Barracuda Point is located just off the Island of Sipadan Island in the Celebes Sea. True to its namesake, this iconic dive site is home to a resident school of chevron barracudas that seem to wait lethargically in the current for underwater photographers to arrive.
But the site is much more than barracudas. There are schools of jacks and bumphead parrotfish patrolling the shallows, and in the depths you never know what you’ll find: hammerhead, whitetip and thresher sharks are just some of the possibilities.
For a dome port-wielding wide-angle aficionado, Barracuda Point is bound to please.
The Dive Plan
Most of the time, there’s a large school of jacks at that drop-off waiting to amaze divers, giving just a glimpse of what’s coming next. The school is really big, and there are always giant travallies and a couple of whitetip sharks around it, getting an occasional bite.
Moving along the shallow waters with the mild currents, you’ll come across schools of batfish and black snappers, some giant barracudas and a couple of turtles, until you hear strong jaws crunching on hard corals. This will be the sound of the famous school of bumphead parrotfish that occupy the shallows and feed heavily on corals, leaving a big cloud of dust behind.
When you’re ready to move on from the shallows, you’ll notice a strong current in the deeper water pushing you along the reef. But with strong currents come sharks. If the current is really strong, it will reward you with a stunning sight of lots and lots of sharks hanging in the blue. If you’d like to get some good shots of the sharks, it’s important that you hold on to the reef using hooks. Stay still, and they will pass close by, giving you some good poses.
While you are hooked, your dive guide will be looking for a dark cloud behind you. Once it’s spotted, they will bang on their tanks signaling to unhook and continue with the current to the plateau to encounter the famous chevron barracuda schools that give the dive site its name.
This is one of the biggest schools you will encounter in your life. You can’t have enough of this sight, and you can spend all your batteries and memory cards trying to capture its beauty. Unfortunately, the barracudas will have enough of your flashes and after a while, they will vanish into the blue.
Barracuda Point is mainly a wide-angle dive site. While it has plenty of macro subjects, the strong currents don’t provide the same macro possibilities offered at the nearby islands of Mabul and Kapalai.
Deciding on which lens to choose can be a bit tricky. Depending on how many times you want to dive Barracuda Point, I would suggest one dive with a fisheye and another with a mid-range zoom lens like the 17–70mm or something similar. The fisheye will give you the opportunity to capture the whole of a big school of fish with divers or models, while the mid-range will give you the chance to get up-close and personal with the sharks down below.
A red filter might come in handy as well if you want to ditch the strobes for a simpler setup. Outside the photo gear, for the sake of safety and logistics, it’s always a good idea to have a reef hook, SMB and a whistle while on drift dives in this area.
Tips and Techniques
There are a large number of divers during the day at Sipadan Island. Try to stay a bit longer with your buddy in the shallows while the crowd moves on to the depths and you’ll have the jacks and bumphead parrotfish schools to yourself.
Outside the standard portrait or wide-angle shots of schools, you can also add your buddy or model to the image. It makes for a more dramatic composition and shows your viewers the true scale of the fish. There are a lot of marine subjects passing by in front of the fish schools—like turtles and rays—so try to put one of them into the foreground of your image.
The shallows provide a lot of natural light—so much so that it can be a good idea to rely on a red filter or manual white balance instead of clunky strobes. If there’s a strong current at depth, just hook yourself on to free both hands for the camera. If the current is still reasonable, try to hover in the blue to get more up-close shots of the sharks.
A must photo op for this site is the resident school of barracuda, which number in the thousands. For an extra touch, try adding a nice sunburst behind the silhouetted school. This can be accomplished with high shutter speeds and low apertures. The optimal time for barracuda school shots comes as they form a massive “tornado” in the water column.
Approach resting sharks in a calm and relaxed breathing manner not to scare them away before you press the shutter. This will give you the opportunity to get a bit closer. Try to position your buddy behind or next to the shark for an extra compositional element.
Planning Your Trip
When: Year Round
Subjects: Chevron barracuda, whitetip and gray reef sharks, green and hawksbill turtles, schools of bumphead parrotfish, batfish, jackfish and snappers. The occasional sightings of tuna, leopard sharks, hammerhead sharks and thresher sharks
Equipment: Fisheye or fisheye zoom for the schools, a mid-range zoom lens for close-ups. A red filter in the shallows will be rewarding with some subjects
Who to Go With: Borneo Divers regularly visits Barracuda Point
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