photographer positions himself on the sand to avoid damaging the reef
Its quite natural to want to capture your
shark encounters on film and I would much rather see divers carrying
cameras than spear guns, but occasionally the camera toting divers are
even more destructive. If you want to share your experiences by recording
them, then make sure you're not doing so at the expense of the
environment. Getting the shot should not come at all costs. I spend a lot
of time underwater with a camera and I have shaken my head at many
blundering divers only to look down and notice my fins crushing something
precious. It happens, and when sharks are the subject it is even harder to
concentrate on protecting the reef, especially when currents and surge are
compounding the difficulty. Ask yourself this as you compose each frame:
Am I prepared to kill or irreparably damage the reef to get this
shot? How much destruction is my personal satisfaction worth? Maybe if you
vocalize the question to yourself it will improve your buoyancy a little.
If a Megamouth shark appeared
on the far side of a cave filled with delicate fan corals, I think the
mental struggle between breaking my way through to photograph the shark
and watching it from a distance to protect the fragile ecosystem might
bring on an aneurism. I hope I'm never faced with that dilemma.
motionless Tasseled wobbegong ambush hunting in a cave.
about the mental and physical effects on the sharks themselves? You
need to ask yourself what the sharks are doing and why? And, what
will the effect be on that behavior if I swim over and start blinding them
with my strobes?
Apparently dolphins do things
for fun. Cool. To my knowledge sharks don't. That means that whenever you
approach a shark you are disturbing some activity that it needs to do, be
it mating or merely sleeping. Its going too far to say that because
of this you should never photograph a shark (then I'd have to get a real
job), but you can minimize the impact that your intrusion has on the
animal. I was pretty close to this wobbegong but I didn't position my
strobes right in front of its face and I kept enough distance to avoid
spooking it into leaving its resting place. Wobbies are known for their
bad tempers so if I had pushed my luck I could easily have been bitten.
Pushing and prodding sharks
into a better position or cornering them to get the shot is plain and
simple harassment and if the sharks decide that you've crossed the line
you only have yourself to blame. Try to have some respect.
sharks in different lights.
Creature of nightmares
Our responsibility to the
sharks goes further than avoiding direct harassment. The pictures that we
show the world influence the way people view sharks in general. The Blue
shark on the left is recognizable by its beautiful lines and silky skin
and by shooting it at this angle with the sun shining on its back, those
characteristics are accentuated. The snaggle-toothed grin of the Sandtiger
on the right, is frequently used to portray the murderous intent of sharks
in general. Now lets see if we can swap these characteristics...
quite, but now we have a grumpy looking Blue shark and a not so
intimidating Sandtiger. There's no doubt that ferocious looking sharks
make for exciting photographs and I talk about how to produce 'in your
face' images on the shark photography composition page, but its worth
giving some thought to the impact that your work will have on the fate of
sharks if all that people are allowed to see are pictures of blood thirsty
monsters. Get your Jaws look-alike shot if that's what you're after but
step back and see if there is a way that you can beautify your subject as
well. Then you can present both angles to your audience.
To chum or not to chum, that is the question.
Whether it is nobler to not see and photograph a shark rather than risk
habituating it to the presence of humans who may next time show up with
big hooks. Hmm.... That one's gonna have to wait for its own page.
Andy Murch works as a Freelance
Photojournalist specializing in sharks and rays.