Not just Shark
Pictures: Elasmodiver contains photos of sharks, skates, rays, and
chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web
based shark field guide to help divers find the best places to
encounter the different species of sharks and rays that live in
shallow water but it has slowly evolved into a much larger project
containing information on all aspects of shark diving and shark
There are now
more than 5000 shark pictures and sections on shark evolution,
biology, and conservation. There is a large library of reviewed
shark books, a constantly updated shark taxonomy page, a monster
list of shark links, and deeper in the site there are numerous
articles and stories about shark encounters. Elasmodiver is now so
difficult to check for updates, that new information and pictures
are listed on an Elasmodiver Updates Page that can be accessed here:
What makes a good shark photograph? Most
photographers will tell you that composition is the key. Lets take a look
at the image at the top of this article. The Lemon's tail is cut off, its
swimming away from the camera, Tom's leg is also cut off, he's looking
straight at the camera, (conventional wisdom says he should be looking at
the subject) and the horizon isn't straight. OK, so did I blow the shot? I
don't think so. Good composition doesn't necessarily mean that you have to
follow all the rules. What is this image saying? To me it says: Check me
out, here I am shooting sharks and they're getting really close. Tom's
intense stare while not traditionally desirable is engaging. Shame about
that horizon though.
lets play by the rules again while we examine two more Lemon shark
pictures. They are obviously similar; both taken from below with about the same
exposure. So, why does the image on the right have so much more impact?
After all, there are three sharks in the other picture.
Part of good composition
involves understanding how to convey the size of the shark to the viewer.
Sharks are big creatures. If you leave too much blue space around them
they appear smaller than life. If a shark is heading straight for you (and
you can fight the urge to get out of the way) then there's no problem
filling the frame because the sharks head and pectoral fins are more or
less the right shape to do the job. If the shark is just cruising by as it
is in the left picture then it forms a thin line across the screen. Then,
even if its almost touching the edges it still wont take up much of the
It is better to attempt a
diagonal shot like the image on the right if you get the chance. because
it allows you to get as close as possible before the shark's extremities
are cut off. The closer you are, the bigger it looks against the
get back to that head on shot. The Tasseled wobbegong above, presents its
own unique composition challenges. Usually photographers try to shoot face shots from below
where the teeth stand out menacingly. But, the wobbies mouth being
terminal (at the front) doesn't fit with this formula. It's most striking
feature is its beard of skin flaps protruding from its chin.
Because of its flattened body
shape I had to rise up a little to give the shark a more three dimensional
feel. Also, for years I have been fighting the urge that I have to include the entire
animal in the frame. If in this shot I had zoomed out or backed off to
include all of its fins, the bulbous fleshiness of the wobbegong's head
would have been lost, and it would have had much less impact than it does with
its head dominating the frame.
you direct the viewers eyes is an important aspect of composition. These
two pictures of a shark feed in St Maarten are virtually identical in most
ways but the shark on the left is on its way out of the frame. This subtly
leads the eyes away from the picture. In the second image, both the
shark and the diver are looking towards the centre of the frame. This
composition keeps your attention focused on the picture longer.
Photographing the shark
swimming towards the diver also implies that the diver is interacting with
the shark rather than simply observing it swim by.
Another way to play with size: Its important
to understand that the position of the diver relative to the shark can
also influence the way that we interpret size. The Spiny dogfish sharks
that appear on the left are barely 3ft long, but because they are in front
of the diver and close to my lens, they appear to be very big and
commanding. The other picture which shows a Lemon shark at night, portrays
what looks like a juvenile fleeing from a diver. This puny looking
specimen is actually about 7ft long but because the diver is so much
closer to the lens it looks proportionately tiny.
of thirds. This is my favorite rule to break. It says that the eye
is most pleased by images in which the subjects are poised at the
intersections of lines that dissect the picture into nine equal
parts...huh? In other words, don't put the subject right at the corners,
edges, or smack in the middle. While this may be true for compositions of
subjects in which the background is important, its misleading when you're
trying to create high impact pictures of sharks.
My humble advice: FILL THE
FRAME. If you get it right it with be very engaging and will probably
comply with the rule of thirds anyway, like this picture of a Big skate
from Vancouver Island.
To sum up...
Point the sharks and divers
towards the centre
Avoid too much blue border.
Cut off things that
detract from the impact of the shot.
Try to put the divers behind
Do your best to fill the frame.
That's all fine and dandy but remember that rules stifle creativity. Don't
be afraid to experiment. You may end up with something spectacular.
Andy Murch works as a Photographer for Shark Diver