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Happy Nature Photography Day!

Written by Sharks4Kids Ambassador Ron Watkins

See more of his images on his WEBSITE or INSTAGRAM

The North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) celebrates Nature Photography Day every June 15th as a way to generate enthusiasm for nature photography and the role it plays in conservation around the world. A picture is truly worth a thousand words, and nature photography is the best way to tell the story about an important subject that you want to bring awareness to and preserve for future generations. You can photograph nature in your backyard, a local park or venture to exotic destinations like Africa on safari or remote parts of Alaska where the wildlife is abundant and the scenery is stunning. For me, my favorite type of nature photography is of wildlife and especially underwater, but use lots of topside nature photography to help tell the story. Since you are on the Sharks4Kids blog, it probably comes as no surprise that my favorite subject to photograph underwater are sharks!

I like to photograph sharks in a way that highlights their beauty, diversity, power, environment and adaptability to tell their story and give them a voice. My hope is that through my photography and sharing their stories with people through Sharks4Kids and other outreach, it will educate people on sharks, raise awareness about the critical role they play in our oceans, shed light on the challenges they face, inspire people to get involved and debunk some of the misconceptions about them. In essence, I use my nature photography skills to help advance the cause of shark conservation and promote protection of these important fish that keep our oceans healthy and biodiverse.

To celebrate Nature Photography Day, here are five of my top shark images and a little behind the scenes story of what went into capturing the image and the story I was trying to tell.

#1 Double-Hooked (Rhode Island USA)

We had the opportunity to free-dive/snorkel with over 20 different blue sharks on a recent trip off the coast of Rhode Island and noticed that over 25% of them had one or more hooks stuck in their jaws. These hooks most likely came from shark fishing tournaments along the East coast of the USA in the summer and the smaller by-catch sharks are caught and released, but unfortunately the fishermen often just cut the line leaving these hooks and the damage to the shark’s jaw. This blue shark with two hooks and fishing line came in close and I was able to get this photo to highlight how harmful even catch and release shark fishing is to sharks.

#2 Shark Vortex (Cuba)

In a successfully protected Cuban marine preserve called the Gardens of the Queen, there are healthy reefs teeming sharks. This marine preserve is a great example of what it is like if we take the appropriate conservation efforts and allow nature to thrive. One of the thrills of diving here is to be surrounded in the clear blue warm water with dozens of fast moving silky sharks. It is a bit challenging to keep you eyes on all of the sharks around you and is a real thrill to experience. I used a slow shutter speed technique to blur the background and create a swirl effect as I spun the camera to capture just how crazy the shark action is in this magical place. It’s fun to get creative with nature photography and not just take the standard photo!

#3 Here’s Bruce! (Alaska)

This is the very elusive salmon shark and my favorite shark that I have ever photographed. Salmon sharks can be found in Prince William Sound, Alaska for a few months during the summer where they congregate to feast on salmon that are getting ready to spawn. Once locating these skittish sharks, I carefully slip into the murky cold water with the goal of photographing these sharks to show others what makes them so special. The salmon shark looks similar to a great white shark but its mouth is smaller, their eyes more forward and body shaped like a torpedo for speed. These rare images have been used by scientist, researchers and Sharks4Kids to educate and increase awareness of this shark species because it has a bit of an identity crises and more research is needed to be learned about them and steps taken to ensure their survival.

#4 Trapped in a Cage (Guadalupe Island, Mexico)

The great white shark is the most recognizable, most popular and most studied shark. This shark is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, but thanks to all of the research, designated marine preserves like Guadalupe and allowing people to safely observe and photograph this shark, it has a great chance of survival. Nature photos usually don’t have people in them, but I wanted to capture the irony of the divers in the cage watching the shark versus a zoo environment where the animals are in the cage.

#5 Don’t Touch Me (Channel Islands, California USA)

Not all sharks are big and intimidating but don’t let this little horn shark’s size (1-3 feet) fool you. This slow moving solitary predator has two high dorsal fins with large spines for protection. Unlike the previous sharks I photographed, this little shark has molar-like teeth and uses its powerful jaws to crush hard-shelled mollusks and crustaceans for food. The horn shark is a great example of how the 440+ shark species have evolved and adapted to thrive in their environment. For this photo, I had to slowly sneak up on this shark because they try to hide during the day with their camouflage and prefer to hunt at night.

I hope you enjoyed my celebration of Nature Photography Day with my shark images and photo background.For me, connecting with nature is a way to better connect with myself without all of the world’s distractions. So, how will you celebrate Nature Photography Day? Take your cell phone camera, compact camera or big DSLR camera and get outside and enjoy nature by capturing the beauty that is all around us! To learn more about nature photography and how you can get more involved, go to the NANPA website at www.nanpa

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