Nick’s distinctive blue shark images have become extremely well known and have been awarded in numerous photo competitions, including five straight years of Underwater Photographer of the Year
When you think of worldwide shark diving destinations, you might immediately think of The Bahamas, South Africa, or Australia. The UK is not generally on most people’s bucket list. But it should be! Britain boasts two species of sharks that can be reliably targeted: the basking shark and the blue shark.
Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) are oceanic and inhabit deep waters around the world in both temperate and tropical oceans. They can grown up to 10 feet in length, but UK sharks average five to six feet long. They are summer seasonal visitors to southwest UK waters, traveling up through the Gulf Stream from the Azores. Feeding mainly on fish and squid, blue sharks are attracted by Rubby Dubby (a Cornish name for chum), a mixture of bran, fish oils or blood, and chopped up small fish such as mackerel.
It is mainly the females that are spotted with the occasional male. Very rarely, porbeagle sharks are attracted by the scent trail, although I’ve never seen one over the last nine years.
A skinny but beautiful blue shark photographed with Nick’s iconic slow shutter style
Cruising just below the surface, the blue blur!
Encountering the Blues
There are a number of UK operators who offer blue shark encounters, mainly in the South West (Devon and Cornwall) and South Wales. They pursue the sharks far offshore into the deep water of the Gulf Stream. All encounters are while snorkeling. There is no need for scuba. Once attracted to the boat, the sharks stay at the surface and its easy to breath-hold, duck down, and shoot away.
The water can be emerald green to oceanic blue depending on how dense the plankton is and the state of tide, as well as the time of year. Water temperatures can range from 57°F (14°C) to 63°F (17°C). The operators insist on dark-colored wetsuits, gloves and hoods to avoid any potential accidental or mistaken bite injuries.
The original blue shark safaris were run by Charles Hood on a 7m RIB Logan. My most recent trip was with Blue Shark Snorkel UK. This slick operation runs trips using a hard boat. The shark grounds are 10–15 miles southwest of Penzance in Cornwall. It normally takes an hour at high speed to reach the area.
Waiting time for the sharks can be anything from 20 minutes to two hours, but I have yet to get skunked, so it is pretty reliable! Generally, blues are initially quite shy, but after half an hour or so, they become bold and inquisitive. There can be anything from two or three sharks to 10 or more at any one time. The more the better, as they become competitive and less skittish with increased numbers.
Using a fisheye lens can emphasize the blue’s already big nose to make their portraits even more impactful
Dark, overcast days can also allow black background portraits of the blues when using faster shutter speeds
Shooting the Blues
When the sharks first show, we allow them to acclimatize and get used to the boat before quietly entering the water with minimal noise and fuss. My favored tactic once in the water is to work out which way the tide is taking the chum slick, and then try and stay as close as I can to the bait crate, with my back to it. The sharks reliably swim up and follow the bait trail, giving me a seemingly never-ending rotation of photographic opportunities.
The sharks come close! A fisheye zoom such as a Tokina 10–17mm or the new Nauticam Fisheye Conversion Port makes an ideal choice. Blue sharks are slender—sometimes downright skinny—and rectilinear lenses can emphasize this physical trait and make them appear scrawny. Additionally, fisheye lenses can “tadpole” subjects, giving a distorted view that can be used to create eye-catching portraits—though that look is not to everyone’s taste, especially with sharks. A slight “zoom in” with a fisheye zoom is the perfect focal length.
My preferred technique is shooting characterful portraits with a motion blur twist, capturing a dynamic, moving subject in a still image. Additionally, intentional camera movements with lots of strobe during exposure creates a sharp portrait with painterly effects in the background. In fact, I specifically target the sharks at the surface to create streaks and patterns utilizing the surface texture and available light. For me, the background surface rendering is just as important as the shark! There are hundreds of blue shark images floating around the Internet, so trying to create memorable, unique images in my own style is my aim.
A pair of blurry blue sharks cruise just below the surface
Conserving the Blues
Sadly, there are currently no catch limits or restrictions on commercial blue shark fishing. The blue shark is relentlessly targeted and prized for their long fins. And despite some changes in perception over the years, the public still generally views sharks in a negative way due to fear-mongering and sensationalist headlines.
It is a well-known quip that people will only protect what they love. My shark images are used in national marine conservation roadshows, where thousands of school children get to learn and appreciate sharks, not as mindless killers, but rather as beautiful, graceful animals who need our protection. Consider checking out Bite Back, a conservation organization whose mission is shark and marine conservation with a focus on preventing overfishing of shark and ray species.
The author lining up a shot of a blue shark in greenish UK waters
About the Author: Dr Nicholas More is a dental surgeon from Exmouth, Devon, UK. He is married to Rachel and father to sons Ben and Joe. Nick has been diving since his teenage years and is now a PADI Divemaster, with well over 2,000 dives to his name. He took his first underwater images in 2012. Nick has won numerous awards for his underwater photography. In 2020, he was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year. His other notable achievements include a highly commended image in the GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2020 as well commendations in the British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) and Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY). Nick has achieved back-to-back wins in the British Society of Underwater Photographers (BSoUP) Print Competition and a Silver medal in the Our World Underwater photo competition. He has also been a category winner in the Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition. Nick is widely published in print and online media and is well known for his photographic style, incorporating animal portraits with a motion blur twist. He had the great honor of authoring a chapter for Martin Edge’s book, The Underwater Photographer, 5th Edition. www.instagram.com/nickmoreuw
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