A Guide to Photographing Whale Sharks in Mexico

A Whale Shark & Manta Photography Guide


swim with whale sharks in Mexico

Photography & Video tips, Equipment, Techniques, and Best Settings

Useful for photographers with DSLR, Mirrorless, Compact, and GoPro Cameras

Whale Sharks are the biggest fish in the sea and likely the largest living thing you have ever shared the water with.  Even knowing how big they are and seeing them from the surface before getting in does not prepare you for the underwater experience: what is on the surface is only the tip (or fin) of the iceberg.  Their casual effort at swimming and their tenacious feeding effort is an awesome experience and you will want to capture all of this plus your emotional response to their size in your photos.  This guide will give you some pre-travel advise on how to prepare.

This guide is written based on my experiences with whale sharks in the Cancun region of Mexico at Isla Mujeres.

Join one of my Snorkel with Whale Sharks Trips

Divers, free divers, and snorkelers can also swim with whale sharks all over the world including Sea of Cortez Mexico, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Honduras’ Utila, Cebu in the Philippines’, and Indonesia’s Cenderawasih Bay.

I have had many seasons of swimming with whale sharks to experiment and perfect techniques.  I have changed techniques over the years as my cameras have evolved and my creative goals changed from year to year.  With the addition of video to my DSLR camera and the rise of GoPros, I have allocated more in water time to  video.

Photography Equipment for Photographing Whale Sharks

Safety equipment

A wetsuit is required by the regulations. It also keeps the sun off  and protects somewhat from marine creatures.

Consider a hood or lifeguard beanie for sun protection – a colored beanies is also a great safety device which will help the crew keep you in view if you get further afield.

Sunscreen, sunglasses, and coverups for on the boat.

Don’t forget a protective bag and sun coverup for your camera

Purchase a Cinebags Here 

Use a Fisheye Lens

Whale sharks are huge and it is possible to get close to the subject. Using a fisheye lens will let you get the whole fish in the image and capture some detail


Select the widest lens you have – ideally a fisheye prime or fisheye zoom lens: both will give you up to a 180-degree field of view with a reduced minimum focus distance.  When you get as close the shark as you can (without violating any regulations) you will get the whole thing in.  Compared to photographing other moving subjects like dolphins and sailfish, the drag caused by your large dome port will not be a huge factor. Whale sharks are moving, but more at a walking pace than a running pace.

Fisheye lenses like  a 10 – 17mm will be the most popular, especially on crop sensor cameras. Full frame shooters can use the lenses such as  the Sigma 15mm or the Canon 8-15 circular fisheye.


Underwater photographers using Olympus E-PL and OM-D cameras will opt for the popular 8mm fisheye lenses.

Private charter for whale sharks
Our boat captains are good at dropping us ahead of the moving whale sharks so as to get the front on shots
Compact Camera

Compact camera users will need to use a fisheye wet lens on top of their camera’s built-in lens.

The wet lens increases the field of view (up to 165 degrees).  Without a wide lens, compact users will not be able to get the whole shark in the photo or be too far away: the wide angle lens reduces the minimum focal distance so the photographer can get much closer and still fit the subject into the frame.

Wet lenses require the user to check for and release bubbles around the wet lens each time you get in the water.

A compact camera or phone camera is a great addition for shooting fun shots, cultural features around town,  and people. You can then leave your DSLR in the housing without worry about resetting o-rings and seals.


GoPro shooters should be able to record great underwater photo and video of whale sharks without any additional lenses. The shallow depth and natural light mean that you will not need to add a red filter. You might want a polarizer for on the surface though. Using a handle or mount to hold the GoPro can help steady the shot, but beware of rules governing the use of “selfie sticks” – it is prohibited to use a stick to go closer to the animal than the rules allow and rules may have changed to prohibit them altogether.


When snorkeling or freediving with whale sharks, strobes are often unnecessary given the amount of available light at the surface. It’s also against local regulations to use strobes in these situations for fear of startling or harming the animal. Make sure to ask your dive guide about the local rules.

The bulk of the strobes can hinder your swimming and the movement may make it difficult to keep them aimed properly with little time to fix them once you are face to face with the large subject that is coming straight at you.

You may wish to have a strobe for topside shots

whale shark mural
One of the colorful murals in Isla Mujeres honoring the whale sharks

DSLR, Mirrorless and Compact shooters have a number of shooting mode options to choose from.

My method is to start with some manual settings and change them as the daylight changes.  Most of my images are at ISO400  with some ranging from ISO320 to ISO640 on cloudy days or when I go deeper under the surface (such as for mantas)

My shutter speed stays at 1/250sec  or more . You must be able to shoot at a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action.

Mostly I shoot manual adjusting the aperture to suit the conditions.  Shutter Priority would be a 2nd choice to full manual

My Canon 5D IV has very good options for pattern metering mode.

Using the Ambient Light

I try to pick my subjects based on not shooting directly into the sun. This is not always successful, but if I can get a whale shark with the sun to my back it improves the chances for a great shot.

When swimming with whale sharks, you will want to be as mobile and nimble as possible. Since the whale sharks are feeding at the surface you can shoot entirely with ambient light.  As stated before, strobes are not permitted and would slow you down anyway.

Shooting Techniques

The whale sharks are swimming they could change direction at any moment, so pay very close attention to their movement to avoid touching them or being run over.

When using the wide angle lenses such as those with 180 degree coverage, watch that your fins do not get in the shot!

You do not need great freediving skills, but being able to stay underwater at 2 – 10 feet will give you a shooting angle of slightly upward and can help mitigate the effects of very bright and direct light.

Practice before your trip to increase your underwater time and clearing your ears. Even breath holding exercises on land can help you be prepared for the day.

Being able to freedive to 20 feet will give you the options of silhouettes and sun burst shots.

Types of Images to Try

 Catching the wide open mouth during feeding either from the front, side, or ¾ angle

whale shark gills
Close up of whale shark gills

Whale Shark
Whale Shark, Mexico

Add drama to the feeding image by getting details of the water flowing into the mouth

Whale Shark
Whale shark feeding on the same food that the sardines enjoy

Position yourself ahead of the shark and wait for it to approach. While photographing, move off to the side to get ¾ angle as it goes by. If it is too late to move, quickly submerge and swim to the side letting it pass over you.  You do not want to get “bonked” – those fins are hard and rough.

One of the most dramatic images you can take of a whale shark is with its mouth wide open in the middle of feeding. This is common in Isla Mujeres, where the sharks shift into a vertical position to feed, called a “botella.” You will use every bit of your wide lens to capture this. The good part is that they are not moving while in this position.

Above and Below

When photographing the whale shark near the surface, try capturing a split shot with the fish underneath and the topside scene above. In some cases, the above subject might be boring: Just clouds or sky. But in other locations, you may be able to capture unique interaction with fishermen, either in a boat or on a floating platform.

swimming with whale sharks in the gulf of Mexico
Make a Complete and Varied Portfolio

Make sure to thoroughly describe your subject in both shape & form and behavior.

Check list:  Front, ¾, side, below, above, tail shot

snorkel with whale sharks in mexico
A whale shark feeding just below the surface
whale shark at the surface
A whale shark swims to our boat as it feeds with other whale sharks on a giant patch of plankton
whale shark bottle feeding
A whale shark goes vertical to do what they call “bottle feed” by pumping massive amounts of water into its mouth while staying stationary

You will get chances to get a tail shot as the whale shark swims past you into the distance.

Getting lower in the water, looking up that the subject adds variety and drama to your image collection.

If a whale shark is below the surface, get an image of its back from above. The spots are one of the most interesting features of the whale shark.

Shoot Silhouettes

Shooting up at the whale sharks creates a beautiful image. A whale shark is a unique shape (negative space) which makes a very interesting from above or from below shot.  To capture a sunburst, make sure to stop down your aperture (f8 on compact, f18 on mirrorless, f22 on DSLR) and use a fast  shutter speed to trim the amount of light getting in.

Take images with people as part of the composition

Remove distracting elements such as other people in water by moving off to a whale shark with no other people around it.  There are usually enough sharks around for everyone to get their own without getting too far from the boat.

Use a person for a sense of scale, but be careful to have them isolated against the water, not positioned between you and the whale shark so as to cover part of the subject. The best compositions will have the whale shark with a person below and behind or in front of the approaching whale shark.

Try adding a person to a silhouette. This will take some consultation with your model and a plan with signals and most likely several tries to get it right.

whale shark private charters for photographers
I free dive deep to get the entire whale shark framed into the shot
Whale Sharks are easily accessible and comparatively easy large marine subjects to photograph

The techniques are easily practiced and perfected while on my Whale Shark Photography Workshop.  With 4 days on the water we can experience all light conditions and move around to find the best areas of the aggregation and even search for mantas feeding on the same food patches. Back at the hotel, photographers have time and a safe place to download and review photos.  Shots missed can be attempted the next day and successes shared with others to inspire their next days shooting.  The little amount of equipment needed and streamlined snorkel kit make this trip easy to pack for. Abundant wildlife and the welcoming and fun nature of Isla Mujeres make this trip a must do for all underwater photographers.

Information about my Whale Shark and Manta Trips (and all of my photography trips) can be found on www.GregorySweeney.com


swim with giant manta rays


Polar Bears in Churchill 2017

Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey: the ringed seal.  This year our trip to Churchill was in late October.  The weather was starting to get snowy, but the ice had not yet formed. Numerous bears were known to be in the area.

Join my 2018 Polar Bear Expedition to Churchill – my last time offering this trip!

Northern Studies Centre
Drone image of the Northern Studies Centre

polar bear photo workshop

We traveled by way of Winnipeg and a flight up to Churchill.  Our group stayed inside the Churchill Wildlife Management Area at the Northern Studies Centre, a research facility that houses the scientists and their research. Each year the Centre welcomes a few visitors such as our group.  While at the Centre we were introduced to the ecofriendly facility, learned of the current research, and had a thorough orientation to polar bears in this region. It is a comfortable facility with meeting rooms, media rooms, a workout room, and we enjoyed the observation deck and night observatory dome. At times we had wildlife sightings from the windows of the Centre: a fox visited daily, a hare, birds, and a bear came close.

polar bear mother and cubs
mother and cubs cross a frozen pond

Our first day out was in a private van which takes us around the town area and bordering wildlife area. We learned about the impact of humans on the polar bears and the steps they take to keep bears from becoming a nuisance around human areas like the dump and in town. We were enlightened about the bear jail and how they trap and release the bears.

bear jail churchill
The building which houses the “bear jail” for nuisance bears around town
bear traps churchill
Bear traps

photographing polar bears

environmental theme mural
Photographing mural art around town

Our next day was spent on a specialized bear tundra vehicle in the Wildlife Management Area.  The vehicle was comfortable and had window we could photograph through as well has the big open back deck for unobstructed photographs.  They move slowly, but there is no other vehicle which can cover this territory without damage to the environment.

male polar bear

bear buggy polar bears
Guests photograph from the windows of the bear vehicle
A vehicle for traveling into the Wildlife Management Area

We had many bear sightings  in the bear vehicle.  We tracked a mother and two cubs for a long time as they advanced to a half frozen creek. Our best encounter was a male bear who took a nap right near our vehicle.  He gave us a great display while he rolled and rubbed.  He changed places and went back to sleep.

arctic hare
An arctic hare
Funny polar bear
A male polar bear strikes some funny poses while scratching and stretching

An arctic hare whose size was surprising gave a good photo opportunity before bounding off. We also found several snowy owls.  Many of the sightings were due to the expert spotting skills of our driver and guide – they knew where to look and positioned the vehicle for great views.

northern lights
We were lucky enough to have Northern Lights for a few hours on a clear evening

Our 2nd night was clear and we were treated to Northern Lights early in the evening.  It was cold but worth the bundling to set up our tripods and cameras to try to capture the magic of the lights.

photographing polar bears
The group gets out and sets up using tripods and the bear comes closer

polar bear photo tour

On our last day we were back with our private van and guide.  We had a great encounter with a male bear who was walking toward our van then crossed the road right in front of us then kept going into the rough. We are able to get out of the van and use tripods.  When the bear went out of range, we changed course to intercept it down the road.

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

We had several more snowy owls, ptarmigans, and a fox this afternoon.  Our last encounter of the day happened as the weather turned to blowing snow. A young bear was lying down near at the quarry.  He looked sad as if his mother would not let him follow her anymore.

polar bear photography workshop
A young bear sits high up at the quarry

Our day ended in town at a restaurant and then straight onto the airport and our flight back to Winnipeg.


plane crash

Mounty Moose
Local mascot welcomes guests to Churchill

It was a great trip full of great chances to photograph polar bears and wildlife.  We are grateful for the opportunity to stay at the Northern Studies Centre for a quality yet affordable trip packed with wildlife and photography.


Get information about our next Polar Bears in Churchill Trip


2017 A Year of Wildlife Photography all over the World

This year my photo tours took me all over the world.

Each location yielded great photo opportunities for my guests and many had achieved the fulfillment of a travel dream.

To commemorate the end of 2017, I have chosen these images.

Next year will also be filled with travel, photo tours , wonderful wildlife encounters.


Swim with Sailfish Mexico
Sailfish, Isla Mujeres Mexico

March / April

TIger Shark
Tiger Shark, Bahamas
Great Hammerhead
Great Hammerhead, Bimini Bahamas
Dive with Tiger Sharks
Photographing Tiger Sharks, Bahamas



photograph safari with lions
Lion Cubs at play, Botswana
Photo Safari to South Africa
Elephants, Botswana


Giant Manta Ray
Giant Manta Ray, Isla Mujeres Mexico
Swim with Whale Sharks
Swimming with Whale Sharks, Mexico
Whale Shark
Whale Shark, Mexico


American Crocodile
American Crocodile, Chinchorro, Mexico


Photographing giraffes
Mother and Baby Giraffe, South Africa
photograph Leopards
Leopard, Sabi Sands in South Africa
Photograph Lions in South Africa
Lions hunting buffalo, South Africa


Great White Shark
Great White Shark, Guadalupe
Sea Otter
Sea Otters, Northern California
Mako Shark
Mako Shark, Southern California
Polar Bears in Churchill
Polar Bears, Churchill Canada


Dugong, Philippines


Pygmy Seahorse
Pygmy Seahorse, Anilao Philippines

Underwater Adventures 2018 Newsletter

Underwater Trips Website

My Safaris  Detail


Scuba with American Crocodiles in Chinchorro, Mexico

Photographing American Crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro, Quintana Roo, Mexico (Cancun area)

With Reef diving at Chinchorro

This is a place few people have been to and a chance to see and photograph pristine Caribbean reefs and also get close to the rare and endangered American Crocodile

Visit my website
photographing crocodiles in Chinchorro
Photographers get in the water 2 at a time with a guide providing lookout and safety
crocodile adventure
My Group of photographers arrives at the fish hut at Chinchorro Atoll


Chinchorro Atoll (Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve) is the best place in the world to get close to American crocodiles. Located south of Cancun, Mexico and near the Belize border. The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve is the largest stand – alone reef in the Northern hemisphere and one of the healthiest. Currently only 1,928 hectares of the 144k hectares are zoned for diving and fewer than one thousand divers get to see these remote and unspoiled dive sites per year. It teems with fish and other sea life, and contains more than 100 shipwrecks as well as the largest population of American crocodiles found in the Americas.

Chinchorro Atoll home to crocodiles
The fishing huts at Chichorro Atoll, 3 hours off shore of Xcalak, Mexico
American Crocodile
A croc swims toward us to see whats going on at the fish hut

This July, myself and 6 guests traveled on a unique adventure to see American Crocodiles and dive these beautiful and remote reefs. This is a safe encounter with guides who have done years of experimentation and careful planning to make this safe. Our outfitter and guides in Xcalak: XTC Dive Center,  were the first operator to organize croc encounters in Chinchorro and they remain the only dive operator with an official concession. They are committed to sustainable tourism and conservation.

We  started out at the beautiful beachside resort in Xcalak for some amazing dives. The reefs are healthy and colorful with many fish.  Some dives we encountered turtles.  Manatees are resident and we were lucky enough to have a visit from one while on a dive.

The dives are  shallows and some deep walls covered in healthy sponges and large stands of black coral. There are several wrecks and plenty of large and small fish species.

Reef dive at Xcalak

Our Hotel at Xcalak


On the Chinchorro Banks, we stayed in utilitarian fishing huts on stilts over the shallow waters in a lagoon surrounded by the reefs: 36 nautical miles off shore and across from Xcalak, Mexico.   (2 -4 hours boat ride)

fishing huts Chichorro crocodiles
The fish hut. Others in the area are still actively used by fishermen
fishing huts Chinchorro
Inside the rustic fish huts showing our hammocks which were outfitted with mosquito nets

Each morning we dive and while taking in the pristine reefs and marine life, we hunt lionfish. There is a duo purpose in this; to help eliminate the invasive lionfish population and to get food to attract the crocs. Guests are also invited to participate in the spear fishing of the lionfish and will be equipped and taught the safest techniques.

photographing crocodiles in Chinchorro Mexico
a photographer gets pictures of a relaxed croc

This is a remote adventure at its best: The fisherman’s’ hunts have no wifi, cell phone, mobile services, no running water, only marine toilets, and 2 or more hours from shore. Guests and I slept in hammocks in the huts and delicious food was prepared and cooked by our boat captains with the aide of a small generator and ice storage chests (all food must be transferred out with us). We also  had the chance to buy fresh catch from passing fishermen to make a special, though rustic feast.

feeding lion fish to crocodiles
Our guide empties out our lionfish captured on our dive. they will be bait for the crocs

At Chinchorro, we are surrounded by water and 700 American crocodiles and a few fishermen. We photograph the crocs when they show up at midday (after they warm up) in the 1.2m deep water around our huts. We are able to maintain a level of safety even when we are getting up close due to the experience of our guides. A safety diver and guide are nearby with a pole to ward off any advances from excited crocodiles.  We took turns two at a time. We had between 1 and 5 crocs close by with still more in the area during our sessions Generally they are extremely well behaved and tolerant of divers getting close. They are rewarded with the captured lionfish.

photograph crocodiles in Mexico

swim with crocodiles in Mexico


The Whale Sharks were Extra Special this year


We spent 4 days on the water and 5 nights on Isla Mujeres.  Always a fun place with great food, we had nonstop whale shark encounters to keep us busy on our 4 days on the water.  We also had a few manta sightings and 1 good photography session with them.

swim with whale sharks
whale shark swims underwater with mouth wide open to feed. front view

Find out more about the whale shark portion of the trip: Whale Sharks 

and my Trip Log

Ready to Jump in Next Year?

If ancient reptiles and remote adventure is calling to you, get more information on price and availability from Gregory Sweeney at www.GregorySweeney.com

Trip Specifics


2 Days scuba diving (2 tank dives) in Xcalak in the Reef National Marine Park

3 days snorkel with crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve

4 nights hotel  in Xcalak (we keep our rooms while at crocs)

2 nights accommodation in Chinchorro in rustic/ basic fishing huts

Morning dives at Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve to gather invasive lionfish

Tanks, weights, dive master, guide at Chinchorro

All meals while at Chinchorro Atoll

Breakfast and Lunch while in Xcalak

Transfers to/from Cancun Airport ( or other location TBD – 6 hour journey)


All fishing huts are shared and we sleep in hammocks.



July 19 – 24 Whale Shark photography adventure on Isla Mujeres
July 24 Transfer to Xcalak
July 25 2 dives on reefs
July 26 Transfer by boat to Chinchorro Day 1 Crocodile Encounter at Fishing Huts – 3 hour boat ride
July 27 Day 2 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 2 at Fishing Huts
July 28 Day 3 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – afternoon return to Xcalak
July 29 reef diving, Xcalak
July 30 Transfer back to Cancun area

Limited spaces – contact me with questions or to reserve your space



Favorite Moments from the May 2017 Safaris

My two May 2017 safaris were filled with special wildlife encounters, good weather, good company with some really terrific guests.  I have presented below what I felt were themes present in each safari that made it special.

hyena drinking
A hyena gets a drink after a meal
open safari vehicle
Photographing from the open safari vehicle
Learn about my Photo Safaris in South Africa on my website:  http://www.AfricaWildSafaris.net

The Magic Effects of Africa:

I was delighted to have families and friends traveling together among my photo safari guests.  They were fun and engaging and quickly fell under the spell of the South African bushveld thrilling at  the huge expanse of stars at night, and the way South Africa and the wildlife had a relaxing and healing effect.  Everyone enjoyed the tree houses and the fun and uniquely African touches like outside showers featured at the lodges.

bush babies
Bush Babies often nest in thatch roof and are seen each evening as they leave

Conservation and Education

Our guests are always very interested in learning about wildlife conservation and our rangers, guides, and hosts  tell them the real story behind poaching in our area, wildlife rehabilitation, national parks, and how wildlife reserves operate.  We want our guests to understand the animals they see and their role in a healthy environment.  Also, it is necessary to understand the challenges faced by wildlife in South Africa.  Our guests were so moved by a lion and rhino poaching presentation that we invited the founders of Flying for Rhinos to detail the work they do to help anti-poaching efforts.  They returned with plans to have fundraisers to help this organization. They also were delighted to see several wild white rhinos in Kruger and were able to photograph a very rare encounter with a black rhino.

Black Rhino
A young black rhino bull challenges our vehicle
White Rhino in South Africa
White Rhino
Vulture feeding
At the wildlife rehab centre a guest learns about the role of vultures and gets up close to a bird undergoing treatment for poisoning

Getting Close

Our guests were surprised how close we can get to the animals:  My longest lens is a 400mm,  but I use my 70 – 200mm or 100 – 400mm  for most images.  Our drivers know their reserves very well and can track prides of lions, rhino, and herds of buffalo day to day.  When we find the animals we can get close up and detailed images of elephants, big cats, and giraffes.

wild dogs
A close wild dog encounter
leopard profile
a leopard profile in the late afternoon light

Sometimes we are too close for some of our lenses and have to back off, but we can also get some really great images that isolate different parts of the animal’s anatomy

Lion Paw
Close up of a lion paw
elephant skin
elephant tail and skin texture
elephant and game drive vehicle
getting close to elephants

Behavior and interaction

We highlight the relationships and interactions between species.  When we see buffalo we will also see oxpeckers cleaning parasites off of the buffalo.

buffalo and oxpeckers
oxpeckers remove parasites from the buffalo so they tolerate them even when they clean out the ears.
red billed oxpecker
Oxpeckers also issue warnings when predators approach – they want to protect their food source which are prey animals

We were thrilled to witness an unusual coalition of 5 adult male lions who live, defend territory, and share female pride members.  It was a bit intimidating to be so close to these large and intimidating beasts.

male lions
A coalition of 5 male lions controls this territory

Wildlife Families

We were lucky enough to encounter several prides of lions with cubs.  Most had cubs in a range of ages.  We enjoyed watching and photographing the cubs playing and interacting with their parents.  There were some great moments of a mother’s care and love for her cubs.

lion mother and cub
A mother fakes annoyance at a playful cub
lion cubs playing
A burst of play stops the walk

Young giraffes stayed close to their mothers and baby elephants were kept safely in among the herd by the older females.

Mother and baby giraffe
Mother and young giraffe
baby hyena and mother
A hyena mother brings a meal for the pups


Birds are very prevalent now that the weather has returned to normal and provided abundant food for them.  We always see the spectacular lilac breasted roller. It lights on branches near the dirt roads so we can get images of this colorful bird with shorter lenses.

We also sighted the large predatory birds; Kori Bustard and secretary bird.

Kori Bustard seen on photo safari
The Kori Bustard is the largest flying bird in Africa
secretary bird
A secretary bird “walking eagle”

Hornbills are charismatic to photograph and we found the less common red billed hornbill and the even more rare grey hornbill.

grey hornbill in South Africa
Grey hornbill has just caught a grasshopper


We get great close up portraits of animals, but it is the wide shots that can translate the beauty and mood of South Africa: the sunsetting behind a giraffe as she eats and wildebeest feeding in the early morning fog.

Giraffe at sunset
Giraffe at sunset
wildebeest in the mist
wildebeest moving in the early morning mist

Beauty is also in the small details like dew on a spiderweb.

close up of a spiderweb
Detail of an orb spiderweb

It was a fantastically successful two safari groups with every guest returning with  good images of a huge variety of species: more high quality sightings than they expected .  I want to thank all of the guests who made these trips so much fun with good conversation, nights on the deck watching nocturnal animals, great questions, and most of all  continuing friendships and forming new friendships.  I sincerely hope they can all return again in the future.

Read More on My Blog

Creative Ways to Photograph Elephants

Using the new Lightroom : Dehaze tool on Safari Images

Our 2018 Safari Dates

Safari Diary: First Games Drives with Lions and Rhinos

Photographing Elephants: 10 Ways to be Creative with Elephants

10 Creative Ways to Photograph Elephants

Elephants are frequently our photo subjects while on safari.  Their size, shape, intelligence, and trunk are just a few things that make them great subjects and very interesting.  There are many opportunities for unique, beautiful, and descriptive images of elephants.

Close details

Elephants are very unique in shape and texture. Images showing the whole elephant(s) are great to show the elephant in its environment, but can not describe the all the unique features and details of an elephant. Taking close up images of the trunk in action, tusks, skin, eyes, and ears gives your audience a chance to focus in on details and discover shapes and colors and learn about elephants in more detail.


Photographing Elephants
Elephant eye

Using perspective and symmetry

elephant family walks in a line

Elephants come in all sizes and travel in herds so highlight these different sizes and ages in a way that gives geometric order and symmetry to your image. Contrast of size creating perspective lines vanishing into the horizon is a pleasing effect. Elephants will often line up and if you are patient you can grab moments when trunks, ear, etc are pleasingly arranged symmetrically.

Interaction with other elephants

Elephants are social animals and this gives many interaction moments to photograph. Sometimes the golden moment is a hidden detail in a wider image. Cropping can highlight this “picture in a picture” moment between two elephants. Elephants also have greetings, reassuring gestures, and rank showing moves that you can watch and wait for then highlight through cropping and framing the images

A tender moment between mother and calf is hidden inside the wider image


Interaction with other species

An elephant chases zebras out of the watering hole

Showing how elephants interact with other species is capturing their role in their environment. Other species feel safe near elephants and trust their strength, awareness, and intelligence. You can photograph mixed herds, birds that groom elephants, and when they assert their dominance.

Showing scale

Obviously their size is a major feature of elephants. Showing large and small elephants together is not always enough to communicate their size. Try to show other animals such as zebra which are a familiar size to your audience to show how large they are. Manmade objects like vehicles are a good contrast as well.

Movement / Behavior

With their unique body form and parts, photographing how the elephant and its parts moves adds another dimension to your illustration of elephants. Also try to isolate and highlight unique behaviors of the elephants such as mock fighting, and the million ways they use their trunks for different things

Take the usual front view and side views to new levels

Front and 3/4

¾ is a flattering angle that has been drilled into us for portraits, but a straight on frame filling front view is eye catching. A creative crop creates interesting negative space and also increases the impact


Elephants have an interesting shape so a side view shows off this shape. Think about negative space and other elements to contrast the rounded lines of the elephant such as straight trees or grass


Elephant rears are unique and large with great tails. A nicely framed rear shot shows the elephants in and interacting with their environment. Walking off “into the sunset” communicates that these elephants are wild and free.

Personality / Cute Babies

Elephants appear to have individual personalities and we often can see some of ourselves in their movement, behavior, and interaction. Anytime we can photograph this connect to ourselves it makes a more impactful image. They show happiness, companionship, nervousness, and aggravation through their actions and interactions. Capture moments of joy when they are in the water or doing something crazy.

You can see the joy when elephants get into the water
This elephant is using a very short scratching post – we had a good laugh at this

Elephant babies are very cute and are well looked after by their mothers and other herd members: it is not hard to capture intimate moments between mothers and babies.

Shape Silhouette

Sometimes lighting on a safari is challenging, but taking bad lighting and turning it into a silhouette shot can give you a special image. Elephant’s unique shape works very well against a sunset.


When you get out on safari and see elephants, get to know them and capture some images that illustrate everything that is fun, interesting, and unique about them.  There are not many subjects so expressive and charismatic.

Other Related Posts

Safari Story: Elephants at the Mudbath

Post Processing: 1 photo 3 ways

Dynamic Black and White Safari Images

Our photo Safaris in 2018


Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Dive 2017

Tiger Sharks and Hammerheads Dive Trip in Bahamas

see our trips for 2018  at www.TigerSharkDive.com  and www.GregorySweeney.com

Trip Report 2017

This year was our first year combining Tiger Sharks at Tiger Beach and Hammerheads in Bimini.  Of course we also had the bull sharks, lemons, caribbean reefs sharks.

Hammerhead dive liveaboard in Bahamas
Hammerhead eating some fish
Hammerhead dive in Bimini
Hammerhead in a cloud of fish
Tiger Beach Bahamas
Tiger Shark
Tiger shark diving in Bahamas
Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark

Shark diving
Lemon Sharks attracted to the back of our boat
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
MV Dolphin Dream
Our Boat



Swim with Whale Sharks in Mexico – Great Things About Isla Mujeres

Private charter for whale sharks
Our boat captains are good at dropping us ahead of the moving whale sharks so as to get the front on shots

Isla Mujeres is a great base for your Whale Shark Adventure

After a day out on the water with the Whale Sharks and Mantas, it is great to relax and dry out with a walk around through the streets of Isla Mujeres.  Lined with fun shops and great restaurants, it is safe and full of the festive feeling of Mexico.

Great Places to Eat

After many years of leading Sailfish and Whale Shark trips to Isla Mujeres, I have found some really great restaurants both formal and hole in the wall.  I think I can say I have never had a bad meal here and in fact had many great ones and all at a great or reasonable value.

Here is a few of my favorites:

  • Olivia (Mediterranean and Vegetarian)
  • Pita Amore
  • Jax
  • La Lamida
  • Rooster
  • Rolandi


Count the Whale Shark Murals

In the last few years, murals of whale sharks, sailfish, and mantas have sprouted up all over town.  It is a great street photography outing to find and photograph the best all over town.

whale shark mural
One of the colorful murals in Isla Mujeres honoring the whale sharks

Unique Shopping – Bazaar and High End

The colorful shops are full of handmade Mexican items ideal for souvenirs and gifts to take home.

Relaxation Opportunities

For a day off, there are beaches perfect for swimming and sunning: there might even be a hammock with your name on it.  Picture a pool with a view of the beach.  A ride to the south of the island takes you to a park and ruins.  Numerous dive shops will give you opportunities for diving around the island.  The Underwater Statue Museum is a unique experience.

The pool at our beachside hotel
Most come for the unequalled marine wildlife encounters, but Isla Mujeres is a holiday destination by itself.


Get details about the trip on our website  My next Whale Shark & Manta Trip
See my whale shark images on my Gallery Website







Sailfish and Sardine Run Trip Report 2017

Sailfish and Sardines in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Trip Report 2017

2017 Highlights: Sailfish along with bonus Whale Sharks, Dolphins, and Giant Manta Rays.

2 spaces left on our 2018 Sailfish Expedition

Private charter for sailfish and sardine run mexico
Sailfish maintain the baitball close to the surface and wait their turn

This year I lead 2 groups down to Isla Mujeres for the Sardine Run.  Each group was on our charter boat for 5 full days on the water.

This year’s experience demonstrated to all of us how the sardines and sailfish are just two pieces of a larger ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico.  We encountered Whale Sharks, Giant Mantas, Sailfish , and Dolphins all feeding in food rich waters.  The sardines are there to feed on the plankton  and krill and they attract all the species that want to eat sardines such as the sailfish and dolphins.  We were excited to see so many different species out in the open blue water.

Photograph sailfish in Mexico
A guest photographs among a group of sailfish in a coordinated attack on the baitball

On our first day when we found the dolphins we thought we had found a pod feeding on sardines and perhaps the same bait school that some sailfish were working,  but this was not the case.  In fact the encounter was more unusual:  this was a pod in the act of mating.  The frenzied males were chasing the females and competing with each other to dominate her. They paid no notice to us as we swam along and photographed them.

pod of dolphins
We were able to swim with a pod of dolphins
sailfish Mexico
Sailfish and sardines

Over the next few days we found some sailfish.  The captain and crew must look for frigate birds diving into the water.  This is a sign that sardines or other food is near the surface.  Spotting the surface disturbance of the sailfish or sardines would be impossible so the birds are the best method to find Sailfish.  We are very lucky to work with experienced and patient captains for have loads of experience in these waters.  They found us several chances to “drop” us  in the water  with sailfish.

Captain of Sailfish Charter boat
Our Captain searching for birds, sardines, and sailfish
Sailfish Charter Boat
Our boat has located a flock of frigate birds which means sailfish and sardines below
Frigate birds
Captains look for Frigate Birds which flock around sardines close to the surface
snorkel with sailfish
The water is warm enough for 3mm wetsuits or less

Once in the water it is some fast surface swimming to catch up to the moving baitball.  I have found that it is easier to keep up with a group of sailfish who are managing a smaller baitball. The large schools of sardines  move and break apart to rapidly.

sailfish and baitball
Bait Ball: the sailfish like to keep the ball tight and close to the surface
Swim with sailfish Mexico
Sailfish and baitball

The sailfish work together to trap the sardines near the surface. The birds are diving down to grab fish at the same time as sailfish take turns running into the baitball and swatting at the fish to stun them.  They then eat fish that are stunned and separated from the ball.  Then a another makes a run. The sailfish flash colors and their “sail” fins as a means of communication.  This action makes for great video.

Snorkel with Sailfish
Guests enjoying the search for sailfish

It can be a long day of searching for sailfish so on a less productive day we  tried a different area and were excited to find  feeding whale sharks and giant mantas.  These two species are known to aggregate in these waters in the summer months, so it is unusual to find them in the winter.  We had nice long encounters with the whale sharks.  The giant mantas swam in loops while they fed.  I was able to take many images of their individualized markings.  I submit all my manta photos to the local Manta Trust .  They confirmed that these are mantas that have been documented in the area during summer concluding that there is a resident population – very exciting!

Isla Mujeres Whale Shark
On one of the days we could not find the sailfish, we found whale sharks
Whale Shark
Whale shark feeding on the same food that the sardines enjoy
Giant Manta Ray
We found a group of mantas and whale sharks drawn to the food the sardines also eat. They were willing subjects for a long time.
Snorkel with manta rays
A guest free dives to photograph a manta

All of my guests had some great images and were pleased with the surprise species encounters and with the fact that we were able to find sailfish.  I wish to thank all of them for making this an enjoyable trip for everyone.  I hope to see them on a future trip.


I was very conscious of baggage volume and weight when I made  my equipment choices.  My biggest decision was between my 16 – 35mm lens and the fish eye.  I have used both before for sailfish.  While the images with the fisheye were nice, one drawback was how close you need to be to get a good shot. Also if you get too close, your subject gets distorted at the edges of the image.  I did not want to bring both or switch my equipment halfway through, so I opted for the 16 – 35mm.

I have a Nauticam housing with my best glass dome port.  I also had  a 2nd 5DMKIII as a backup and set for land images.  No strobes as they would just slow down my swimming.

I have had my housing from my old Canon 5DII converted to fit my 2nd 5D III or a future RS.  I like things to be interchangeable and to carry less equipment.

My initial setup was thus:

Canon 5D MKIV  with a 16 – 35mm lens  ISO  400  1/320 and f5.6

When  conditions were cloudy or if the action was further below the surface,  I stayed in the ISO 400 – 640 range, Shutter priority.  For the sunny days and surface shots, I would dial things down.

The subjects are alway moving so a center weighted autofocus mode is important as is keeping the shutter fast enough to get crisp images.


Private Charter swim with Sailfish
Our boat as we swim back for another drop on the baitball


You can enjoy my sailfish images from past seasons in my online gallery

Online Gallery of Sailfish and Other Underwater Images

Dates for my Next Sailfish Trip

Sailfish Hunting Article

Staying on Isla Mujeres

As always, Isla Mujeres is a fun and comfortable home base for this adventure (and our whale shark trip in the summer).  Our hotel is close to the dock and restaurants, while being a quiet place to rest.

Pool at our hotel

Restaurant in Isla Mujeres
One of the colorful restaurants in town

There is a nice pool which leads down to the beach.  The rooms have AC and many have a balcony facing the water.

Sailfish Statue
Isla Mujeres is a destination for beach goers and sport fishermen practicing catch and release
Isla Mujeres Sailfish
One of the many colorful murals around town

Sailfish Group Trip

There are many good restaurants in town and food is very economical (average of $30 total for  dinner) .   We feasted on fresh fish, Mediterranean dishes, local tastes, and Cuban. I have been going so many years now that I have a list of the best places to please all my guests.

Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish
The first group out at one of the excellent and economical restaurants in Isla Mujeres

The shops are colorful and the people are friendly and we enjoyed just walking around town.   The guests and I  had happy hour around the pool with great conversations .

I hope to share another adventure with each of them and I am already looking forward to my next visit to Isla Mujeres.

Join my next Sailfish or other underwater adventure


Sailfish & Sardine Adventure for Feb 2019

A Special Opportunity to Join a Most Exciting Marine Wildlife Encounter

Sailfish Hunting Bait Balls in Isla Mujeres

Our next adventure will be  January 2019

5 boat days for sailfish

Limited to 5 guests

swim with sailfish and sardine run
A guest snorkels while photographing sailfish

Photograph and free dive with sailfish hunting sardines in the blue water off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Our private charter leaves daily from the docks of Isla Mujeres for an 8 hour day of maximum time in the water photographing and enjoying this incredible encounter.

Only snorkeling gear is required and the action happens at or a meter or two below the surface. We charter the most experienced sport fishing guides who know the water and patterns of the sardines and predators.

Limited to 5 passengers on boat plus guide and crew. This is an excellent opportunity for photographers to capture dramatic images and video.  Freediving and excellent swimming skills are recommended in order to enjoy this athletic experience.

sailfish and sardine run Mexico
A sailfish has snagged a sardine from the bait ball and eats it, Gulf of Mexico

Read my article about Swimming with Sailfish  from Underwater Photographer Magazine Issue#71

 Images and Trip Reports:

Trip Report 2016

Trip Report 2017

Sailfish Image Gallery 

Trip Details on my Website

Comments from our Guests:

The trip was fantastic.  Excellent itinerary and well organized.  I saw way more sailfish than I ever expected and was much closer than I thought possible.  My friends are amazed by the photos I took.  I got a really good shot of you that I attached.  Many thanks to you and Karen.  Michael and I are spreading the word about a trip to Africa.  Great trip and hope to see you again” ——- Kurt Bitters

“Had a great time in the water and topside. And, I salute your restaurant selections! I’ll be back for more… you’re a topnotch guide and host.  I will be back for more.”

— Bob Pooley



The hotel has a private beach with pool and deck. The rooms are ensuite with a balcony, AC, and wifi. Upgraded rooms are available at extra cost. The town of Isla Mujeres is safe and features many great restaurants, shops, beaches, bars, and a park. It is an easy ferry ride from Cancun.

I will need a minimum of 4 guests to make this trip happen and a max of 5 to allow for uncrowded boat and encounters.


Please contact me soon with your interest so I finalize bookings and make sure I get space on the fleet’s and hotel’s busy in season schedule. Contact Me

Get more details & images on our website

Contact us to reserve your spot 

Follow our adventures on safari in South Africa and underwater