Great White Shark Photography

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Chris 88
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Great White Shark Photography
10 months ago

(this is reposted on recommendation from the Nature and Wildlife Forum)

In a few months I will be charting a boat out of Cape Town South Africa to photograph great white sharks. One of the behaviours I hope to capture is the famous breaching where the shark leaps from the sea. In order to induce this a fake seal will be dragged behind the boat.

What I would like is advise on what lens, settings, and techniques I should use with my D7100 (not yet got).

The variables are as follow. The rope with the decoy on is 10-15 meters so that is my distance to the subject. The average great white is 4-5.2m, so that will be the size of the subject. The subject will be moving as approximately 25mph and will be airborne (visible) for 1.2s.

At the moment I'm thinking the Nikon Af-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens. That is probably the most I can push my budget. Part of me thinks if I'm going to get an FX lens I might as well get a D610 to go with it but let me know what you think.

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jkjond
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

Chris 88 wrote:

(this is reposted on recommendation from the Nature and Wildlife Forum)

In a few months I will be charting a boat out of Cape Town South Africa to photograph great white sharks. One of the behaviours I hope to capture is the famous breaching where the shark leaps from the sea. In order to induce this a fake seal will be dragged behind the boat.

What I would like is advise on what lens, settings, and techniques I should use with my D7100 (not yet got).

The variables are as follow. The rope with the decoy on is 10-15 meters so that is my distance to the subject. The average great white is 4-5.2m, so that will be the size of the subject. The subject will be moving as approximately 25mph and will be airborne (visible) for 1.2s.

At the moment I'm thinking the Nikon Af-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens. That is probably the most I can push my budget. Part of me thinks if I'm going to get an FX lens I might as well get a D610 to go with it but let me know what you think.

This may sound drastic, but I'd want to use the widest lens I'm comfortable with. I'd measure out the sizes and distances you state in a car park - and research just how close is a safe working distance. Then apply a bit of Robert Capa and get in close, and pack a spare pair of undies. Anyone can shoot an object as large as a great white with a 70-200. I'm sure the results would be impressive with any lens, but wide angle can give an intimacy lost with a longer lens. If this is effectively a staged event and you have several runs at it, I'd try different lenses.

If you aren't used to shooting action, then get practising. Don't squander a shoot like this by trying to learn on the job. Shooting traffic could be effective practice and give you confidence in zoom and focus, plus a chance to experiment with lenses. A range rover or vw camper is about 5m long and a touring motorbike will be a similar front on size to a shark. Roundabouts will give you changes of direction, especially entry and exit for a motorbike. DOF will be a factor for front on shots, you need to get a feel for what aperture to use.

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PepsiCan
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

Chris 88 wrote:

(this is reposted on recommendation from the Nature and Wildlife Forum)

In a few months I will be charting a boat out of Cape Town South Africa to photograph great white sharks. One of the behaviours I hope to capture is the famous breaching where the shark leaps from the sea. In order to induce this a fake seal will be dragged behind the boat.

What I would like is advise on what lens, settings, and techniques I should use with my D7100 (not yet got).

The variables are as follow. The rope with the decoy on is 10-15 meters so that is my distance to the subject. The average great white is 4-5.2m, so that will be the size of the subject. The subject will be moving as approximately 25mph and will be airborne (visible) for 1.2s.

At the moment I'm thinking the Nikon Af-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens. That is probably the most I can push my budget. Part of me thinks if I'm going to get an FX lens I might as well get a D610 to go with it but let me know what you think.

I'd always choose the D7100 over a D610 for this. For one reason only: focus. The 51 point system in the D7100 is a derivative of the D800/D4 focus system, while the D610 sports an FX version of the D7000 auto focus system. Note that the D7100 does have a small buffer so get the Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards for sure. Also, set up your camera to use minimum buffer space. So, shoot JPEG or RAW (not both), turn off lens correction and ADL when shooting RAWS to get the smallest RAWs. You could even switch to 12-bit RAW, although that may lose you image quality (but noticeably....?).

Other settings:

Matrix metering

AF-C

Use AE/AL button as AF-ON (and move exposure locking to one of the function buttons.

Use 9 or 21 point AF

Shoot M or S mode.

Crank up ISO if needed.

Ensure the boat follows a path that gets you best light. You'll want the sun in your back and not too much refelection in the water where the shark will surface. Morning and afternoon sun gets you best contrast.

Like the other posters, I'd measure things out and use comparable lenses to try out the framing or rent a lens to do so. Also, practise, practise practise.

Will you get an advance warning that a shark is about to bite or will you only know when the shark surfaces? What kind of shots do you want? Close ups? Whole shark? Shark plus surroundings? Do you want a series, i.e. capture the shark throughout its flight path? The answer to these may impact the choice of lens. As you can't reposition yourself easily I would go with a zoom, rather than a prime.

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Chris 88
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to PepsiCan, 10 months ago

That's great advise. Not thought about a wide but I like the idea.

Unfortunately I won't get warning before the breach. They propel themselves off the sea bed at 21mph to 25mph and the first anyone knows about it (including the poor seal) is when they break the surface jaws first. The jump lasts 1.2 seconds and my reaction time is about 700ms seconds. This gives me a shootable window of 500ms or half a second.

I would like close up and whole shark shots. I want the photos to show closeness as I'm privileged to be able to be close, I don't want them to look like I stood on a beach with a super tele if that makes any sense....

And yes I won't be able to move or change the distance of tow rope. Which makes me wonder if hand held or tripod would be better on a boat?

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jkjond
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

Chris 88 wrote:

That's great advise. Not thought about a wide but I like the idea.

Unfortunately I won't get warning before the breach. They propel themselves off the sea bed at 21mph to 25mph and the first anyone knows about it (including the poor seal) is when they break the surface jaws first. The jump lasts 1.2 seconds and my reaction time is about 700ms seconds. This gives me a shootable window of 500ms or half a second.

I would like close up and whole shark shots. I want the photos to show closeness as I'm privileged to be able to be close, I don't want them to look like I stood on a beach with a super tele if that makes any sense....

And yes I won't be able to move or change the distance of tow rope. Which makes me wonder if hand held or tripod would be better on a boat?

Haha, I misread most of your post and got the image of killer whales attacking seals on beaches stuck in my head - something I've always wanted to observe.

I understand the boat concept better now. That does change the game a lot, as it means you are stuck with set distances. Deffo measure it all out. Don't shoot too wide an aperture or your focus will have to be spot on for a longer lens. With a wider lens you'll be working at or near infinity so focus will be easy. Wide angle and context could be good if there is context, otherwise you need to frame in tight for frame filling action.

Tripod? Unless the boat is super smooth, then there will be too much movement, the possibility of transmitting engine vibrations and the inflexibility of not being able to react to the action.

You could still use traffic to train your reactions by standing down a side road and seeing how you react to traffic moving across the end of the road without warning. Wear an ipod so you don't hear them! The actual position of the traffic will be too predictable, but its better than nothing. The other difference is the traffic will continue to move at a constant speed where a shark will be decelerating to a stationary point before falling back. That stationary point could be a good time to click.

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sapple
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

Your legs will absorb more shock then a tripod on a boat, but your arms may want a tripod. My understanding is that these trips last for hours. If you got 10 breaches that would be a lot, so that's a long time looking and holding a camera with a big lens for just a few seconds. You probably won't shoot much at 2.8 given the dof and size of the shark. So you might want consider other lenses like the 200 f4. Or a 135mm etc. I would want the IQ of a prime once you figure out the sizes involved. I agree practice will be key. Another idea is to bring a laptop and wireless tether. You will want to see these shots right away incase something goes wrong, you can correct it before the next shark.
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BillD7000
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

What I would like is advise on what lens, settings, and techniques I should use with my D7100 (not yet got).

At the moment I'm thinking the Nikon Af-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens.

As it happens, I'm a certified Shark Diver and, based on experience of over 100 close encounters below the sea, I think your choice for above the water is right on. I would consider using center-point AF-S, set where the decoy is, and using an aperture of f/5.6 to f/8, to ensure adequate depth of field. This will dramatically speed-up camera responsiveness. Obviously, shoot at 6FPS.

Forget wide-angle. W/A would be good for VERY close encounters under water, or even if dragging a shark on-board, but for what you will be doing, you'll want the 70-200. The Nikon f/4 version would save you money, and likely be just as good, if not better. You don't need f/2.8.

The new Sigma 50-150/2.8 OS, is phenomenal, and gives you 50mm on a DX camera, but make sure it's behaving properly before going out to sea.  Mine needed factory focus adjustment at longer distances...

Don't just get the shark in the field of view. Try also framing a bit of the water too. I'm jealous...

http://billkeane.zenfolio.com/p687018592/h38f09513

http://billkeane.zenfolio.com/p687018592/h3c7634b0

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PepsiCan
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Re: lens suggestions
In reply to sapple, 10 months ago

sapple wrote:

Your legs will absorb more shock then a tripod on a boat, but your arms may want a tripod. My understanding is that these trips last for hours. If you got 10 breaches that would be a lot, so that's a long time looking and holding a camera with a big lens for just a few seconds. You probably won't shoot much at 2.8 given the dof and size of the shark. So you might want consider other lenses like the 200 f4. Or a 135mm etc. I would want the IQ of a prime once you figure out the sizes involved. I agree practice will be key. Another idea is to bring a laptop and wireless tether. You will want to see these shots right away incase something goes wrong, you can correct it before the next shark.
--
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I don't thnik a tripod will work. They're meant to be on a stable platform and a boat on the sea is clearly not. It will amplify the movements. A monopod maybe...

But here is another suggestion. We've focussed on big, heavy lenses like the 200mm F2, 70-200mm F2.8 etc. At the same time we've also advised against shooting wide open for depth of field reasons.

TADA!! Nikon 70-200 F4. When used wide open it is sharp and when stopped down by a 1/3 stop even more so. But it is also considerably lighter than all the other lenses we've suggested and it has the latest VR III technology.

Sure you give up the ability to use 2.8 if you want to. And you give up weather sealing. But you keep the advantage of zoom, have the same fast focus (so I hear, I never shot the 2.8 version, but my f4 is faster than all my other lenses AF-S lenses). and you gain the loss of a lot of weight. That makes your arms hold out longer, but it also gives you a lower center of gravity which means you're more stable. The Vr3 on the lens will also be slightly better compared to the vr2 under certain circumstances.

Rent the lens, try it out, get busy in the gym and start shooting traffic coming a round the corner (to simulate the sudden appearance).

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PepsiCan
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Re: A
In reply to BillD7000, 10 months ago

pologiesBillD7000 wrote:

What I would like is advise on what lens, settings, and techniques I should use with my D7100 (not yet got).

At the moment I'm thinking the Nikon Af-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens.

As it happens, I'm a certified Shark Diver and, based on experience of over 100 close encounters below the sea, I think your choice for above the water is right on. I would consider using center-point AF-S, set where the decoy is, and using an aperture of f/5.6 to f/8, to ensure adequate depth of field. This will dramatically speed-up camera responsiveness. Obviously, shoot at 6FPS.

Forget wide-angle. W/A would be good for VERY close encounters under water, or even if dragging a shark on-board, but for what you will be doing, you'll want the 70-200. The Nikon f/4 version would save you money, and likely be just as good, if not better. You don't need f/2.8.

The new Sigma 50-150/2.8 OS, is phenomenal, and gives you 50mm on a DX camera, but make sure it's behaving properly before going out to sea.  Mine needed factory focus adjustment at longer distances...

Don't just get the shark in the field of view. Try also framing a bit of the water too. I'm jealous...

http://billkeane.zenfolio.com/p687018592/h38f09513

http://billkeane.zenfolio.com/p687018592/h3c7634b0

Seems we had the same idea about the lens but I didn't read your post before I put mine up. You obviously speak from experience. Any pictures to post (as in: upload to DPReview as I can't get to the link from where I am)?

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BillD7000
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Re: A
In reply to PepsiCan, 10 months ago

Seems we had the same idea about the lens but I didn't read your post before I put mine up. You obviously speak from experience. Any pictures to post (as in: upload to DPReview as I can't get to the link from where I am)?

Sure!  Here are some 7-9ft Blacktips and Caribbean Reef.

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Chris 88
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Re: A
In reply to BillD7000, 10 months ago

They are amazing photos! I love the deep blue background.

Thank you all for your advise. I've taken it all in and ordered my D7100. The lens that kept getting mentioned seemed to be the Nikkor 80-200mm f/4 VR III. So that's on order as well!

I can't wait to start practicing!

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jimoyer
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Re: A
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

Chris, I really don't have anything to offer by way of advise, but I did want to say how much I envy you having this opportunity.  If there is one "dream" shoot I have, it is this.  I'd love to see some shots when you get back.

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Steve Bingham
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Re: A
In reply to BillD7000, 10 months ago

Man you were close - very close!!!! 15mm. I don't think I would want to this without being in a cage.

BillD7000 wrote:

Seems we had the same idea about the lens but I didn't read your post before I put mine up. You obviously speak from experience. Any pictures to post (as in: upload to DPReview as I can't get to the link from where I am)?

Sure! Here are some 7-9ft Blacktips and Caribbean Reef.

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Steve Bingham
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Re: lens suggestions
In reply to PepsiCan, 10 months ago

Agreed!

PepsiCan wrote:

sapple wrote:

Your legs will absorb more shock then a tripod on a boat, but your arms may want a tripod. My understanding is that these trips last for hours. If you got 10 breaches that would be a lot, so that's a long time looking and holding a camera with a big lens for just a few seconds. You probably won't shoot much at 2.8 given the dof and size of the shark. So you might want consider other lenses like the 200 f4. Or a 135mm etc. I would want the IQ of a prime once you figure out the sizes involved. I agree practice will be key. Another idea is to bring a laptop and wireless tether. You will want to see these shots right away incase something goes wrong, you can correct it before the next shark.
--
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I don't thnik a tripod will work. They're meant to be on a stable platform and a boat on the sea is clearly not. It will amplify the movements. A monopod maybe...

But here is another suggestion. We've focussed on big, heavy lenses like the 200mm F2, 70-200mm F2.8 etc. At the same time we've also advised against shooting wide open for depth of field reasons.

TADA!! Nikon 70-200 F4. When used wide open it is sharp and when stopped down by a 1/3 stop even more so. But it is also considerably lighter than all the other lenses we've suggested and it has the latest VR III technology.

Sure you give up the ability to use 2.8 if you want to. And you give up weather sealing. But you keep the advantage of zoom, have the same fast focus (so I hear, I never shot the 2.8 version, but my f4 is faster than all my other lenses AF-S lenses). and you gain the loss of a lot of weight. That makes your arms hold out longer, but it also gives you a lower center of gravity which means you're more stable. The Vr3 on the lens will also be slightly better compared to the vr2 under certain circumstances.

Rent the lens, try it out, get busy in the gym and start shooting traffic coming a round the corner (to simulate the sudden appearance).

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www.ghost-town-photography.com

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BillD7000
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Re: A
In reply to Steve Bingham, 10 months ago

Steve Bingham wrote:

Man you were close - very close!!!! 15mm. I don't think I would want to this without being in a cage.

Yes, I was close, but Underwater there is a little magnification factor.  Also, by and large, sharks are not interested in people.  If they were, no ocean would be safe to enter at any time.  World-wide, unprovoked attacks run around 100 per year, often on surfers on boards (obviously ANY attack is likely to result in serious injury).  Out at sea, at depth, people don't look like seals, and the attacks on divers are extremely rare.

I can recall being afraid the first time I saw a shark.  Now I'm disappointed if I don't.  It is a real rush, trust me.  They are beautiful and extremely sophisticated animals -- perfectly evolved over millions of years.

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LAHJ
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

Chris 88 wrote:

(this is reposted on recommendation from the Nature and Wildlife Forum)

In a few months I will be charting a boat out of Cape Town South Africa to photograph great white sharks. One of the behaviours I hope to capture is the famous breaching where the shark leaps from the sea. In order to induce this a fake seal will be dragged behind the boat.

What I would like is advise on what lens, settings, and techniques I should use with my D7100 (not yet got).

The variables are as follow. The rope with the decoy on is 10-15 meters so that is my distance to the subject. The average great white is 4-5.2m, so that will be the size of the subject. The subject will be moving as approximately 25mph and will be airborne (visible) for 1.2s.

At the moment I'm thinking the Nikon Af-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens. That is probably the most I can push my budget. Part of me thinks if I'm going to get an FX lens I might as well get a D610 to go with it but let me know what you think.

Chris, I've been living in Cape Town for more than twenty years and have quite a bit of experience

of being on the sea and taking pictures from boats in this part of the world.

Cape Town is a very, very windy City, but even on a "wind free" ( which is very rare ) day the sea is quite rough with big swells.

Just keeping your balance is an effort never mind holding the camera steady.

What you're set out to do is going to be extremely difficult, it's like taking pictures of swallows in flight from a show jumping horse while the sprinkler system is on.

But it's seems like good fun and a worthy challenge and the rewards could be great.

I have a few suggestions and these are much depending on what type and size of boat you're going out with.

One is to bring a monopod.

This is not to get a steady shot, it's only to rest your arms seeing you have to be ready and framed in position for maybe a couple of hours.

Next thing I would bring is a cover for your camera and lens, as sea spray can be a big issue.

Maybe something like this. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/819108-REG/Kata_KT_PL_E_705_E_705_PL_Rain_Cover.html

You already had some good advice, and I think your choice of camera an lens are spot on, just bring spare batteries and enough memory cards, and keep the shutter speed up - at least 1/1000 s.

Below is a link to one of my days on a boat ( on board Spirit of Victoria 60 ft ) shooting far easier targets than yours.

http://LAHJ.zenfolio.com/p333064085

And this is what I would call a beautiful and not to windy day in Cape Town and I was still wet and full of bruises after.

I hope you have a good trip and get lots of great pictures.

Best Regards

Leif

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Chris 88
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to LAHJ, 10 months ago

LAHJ wrote:

Next thing I would bring is a cover for your camera and lens, as sea spray can be a big issue.

Maybe something like this. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/819108-REG/Kata_KT_PL_E_705_E_705_PL_Rain_Cover.html

Firstly they are great photos, the colors really pop and the framing is spot on.

Thank you for your advise, I had been wondering about spray. The D7100 is weather sealed but I don't know how much of a battering that can take and I'd rather not test it with salt water of all things! (Plus the lens wont be weather sealed) So I probably will get that cover closer to the time when my bank balance has recovered! I have got a Hoya Pro1 UV filter for protection. I will be going out early morning at sunrise so I'm hoping the sea tends to be a tad calmer then?

I've bought two SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I 64GB, 95MB/s so I'm hoping that will be enough to shoot in RAW. I will probably delete photos I don't want when I get back to land as I then have another 8 days of traveling the coasts of South Africa. (safari, whale watching and a couple of national parks) I would love to take more equipment but my bank manager is going to cut up my visa if I spend much more! One thing I might do is take a portable HD drive and transfer photos onto that at the end of each day, but I don't have a laptop so I'm trying to think of a way of doing that without a computer....

On a side note getting away from photography (the blaspheme!), as someones that's familiar with Cape Town and the area. Is there anything you would recommend to someone going there for the first time? restaurants, attractions, hikes? etc, etc.

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BillD7000
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

Thank you for your advise, I had been wondering about spray. The D7100 is weather sealed but I don't know how much of a battering that can take and I'd rather not test it with salt water of all things! (Plus the lens wont be weather sealed) So I probably will get that cover closer to the time when my bank balance has recovered!

There are very cheap Rain Covers that will be more than adequate: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/891383-REG/ruggard_rc_p18_18_plastic_rain_cover.html

I've pressed a small plastic shopping bag into service by poking a hole for the lens and going from there.  If spray is a factor, check the front element often, as you may need to wipe droplets off.

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PepsiCan
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to Chris 88, 10 months ago

Chris 88 wrote:

LAHJ wrote:

Next thing I would bring is a cover for your camera and lens, as sea spray can be a big issue.

Maybe something like this. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/819108-REG/Kata_KT_PL_E_705_E_705_PL_Rain_Cover.html

Firstly they are great photos, the colors really pop and the framing is spot on.

Thank you for your advise, I had been wondering about spray. The D7100 is weather sealed but I don't know how much of a battering that can take and I'd rather not test it with salt water of all things! (Plus the lens wont be weather sealed) So I probably will get that cover closer to the time when my bank balance has recovered! I have got a Hoya Pro1 UV filter for protection. I will be going out early morning at sunrise so I'm hoping the sea tends to be a tad calmer then?

I've bought two SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I 64GB, 95MB/s so I'm hoping that will be enough to shoot in RAW. I will probably delete photos I don't want when I get back to land as I then have another 8 days of traveling the coasts of South Africa. (safari, whale watching and a couple of national parks) I would love to take more equipment but my bank manager is going to cut up my visa if I spend much more! One thing I might do is take a portable HD drive and transfer photos onto that at the end of each day, but I don't have a laptop so I'm trying to think of a way of doing that without a computer....

On a side note getting away from photography (the blaspheme!), as someones that's familiar with Cape Town and the area. Is there anything you would recommend to someone going there for the first time? restaurants, attractions, hikes? etc, etc.

No camera will survive a dive in the ocean. But the D7100 will definitely withstand some spray water. Also, don't forget that you'll be facing rearward most of the time while the spray water will come from the boat's bow. Your back will catch most of it so I'd get a cover for that

I'd not bother with a UV filter. The bad ones (read: cheap) actually degrade image quality and it is very debatable whether a UV filter offers protection. Usually, the lens hood, which you must use for added contrast, is an equal or better protection. Also, UV filters are not made to protect anything. They'll likely splinter at the slightest contact with something sharp, leaving glass splinters on your lens. The only reason I'd use a filter is to keep salt water from spraying on your lens' front element. Salt water can be a bit difficult to clean properly. But in such a case I would actually use a polarizer filter instead. This type of filter removes glare from water, so you'll have fewer issues with the water causing your metering to be thrown off.

The memory cards are the best. I have them and the buffer usually clears in about 2 seconds. They'll give you over 500 shots for sure.

 PepsiCan's gear list:PepsiCan's gear list
Canon PowerShot S95 Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Nikon D7100 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G +5 more
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Chris 88
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Re: Great White Shark Photography
In reply to PepsiCan, 10 months ago

PepsiCan wrote:

But in such a case I would actually use a polarizer filter instead. This type of filter removes glare from water, so you'll have fewer issues with the water causing your metering to be thrown off.

I read that it's inadvisable to use a polarized filters on anything but a tripod as the light reducing effect has to be compensated by an increase in shutter speed and/or aperture. I also found that the general recommendation was that it's only used in bright conditions, but I will be shooting at sun rise so I expect it to be a little grey out.

As I will be on a rocky boat in (probably) overcast condition it seemed to me that 'the internet' would suggest not using a polarized filter in these condition as it will cause image blur.

I like the idea of cutting down the glare from the water and seeing 'into' the water more but not at the loss of sharpness to the shark.

I have no experience in these matters just going on what I've researched so tell me if I've got it wrong!

 Chris 88's gear list:Chris 88's gear list
Nikon D7100 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Adobe Camera Raw 7 Adobe Bridge CS6
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