Favorite Safari Images from September 2018

Images from my September 2018 Safaris

Animal Portraits & Action Captures

Each safari brings a wealth of wildlife encounters for my guests.  I feel like I have come to know some of these animals through multiple sightings from year to year.

Safari images taken in South Africa can be very intimate since we are often able to get very close to the wildlife.  Between our proximity and our medium range lenses, it is possible to get eye to eye portraits of our subjects displaying all the details of their faces and sometimes even reading their story in their eyes.

In contrast we are often witness to fast moving moments in the animals life played out right in front of our cameras and safari vehicle.

Find out about my next Photo Safari

I thought it would be nice to precent couplets of images contrasting these two common image styles. Each was taken while in the Greater Kruger Park private reserves, Kruger Park, and the Sabi Sands Reserve.

The lenses used were my

Canon EF 24 – 105 F 4 IS  and my EF 100 – 400mm F4.5 – 5.6L IS II

Lions

Lion on a termite mound

Resting like a typical cat, this lion surveys her surroundings from a mound

young lions spar with each other

Elephant

new born elephant
The family moves away from the newborn elephant giving us a clear shot
elephants at wateringhole
One of the funniest elephant incidents I have ever seen: an older elephant refuses to let the young one drink the fresh water.

Leopard

Male Leopard
Grumpy leopard sits guard below the tree holding his kill
leopard with kill
A young female leopard brings a rabbit kill to her cubs

Cheetah

Cheetah
The watchful glance of a cheetah mother (with a damaged eye)
Cheetahs
Cheetah cubs and their mother wrestle

Jackal

(ok, not an action shot exactly, but a neat contrast between adult and cub)

Adult Jackal
jackal cub
A black backed jackal cub calls to an adult

Rhino

White Rhino
A white rhino stares us down at close range – luckily they are more calm than black rhino
Black Rhino Aggression
A black rhino gives us a warning display giving us the clear message that he is tired of our vehicle in his view.

Wild Dog

Wild Dog
A Wild Dog stops moving long enough to get a detailed frontal shot
Wild Dogs
Wild Dogs play both for fun and to establish rank in the pack

Love the feeling I get on safari as if I am part of these animals’ daily life. A precious few hours spent in their world indeed!

I hope you enjoyed my selections and pairings and found inspiration in them.

Whale Sharks 2018 Trip Report

Whale Sharks Season 2018

Giant Mants

This year was characterized by the number and quality of giant manta ray sightings we enjoyed.  Our guests were very happy to be able to get in the water with groups of them on several occasions.  Our boat captains have become quite good at finding mantas while on our way to the whale shark aggregation.

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres

We enjoyed great weather on most of the days.  One of the days we returned at the end of the day in a storm, but we have always been lucky to avoid any tropical storms by visiting in July.  The whale sharks were at peak numbers and very concentrated around food sources which lay on the surface.

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres Drone shot Whale Sharks

The guests had many chances to get in the water each day with the whale sharks enjoying clear water and calm seas.  The whale sharks were feeding on the surface making it easy to snorkel and to make great images.

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres

It is special to see a whale shark feed in a vertical position: the locals call it “bottle feeding” .  This can last for quite a while with the whale shark pumping its mouth open and closed close to the surface in order to draw in large volumes of water.  A majestic spectacle!

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres

In more than 8 years of visits this one stands out as one of the best.  I had the company of some great people, Mind blowing wildlife encounters, some good food and drink, and great photography.

Giant Manta Giant Manta

I will return again in 2019 with a new group of people to share this must do, awesome experience with.

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres

Get Details about my 2019 Trip

I will also be pairing this trip with American Crocodiles in Chinchorro, Mexico (a few hours S. of Cancun)

Crocodiles 2019 Trip Details

 

 

 

 

 

Crocodiles in Chinchorro Atoll 2018 Trip Report

Photographing American Crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro, Quintana Roo, Mexico (Cancun area) 2018

With Reef diving at Chinchorro

This was my 2nd trip to Chinchorro for crocodiles, but for all my guests this was their first encounter so close to reptile predators.

Crocodiles in Mexico
Chinchorro Atoll with the fishing huts and eelgrass huts

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

Banco Chinchorro Crocs
One of the guests gets a close up action shot

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photographing Crocodiles crocodiles Chinchorro

Summary:

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.

Crocodiles in Mexico

Crocodiles Chinchorro
Guests relax and get used to their hammocks

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. This year they were training a new guide to work with the guests and crocodiles.

Crocodiles in Chinchorro
The fish huts at Chinchorro

The weather was very nice and calm for our visit.  The hurricane season has so far been quiet this year.  We  started out at the beautiful beachside resort in Xcalak for some amazing dives. The reefs are healthy and colorful with many fish.  Again this year we found ourselves watching a manatee as we dived.

Crocodiles in Chinchorro
The rustic fish huts with hammocks
Crocodiles Mexico
Our beachside hotel in Xcalak

We made the crossing to Chinchorro on our 3 day in Xcalak. The water was smooth on the way out.  At the fish huts we found that the water would change from a tea green hue to a clear blue color depending on the tide level.

Crocodiles in Chinchorro
Our fish hut and boat
Crocodiles in Mexico
Guides collect invasive lionfish to feed to the crocs

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.

Crocodiles at Chinchorro photographing crocodiles

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). Since there are fishermen in the other huts, we also  had the chance to buy fresh catch from passing fishermen to make a special, though rustic feast.

Crocodile at Banco Chinchorro

When the crocs come in as per their daily schedule, we would go in pairs into the water with our guide and the junior guide to watch over our safety and to manipulate the bait.  They are really good at reading the crocs and they are able to get the croc into different poses so we get a variety of good images.

Crocodiles in Chinchorro
One of my favorite dives at Xcalak has dozens of resting tarpon

It was a great trip and everyone came away with some great images. It was certainly a great time being relaxed and unplugged out in the remote marine environment.  We returned to Xcalak for another day of diving and a return to Cancun.  Some of the guests joined me for the Whale Shark Aggregation on Isla Mujeres.

Crocodiles at Chinchorro

The Whale Sharks were Extra Special this year and loads of Manta Rays!

We spent 4 days on the water and 5 nights on Isla Mujeres for the Whale Shark Aggregation.  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 great manta sightings .  The water was clear and blue and the weather was very nice with mostly flat water throughout my 3 weeks in

Whale Shark
Whale Shark, Mexico

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 – Crocs

Trip Specifics

Included

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.

Itinerary

 

July 30 Transfer to Xcalak
July 31 2 dives on reefs
Aug 1 Transfer by boat to Chinchorro Day 1 Crocodile Encounter at Fishing Huts – 3 hour boat ride
Aug 2 Day 2 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 2 at Fishing Huts
Aug 3 Day 3 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – afternoon return to Xcalak
Aug 4 reef diving, Xcalak
Aug 5 Transfer back to Cancun area
Aug 6 – 11 Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres (optional)

 

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

info@gregorysweeney.com

http://www.gregorysweeney.com

 

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

DSLR 

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.

Mirrorless

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

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.

Strobes

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
Settings
Exposure

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
Behavior

 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.

Ptarigan
Ptarigan
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.

January/February

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

April

May

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

June

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

July

American Crocodile
American Crocodile, Chinchorro, Mexico

September

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

October

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

November

Dugong
Dugong, Philippines

December

Pygmy Seahorse
Pygmy Seahorse, Anilao Philippines

Underwater Adventures 2018 Newsletter

Underwater Trips Website

My Safaris  Detail

 

Whale Sharks 2017 – Amazing Encounters at Isla Mujeres Mexico

Whale Sharks Season 2017

My whale shark season started down in Xcalak, Mexico just south of Cancun  where I did something really unique: got in the shallow water with American Crocodiles.!  We survived and some of us came back north to Isla Mujeres for an opposite experience swimming with gentle giants in the open water.

( interested in the Crocodiles for next year?)

swim with whale sharks in Mexico
My 1st group of excited guests ready to swim with whale sharks

A Very Good Season

Isla Mujeres is fun as always with some new restaurants to try and all the old favorites.  It seems like there is a new whale shark or marine conservation themed mural going up each year.

whale shark mural
One of the colorful murals in Isla Mujeres honoring the whale sharks
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
A view of the northern end of the Isla Mujeres. We stay at a hotel just down the beach from the pyramid shaped one

The weather was settled with clear skies and beautiful water conditions for photography.  Each morning we would board the boat and head out to where the captains estimated the aggregation would be – it can move overnight depending on wind, currents, and activity of the plankton food mass.   We had no trouble finding them in short order.

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

This year I photographed with my Canon 5D IV and EF 15mm Fisheye f2.5

whale shark at the surface
A whale shark slowly swims while feeding at the surface

We would have several good “drops” into the water by mid morning.  Often we could follow one individual and when they got ahead of us just stay in place because another whale shark or two was on its way straight to us.  If none where nearby, the captain would come pick us up and take us back into the action and drop us again.

 

Occasionally we would get into an area with other boats of guests taking turns at swimming.  No matter, because we could take a break while they had their chance then soon packed up to return to the mainland.  We were out early and would stay late so we had plenty of time.  By mid afternoon we were usually the only boat remaining.  Some private time!

private charter for Whale Sharks
One of our boats ready to take us out
A sign at the docks explaining the rules and feeding of the whale shark

Giant Manta Rays

We would keep watch for mantas and would devote some time to looking for them either on our way to and from or when we needed a break form the whale sharks.  We found them several times and had a good in water session with one of the groups of mantas.  It is always harder to find mantas since they do not always feed on the surface and they do not have the large fins showing above water like the whale sharks to give them away.

swim with manta ray Isla mujeres
A lucky encounter with a giant manta ray

A Great Trip Out of the Water Too

We would return to the island in the late afternoon.  It was great to relax in or by the pool before changing and having a bit of technology time.  We had so many nice places to choose from for meals, all a short walk from the hotel.

The pool at our beachside hotel
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

The food and atmosphere on Isla Mujeres is wonderful and really makes this a great getaway.  It all ended too soon:  this was exceptional season for the whale sharks.

I want to thank all of the wonderful and interesting people who were my guests this year.  They made it so much fun and I enjoyed conversations with them and helping them with their photography.

Swim with whale shark small group charter
My 2nd group of guests for the whale shark swim

I always leave looking forward to next visit

see my dates for next year

Trip Reports from my other Photography Trips in Mexico

Whale Sharks 2016

Swim with Sailfish and Baitballs at Isla Mujeres

American Crocodiles in Mexico

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

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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

Summary:

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

Included

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.

Itinerary

 

July 30 Transfer to Xcalak
July 31 2 dives on reefs
Aug 1 Transfer by boat to Chinchorro Day 1 Crocodile Encounter at Fishing Huts – 3 hour boat ride
Aug 2 Day 2 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 2 at Fishing Huts
Aug 3 Day 3 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – afternoon return to Xcalak
Aug 4 reef diving, Xcalak
Aug 5 Transfer back to Cancun area
Aug 6 – 11 Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres (optional)

 

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

info@gregorysweeney.com

http://www.gregorysweeney.com

Correcting an Underwater Image Taken Without Flash

My underwater image of a tiger shark swimming over eel grass needed some processing to make it into something worthy of the cover to Underwater Photographer Magazine Issue #97

Here is how I used Adobe Lightroom  to get it ready for the cover.

Images taken underwater without a flash will have a color cast due to the loss of the red spectrum of  light as it travels through water.

This is a method I use to process my photos that adds back in some of the red and corrects for exposure.  I prefer to leave a bit of a blue cast to the images – they are depicting underwater after all. The trick is to correct it to a point between what your brain saw during the dive and what is technically “perfect” according to the color values.

I use the tools in Adobe Lightroom to do the initial work: they are great tools and easy to use.  I might move later into Photoshop to utilize layers for adjustments to specific areas taking advantage of layers, masks, etc only offered in Photoshop. I definitely will do more detailed work on the image before printing it.

By the way, Lightroom tools are the same as in Camera Raw, but I find LR’s presentation of them easier and I have the bonus of all the organization tools in LR.

The Method

Analyze then Correct Exposure

The first step is to optimize the exposure.  I like to eliminate the distraction of color so I can really analyze what needs to be brighter, darker, and more contrasted.  To do this I temporarily desaturate the image to black and white using the Saturation Slider (Basic Panel under Presence)

 

Desaturate image
To concentrate on the Exposure and Contrast, convert to Black and White (desaturate)

 

Now it is time to analyze the image:  The Histogram is the first step.  According to the graph, there are clear shadows, midtones, and highlights,  but the whole image is too dark: there are barely any areas registering on the right hand (bright) side of the graph.

Exposure: I move the Exposure slider up until the lightest bits of water  read around 62 (pass the curser over areas and read the numbers under the histogram).  The overall change was +.55

In Lightroom the group of tools under Exposure (Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks) are adjustments with smart logic behind them that helps the tool adapt and decide what is “whites” or “blacks” in this specific image.

Curve adjustment tool
Pick up the Curve Adjustment Tool and pass it over the image to read exposure values and see it on the Curve graph

For this purpose they are not doing exactly what I want so I will try the tools under ToneCurve first. Tone Curve is a degree more sophisticated and gives me the option of defining what I want to be considered Highlights, etc.  In this tool, Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows are marked by regions on the tone graph.  I want to adjust the pointers to change the default “definitions” of Highlights, etc.

Curve adjustment
The image after a Curves adjustment

The dark edges of the fins  need some contrast between them and the lighter colored body. To do this I first measure the value of the darkest areas watching where on the graph this area registers by picking up the tool at the top left of the ToneCurve (“adjust the tone curve directly”). I want to define everything darker than the “spots” of the body as “shadow”  so I move the marker at the bottom of the graph over to the this spot on the graph.  Now the Darks tab needs moved to the left. Using the slider for Darks you can detect what it is adjusting – I want it to just do the spots on the body and tones on the fins.  Same with the Lights tab. Lights should be  working on everything light except the shark’s belly and some of the sand and fish.  I have now defined my exposure areas. It is time to make the adjustments.

Now I add a touch of the Clarity slider to pop the midtone contrast – this really brings out the stripes on the tiger shark.

Local adjustment brush
Adjustment brush used to brighten whites and highlights on the shark’s belly and face

For spot exposure corrections, Lightroom  has a Radial Filter tool which can brighten or darken an oval area in the same manner as a graduated filter or a free form brush type tool that can “paint” on adjustments.  I find the radial  tool better and easier to use than the Adjustment brush.

Correcting Color Using White Balance and HSL  Panel Controls

return color
The image has better contrast but still a color cast

Everything is brighter and more contrasted,  the colors look  more intense, but the color cast is still there.  I use the White Balance eyedropper tool and pass it over the image.  You want to choose a place that Should Be either black, white, or neutral grey.  In the Navigation (on the left fly out panel) window it shows you a preview of the white balance correction if you click in that space. When I choose a spot on the belly of the shark it makes the correction, but it is too much for my taste. After the correction,  I back off the sliders under White Balance a little bit back to the left toward the original cool tones.

White Balance adjustment
Use the White Balance tool on the shark’s chin – the change is too extreme but we will adjust it down
back off white balance adjustment
back off the White Balance adjustment by moving sliders back toward blue and green

Now I have the problem of the water not having as nice of a color – it has gone a bit dull –  so I go down to the panel labeled HSL/Color/B&W tools.  I like the presentation of the tool that they label Color,  so click on where it says Color and the tool changes to show each color and all three characteristics under it: Hue, Saturation, and Luminance .

Dropping Saturation on the Aqua slider a bit helps  the  color cast and increasing the Luminance to +20 helps the contrast as well.  On the Blue slider I increase the Saturation to make the blue water pretty again and then a decrease of the Luminance darkens the water and makes it a richer tone with more contrast to the whole image.  I also push the Hue of the blue up a tiny bit  without going too much or the water becomes purple. Since there is quite a bit of green in the image, I darken then Luminance on the green channel, desaturate it a touch then shift the Hue slightly to the yellow side of green.

Color adjustment HSL panel
The HSL color adjustment panel and adjustments to Aqua (desaturate), Blue (darken and move toward purple) and Green

A few final touches:  use the adjustment brush on the shark with some desaturation and white balance adjustment to take some Aqua/Blue out of the shark.  Also edit the first adjustment to the white belly and chin that you did earlier to add in desaturation to move the white closer to white.  The final adjustment is a tiny bit of the Dehaze tool.  This bumps up the contrast and intensifies the colors.

Dehaze adjusment
Final image with a small Dehaze adjustment and a little Post Crop Vignette

You can also add a bit of   Post Crop Vignette to darken the edges.

 

Also See:

Tiger Shark & Hammerhead Dive 2017

Using the Shadows / highlights command in Photoshop

Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Trips for 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Beauty

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