Shooting Pelagics by John Wallis

Whilst they are one of the most difficult subjects to shoot, pelagics are one of the most rewarding. After all, you don't see a tiger shark or manta rayon every dive, and how many divers have really good pictures of them? By definition pelagics spend most of their lives in the open ocean and for many species little is known about their behaviour.

If you are reading this book no doubt you have more than a passing interest in taking good pictures, rather than the odd snap or two. The first rule I learnt about photography, on land or underwater, is that the vast majority of great images were not lucky shots. Ask a professional sports photographer if they take their best pictures when they are at the local game with a few mates, or a landscape photographer if their best work is taken on a Sunday afternoon stroll with the family. They will give you the same answer. Not a chance!

FIG. 9.56 Canon 5D, 15 mm fisheye, f7.1, 1/125th sec, ISO 100, twin Inon 240 strobes. Not what you'd expect to see on any ordinary night dive! This shot was taken on a specialist shark trip to the Bahamas, run by Jim Abernthy. Getting this close to sharks is not normally possible, or necessarily advisable. Specialist trips offer you the best chance to get close to your subject, safely.

FIG. 9.56 Canon 5D, 15 mm fisheye, f7.1, 1/125th sec, ISO 100, twin Inon 240 strobes. Not what you'd expect to see on any ordinary night dive! This shot was taken on a specialist shark trip to the Bahamas, run by Jim Abernthy. Getting this close to sharks is not normally possible, or necessarily advisable. Specialist trips offer you the best chance to get close to your subject, safely.

The large majority of great shots are taken by photographers who have dedicated time specifically to the task. This is also true underwater, especially so when shooting pelagics. You have to be very lucky to achieve a great pelagic shot whilst on a comfy little amble around the house reef. =-

FIG. 9.55 (Opposite page)

Another significant feature of a wreck is the bow shot. Hover in mid-water with your eye to the viewfinder. For a wreck that is upright on the bottom a slight downward angle works well. Fin backwards whilst looking through your finder and consider how much space you'd like to see on each side; now adjust your position in the water so you get the precise composition you're after. Don't settle for the 'that will do' approach. The wreck isn't going anywhere so take your time to be precise. If you intend to shoot with natural light my advice is to turn your flashguns to Off whilst you do so. Nippo Maru Truk Lagoon, Nikon D200, 10.5 mm fisheye, f2.8 at 1/30th sec, ISO 100, natural light.

Precisely because they are so elusive the best way to get good shots of pelagics is to book yourself on a trip that is dedicated to encounters with your chosen animal. Whether it's great whites or mantas, whale sharks or humpbacks, there will be a trip somewhere in the world that will get you close to your subject with a high degree of predictability. Whilst these trips will never be cheap and can never guarantee encounters (I've have spent a week bobbing about off the coast of Tahiti in two metre swells in the pouring rain looking for humpbacks who curiously didn't seem to like the bad weather either), they are by far the most reliable way of getting the encounter you're after. Once you and all your equipment have made it to your destination you will be well over halfway to getting your desired image.

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