View Full Version : How close to safely get when photographing semi-dangerous animals?
July 10th, 2012, 10:10 AM
How close can I safely get when photographing semi-dangerous critters like morays, stingrays, sharks, and other sting-y/bitey things? I have a Canon S95 and Ikelite housing. I’m using the internal strobe for now so I need to get really close to things, like 12 inches. Could some experienced people give me an idea of where the line is between irrational fear and prudence? Are there any critters that I definitely shouldn’t approach? Any tips for how I should behave when around certain critters (no sudden movements, etc)? Am I just being paranoid?
Thanks and sorry for the noob question!
July 10th, 2012, 10:13 AM
...no closer than you'd get without a camera?
All the best, James
July 10th, 2012, 10:17 AM
Moray's have very poor eyesight. I personally would not get that close to one, especially from the front. I have gotten pretty close when they are backed into a hole and I approach from the side, but not 12". Lionfish on the other hand, I have been even closer than 12" if they let me, but usually with a spear!
July 10th, 2012, 10:35 AM
I always try to get as close as possible but as slowly as possible. Sudden movements are not good. Generally speaking fish have a pretty bad sense of depth perception but react to sudden movements and light changes.
It is important to be able to read the animal- looking for signs that the animal is feeling threatened. Rays in particular you don't want to back in to a corner. Morays are easy, sharks.....depends on the species and posturing. Only one time I saw a Grey Reef shiver and arch, and I backed down.
As long as you give the animal an avenue to escape, it'll choose that over fighting. However sometimes they're stupid- you leave them a way out and they still back themselves in to a corner and then freak out.
July 10th, 2012, 11:31 AM
I've had my camera inches from predators, but as supergaijin said, it's important to assess the animals mood and behavior. If you're not sure, don't do it. Last year in the Channel Islands, I took some shots of an Angel shark buried in the sand. I shot from about 8" to about 24". My wife tried to be helpful by using water movement to brush some sand away. A few months later, we watched a You Tube video of a photographer and his dive buddy doing exactly the same thing. The buddy was using fin sweeps to brush the sand away from a distance. The shark suddenly burst from the sand, turned and attacked and bit the buddy giving him a nasty wound in the thigh.
Animals are often curious about cameras, and will come to your port because it is shiny or reflecting them. My wife was on a tour with a student diver when the student was attacked by a cormorant who admired the shiny buckle on her weight belt. Sharks are attracted to electrical fields. I've seen more than one picture of a Tiger Shark swimming away with a very pricey DSLR rig. They seem to be attracted to the strobes.
Don't chase any animal with a camera. Act like you belong there and treat animals with respect. Consider the Ocean an underwater jungle. How would you behave in the jungle around a lion or a tiger?
July 10th, 2012, 11:38 AM
This is far too general a question... different species require different distances for "safety," and as pointed out they may be "moody" or be hungry one day but not the next. It is a good idea to study the behavior of any species you want to get up close and personal with.
I've been inches from morays (keeping my housing in front of me!) and feet away from great whites (usually from behind bars!). The only time I've ever been "attacked" was when I tried to reposition an 18" horn shark for a better camera angle. It swam up to my chest and tried to bite me through my wetsuit. I laughed so hard that the reg fell out of my mouth.
July 10th, 2012, 12:13 PM
Well my pole for my GoPro is 18 to 36in long so ...... 18in minimum lol
July 10th, 2012, 12:54 PM
It depends. I watch how the creature is responding to my presence. Usually when I approach, I watch the fish for reactions to my approach. If it starts looking antsy, I slow down or stop. Often many fish will tolerate a diver who is quite close indeed. I spent about 5 minutes about 8" from a speckled moray. It finally came out of its hole, yawned (which really looked ferocious in the photo) and then swam to another cluster of holes. But it went slowly and seemed unconcerned with my poresence.
For large, potentially dangerous creatures, I tend to make sure they have a way to "escape" if I approach and they want to leave.
By the way, if a fish is at a cleaning station, they can be very tolerant of a photographer. They seem to have the attitude that I can wait my "turn" to be cleaned. When I get a photo of a fish that is usually rather wary, I often spot a cleaner on them later in the photo.
July 10th, 2012, 01:54 PM
Every animal is an individual with a specific behaviour and mood for the day
You may or not make feel the animal at ease and there is no recipe for that
Also don't assume that shooting pictures of subjects that are not harmful at 2" does them well. I have seen people literally in top of a sea horse or similar
Turtles for example get very agitated by close encounters and have weak hearts
So if you don't know how to evaluate creatures behaviour follow normal practices and stay clear
No picture is worth an injury
If you want to see something really scary have a look at my Flickr set Thailand there's a picture of my buddy with a moray eel
That is something I would not recommend unless you know very well that specific moray eel...