Basking Sharks in Scotland

IN IN IN! That was the signal to jump in the water, given by our Scottish captain, Cam. Loved his accent! With water in my ears, it was even harder to understand, but eventually we got to talk quite a bit. IN! The signal I waited for, fully prepared sitting on the side of the boat, dressed up in a warm wetsuit, flippers on, diving mask on, snorkel in the mouth and the underwater housing ready to shoot.
Just got back from a week in Scotland, photographing Basking sharks above (well, just the dorsal fin that is…) and under water around the island of Mull and Coll. Every day we went out on a little boat and within the hour we spotted our first sharks. It was amazing to see these huge creatures, hanging in the water just fighting the current while feeding on the plankton. It is great to see them from the boat, but this wasn’t the only goal, I was here to shoot underwater! So when I heard the first IN! from Cam, I didn’t really knew what to expect under that water surface…First thing I realised when I had my first sight underwater, was SHIT, this is bad visibility! Of course, this is late summer, and plankton is blooming. And that’s why the sharks are here. And since this is a good timing for sharks, I’m here too! Anyway,all I had to do, was to get close to one of these giants, to get a better view through the thick clouds of plankton. Easier said than done of course, but it’s good to have a crazy plan! The technique is to get in line with a shark and follow it’s fin above the water surface, and let the shark come closer on it’s own, and dive once it’s getting close. Visibility was often very poor in this plankton mass, so often you could only notice the sharks once they got really close. And what a kick if they appeared out of nothing! Giant and friendly, that was new for me as a wildlife photographer! They even let you follow them, if you could fight the tide and current.
It was great fun to swim with these wonderfull animals, a project that was on my personal list since about 20 years. Why did I postponed it for so long I now wonder! (apart from the fact that I really didn’t want to dive with film rolls of 36 exposures…)

My big big thanks goes out to the great people of the Basking Shark team in Scotland. It was a great pleasure to meet motivated people, and to swim with them, in between the sharks! So many many thanks Eszter, Kate, Luke, Shane and Cam!! See you next year, aye!

 

All pictures are taken with a Nikon D810 and 14-24mm F2.8 lens in a Hugyfot housing. Some words about this housing: this is a plastic POM (polyoxymethylene) housing with the exact functionalities as the aluminium version, but of course much lighter and cheaper! They both take the same domes. They are rated for a depth of 15 meter, much less than the aluminium versions, but since I will mainly use it for snorkling, and with natural light, this is no issue at all for me. I’ve been working with it now since January (first try out was swimming with the Killer whales in Norway!) and I have nothing than good to say about it. For me, it’s the best and most professional compromise between the cheapest and most expensive housings. You want to be safe, but you don’t want to spend a fortune either. Camera’s change all the time, so you want to change unexpensive housings too.
And the best thing of all, is that these housings are made in my homecountry Belgium! Only one hour driving and I reach their office and production units. If you would have questions about these POM housings, just send me an email. As soon as the Nikon D5 hits the shops, we will probably collect a group of people and order collectively POM housings for this camera of the century…

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