I had the chance to capture three very different experiences on my first trip to Mexico in July 2017, all with their own photographic challenges.
Whale sharks in sunlit blue water
When filming whale sharks in the “Afuera” – their aggregation site off Isla Mujeres – I had some of the clearest, bluest and sunniest water I have ever seen in whale sharky places. More commonly, the water is green and full of plankton of all shapes and sizes, but in the Afuera whale sharks feed on fish eggs which are carried by the current into this blue water area offshore. This meant, that shots of whale sharks feeding at the surface were easy to get. Whale sharks also sometimes hung vertically in the water while gulping in mouthfuls of fish eggs. They would remain stationary, so I had time to position myself in the right spot and film the show. The major challenge in the Afuera were the numbers of boats and tourists. Usually, I prefer filming wildlife with only their habitat in the frame, so I just had to wait for right moment. As I lead science & photography trips with Rafael de la Parra and Aqua-Firma we stayed out longer and often hung around at the edge of the aggregation, or found sharks away from the main area where we had a more relaxed time with the sharks. I filmed at 60fps HD and 1/125s shutter speed most of the time to have the chance to slow things down a bit afterwards, but then ended up using footage in real time, so next time I’ll probably shoot 30fps 4k.
The famous cenotes, or caves, of the Yucatán Peninsula offered a very different underwater experience to the whale sharks. The major challenges here were the light in those dark caves and the droplets on the dome when trying to get over-under shots in air-filled parts of the caves. The clarity of the water meant that my two relatively small video lights illuminated much more of the scene than they do when shooting on a reef. I also had a torch, but never used it for filming. The three shots I was mainly going for was to follow a diver through the cave, capture the stalactites and stalagmites, and show how the cave extends above and below the water surface. I filmed at 4k 30fps as I did not plan to slow anything down. I only did two dives, but was happy to have another chance for over-under video on a snorkelling tour of another cenote a few days later. That time, I smudged a cut potato on the dome port before going in, and that kept the droplets nicely away from the air exposed portion of the port.
Wild jaguars at night
My friends Barna and Elizabeth from Encounters knew place where we had a chance of seeing two young wild jaguars. They would emerge from the jungle in the early night near a hut where they used to be able to find left-over food. So even though they were wild, these jaguars had gotten somewhat used to being around lights and that’s what made filming them possible. My camera is not particularly good in low light conditions (see my gear post), but with the help of a torch I managed to get some footage. Focusing was probably the trickiest as the autofocus struggled in the low light. The jaguars were careful but came pretty close to us, and I also had time to put the camera down and just enjoy the encounter for a while.