The Red Sea offers plenty of opportunities for shark photography. From late October to mid-January oceanic whitetip sharks are a common sight on the offshore reefs of the southern Red Sea.

With this in mind, I would like to explain how my photo workshop, Shark Quest Photography works, and offer some useful tips on how to get great shark pics.

Shark Quest Photography is a workshop without a fixed itinerary, once onboard and together with the guides, we will decide where to go depending on where the best sightings had happened in the previous weeks. Elphinstone, the Brothers Daedalus or even Rocky Island are possible destinations

Safety first

We do take safety very seriously before you get in the water, our dive guides will give us a safety briefing with clear rules that we all should follow.

Oceanic whitetips, Hurricane, Scuba Travel, Shark Quest Photography, Mario Vitalini, fishinfocus
An oceanic whitetip swims through a group of divers on their safety stop

It is essential you understand the behaviour of the specific shark. Oceanic whitetips are apex predators, a scavenger species that need careful consideration. Like many other sharks, they feed mainly at dawn and dusk – be extra vigilant around these times. I’ve seen oceanics lure divers away from the reef or the boat, into the blue. Do not give to the temptation to follow them. Their attitude quickly changes and can become much more aggressive. Erratic movements and downwards fins are key indicators that it is time to get out. Stay close to your buddy.

Oceanic whitetips are normally seen in shallow water and to make things easier for all the photographers a line will be set at about 5 meters running the length of the boat, this will allow everyone to have a reference point and secure place to hold in case there are any currents.

Oceanic whitetips, Hurricane, Scuba Travel, Shark Quest Photography, Mario Vitalini, fishinfocus
Divers wait on a shallow water safety line for the sharks to come near.

Go wide!

Choosing the right lens is essential. Some sharks won’t come close enough for a fisheye lens. You end up with a very small subject in a big blue frame. Luckily, oceanics like to get right onto your dome port, so fish eye vs wide-angle is less of a consideration. Personally, I still prefer a wide-angle zoom lens with a mirrorless camera or DSLRs. With a compact camera, use the widest setting (but avoid the camera zoom).

Oceanic Whitetip, Longimanus, Mario Vitalini, Scuba Travel
When the shark passes close to you a fisheye lens will let you fill the frame

Strobes or no strobes?

Some sharks, like threshers, can be scared by flash. Not oceanics. Be prepared for the electronics to pique their interest!

Position your strobes far apart and behind the port to minimize backscatter. To prevent overexposing the white underbelly of your shark, pointing them slightly downwards.  If the shark is more than 6 feet away chances are you will end up lighting the water column in front of your camera and not the shark. Wait until the shark is close to you before firing.

Scuba Travel, Egypt, Hurricane, Red Sea, oceanic whitetip
Carefully positioning the strobes prevents backscatter

If you don’t have a strobe, stay shallow and use manual white balance. Don’t use the internal flash – it’s not powerful enough and just increases the risk of backscatter.

Bring out the blue!

Controlling the background exposure is critical. Oceanics are typically shallow and a blown-out surface ruins many pictures. Position the sun behind you for better control over the surface exposure. This is essential if you do not use strobes and shoot ambient light.

Oceanic Whitetip, Longimanus, Mario Vitalini, Scuba Travel
Oceanic whitetip approaches for a close check. a carefully set shooter speed brings up the blue in the background.

If the sun must be in the shot, think about silhouettes instead. Turn off the flash, pick a very fast shutter speed (above 1/400th) and small aperture (f11 +) and use the shark to cover the sun ball.

When using strobes, the shutter speed will have little or no effect on the foreground exposure – this is lit by your flash. Use the shutter speed instead to control the exposure of the background for a pleasing blue. Take a few test shots of blue water, changing the shutter speed, until you are happy with the colour. Factor in the time of the day and sun position. I have found that in the shallows values above 1/125th usually gives a good exposure. Then you are ready when the shark passes.

Compose with care

Wait for the shark to come to you. Oceanic tend to circle and do repetitive passes, giving you time to try different shots. Experiment with the composition.

A diver in the shot gives a sense of scale, but be careful of bubbles or random limbs creeping in. These erroneous elements can ruin what would otherwise be a great shot.

Scuba Travel, Egypt, Hurricane, Red Sea, oceanic whitetip
a diver helps to give a sense of scale to your shot

By getting lower (shooting upwards) you get good eye contact and a better view of the mouth, gills and characteristic pectoral fins. If you are near the boat, position yourself so that the hull covers the sun and creates sunbeams. This can be a stunning compositional element. You will need to be shallow!

After the days diving

In the Marine Parks, night dives are not allowed, this will give us plenty of time to work on the day photos, check the results and think a potentially different way to approach the following day. Daily presentations and photo reviews are planned for every evening.

Mario’s Shark Quest Photography will help you evolve your photography and take stunning shark shots! Come face to face with pelagics in the Southern Red Sea, on board the stable steel hulled Hurricane
For UK 1:1 courses you can see more about Mario here