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Swimming with the whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef

Swimming with the whale sharks, Ningaloo Reef

For all you photographers heading to the waters off Ningaloo Reef to photograph the whale sharks (above), here’s a few tips you might find helpful (I’ve started with the assumption you have an underwater camera):

– First big tip. Keep out of their way. At up to 60 tones, they ain’t gonna swim around you.

– I went with the tour operator Ningaloo Blue which I couldn’t recommend more highly (veteran captain, super helpful crew and generous on board photographer genuinely eager to help you get the pic you want. Well done Esther).

– Don’t get discouraged by overcast skies as bright, sunny days pick up particles in the water which diminishes clarity.

– No flashes, no scuba gear and take an ultra-wide angle lens if you have it ‘cause there’s a lot to fit in.

– Learn from the frenzy that will unfold on your first drop off  as everyone (including you) scrambles to see what they have come for. Understand it’s likely there will be several opportunities and that some people will be happy to sit out the subsequent swims once they have seen the whale shark, which will make things a lot easier for you.

– Pay attention to your guide’s instruction and hand signals. They point in the direction the shark is heading.  We swam in two groups of 10 people. If you’re in the second group, watch  the first group in the water to see how it all works.

– Try to be at either end of the line in the water because floating in the middle means you’ll have to swim around/over/under whoever is to the left or right of you (or, worse still, they’ll just swim over the top of you).  At very least, you’ll probably have someone else’s fin in your face or a body between you and the whale shark.

– Pace yourself (ok, wasted warning as you’ll be too excited when  you see them if it’s your first time). They don’t move quickly but it’s still likely you’ll need to swim hard to keep up if you want that photo that will make the difference.

– Understand your photographs will be dictated to by the conditions – particularly the water clarity. Many of the impresssive pictures you will have already seen have been captured in crystal- clear water and optimal conditions. Best pictures, in terms of colour, are when the whale’s close to the surface and catches the light.

I should probably add, my first day out with a whale shark was a bit of an anti-climax – sort of like attending a much anticipated dinner party only to have the most interesting person in the room drift past you without paying the slightest bit of attention. But the second time, we snorkelled alongside eight feeding whale sharks and it was amazing (as I wrote earlier, my highlight was when one swam directly towards me). In short, a top day, great experience and well worth the effort.

Next Assignment: Ethiopia (I leave tomorrow for up to three weeks…yahoooooo!).

So, you want to do one of those lunar shots that light up the nightsky with stars.
Well, here’s five tips gleaned from my mad rush to learn how to do it for the shoot I’ve just returned from in Western Australia.
Conditions: The first thing you need is a cloudless sky and darkness – real darkness, as in as little ambient light as possible (which is why the Australian outback, and isolated coastline  or a remote island is ideal).
Helpful Apps: Download two Apps – Star Walk and Moon Free. Star walk (an amazing, interactive app) guides you on where all the prominent constellations sit so you can line your subject up with the richer, more colourful clusters in daylight), while moon free shows you the phases of the moon on any given day (best shooting conditions are during a moonless sky).
Equipment: You’ll need a tripod and at least a 35mm, full frame camera with a wide angle lens ( I used my 17-35, 2.8). You’ll also need a torch so you can see your dials in the darkness and “paint your foreground subject with light” if you want to get art farty.
Shooting details: F2.8 at 6400 ISO for about 25 seconds at infinity did it for me unless I wanted a bit more depth of field in my foreground subject. Then I shot at F4 and played with the ISO. In this example with the lighthouse (below), I used an on-coming car light in the distance to illuminate the tower.
Final Tip: Slow everything down and settle into the peace and quiet of your surroundings (It’s not as if things are going to change in a hurry) and once you have something in the can, review your environment and have a go at producing something different to what you’ve seen elsewhere .
Now I’m confident with the technique, I’ll look to improve on it and certainly bare it in mind in future.

For more tips on travel photography, click here

Night sky over Exmouth Lighthouse

Night sky over Exmouth Lighthouse

 

Ultra-Light aerials, Whale Sharks, pristine beaches, underwater scooters and snorkelling on Australia’s “Second” Great Barrier Reef, have all featured in the shoot I’ve just wrapped  up on Western Australia’s Coral Coast.

Here’s a short preview of some of the pictures that were forwarded for selection.

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Next Stop: Ethiopia ( and yes, I couldn’t be more excited) to start a 30 day assignment for The World Bank.

I’m just wrapping up a 10 day assignment to photograph Western Australia’s Coral Coast (100 gigs to process).

It’s been a particularly demanding shoot but, I’d have to say, the past two days have been exceptional by any measure. Yesterday we snorkelled with eight giant whale sharks feeding just off Ningaloo Reef. A magic moment unfolded when one of the sharks I trailed to exhaustion (mine), turned and swam directly towards me, veering away at arms length as it continued to feed and draw in plankton.

And today, I took to the air in an Ultra-Light for a 90 minute flight over the reef and Cape Range National Park in near-perfect conditions (below).

I’ll post a preview of some of the best images from the assignment shortly.

On assignment. Photo compliments of Gavin

On assignment. Photo: Courtesy Gavin at Bird’s Eye View (which I’d highly recommend)