ArcticaMT6

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Messages
281
Location
Bainbridge Island, WA
Once again, I headed down to Mexico in search of sharks. Instead of the Great Whites off of Baja from last year, this time I went to the Yucatan looking for Whale Sharks. Like the Great White trip, you don't need to be SCUBA certified or anything special in order to do this. This entirely snorkeling, and you just need a pair of fins, a mask, and a snorkel. And to swim like hell in order to keep up. Being the world's largest fish, it's can be a surprise to people to find out that it feeds on only plankton. Every year, a large population of whale sharks congregate off of Isla Mujeres. Every day, hundreds of day boats leave from Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, and Cancun to bring snorkelers out to the feeding grounds.

Since we joined a trip that was entirely for photography purposes, we were able to get a head start and beat the rush out. It seemed that while most people didn't wake up until about 9 or 10am, we had already left the dock by 7. We were able to catch some pretty nice sunrises on our way offshore. The trip out took anywhere between 1 and 2 hours in the open ocean to get to the grounds.

43989818371_4aa77a0c77_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


This had the added benefit of providing some really nice light, and few crowds in the background of our photos. From each boat, only 2 people (plus a guide) are allowed in the water at any time. Unlike most everywhere else in the world, the sharks congregate here in huge numbers. There can be sometimes 200 or more sharks in one vicinity. Luckily, this means that even with the large number of boats that come out, you can still get your own personal shark to follow and swim with.

Early morning provides some nice raking light, which adds some drama for photos. No flashes are allowed with the sharks, so shooting with the sun is the only light you get. Luckily, the vast majority of sharks will feed along the surface, which allows plenty of light for photos.

Whale sharks are covered with spots on top. These spots are unique for each shark, like our fingerprints, are can be used to identify individuals.

42180563180_e9ef5fc5a5_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


The large amount of plankton that draws in the sharks unfortunately also means that conditions for photos aren't as good as elsewhere in the caribbean. The plankton will reduce visibility quite a bit, as compared to the clearer waters eleswhere.

43989816971_d96ea75a1d_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


However, it is an easy price to pay to get these interactions. They afford the opportunity to swim with not only whale sharks, but other animals as well, such as Manta Rays, Sailfish, Barracudas, and others.

43989818551_a7ba1a38e9_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


Much like the sharks spots, Mantas have unique patterns on their bellies, which can be used for individual identification.

30089208218_43799b0413_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


Whale sharks feed in 2 different ways. Swimming along the surface with their mouths open, or in what's known as the "Bottle Position". They will hang vertically at the surface, sucking water in their mouths and blowing it out the gills, taking in as much plankton as they can before they have to move.

43084165235_659dff92ba_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


43989817091_85fee9a26f_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


As the sun arcs higher in the sky, light rays become more pronounced in the water. It's best to shoot with the sun to your back so you don't end up with blown out highlights and the sharks too dark. It also helps to really enhance the colors.

43084164995_9d2a24f783_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


Light rays will have a tendency to converge to a single point opposite of the sun due to the refraction of light with the water.

43941349112_a278bc0e4c_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


When you're in the water, you can sometimes see as many as 5 or 6 sharks, and an equal number of Manta Rays all in your view at a given time. It's incredibly difficult to capture more than a couple at a time with the camera, however. Even with a fisheye lens, you need to be a great distance away. Distance from subjects in the water is not your friend. You need to get as close as possible. Not seen in the photo below, is a third shark coming right up the middle of these two. With a shark on either side of me, I wasn't able to get out of the way in time and got run over. Not dangerous, but it can knock the wind out of you if you aren't careful. Wasn't the first time I got hit, and wasn't the last.

42180562930_b1d91d97de_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


If the sun goes away, you have the opportunity to get some much more evenly lit photos. You don't get any dramatic shadows or light rays, however the clouds act as a giant softbox. Additionally, the sharks can come in different shades. Most are fairly dark, but some have a very light coloring.

43989817221_c377b42479_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


One thing you will notice with all of these sharks is the Remoras. These fish clean the sharks, and attach themselves on for the ride.

43989818151_a33db23978_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


I had a list of certain shots that I wanted to get of the sharks, and for the most part, I was able to get all of the shots I wanted in the first couple days. There were 2 shots that eluded me: An Over-Under showing the boats above the water and a shark below, and a silhouette of a shark blocking out the sun. The water conditions were unfortunately far too rough for an over-under (especially with a mini-dome port instead of a large one, so I had to focus on getting the silhouette. All week I had sharks that were coming from the wrong angle relative to the sun, would turn at the last minute, be too far away, or it would be cloudy. It took until my last rotation in the water, on the last day, with my battery blinking empty in order to get one. You have to swim down deep in order to get the whole shark in the frame, even with a fisheye. It was one of those times when as soon as you start taking the shot, you know you had it. I was celebrating before I even came back to the surface. This was the #1 photo I wanted to get out of this trip. It's still not perfect, but I'll take what I can get.

29019992497_c11c9fc3e4_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


For anyone wondering about equipment and settings, all of the above were shot with an E-M5mkII with an Olympus 8mm Pro 1.8 in a Nauticam Housing. All shots were 1/250s and anywhere from f/8-f/14. ISO was never lower than 400, and typically 560-800 in order to keep the shutter speed and F-stop up. To put it simply, you need one of the two fisheye lenses for this. Even my 7-14mm would not have been wide enough.

I hope you enjoyed these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. There's at least a couple that I will be printing large and hanging up in my house.

Side note: I attempted to take a few self shots with the shark, and immediately after I took this, my card fried (and I didn't want to open the housing until we got back, so that meant no more shots that day). I think that means my face actually broke the camera...

43941855542_b22c51e13e_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
 

ArcticaMT6

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Messages
281
Location
Bainbridge Island, WA
And a couple bonus photos from the non-whale sharks portion of the trip. My wife and I went out on a snorkeling tour the day before. Unfortunately rough seas and clouds meant not great lighting underwater, but sometimes it happens.

30089207828_9c896f3f84_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


30089207108_cc742eff29_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


43909531232_8283a6585f_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


43052565325_1d1619eb34_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


29019992227_c97520d2de_b.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
 

Bif

Mu-43 Top Veteran
Joined
May 28, 2012
Messages
740
Location
San Angelo TX
Real Name
Bruce Foreman
Thank you very much for sharing these. I enjoyed seeing them, whale sharks are a very fascinating subject and your images did them justice IMO!
 

Lawrence Beck

Mu-43 Regular
Joined
Feb 15, 2018
Messages
113
And a couple bonus photos from the non-whale sharks portion of the trip. My wife and I went out on a snorkeling tour the day before. Unfortunately rough seas and clouds meant not great lighting underwater, but sometimes it happens.

View attachment 670396

View attachment 670397

View attachment 670398

View attachment 670399

View attachment 670400
Some very good work and an outstanding report, Jeff! Thank you so much for sharing!
Your comment about the 7-14 not being wide enough is especially appreciated as this is something I'd really like to do next year, and I also have an EM5 Mk2 with a 7-14 but not an 8mm fisheye.
Did you shoot any video?
 

Lawrence Beck

Mu-43 Regular
Joined
Feb 15, 2018
Messages
113
Forgot to ask: was there a lot of Sargassum weed along the shoreline at any of the places you visited? I've been reading reports about how tons of Sargassum have been fouling beaches since 2011 and the laborers who rake it off the beaches can't begin to keep up with the volume that's washing ashore.
 

PacNWMike

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
Dec 5, 2014
Messages
3,794
Location
Salish Sea
I have noticed the rather rapid deterioration of the reefs and decreased fish populations along the QR coast since my first visit pre-Cancun.
 

ArcticaMT6

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Messages
281
Location
Bainbridge Island, WA
Thank you very much for sharing these. I enjoyed seeing them, whale sharks are a very fascinating subject and your images did them justice IMO!

Much appreciated. There were more challenges than I expected with backscatter particles. Lots of cleanup work in post, and as you can see, I still didn't get a lot of it.

Some very good work and an outstanding report, Jeff! Thank you so much for sharing!
Your comment about the 7-14 not being wide enough is especially appreciated as this is something I'd really like to do next year, and I also have an EM5 Mk2 with a 7-14 but not an 8mm fisheye.
Did you shoot any video?

I would bring the 7-14 anyway. You could do some head-on shots with it a bit further away. Also, if you end up with an 8mm fisheye and get the mini-dome like I have, the 7-14mm will have a larger dome. More useful for over-under shots. The week before us had a perfectly smooth surface all week, so they would have been possible then. We weren't so lucky. Rode back through a good storm one day. Took a wave to the face when we stuffed the bow a few times and got knocked off my seat.

For video, I took some with an older GoPro, but not on my E-M5. I personally never cared about taking much video. We do have a video from my wife where you can see 4 sharks in one shot, and then she gets run over from behind by a 5th, which was pretty hilarious. I gotta get that uploaded to Youtube.

Forgot to ask: was there a lot of Sargassum weed along the shoreline at any of the places you visited? I've been reading reports about how tons of Sargassum have been fouling beaches since 2011 and the laborers who rake it off the beaches can't begin to keep up with the volume that's washing ashore.

There was quite a bit there. And large patches in the water. The boat operators complained about it clogging the engine intakes on their boats. At least once they had to clear it out while we were there.
 

flamingfish

Mu-43 All-Pro
Joined
Nov 16, 2012
Messages
1,255
Real Name
Emily
Thanks for these great shots! I was there a couple of years ago. Awesome experience (even though we didn't see any mantas). I had only my trusty little TG-4, and managed to forget even that on the one day when we saw a shark feeding in the "bottle" position. Please let us know when/if you post the video. Any idea what's spawning there to bring in the whale sharks? We came out of the water covered with tiny white fish eggs, but never saw the massive schools of fish that must have been there in order to draw in so many gentle behemoths.
 

zzffnn

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Nov 19, 2017
Messages
379
Location
Massachusetts
@ArcticaMT6,

Very nice images, thank you for sharing!

Did you try F/3.5 or even F/1.8 (with 8mm fisheye) for similar snorkeling images? Was F/8 and above necessary? Were you very close to / almost touching those sea creatures?

I am curious and would like to learn from you. Thank you. We are looking forward to go for a similar snorkeling trip.
 
Last edited:

ArcticaMT6

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Messages
281
Location
Bainbridge Island, WA
@ArcticaMT6,

Very nice images, thank you for sharing!

Did you try F/3.5 or even F/1.8 (with 8mm fisheye) for similar snorkeling images? Was F/8 and above necessary? Were you very close to / almost touching those sea creatures?

I am curious and would like to learn from you. Thank you. We are looking forward to go for a similar snorkeling trip.

I did not. With how close you need to get underwater, that would throw areas out of focus. I wanted the entire shark to be in focus. Additionally, higher shutter speed and higher f-stops combined will give better results on visible light rays in the photos. All of which I wanted.

Simply top work and shots !! Amazing views I will never get to see for myself, really special in my book.

Danny.

Never say never. That's why there's traveling. And you're close to a few known areas such as Australia, Phillipines (avoid Oslob for very bad ethical practices with the sharks), Indonesia, etc.
 

ArcticaMT6

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Messages
281
Location
Bainbridge Island, WA
Thanks everyone. Now I just need to decide which I want to get printed (and I need to get a couple from my Palau trip printed as well). The silhouette shot is going to be printed nice and large at least.
 

Gidget

Mu-43 Regular
Joined
Apr 22, 2010
Messages
430
Location
Indiana
Real Name
Leah Hallett
Wonderful photos - I can’t wait to show my six year old grandson. He LOVES whales and sharks or any ‘largest creatures on earth’. Thanks for sharing!
 

bigrat72

Mu-43 Regular
Joined
Oct 29, 2013
Messages
37
Wow, these are amazing. I really like the silhouette. I've been there a few times (nice small island), but never know this excursion. Will keep this in mind in the future trip. Thanks for sharing.
 

Replytoken

Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Joined
May 7, 2012
Messages
3,782
Location
Puget Sound
Real Name
Ken
Thanks for posting these. I had forgot where I parked my VW and have been searching for weeks! :rolleyes:

In all seriousness, they are great photos. We went to Isla many years ago and had a great time, but we did not see any sharks during our visit. On the other hand, we did get to the mainland and were able to climb El Castillo at Chichen Itza when you were still allowed to climb it.

--Ken
 

Latest posts

Links on this page may be to our affiliates. Sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
Mu-43 is a fan site and not associated with Olympus, Panasonic, or other manufacturers mentioned on this site.
Forum post reactions by Twemoji: https://github.com/twitter/twemoji
Forum GIFs powered by GIPHY: https://giphy.com/
Copyright © Amin Forums, LLC
Top Bottom