By Dieter Kudler
The small island of Yap may be famous for its resident manta ray population. They come by the dozens to get a good scrubbing at the cleaning stations, aggregating by the dozens in the Micronesian waters.
But for all the big birds in these waters, it is the dizzying amount of sharks at the site “Vertigo” that will get your head spinning.
The site is located at the western reefs of the island, only a short 20-minute boat ride away from downtown Colonia. Even as the boat moors up the shark action begins—fins break the surface in anticipation for the dive.
It’s important to pay attention to the safety briefing before the dive, as the instructor will go over special considerations when interacting with up to 40 sharks. After the briefing, make sure all your camera gear is streamlined for an easy entry as the sharks will be at the surface waiting.
Curious eyes following you to the “bowl,” a ditch in the barrier reef where divers can settle and wait for the divemaster to arrive with a tiny amount of tuna to keep the sharks interested. You can use this time to get your settings prepared, using white dead coral and blue background for test shots. Once the tuna arrives, you’ll want to be ready.
Underwater Photography at Vertigo
There’s plenty of shark action without straddling the bait, so stay at a distance of at least 15 feet for added safety. Once the smell fish is in the water, the actual photo action starts: Sharks everywhere, close up and personal.
There are two directions you can shoot the sharks—in towards where the bait and reef is, or out into the blue. Photographing inwards will provide more sharks per image as they tend to congregate around the bait.
If you want a more natural look, try metering for the blue and snapping away as the sharks come off the wall as part of their patterned figure eight path. With no current, almost perfect visibility and lots of subjects, there’s a lot of time to experiment with creative techniques.
One of the most striking compositional elements that can be added to your shark photos is a sun ball. Turn down your ISO, crank up your F-stop and shutter speed to get a beautiful sun ball in its crisp beauty. You’ll have to compensate with the lack of natural light captured by your camera with higher strobe outputs—up to 3/4 power.
At the end of the day, this is a great shark photo dive whether you have a GoPro, compact, or SLR full frame camera. Just make sure your storage card is big enough!
Shark Surface Photography
After as long as your air will allow, the dive draws for a close. One last rush as the divemaster moves in to open the cage containing the bait. You can try to capture this moment, or just sit back and watch the ocean’s greatest predators at work.
Even at the surface the experience isn’t over. The sharks tend to hang around the boat for at least 20 minutes after the dive hoping you’ll hop back in. But you don’t have to strap on a second tank to get more great snaps.
Instead, by dunking your camera in over the side of the boat, the splash seems to attract the sharks, which will come in and even bump your dome port. This is a great chance for split shots or surface reflection images.
This dive is a triple experience: Once on the bottom, once at the surface, and finally back in your hotel room racing to pop your memory card in your computer. Yap may not be known as a shark destination, but after one dive at Vertigo it will be an experience worth reliving—and re-photographing.
Planning a Trip To Vertigo:
Subjects: Grey reef and blacktip reef sharks
Equipment: For SLR shooters, a fisheye is a must. For compact users, a fisheye wet lens will provide more eye-popping pics.
Who to go With: Yap Pacific Divers offers Vertigo as a specialty dive.
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