- Hide menu

Capturing a perfect split-shot on a whale shark trip on 24th July.

I had a fixation with humpback whales for so many years, especially their spectacular bubble net feeding. They provided endless exhilaration, and as a photographer, endless permutations of shapes, lighting, water effects, combined land and seascape backgrounds, serenity and dynamism. The whale sharks seem to have become my underwater fixation because they also provide endless visual permutations with their elegant motion and striking markings so beautifully enhanced by sun rays penetrating the water. With the humpback whales the elusive photographic holy grail was trying to capture good photos of them breaching, or jumping. It was so difficult because I could never predict when or where they would breach, and they usually did it when I was not prepared or had given up waiting, which was enormously frustrating. At least with the whale sharks I’m in the water with them and their movements are much easier to track until they dive down out of view. The one photo that I still hadn’t captured was a good split-shot, or over-under shot, showing a whale shark and the boat, but I struck gold last Friday, 24th July; although I have to confess that it was more an “intuitive” shot rather than a calculated one. In both instances when I captured good split-shots I had to act spontaneously, and had to fin very quickly towards the boat as I was aware that the whale shark was heading towards it. I find it quite difficult to line my underwater housing up with my small mask at the best of times but when I’m moving quite fast, especially on the surface, it’s very hit or miss. On land I’ve got very attuned to shooting with my wide-angle zoom lens without looking through the viewfinder. If you are always looking through the viewfinder then you are restricted from being aware of any peripheral activity and less likely to anticipate a good photo. I knew that I had to act quickly so I lined the housing up with the boat on the surface, and fired away. It wasn’t flat calm so the surface was bobbing up and down on the glass port of my housing, but luck was on my side this time and in both instances I managed to get one good shot.

I wasn't that close to the boat so the visibility isn't perfect. What makes this split-shot work so well is not just the perfect split and position of the whale shark, but the guy standing on the outrigger at water level, and gazing down at the whale shark almost nonchalently.

I wasn’t that close to the boat so the visibility isn’t perfect. What makes this split-shot work so well is not just the perfect split and position of the whale shark, but the guy standing on the outrigger at water level, and gazing down at the whale shark almost nonchalently.


This one was even more of a shot from the hip because I was finning towards the boat very quickly and only had a split second to position the housing on the surface. Fortuitously the surface motion really enhances the image and gives it a vertical as well as a horizontal split, dividing the excited onlookers on the boat from the whale shark.

This one was even more of a shot from the hip because I was finning towards the boat very quickly and only had a split second to position the housing on the surface. Fortuitously the surface motion really enhances the image and gives it a vertical as well as a horizontal split, dividing the excited onlookers on the boat from the whale shark.

Apart from capturing those two holy grails it was a very good day with the whale sharks. We probably saw about 5 or 6 individuals, including one or two quite large individuals as was the one in the first split-shot. I can only recall ever seeing one very large one and that was in very shallow water near the coast. It had about the same narrow clearance below it as above it, which really enhanced the sense of scale. It’s going to take me a while to increase my lung capacity, which will probably happen when I start diving with humpback whales in New Caledonia. I always find that when you are really captivated and focussed on an animal, as I was in Alaska with the humpback whale, then you quickly forget about physical limitations or apprehensions.

I dived down to capture this image because I wanted to capture the scale relative to the swimmer on the surface. It's length is exaggerated by my position behind it and the wide-angle lens. I love the ethereal softness of the lighting under the surface. The hull of the boat is faintly visible behind the swimmer.

I dived down to capture this image because I wanted to capture the scale relative to the swimmer on the surface. It’s length is exaggerated by my position behind it and the wide-angle lens. I love the ethereal softness of the lighting under the surface. The hull of the boat is faintly visible behind the swimmer.


Whichever way I view a whale shark I find their shape and markings so fascinating. I like the curvature of the pectoral fins in this photo and the light rays coming from one side.

Whichever way I view a whale shark I find their shape and markings so fascinating. I like the curvature of the pectoral fins in this photo and the light rays coming from one side.


I am always intrigued by the optical illusion that is created by the light rays coming from above and converging towards the darkness of the ocean depths. My mind always interprets them as diverging from the bottom as the source. Anyway it certainly creates a wonderful backdrop and lighting for the underwater stage of the whale shark.

I am always intrigued by the optical illusion that is created by the light rays coming from above and converging towards the darkness of the ocean depths. My mind always interprets them as diverging from the bottom as the source. Anyway it certainly creates a wonderful backdrop and lighting for the underwater stage of the whale shark.


This is one of my favourite viewing angles of whale sharks when they are ascending, showing how broad and flat the head is. It always makes me think of the bonnet (or hood) of a car with the eyes positioned like headlights. You can also see the longtitudinal ridges along its body. I love the gradation of markings from the dense spots at the front merging into the spots, swirls and stripes, and then the checkered grid with spots on its flanks. Some tiny cleaner fish can be seen swimming just in front of its mouth.

This is one of my favourite viewing angles of whale sharks when they are ascending, showing how broad and flat the head is. It always makes me think of the bonnet (or hood) of a car with the eyes positioned like headlights. You can also see the longtitudinal ridges along its body. I love the gradation of markings from the dense spots at the front merging into the spots, swirls and stripes, and then the checkered grid with spots on its flanks. Some tiny cleaner fish can be seen swimming just in front of its mouth.


This image also shows how flat their heads are in relation to their bodies.

This image also shows how flat their heads are in relation to their bodies.

For more information about these great whale shark trips please contact Toto at Dolphin and Whales Travel and Tour/Facebook.

Tel +63 915 263 2105 – email totodolphin@yahoo.com or dwhalestraveltours@yahoo.com

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *