Photography / Tips and Solutions

Great Destinations for Photographing Sharks

Sharks: underwater photographers have tremendous respect for these fabulous, mysterious fish, and travel at great expense and distance to capture their beauty. Australia, South Africa, Guadalupe, and Fiji are well known for shark dives. But there are many places closer to home where divers can observe and photograph sharks. Here we suggest a number of locations where we have experienced exciting shark action—and you won’t have to fly to Fiji! By no means is this a complete list.

Top Photo: A juvenile white tip shark curls on the wall around Roca Partida. Above: White tip sharks and moray eel

Socorro, Mexico

The archipelago Islas Revillagigedo is literally in the middle of nowhere. The closest island, San Benedicto, is 220 nautical miles from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Socorro is another 40 nautical miles from San Benedicto, and Roca Partida is 70 Nautical miles from Socorro. The Nautilus Belle Amie and the Nautilus Explorer are two of the live-aboard boats that sail there.

Juvenile whitetip shark cuddling with huge moray eel

So, why go so far? The big draw is the friendliest manta rays in the world. The mantas use this area as a cleaning station and consider scuba divers' bubbles a Jacuzzi. The mantas like to swim just above the divers, and the bubbles provide them with a nice massage. Since underwater photographers need to get close to their subjects, this is a dream come true.

Manta ray at San Benedicto

Other than the mantas, the area is known for many species of sharks. Dolphins and whales are also known to swim by. Sounds like a great place to visit, despite the trouble getting there.

Roca Partida is more like a large rock than an island.​

Roca Partida is more like a large rock than an island. The rock starts 230 feet below the surface and rises from the water like a strangely shaped building. We would jump into the water close to the island and circle the underwater wall the island forms. At about 90 feet, we saw white tip sharks everywhere. Some sharks are swimming in the open water, and others are resting on ledges. The white tips, with their cute faces, make great models. Besides white tips, we saw silver tips, Galapagos, and the occasional hammerhead, swimming in open water.

Whitetip sharks

On the ledges, juvenile white tip sharks were cuddling up with large moray eels, as if the morays were mom. This was extremely entertaining to see and photograph. As always, we wanted to be as close as possible, but when that wasn’t possible it was better to get the shot than have our subject swim off! I would take a photo from four feet away, then two feet and, if the subject was not camera shy, I would move in as close as possible and squeeze the shutter button.

Malpelo is 230 miles from Panama.

Malpelo, Colombia

Two hundred and thirty miles from Panama, and two hundred and seventy miles from the coast of Colombia, is a large rock rising from the Pacific Ocean. This Colombian National Park is called Malpelo. The rock itself is home to a small Colombian military base, ranger station, and colony of sea birds. A number of boats from Panama and Colombia run trips to Malpelo. Coiba Expeditions goes there more often than the other operations. Leaving from Panama, the journey can take about two days, depending on the currents and winds.

Schools of hammerhead sharks circle the island.

The main reason for diving Malpelo? Sharks. The area is known for large schools of hammerheads, silkies, Galapagos, and white tips. In the winter there is a population of sand tigers and, in late summer and fall, whale sharks call these waters their home. Other large pelagics can be viewed. Tuna, jacks, and eagle rays are not uncommon, with the occasional manta ray making an appearance.

Galapagos sharks around Malpelo

The reason for all of this large life is the presence of an abundance of food brought in by strong ocean currents. As such, diving conditions are not easy. Currents can be very strong and visibility clouded by all the nutrients in the water, but this is the price one has to pay for hanging out with the big boys.

Divers getting to know a 30' whale shark

All the diving on Malpelo is done around the rock and nearby pinnacles. If you removed the large marine life, this would still be a world-class dive site. Leatherback grouper and Mexican hogfish are everywhere. These fish, along with butterfly fish, perform a useful service for the larger life. The marine life on all the rock reefs are part of the cleaning stations. Sharks and other large animals come in to have the parasites, dead skin and loose scales, removed from their mouths and bodies. The butterfly fish and other cleaners use these parasites as food and aren’t eaten by the sharks. Diving on a cleaning station offers the opportunity to observe these animals in a true cooperative ecosystem. 

Looking a whale shark in the eye is a life-changing experience.​

El Niño was affecting the area when we visited. With water temperatures in August being between 87 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit, it is comfortable to dive in a three- to five-millimeter wetsuit, but the warm temperatures are pushing the hammerheads and other sharks away from the wall. They are seeking cooler waters away from Malpelo. At times, you hit a thermocline (the transitional layer between the mixed layer at the surface and the deep-water layer) where the cold water and warm water mix, creating a hazy Gaussian look in the water.

Photographing this gentle plankton-eating giant

Once on the bottom, everyone lines up, looking into the blue, hoping to get a glimpse of a school of hammerheads or other pelagic animals. You feel as though you are at a theater waiting for the show to begin. If everyone stays close together, the bubbles will scare away the animals. By spreading out and being observant, you might get to see a shark or eagle ray. Because of the current, it is important not to get too far away from the dive guide. Also, keep looking over your shoulder. While everyone is looking for the actors to appear on the stage, sometimes one might sneak in from back, to perform in the balcony. 

Whale sharks are so large they block out the sun.

One of the dive sites of note was the Aquarium. Current varied from strong to insane, but at least the dive staff deployed buoy descent line for reference. At the time of our visit, a male and pregnant female whale shark could be seen on this site. To have a 30' fish swim overhead and block out the sun, then swim down and look you in the eye, is a life-changing experience. 

Whale sharks at the dive site, the Aquarium

These gentle plankton eaters were as curious about the divers as the divers were curious about them. It was hard to tell who was watching whom, but the whale sharks did not have cameras.

Gray reef shark in Cuba

Gardens of the Queen, Cuba

In 1962, Cuba nationalized the properties of US citizens and corporations. Since that time, the US government has imposed a financial embargo on Cuba, effectively preventing US citizens from traveling to this Caribbean island. In January, 2015, the United States and Cuba started to normalize diplomatic relations.

Silky sharks can be found in the water column, close to the surface.

At the time of this writing, travel to Cuba is still restricted for US citizens. Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit organization founded in 2004, by Dr. David E. Guggenheim, has been granted a license to bring US citizens to Cuba to participate in “people-to-people” educational programs that foster meaningful contact between the people of these two countries. The trips are designed to educate US citizens about conservation and ecotourism and how they affect the Cuban people and their communities. Participants visit historic sites in and around Havana and interact with local people.

Time warp: American cars from the 1950's fill the streets of Havana

The group also travels south to visit and dive the underwater national park, Gardens of the Queen. Since the Cuban government is strongly environmentally minded, the 837-square-mile area became a no-take reserve in 1996—the largest in the Caribbean—and in 2010, it was designated a national park.

Photographing a Caribbean reef shark in the Gardens of the Queen

Christopher Columbus named this island chain in honor of Queen Isabella of Spain. Captain Jacques Cousteau and his crew visited here in 1985. Both Fidel Castro and Che Guevara fished in these waters, and Castro reportedly dove here.

Photographing Caribbean reef sharks in the Gardens of the Queen

The marine park has a healthy marine ecosystem. The main underwater attractions are Nassau and huge Goliath grouper, along with Caribbean reef and silky sharks. Some of the sharks are as long as nine feet.

Hanging a metal bait box to attract silky sharks

To get the sharks in close for study and photographs, a metal box filled with fish is taken to the dive sites. The Goliath groupers and other marine life also become interested in the metal box, and the reef becomes a hub of activity.

Pregnant Caribbean reef shark

Sharks, groupers, and other fish buzz around the coral from every direction. The best Caribbean reef-shark photos can be taken on the reef. We would get as low as possible and shoot upward. This gives the sharks a grandiose, larger-than-life look.

Sharks on the reef

Shooting up also allows us to get an exquisite blue-water background. At the end of the dive, the metal box is opened, and the fastest creature takes the prize. Sometimes a very aggressive grouper gets the prize before the sharks can.

Getting close to your subject with an ultra wide-angle lens will give you the best results.

Silky sharks can be found in the water column close to the surface—they are faster than the sharks on the reef. We would hang the metal box from the boat to attract them. Working in mid-water, buoyancy is important. We had to maintain depth and adjust our camera settings at the same time.  

Reptilian Diversion

One of the most fascinating animals we were able to photograph was not a shark, but the American crocodile. Friends and family might have questioned our sanity, getting in the water with sharks, but crocodiles? Now they really thought we needed to be committed.

The American crocodile's diet consists mostly of fish, reptiles, birds, and small mammals.

The American crocodile is one of the few species, along with the saltwater crocodile, that lives in saltwater. In the mangroves, it is possible to get in the water with a few small young crocodiles. They were around 6' long, but still had plenty of sharp teeth. Their diet consists mostly of fish, reptiles, birds, and small mammals. They are not normally aggressive. This was a comforting thought, as we slid into the brackish water with our cameras and snorkels. We were in only about 3.3' of water. The crocs were shy but opportunistic; they would stand on the bottom with their heads at the surface. Only a small profile of the top of their head and eyes remained above the waterline.

The American crocodile is not normally aggressive, but opportunistic.

It took some thrashing about in the water with our hands to get their attention. Once we were successful, the crocodiles would come in quickly with mouths open. They seemed to be interested in their own reflection in our domes, and we made sure we wore gloves and kept our hands on the housings’ handles, behind the domes. Documenting the American crocodile, we discovered, was addictive. Since no gas supply was needed, we spent hours in the water with these intriguing animals. Avalon is the dive operation to contact for diving at the Gardens of the Queen.

Shark feeding brings in large numbers of gray reef sharks.

Nassau, Bahamas

The Bahamas is a chain of islands, many of which offer shark dives. The city of Nassau is on New Providence Island, and there you can swim with dozens of gray reef sharks. The island is merely 178 miles from Miami, Florida. Nassau is known for sandy white beaches, calm blue water, casinos, resorts, and gift shops, and there is enough to do to keep any tourist busy. Vacationers come to this island by cruise ship, airplane, and private boat to relax and party. But, if you want adventure, you should venture beneath the Bahamian waters to see the numerous reefs, walls, and shipwrecks—teeming with marine life.

The shark feeder brings down a container of fish.

In Nassau, Stuart Cove is one of the dive operations to consider. Cove’s bio is fascinating—he was once captain of a dive/snorkeling boat for Club Med. During the summer of 1977, he landed a job as a stunt safety diver for the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. From that point on, Cove worked on many feature films as an underwater coordinator, shark wrangler, and instructor. In 1983, he certified Sean Connery and Kim Basinger so they could complete their roles in Never Say Never Again.

Shooting up gives sharks a majestic look.

Besides working for the movie industry, Cove and his wife, Michelle, have an operation with 15 boats that take experienced and novice divers, as well as snorkelers, to experience Nassau underwater.

The action during a shark feed is fast and hectic.

The Coves offer a unique shark adventure. On the first dive, you swim along a wall followed by a number of gray reef sharks and other marine life. The second dive is a shark feeding in an area they call “the arena.” This is in only 40 feet of water, and the sandy bottom has a number of rocks arranged in a circle. The Stuart Cove staff instructs all the divers to get into the circle and to stay still. Our shark feeder that day was Chang Sien Chin. Once all the divers were in place, Chang swam down with a container of fish. He would place a fish on a skewer and wave it through the water. The sharks would sense this motion and know it was time for a snack. Chan does wear a one-piece chain-mail suit, just in case a shark mistakes one of his body parts for lunch.

Gray reef shark being fed at Stuart Cove's resort

Creating exciting images takes planning. Chang and I talked before the dive. He would go around the circle and feed the sharks in front of each diver. He knew where I would be, and made sure the sharks would get close. Getting as close as possible to your subject is the first rule of underwater photography—the less water there is between your lens and subject, the better your images will be. It is really that simple. If you are more than three feet from the subject, there is no sense in pushing the shutter button. So to be this close to these six-foot-long animals, wide-angle lenses are crucial. I shoot with an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera. I use the Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 wide-angle zoom lens, but I always use the lens at the widest 9mm focal length. With Chang’s help, I was able to photograph these impressive animals inches away from my lens.

Shooting up helps one get a nice, blue background.

With everyone in position, it was time to shoot as many images as possible. The action was fast, with sharks coming from all directions. When photographing a shark feeding, it is important to stay calm and to visually simplify this hectic environment, creating interesting compositions.

West Palm Beach, Florida

The West Palm Beach area of Florida offers many different dive opportunities. Blue Heron Bridge enables great macro diving, right off the beach. Wrecks and the giant goliath grouper are just a few of the offshore underwater attractions. On the offshore wrecks, awash in heavy current, bull sharks and the occasional hammerhead can be spotted. Our visit to West Palm included the classic report: “You should have been here last week.” The week before, dozens of bull sharks were observed in open water and there were a few hammerheads on the wrecks. Visibility was more than 80'. The week we arrived, visibility dropped to 15' and very few sharks were home. But we did spot a few bulls in open water and on the wrecks.

Bull shark in the open ocean

In currents so strong, this is referred to as drift diving. The dive boat does not anchor, but motors to a location where you have to jump in and submerge immediately—before the current takes you to the Bahamas. Usually, we have the camera gear handed to us once we’re in the water, but, in this environment, you don’t have that luxury. You have to jump in and bring your imaging gear along. Holding it close to your body, you need to start equalizing your ears before jumping in. Keeping your Buoyancy Compensator (BC) empty, when the captain says jump, you jump! Some divers were spear-fishing during our trip. Normally, dead fish and bull sharks are not a good combination, but we were glad the human hunters’ prey brought in the bulls for us to photograph. Sharks are attracted to white objects—like we did, be sure to wear black hoods, gloves, and wet suits. Emerald ChartersNarcosis Charters, and Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures are just a few of the dive operations in the West Palm Beach area.

Sand tiger shark at a wreck in North Carolina

Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

Just a 12-hour drive from NYC is world-class diving, near Morehead City, North Carolina. Due to World War II and other war activity, navigation errors, and sunken ships that were part of the artificial reef program, you can visit a variety of shipwrecks, including a German U-boat, the U-352. Because the Gulf Stream comes close to shore, the incredible warm blue water is home to a variety of tropical marine life. This attracts a variety of shark species including bulls, sandbars, black tips, tigers, whites, reef, and hammerheads. The most common to see on the wrecks is the sand tiger shark.

Diver photographing a sand tiger shark and bait fish

These large, slow-moving sharks make the perfect models: they are mellow, but have an overbite so you can really see their teeth. This gives them that “Jaws” treacherous man-eater look. You could brag to your less-informed friends how brave you were to get close enough to take the photo! But in all seriousness, though these marvelous creatures are not like the shark from that legendary film, they are still wild animals. You can get really close—but don’t touch.

The interior of the shipwreck Aeolus is known as the Shark Ballroom.

The North Carolina shipwrecks the sharks call home make a famous background for shark portraiture. The Aeolus, Papoose, Spar, Caribsea, Atlas, and Schurz are just a few of many locations that are rich waters for photographing sharks. The Aeolus and the Papoose are two of our all-time favorites. The sand tigers like to swim in a circle inside these shipwrecks. The interior of the Aeolus is known as the “Shark Ballroom,” “Club Aeolus,” or the “Shark Room.”

Sand tiger sharks have an overbite that gives them that menacing "Jaws" look.

Photographing the sharks with the wreckage in the background creates dramatic photographs. There are plenty of openings, so use a slow shutter speed to get the blue water shining through the openings. Sand tigers, like most sharks, are reflective and lighter on the bottom than they are on top. This creates lighting and contrast problems. It is best to use two strobes and bring them as far out to the side as possible. Use the inner edge of the light on each strobe so they overlap. Aim your strobes toward the top of your subject. This way you are adding more light to the darker top section of the shark, and letting the light fall off toward the lighter bottom section, creating more balance in your lighting.

Sand tiger shark cruising inside of a wreck

Atlantis Charters and Olympus Dive Center are two of the many local dive operations that will take you to visit these great North Carolina dive sites.

Hover on the dive site location markers in the map below.

Despite what most people think, many species of shark are, generally, shy creatures. A 2013 study conservatively estimated that humans kill approximately 100 million sharks a year. As underwater image-makers, we have the privilege of visiting their world, and we need to have respect and create images that convey the message to the general public that sharks should not be feared and slaughtered. 

A caveat from B&H: Swimmers and surfers look like injured birds or seals from a shark’s perspective, the latter being favorite shark meals—and attacks do happen. Scuba divers, who are bubble-blowing creatures wearing rubber suits, hardly look like an appetizing meal. Regardless of this fact, before you dive into shark-infested waters do your research, know how to identify the various shark species, learn something about their behavior and diet, and hook up with a reputable diving operation with experienced guides.

Discussion 26

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Although you mentioned Isla Guadalupe as one of those places that are expensive and further from the US than the sites you highlight, that's not so in my opinion.  It's closer than the Revillagigedo Islands, for example.  Good to be reminded of the alternatives though.

Hi Neil,

You are correct that Isla Guadalupe is closer than Revillagigedo Islands. I did want to concentrate on locations that I have already visited.

What a fantastic article and fabulous shots! It's just the push I need to upgrade my photography equipment, and plan my next trip. 

Thank you Veronica,

If you need help upgrading your gear you could email me at

Great article Larry! I look forward to more great pictures from you next dive location.

Thank you for the kind words Melissa,

Next adventure is in Norway. We should be photographing great shipwrecks and the kelp forest.

Great article! well written and photographs so eye catching people were staring over my shoulder in the subway.

Glad you liked the article!

Guess people on the subway are not used to seeing sharks!

WOW!! What a wonderful article!!  An article like that is truly a treasure for a dedicated underwater photographer like myself because it not only showed the "big boys" with great photographs, it also advised where animals like that can be found and photographed.  After reading this article, I know I have to do an inventory of my camera equipment to make certain I have the appropriate equipment to take photos like that!!  Thanks for setting it all out for me!

Hi PJ,

So glad you liked the article. If you need help with your gear email me at

Great photography and very good information;
The Wrecks of North Carolina look especially inviting

Thank you Ben,

North Carolina is great diving. But the seas conditions could be vary. Be prepared for heavy seas.

Nice article and shots, Larry. So what's with the whitetips hanging out on ledges. I thought sharks needed to stay in motion to get water across their gills.

Glad you liked the article Bob,

Some species of shark including great whites and hammerheads do need to keep moving in order to breathe. But most sharks including whitetips could use their muscles to pump water over their gills.

Not only was the story very well written but the photgraphs and descriptions of the locations were wonderful. Utilizing Larry's information, the story provides a "How To" on where and how to photograph so many different species of sharks. Very well done and thank you.

Thank you Jeff,

I am glad you found the information in the article useful.

Wow, incredible photos.

Thank you for the kind words.

Larry.....Magnificent photographs! Gorgeous creatures. Excellent article. As I was reading it, I kept thinking that you have absolutely no fear. Is that correct? We've all been falsely conditioned to fear sharks. Crocs too. You seem to be at ease around them.

100 million killed per year. They can't possibly reproduce in numbers large enough to offset that. That's a sad commentary. Thanks for this great story.

Hi Tom,

Glad you liked the photos. Just got back from wreck diving in Norway. I have respect but not fear of sharks and Crocs. You do have to remember they are wild animals and you have to be careful around them. There are plenty of things I am scared of. Skiing down a blue trail terrifies me!

Sharks reproduce very slowly. So we really hav eto start protecting them. 

Great article and amazing shots! You missed an area close to home where you can get shots of even great whites though. There have been quite a few sightings in Cape Cod, even a tagging project there.

Hi Lester,

Glad you liked the article. You are correct. There are also a number of boats that take people out to dive with Blue Sharks in Rhode Island. We just have to had time do that yet. 

Great article and amazing photos. Obviously you have not been to Cocos Island in Costa Rica or it would have made the top of the list. Nothing photographs quite as well as a school of 300 hammerheads. 

Hi Sean,

So glad you liked the article and photos. Cocos is on our list but we have not been there yet. Coiba Expeditions sometimes goes to both Malpelo and Cocos on the same trip. That would be an amazing expedition! 

Nice, informative and fascinating article on diving with sharks by Larry Cohen. Great job! I would love to read more articles written by this talented photographer-writer.

Thank you Olga for the kind words. You could read more of my articles on the on-line publication X-Ray Magazine.

We just got back from diving in Norway. There should be articles on Explora and X-Ray soon!