Behind the Lens: Shooting Sharks
Australian photographer Justin Gilligan recently spent several weeks off Cape Town chasing South Africa’s remarkable great white sharks. He talks about the evolution of a very special photo.
I recently spent several weeks off Cape Town, working up an editorial feature on the visually spectacular, predatory tactics of South Africa’s great white sharks. The enquiry combined both tourism and science, and offered up bountiful photographic opportunities.
This shot was captured off a small rocky outcrop at the foot of False Bay, known as Seal Island – a crag of rock home to over 60,000 Cape fur seals, along with vast numbers of cormorants, gulls, penguins and other seabirds. The sharks arrive here each year between June and August to make a meal of young seals that have just been weaned and are venturing into the sea for the first time.
As the sun emerged over a precipitous mountain range, the early morning light was brilliant beneath an ominous ceiling of storm cloud. Flocks of hawking gulls and countless Cape fur seals jostled for position on the rocky islet our boat was trolling alongside when, in an instant, the water erupted to reveal the formidable form of a great white launching the entire bulk of its body into the air.
In a momentary switch to ‘slow-mo,’ time seemed to pass frame-by-frame as I watched breathlessly through the viewfinder with my index finger held firmly on the shutter. Caught in its fearsome jaw is the flimsy seal decoy that we’d been towing for 15 minutes. Then, in a blink there was an almighty splash as the beast crashed back into the sea.
My camera rig consisted of a Nikon D300, with a sigma 120-400mm lens.
To ensure I had the shot in the bag, I used the optical stabiliser function on the lens with a high ISO to ensure a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action. I also manually focused on the decoy, to avoid the lens searching for focus during the shoot.
NIKON D300 WITH SIGMA 120-400MM LENS @ 120MM. EXPOSURE: 1/2000S @ F4.5, ISO 640.
Photo by Justin Gilligan. (Nikon D300 with Sigma 120-400mm lens @ 120mm. Exposure: f/4.5 @ 1/2000s, ISO 640.