Shark Photography with Mike Ball Dive

Face-to-face with shark – what will you do?

Hold your ground, raise your camera and take the shot you’ve been wanting for years. That’s what we do on the Mike Ball Dive Expeditions’ (MBDE) Shark Shooter Expedition – 6 April 2017. It’s one of my favourite places to dive, jumping into the gin clear water of the Coral Sea, eagerly greeted by hoards of sharks willing to get into photo range. The liveaboard expedition is run on Spoilsport, with presentations and tutorials by me on shark and general photography techniques. Personalised, hands-on workshops are also run both on land and in-water across the 3, 4 & 7 night itineraries for Spoilsport.

Our focus is very much on shark photography, so you can expect to get very close to Grey Reef Sharks, White Tips and commonly the awesome the Silvertips. It’s hammerhead season too, so we should be getting them too! Numerous shark attractions and the legendary Osprey Feed will occur, plus the opportunity to photograph a wide variety of marine life across the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef. Join us for a truly inspiring experience!


Strobes vs Video Light for Still Photography

Can video lights be used to replace strobes for still photograph?

I’ve generally answered “NO” to this question, but for off-camera lighting video lights are a simple and effective solution. We put our 10,000 lumen videos lights to the test in Madison Blue Cave (Florida), here’s what we found.

Let me first say that I still don’t believe video lights can effectively replace strobes for on-camera lighting for serious shooting scenarios (ie. those attached to camera). Modern strobes win hands down when it comes to output/intensity, weight, cost and duration. When it comes to off-camera lighting though, high lumen video lights are a viable solution due to simplicity – they provide a “what you see is what you get” approach, avoiding many of the pitfalls that come with managing off camera strobes. Let’s break down the pros and cons associated with each:


Left: Dual Ikelite DS-160s (full power) on divers back; Right: Single LD-100V, handheld under divers arm; Settings for both: 1/80s @ f/10; ISO1250

Video Lights

  • Simple – video lights are simple, not requiring remote triggers and sync cables
  • Real-time – photographer & model can see where the video light is pointed in real-time
  • Availability – video lights are often more on-hand, or people shoot video on same dive
  • Mounting – mounting a video light on a model will quickly become a liability, so you’re limited to handheld use
  • Duration – video lights have a limited burn time compared to strobes
  • Safety – constantly beaming 1000’s of lumens in a cave/wreck reduces communications (and pissed people off!)


  • Shutter Speed – strobes enable fast shutter speeds to be used (unlike constant light sources)
  • Duration – you get hundreds of frames with strobes, versus a limited burn-time/shooting wind lights
  • Complexity – strobes require slave sensors and sync cables, and can fail to fire
  • Guesswork – models often have to guess where a strobes beam will fire
  • Mounting – strobes can be mounted on a diver’s back, tanks, etc… hands free & only firing when triggered
  • Cost – bang for buck, strobes will give you more light and shooting time

Of all the variables, shutter speed and duration are perhaps the biggest advantages of strobes. Fast shutter speeds in cave environments gives you crisp images (albeit with the loss of primary light beams), whilst not having to worry about burn-time and power levels is pretty handy.


Left: 1/200s @ f/10; ISO1250 – Dual DS-160s; Right: 1/60s @f/7.1; ISO1250 – Single LD-100V; Working to the strengths of the video lights can yield great results, pulling the diver off the background wall.

In contrast, video lights win out when it comes to simplicity, real-time viewing and availability (depending on the project/location). What you see is largely what you get, though you will have to shoot with a slow shutter speed to make it work (e.g. 1/60s). Inexperienced models often approach a video light with more familiarity and willingness. Minimizing the distance to subject will also maximize the impact of a video light, so get closer!

As can be seen from our test shots in Madison Blue, off-camera video lights for still photography are a viable tool. You will need to manage certain constraints, but they can enable great shots to be taken in the right environment. Of course, why not mix it up as we recently did in Twin Cave, using strobes, video and primary lights all in one go.


Originally Posted:

Every Housing Tells a Story

It feels like finger nails being dragged down a blackboard when you damage your housing. My story is one of abuse, as in my game it’s diver first, getting the shot second and protecting camera kit much further down the priority list. Executing technical dives, I’ve come to realise just suck it up and get on with the job – a quality housing can take it!

I’ve recently been doing some challenging 11811457_934191063286048_6198830764657431373_ncold water diving in Finland (4C), where I was happy to say the Nauticam didn’t miss a beat and functioned 100% even with dry gloves at 300ft (or ‘no can do gloves’ as the locals call them). Okay, I treated it more like a deco cylinder and got a few dome scratches – Micromesh and a few beers will fix that tonight. As to the housing body, well it’s lost some anodising and has taken a beating over years, but so what?

When you get your hands dirty, so does your gear. Buttons push, knobs turn and images come in the front just the same. If you’re too focused on camera gear protection, you might just miss out on that shot you want.

What story does your housing tell?

Mike Ball Shark Shooter 2014

“ERROR: CARD FULL!” Usually that’s the last thing you want to see on your camera underwater, but after 90 minutes shooting sharks it meant my camera was full of images. My card was full because I’d gone wild on the trigger, but it wasn’t my fault. Sharks just kept coming, and by that I mean kept coming closer.

The scene was set as the previous day we’d had one of the best shark feeds that I can recall at North Horn. Sharks were wall to wall, almost too many to count. Today though, was a day of attractions; we wouldn’t feed the sharks but simply attract them close with tuna heads in a metal cage. The calmer environment highlights the more natural behavior of the animal and provides a better shooting opportunity in my opinion.

Dive 1 – Admiralty Anchor, a nice sheltered reef system with great coral, sheer walls and undulating topology.DSP_7533 Don’t be fooled though, the site is one of Osprey’s best and as we’d later find out can turn on some mega shark action. The morning was all about whitetip reef sharks – close and calm.

Dive 2 – We’re at natural shark cleaning station on North Horn, which was also the site of the shark feed the previous day. Our mere presence draws attention and as we splash into the gin clean water, 20-30 sharks are buzzing around under the boat. In goes my friend “Mr Tuna Head”, now we’re talking 30-40 sharks and the tension mounts. We now had sharks galore, close range encounters and near perfect shooting conditions in terms of shark engagement, water clarity and gorgeous blue mid-morning light.

DSP_6883With our trusty minder Nick watching our backs and keeping safety in check, we had prime position on a coral bommie (mound) that offers 360 degree shooting as sharks circles and approach. For me the key thing is the calm nature of the animals, as opposed to the feed which is impressive, but differs significantly from a shooting perspective. Ultimately today we had time, opportunity and all came out shots with shots we were proud of.

Dive 3 – Another attraction, though the current was flowing into the lagoon at a fairly strong rate. We staked out our prize tuna and waited. What we got this time was the smaller sharks from inside the lagoon, juvenille grey reefs (30-50cm) that seeming don’t know their place in the world. At times erratic, they’re cool too see and eventually make way for bigger sharks to come past. More white tips joined us until we had to go.

Dive 4 – I’d just got out of the water and was told “there’s one tuna head left, we’re doing back to Admiralty Anchor”, which of DSP_7637course always brings a smile to my face. In we went and it didn’t take too long before a 3.5m silvertip made itself known as we poked at this tuna head. Soon enough there were two, then three, and ultimately five silvertips circling the area. An impressive sight anywhere in the world, these animals have a grace that’s hard to describe. Unfortunately with daylight fading it proved challenging to capture them well, but what an exciting dive I had!

At the end of the day I said that it was one of the best days diving I’d done in nearly 20 years. I’d shot over 1600 pictures, had some photos in my camera that were great, and more importantly had a smile on my face from ear to ear. The challenge has been set – a tuna head on every dive for next year’s 2015 Shark Shooter workshop…

More images available here.

Annular Eclipse Photography

On my recent trip up with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, we were lucky enough to encounter a annular eclipse. Despite the poor weather, the clouds parted just long enough to capture the event. I was lucky enough to borrow a filter on the boat and get a few shots, though it’s certainly not the easiest thing to do on a pitching boat.