Saturday, July 20, 2013



Oslob is not one of those familiar names like Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Bonaire that resonates in the SCUBA diving community.

Oslob is a tiny town on the beach on the island of Cebu in the Philippines.  It is close to Dumaguete, a place that is very hot now in SCUBA diving circles.  Dumaguete will get even hotter once the word gets out about the Whale Sharks.

At the moment, in 2013, the chances are very good to see whale sharks on most every attempt, but this could change.  Not many places in the world can claim a record like that.  The reason is outright bribery.  The local fishermen are feeding the Whale Sharks plankton.

The sharks apparently like it and show up in the morning for a lazy dose of “shrimp soup.”  On our encounter, we saw a total of six Whale Sharks in 45 minutes of snorkeling.  One should consider themselves lucky if you have ever seen ONE Whale Shark, this was an embarrassment of riches.  A bucket list experience for sure.  Whale Sharks are the ocean's largest fish, completely harmless and get up to 45' long and weigh over 20 tons.  Photos are shown at the bottom.



Since the sharks are right at the surface, there is no need for strobes, indeed they are prohibited.


Since the Whale Sharks are BIG, we saw individuals from 15’ to 30’, use the widest lens you have.  I used a 10mm Tokina fisheye to get full fish pictures.


Being able to shoot over / under split shots of the fisherman feeding the Whale Sharks from their outriggers is a big part of telling the story of why everyone is here.

A DSLR housing is preferred since you can put an 8” Dome port on it.  The 8” dome port takes full advantage of the Wide Fisheye angle with edge to edge sharpness.  The second reason to use it is that it makes taking over / underwater split shots possible.


Under most circumstances, I am a fan of using ONE SHOT drive mode.  However, for this dive, it is best to put the camera in high speed burst mode.  When taking split shots, the ocean does not sit still while you calmly compose.

To shoot decent over/under split shots, you must take a lot of pictures and high speed mode will help your chances of getting the effect you intend.  Start with the camera held just above the waterline, press and hold the shutter down and slowly lower the camera until almost submerged.  

My camera has a buffer of nine RAW shots like this, so I can shoot this sequence in about two to three seconds.  The camera must “rest” in between to regain its computer buffer and "catch its breath."   During the 45 minutes, I shot about 350 photos.  Many were clearly poor, but I got enough to choose from using this technique.

Using SCUBA for most of the trip, I used 10 pounds on the weight belt with my 3mm wetsuit, 2/3mm neoprene gloves and 3mm neoprene beanie.  This being a snorkel only dive, I set up a weight belt with 3 pounds on each side to let me dive easily.  This was perfect to allow me to get to 15’ – 20’ which is near the sand bottom.

We left Atlantis Dumaguete about 7am.  It takes about two hours to get to Oslob.  After a bus ride, a ferry ride and another bus ride, the whale sharks are a relatively short distance from the beach, you can actually swim to them.  You will be in relatively small outrigger canoes, have your fins ready to pop on at a moment’s notice.  Sit at the front or the back of the canoe to make entry easier.  Turn on the camera on the surface and be prepared to enter the water quickly with minimal splashing. This is generally good behavior when diving period.

First one in the water in the area gives you immediate shooting advantage with fewer divers in the water.

General situational awareness of where the sharks are, is good to avoid surprises but also to avoid injury or scrapes to you or the sharks.  Bumping into a many-ton animal is not pleasant for either party.  Entering on top of a shark is considered bad form and will get you entered in the diver's book of dopes.

Generally, you can get good shots from about three to five feet from the side of the sharks.  You will want to be at least four feet away when swimming in front to the sharks to avoid hitting them with your fins.  You will not get scooped up by the sharks as you do not in any way look like a shrimp.  

The fish cruise slowly but can suddenly gain speed.  As the fish in Oslob are there to be fed, a great many of your pictures will show Whale Sharks at a 45 degree angle with their mouth near the surface and tails near the sandy bottom.  Try to get pictures of the sharks cruising between fish feeders for a more natural posture.

How much longer will the interaction be around?  Cannot say with any certainty.  As any place around the world, when people and animals interact, there will be strong opinions generated that do not necessarily approve of the interaction.  Google the controversy to see how soon you want to go see the sharks.

Apologies if the captions do not line up correctly below.  This is a Google Blogger special feature.  All look perfectly aligned when I view the post in editing in either Firefox or Chrome.  It is worth the price Google charges me.  $0.00  If you are thinking of a Blog Platform, I think Wordpress is the way to go.  It is just too painful for me to switch.

Establishing shot

Shooting upward

Circus shot (too many divers)

 Multiple Sharks - Five Whale Sharks
  Multiple Sharks - Four Whale Sharks
 Accidental Humor (no photoshop used)

Frontal shot with Remora below

Split shot

Top Shot w/ many remoras upside down on left pectoral fin