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Behind the Shot: Living on the Edge
By Marcus Commodore, July 24, 2013 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

By Marcus Commodore

By now, the whale sharks of Cenderawasih Bay have become a thing of legend. As a diving destination, you would be hard pressed to find many other places on Earth quite like it. It offers a spectacular opportunity to dive with these majestic (and incredibly HUGE) animals.

Thanks to the organizers of DEEP Indonesia 2012 and a lot of luck, I was presented with a prize that gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity to dive with these whale sharks.



The Plan

Having never seen a whale shark before, it's easy to understate the feeling of awe that electrifies you when you find yourself dangling in the blue and there are seven behemoths swimming right at your face. But there we were, completely stunned at the circus that surrounded us, like a stampede of swimming elephants.

Although there is little else to see on these dives, being circled by the world's biggest fish all day long is enough of a draw to keep coming back for another dive. I spent five hours underwater—that’s somewhat of a record for me. Sure I've done five 80 minute plus dives in a day before, but on different sites. Not hanging out under the same fishing platform in the blue.

After a short time under the platform you can start to see a pattern emerging. The sharks circle around the platform, gum on the nets for an anchovy snack, then swim away only to repeat the whole process a few minutes later. They go about this all day it seems, as though on an endless buffet assault.

Many of the whalesharks had their own resident entourage of remoras and juvenile trevallies, but the one in particular that caught my attention had a neat little row of these yellow trevallies swimming like mad right in front of it's mouth. I caught the impression that they were in some desperate race for their lives to avoid being engulfed by their enormous host. I had thought that it would have made for an interesting photo, but taking that shot proved to be a lot more difficult than dreaming it up was.

 

The Shot

Other shots in the series were much easier to take, as the whalesharks tended to either be swimming directly at us against the current or hovering below the nets. Limited by the light conditions and the not so wide-angle lens I had on my compact camera, taking some shots of the whal esharks turned out to be an frustrating experience.

The lens was wide enough to get the entire fish, but at such a distance that most of the light from the strobes had fallen off. To make matters worse, the visibility wasn't co-operating either. Any shot that would turn out well would have to be only one section of the fish taken at close range.

Camera limitations forced some other tactics into the equation as well. Those who shoot with older compacts will know the pain and endless suffering that comes with the dreaded words “shutter lag.” Before taking the one photo that I was satisfied with, I had shot numerous half frames and missed opportunities that look somewhat like a blindfolded photography experiment.

Getting the right frame, with the fish in it, and having the camera focus on a moving object in low light is not an act of skill but of some higher power.

In order to get the photo that won second in this year's DEEP Indonesia, I had to do a little anticipation of where the whales shark was going and plan on intercepting it as passively as I could. There was only time for one shot with this method with my intended subject, and thankfully after many hours of getting shots with the head of the sharks out of frame, I was able to anticipate when to trigger the shutter to get a photo worth keeping.

Equipment used: Canon G10-Ikelite housing, Inon z240, d2000 strobes with an Ikelite WD-4 dome

 

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