Photo Essay

Shooting Sharks in the Bahamas

Tiger shark, getting some sun

Though the Bahamian water was warm -- about 90 degrees! -- we tugged on our gloves, wetsuits, and dive socks. Some divers even struggled into full hoods, their eyebrows, noses and lips smooshed out from inside the restrictive neoprene. All our gear was black -- snorkels, masks, fins, weight belts -- and sometimes it got confusing as to whose equipment was whose. We weren't cold, and we didn't plan on getting chilly. So why all the gear ... and why all of it black? Sharks -- like most ocean creatures -- are less likely to nip at a human covered in black. The shine of a wristwatch; the sparkle of an earring; the quick kick of an opaque fin -- under water, these things all resemble the sudden flit of a fish's tail. And none of us wanted the twelve- to fourteen-foot sharks we were hoping to encounter -- bigger than a VW Beetle, and heavier, too -- to confuse us with lunch.

I peered over the edge of the transom and saw gray smudges glide through the water, directly under the boat. I figured most of the streaks were harmless Lemon sharks, their snaggly smiles belying their gentle demeanor, but you never really know what's down there until you get in the water and look around.

When the smudges vanished for a moment, I took a deep breath, popped my regulator into my mouth, grabbed my camera, and slid into the water silently, splashlessly. On the boat, I'd purged my BCD of all its air, and that, coupled with the added weight on my weight belt, made me drop to the sandy sea floor like a crate of frozen chum.

Orienting quickly, I scanned the endless blue for Tiger sharks. The other eight divers were doing the same, cameras in hand, heads rotating slowly and steadily on their neoprene-covered necks. Though I kept glancing behind me, I knew a Tiger would come from my right, cruising upstream towards the fishy scent of the frozen chum-cicle the dive master was shaking patiently in the water. I waited quietly, upstream of the crate of melting fish guts. I took some practice shots of my fin, to confirm my camera's settings were correct. I squeezed off some shots of the Lemons circling my feet. I glanced around some more.

Suddenly, I detected a dark blur. I looked up and saw an elegant Tiger shark, back gently arched, swimming arrogantly, slowly, toward the chum-crate. As the sun streamed through the shallow water, I raised the camera to my face, peering over the housing. The gun-metal gray shark cruised up the current, toward the fish-guts we were releasing. The stripes on his belly pulsated as his giant tail fanned back and forth. He slowly slid past the crate. He was coming right for me.

My right index finger was taught on the shutter release, and as the shark approached me, I tripped the shutter over and over. Glancing into the viewfinder, I noticed the enormous creature was overflowing out of the frame. Clumsily, I backed up, kicking up a little silt, but still tripping the shutter. As the majestic striped animal approached, his large black eyeball -- as expressive as a puppy's -- rotated and focused right on me. He was less than twelve inches away. Using the curved dome of the camera's housing, I gently touched his snout and pushed him away. He corrected his course to the left and swam past. In an instant, he was gone.

I frantically checked my camera to see how the pictures turned out. Most were bad. One was acceptable. I looked around again, performing a 360-degree spin under water. I wanted desperately to get another shot. Where was he?

There! There he was. He had circled around, swimming back up-current, back toward the chum-crate, back to the scent of fish, back to me. I prepared my camera for more shots. Here he came. Snap. Snap. Closer... Snap.

Over the next seven days, I took over 5000 pictures of Tiger sharks, Lemon sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, dolphins, and more. And I never got bit.

36 responses

  • Misha M. Johnson

    Misha M. Johnson gave props (30 Sep 2008):

    great and gutsy series.

  • Cindy Coubrough

    Cindy Coubrough gave props (30 Sep 2008):

    These shots are gorgeous! Scary to me, but you did a heck of a job!

  • jefferi chang

    jefferi chang gave props (1 Oct 2008):

    good write up and the shark photos.. ;)

  • Alicia Rutkowski

    Alicia Rutkowski gave props (1 Oct 2008):

    absolutely amazing!

  • Joven DelaCruz

    Joven DelaCruz gave props (1 Oct 2008):

    great shots. great story.

  • Eva Hoffman

    Eva Hoffman gave props (2 Oct 2008):

    Amazing story. You're so much braver than I am!

  • Jessica Kuligowski

    Jessica Kuligowski gave props (2 Oct 2008):

    Nice work!

  • John Falk

    John Falk gave props (3 Oct 2008):

    Great work-trip of a lifetime...

  • Kurt Meyer

    Kurt Meyer gave props (4 Oct 2008):

    Great Series. Love the story and photo comments!

  • Audrey Kanekoa-Madrid

    Audrey Kanekoa-Madrid (Deleted) gave props (5 Oct 2008):

    OMG...this is an amazing series and story. Very well done. You have my vote!

  • James Moorehouse

    James Moorehouse said (7 Oct 2008):

    I am so jealous and so enviousl What a great have my vote. Long live Jaws.

  • Andrew Bowman

    Andrew Bowman (Deleted) said (9 Oct 2008):

    and when you shoot them, use a large round. Something like a 50mm Sniper rifle ought to do the trick>

  • Dingo Core

    Dingo Core gave props (9 Oct 2008):

    beautiful! sharks need love too!

  • Giant Wannabe

    Giant Wannabe gave props (9 Oct 2008):

    It rocks! my vote

  • terry goss

    terry goss said (10 Oct 2008):

    great work Willy - I'll be at Tiger Beach in Feb to try my luck.... cheers!

  • Wallace Jones

    Wallace Jones gave props (17 Oct 2008):

    Great work! vote!

  • Lisa Slifko

    Lisa Slifko gave props (21 Oct 2008):


  • Janice Mezzacappa

    Janice Mezzacappa (Deleted) gave props (18 Nov 2008):


  • Joerg Schlagheck

    Joerg Schlagheck gave props (28 Nov 2008):

    Great essay and images! My vote!

  • JS Daniel

    JS Daniel gave props (20 Jan 2009):

    Wow! Amamzing capture.

  • Todd Reed

    Todd Reed gave props (1 Feb 2009):

    Guy, you're my idol! SOOOO awesome!

  • Randall Perez

    Randall Perez said (1 May 2009):

    Absolutely amazing work

  • Diane Bartlett

    Diane Bartlett gave props (5 May 2009):

    More photos please of your travals.

  • Victor Tagos

    Victor Tagos (Deleted) gave props (18 Jun 2009):


  • Kel Casey

    Kel Casey gave props (19 Jun 2009):

    Pix are great. What camera did you use?

  • Bernadette Lester

    Bernadette Lester said (25 Jul 2009):

    Amazingly written and depicted! Just drew me in, fantastic read! Makes me want to purchase the magazine! Wish I could add the story as a favorite, but don't see that button. Love it, awesome!

  • alannah bowes

    alannah bowes gave props (21 Sep 2009):

    Amazing photos and essay!

  • Sabina Zych

    Sabina Zych (Deleted) gave props (4 Apr 2010):


  • Luiza Florenzano

    Luiza Florenzano gave props (22 Apr 2010):

    I love this essay. Amazing photos!

  • Maura Wolfson-Foster

    Maura Wolfson-Foster gave props (24 Jul 2010):

    Captivating, and very brave of you - beyond thrilling ~ !!! Deservedly published.

  • May Rogers

    May Rogers gave props (18 Jul 2011):

    very cool!

  • Lori Boggetti

    Lori Boggetti gave props (10 Oct 2013):

    Fantastic story and even better photos, loved it all!

  • Teresa Jozef

    Teresa Jozef gave props (31 Jan 2014):

    great work

  • Lynn E. Harvey

    Lynn E. Harvey gave props (12 Jun 2018):


  • Andrea Petersen

    Andrea Petersen gave props (15 Jun 2018):

    Congrats for Photo Essay of the week and the honor earlier of this being published!

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