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J Press photographer Dan Callister reveals why shooting great white / sharks on the hunt for their prey is no longer a privilege solely for professional wildlife photographers, Bob Aylott reports

Photographing breaching sharks on the high seas is normally the domain of a handfu of eiiie pro'essional wildlife photographers. Yet according to B3-year-old Dan Callister, the great white shark can be photographed by any amateur r" photographer with nerves Of steel, a high shutter speed and a fast trigger finger.

'At one time, photographing sharks was for the lenses of the chosen few,' says Dan, a Briton who works as a news,' documentary photographer in the USA

and is based in New York City. 'Nowadays, capturing one of nature's wonders is a reality for any amateur photographer. In fact, many of my best pictures of shark; have been taken on a medium-length 70-200mm zoom.'

Despite having photographed the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and many other emotional events in his work as a press photographer, Dan says that his foray into wildlife to photograph a great white shark breaching is one of the most incredible photographic experiences of his life. 'If you are looking for one dose encounter with nature, then ttiis is it,' he says

Leaving the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the deadlines of international magazines behind, Callister is making his third trip to Seal Island, off the coast of South Africa, to continue his personal project. He explains that for the benefits of shark conservation and the safety of ttie diverse wildlife on and around Seal Island, only a few photographic boats are permitted to operate in the area. 'It is

important 10 protect the region and species for future general tons to enjoy', he says.

So how can an amateur photographers succeed in a genre that has been traditionally monopolised by professionals? 'Weather permitting, the hire boat A/hits Pointer2, which carries 12 passengers, goes out everyday between mid-April and mid-September. Any photographer can organise a trip and get on board,' he says. Dan uses Apex Predators, a company run by shark specialists Chris and Monique Fallows. They are passionate naturalists

Dan captured this great white shark perfectly as it takes a seal decoy

Canon EOS 5CD, 70-200mm, 1/500sec at f/10, ISO 2 SO

and great ambassadors for the shark,' he says. 'They know exactly where to go and how to get photographers in the right position for pictures'

Or a typical shark-hunting day Dan says that he'll get up at Sam and, after a light breakfast, set off from his base at Sea Spray Chalet in Simon's Town for a five-minute drive to the harbour. The boat leaves at 7am and the journey to Seal Island takes about 25 minutes. 'When we are close to the Island, we kill the motor and watch for returning seals. It's essential to remain vigilant, as th:s is peak time for shark predation,' he says.

'The sharks ambush the seals from below and will often breach the surface of the water. It is a phenomenal spectacle, but you have to be quickon the shutter. It is difficult looking through any long lens while moving about In a boat for long periods of time, but if you take your eyes off the seals you'll miss the pictures. The seals perform the most amazing aerobatics as they try to evade the sharks, and there is so much predatory activity going on o

that it is hard to know which action to focus on first'.

During predation Dan uses two camera bodies, one mounted with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and the other a 300mm f/2.8 There is always a spare third camera as s back up.

Dan prefers to handhold the telephoto lenses, as he finds a monopod z hindrance on a moving boat. In the early morning he combines a high liO speed with a large aperture of f/2.8, which allows him to use the fastest shutter speeds possible. 'Because the light is low at that time, the only way to freeze the action is by using fast shutter speeds/ he explains. 'With so many moving highlights on the water, your autofocus Is easily fooled and you risk missing the picture, so I always use manual focus. I shoot on the high continuous motordrive mode to capture as many frames as possible in a seqjence. The action is so quick that often you would not believe a shark is there until you see it later when reviewing the images on the memory card.'

As the morning progresses, the predatory activity slows down. The boat then moves closer to the island and anchors At this point, the crew lowers a large cage into the water so that the braver photog-aphers on bosrd can shoot the sharks underwater. There are ample wetsuits proviced in varying sizes so anyone can cage dive.

The crew then extends a bait line to attract the sharks to the boat, giving

Talking technique

So how can an amateur capture dramatic images like this? 'Largely, with help from the boat organisers, but also with decoy seals,' says Dan. 'A seal decoy (a piece of soft carpet rolled Into the shape of a seal) is only used once or twice per trip, as it takes a lot of energy for a shark to breach. They don't want to tire the sharks, so decoy runs are kept to a minimum.'

For his decoy shots, Dan uses a 7Q-200mm f/2.8 IS lens, a high (SO, a fast shutter speed and the smallest aperture possible. 'You don't know which angle the shark will attack the decoy from until it happens, and the whole incident lasts about 1 .Bsecs/ he says. To give himself the best opportunity, Dan shoots from a low angle close to the water, so he Is looking up at the shark when it breaches.

'Because the action is fast and furious I recommend a good-quality DSLR, with a 7D-200mm f/2,8 zoom lens. They don't hang around to pose and you'll need to be alert and ready all the time.'

A high-speed shutter, a motor drive and nerves of steel are what yoti need to capture shark action on the high seas Canon EOS SOD, 300rnm photographers the opportunity to take close-ups with ease. Dan says the sharks are not fed the bait and that it is only used as a lure to attract them closer to the cage. 'They are extremely inquisitive and amazingly graceful considering their size. It's a great experience to be in their domain,' he says.

Dan uses an Ikelite underwater housing for his Canon cameras and flashes, but says he has seen many amateurs produce amazing results by using simple point-and-shoot digital compact cameras with underwater accessories.

By 1 pm when the sun is high, the boat makes its return to the harbour Dan uses this time to clean his cameras and lenses of salt spray, while the underwater housings, flashes ard wetsuits are soaked In fresh water He then uploads his image onto his laptop and external hard drives for back-up.

'I will check every frame to make sue my focus and exposure are up to scratch, and if I've missed the picture there is always tomorrow/ he says. 'It'san unbelievable experience to see the ocean's chief predator in action, but I do feel sorry for the litte seals. Often, though, they escape theshark's jaws and live to fight another day.' AP

For more pictures by Dan (a lister visit

www.danQllisier.tom

Chris and Msnique Fallows for boat trips:

www.apexpredatois.tom

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