Best Shark Photographs from the Last Ten Years of Photo Contests

Getting the perfect shot requires great timing, the right equipment and nerves of steel

Photographer Chris Doherty captured this shot on his fifth encounter with whale sharks. "Each time the feeling is indescribable. It is such an amazing feeling to have the privilege of swimming next to the largest fish in the ocean. They are such gentle, curious and at times even playful animals that I can't wait for my next encounter."

Doherty saw this particular whale shark as he was swimming with a friend; sharks gathered around them by the hundreds to feed on the eggs of spawning fish. "With his mouth wide open gorging on billions of microscopic fish eggs, I tried to swim as close as I could without disturbing him," Doherty explains.

For more of Doherty's photographs, check out his website, and visit our photo contest page for more information about our 2013 competition. Photo by Christopher Doherty
Deron Verbeck, part owner in a ocean tour boat operation Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures, is not a stranger to marine life. On a trip looking for pilot whales, he knew the chances of running into an oceanic whitetip shark were good. "Typically if I find the pilot whales I find the oceanics."

Oceanic whitetip sharks are some of the most aggressive sharks in the world, but Verbeck wasn't concerned when he snapped this shot. "I've had quite a bit of experience with these animals so fear or apprehension are not what's on my mind. I have a healthy respect because I know what they are capable of, but I enjoy being in the water with them."

See more of Verbeck's photography. Photo by Deron Verbeck
This photo was taken by Thomas Pepper during a dive off Grand Bahama. In the middle of a feeding frenzy, Pepper had to wait patiently for things to settle down before he could snap a photo of the Caribbean reef sharks. "It is quite common for the kneeling divers to get bumped by the sharks’ noses or tails as they try to make the most of their meal," he explained.

After the commotion died down, Pepper took aim at the sharks and snapped this shot. "I managed to capture the three sharks pictured as they circled together and was fortunate that the middle one was staring directly into the lens." Photo by Thomas Pepper
Dave Miller describes this photo as almost a reunion of two "friends" – the free-diver, who is a regular diver in this area, and the tiger shark. For Miller, it was his first visit to the area, but the diver in the photo helped him get his bearings by giving him some tips. "He told me to find an out-of-the-way spot and settle down on the bottom and wait for the tigers to find you. Once you see one coming, don’t make eye contact and keep your head down."

"As I was waiting there, camera ready, I noticed out of my left eye my first encounter with a large tiger shark coming right toward me. I put my head down and pretended I didn't see him. I pre-positioned the camera pointing in front of me and waited," Miller explains. Then, as the tiger shark swam right in front of him, he snapped the photo. Photo by Dave Miller
Craig O'Connell, a graduate student studying shark behavior at UMass Dartmouth, captured this shot while in the Bahamas assessing the impact of new bycatch reduction technologies on shark behavior. "Typically at the end of each experimental trial, [the research team] likes to swim and take photographs with the sharks, as it is not only a privilege to share the water with them, but also a thrilling experience," O'Connell said. "During this particular day, we had three great hammerhead sharks, two bulls sharks and six nurse sharks swimming around the boat, so we were quite excited to get in and take a look."

Soon after diving in, O'Connell saw a dark silhouette appear in the distance. "My heart began to race, but I took a deep breath and quickly swam to the bottom and waited for that shark to swim overhead. Just as it did, I snapped the photograph, looked at my LCD screen and realized I got the photograph I always dreamed of getting." Photo by Craig O'Connell
A unique behavior of whitetip reef sharks made it possible for photographer Andy Lerner to capture this shot. "Whitetips are one of a few shark species that don't need to be in consent motion to breathe, so they can be found resting with some regularity," Lerner explained.

But a little bit of luck doesn't hurt, either. Lerner was fortunate enough to have the wide angle lens already on his camera, which helped capture the animals in their entirety. "I've been in the water with sharks quite often, from behind a cage with great whites to swimming along with all types of reef and pelagic sharks. It's exiting to be around them, and often awe inspiring," Lerner said.

See more of Lerner's photography on his website. Photo by Andy Lerner
William Buchheit was lucky to capture this classic photo of a great white shark hunting seals in South Africa. It took the photographer days to witness an attack close enough to take a picture. But after three days of patience, Buchheit was finally presented with the perfect moment.

"I clicked off 20 frames in about three seconds, the gasps of my crewmates audible over the machine-gun shutter of my camera," Buchheit said, aiming his camera from a distance aboard a boat. Photo by William Buchheit
In Amanda Cotton's photograph, tiger sharks circle around a free-diver at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. Tiger sharks are often found close to the shores, preferring shallow waters to the deep sea. In native Hawaiian culture, people believe the tiger shark's eye possesses mystical seeing powers, and the animals are considered sacred. Photo by Amanda Cotton
Photographer Thomas Tsutsumoto didn't go looking for sharks when he set out to shoot; instead, he expected to see stingrays. "Once I realized that there were sharks entering the picture," Tsutsumoto said. "I only had to wait a few seconds before both the rays and sharks converged in one place."

"At that moment, I tried to keep my mind clear and focus on being relaxed so that I would not distract them. I wanted to capture their behavior and energy," Tsutsumoto added. The photograph shows the sharks and rays converging on food before scattering away.

For more of Tsutsumoto's photography, visit his website. Thomas Tsutsumoto
"In the early evening, local women on Tetepare were cleaning and gutting fish as they prepared dinner," Robin Moore described. "As they discarded the scraps into the sea, blacktip reef sharks started gathering to feed."

Moore knew that as soon as scraps were thrown into the water, sharks would appear. Wading out into the ocean, he caught his first glimpse of the sharks. "At first, I was so excited by the sight of the sharks, and the incredible evening light, that I didn't even think about the fact that sharks where being whipped into a feeding frenzy around my feet," Moore said. After a moment, he crouched low, capturing the sharks as they fed on the scraps around him.

You can see more of Moore's photography on his website. Photo by Robin Moore
Thomas Vignaud, a photographer and shark scientist, captured these blacktip reef sharks swimming in a lagoon in Moorea, French Polynesia. Feeding sharks is forbidden in French Polynesia, but the same cannot be said about feeding stingrays. Often, blacktip reef sharks will smell the food and come for a chance at a free meal.

"Sharks are not afraid but rather curious, and free-diving here allowed me to take this shot," Vignaud said. "Diving and free-diving with them has always been a nice and peaceful experience," he added, noting that at times he feels sad when he thinks about how sharks are being killed in such large numbers each year.

See more of Vignaud's photography on his website. Photo by Thomas Vignaud
"I have been lucky enough to have hundreds of dives with these amazing tiger sharks," photographer Matt Heath said. "In this photo I was in the right spot at the right time to capture this shark 'yawning,' which is something that all sharks, that I have encountered, do from time to time."

With their mouths wide open, the "yawning" sharks appear much more ferocious than they truly are. Heath, familiar with the fish, knew this, and concentrated his efforts on capturing the moment on camera. "This was a hard photo for me to make public because of the natural reaction being fear. If you notice, the teeth are not protruding. This is simply natural behavior of an amazing predator caught on camera," Heath said. Matt Heath
To capture this image of a blacktip reef shark from below, photographer and shark scientist Thomas Vignaud had to situate himself in just the right place. "Free-diving allowed me to lay on the sand without moving and without bubbles until a shark passed just a meter above me, allowing me to take this shot," he said.

See more of Vignaud's photography on his website. Photo by Thomas Vignaud
For Andy Lerner, the hard part wasn't finding the sharks. It was making sure he didn't scare the shy creatures off with his presence. "The trick was to get close enough to the sharks to make the shot work. They were fairly shy, so it took quite a long time for them to get used to me being there," Lerner said. He was interested in capturing the sharks at feeding time to highlight the juxtaposition between what was happening above the water and what was happening below.

Shooting half in the water and half out of the water wasn't an easy task. "You are constantly watching where your lens port is in the water. In this case, since I was standing in only a couple of feet of water, I had the luxury of having a towel with me, so I was able to stay on top of it," Lerner explained.

See more of Lerner's photography on his website. Photo by Andy Lerner
Paolo Santos described how moments before this picture was taken, the little French Polynesian local was feeding the sharks leftovers from her lunch of fish and rice. "See was saying as she was feeding them, 'Venez ici les petits mignons' (translation: 'Come here my little ones')," Santos recalled. Feeling that the little girl was in no danger, Santos remembers hurrying to take the shot before the sharks dispersed. "In case something happened, in my mind I was also preparing myself to run in and grab the girl out of the water," he added. Photo by Paolo Santos

From whale sharks on the prowl to tiger shakes with mouths agape, here are the finest images from the last decade of our photo contest.

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