappointingly bad. Take my word, that is normal.

If you really want to become above average, you have to be mercilessly critical with yourself.

Do not settle for the mediocre stuff, our world is full of that, now more than ever. Do not indulge in the complacency of believing that you have a fantastic shot. Rather think that you could have done better - that is what perfectio
nism is all about, no matter what you are, a pro or a recreational snap shooter.

Have a look, and see for yourself what's important:

This picture was taken by Felix - grrrrrrrr, I am envious!!! :-) Since it is not mine, I can say: PERFECT composition, just perfect!!! A winner shot!!


Sabina E. said...

ohhh myyyyyy goddddd. these photos are superb.

sharks are cool.

Unknown said...

I want to do this!!