Crocodile Photography: How to Photograph Crocodiles Underwater

underwater crocodile photography

Having roamed our planet for millions of years as ancient predators, crocodiles prove to be not only awe-inspiring creatures but also captivating subjects for underwater crocodile photography.

crocodile photography

Delving into the exhilarating world of underwater crocodile photography demands skill, patience, and a touch of education.

Safely approaching them, knowing their habitats, understanding the necessary equipment, and honing the skills to capture breathtaking images are all essential components of this thrilling exploration, and we will cover some of the most important information in this article.

Where to photograph crocodiles underwater

For those brave enough to seek the ultimate underwater crocodile photography adventure, a few specific locations around the world offer remarkable opportunities.

One of the better-known locations is The Jardines de la Reina in Cuba. Another lesser-known gem is located in Banco Chinchurro, Mexico.

Both adventures offer opportunities for snorkelers to photograph American saltwater crocodiles while being in the water with them.

crocodile photography underwater

While there are opportunities to photograph crocodiles in other locations like the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Northern Territory in Australia, such opportunities are comparatively rare.

Only a handful of tour operators in these regions offer guided excursions, often catering to highly experienced divers. To narrow our focus for this article, we will concentrate on the unique experience of photographing American crocodiles in Banco Chinchurro, Mexico.

Getting to Banco Chinchurro is a bit of an adventure, in itself. Most tourists fly into Cancun. From there they have a 4–5-hour transfer by car down to Xcalak, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

The dive center there is called XTC Dive Center, and they are one of the few operators who have permits to take tourists to Banco Chinchurro, an island atoll that hosts a community of fishermen for several months each year.

underwater crocodile photography

Banco Chinchorro, currently under UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status and undergoing evaluation for World Heritage listing, stands as the largest atoll in the Northern Hemisphere. It is approximately 22 miles (35 km) offshore near the border of Mexico and Belize.

From June 1 to September 30, XTC Dive Center offers three-day excursions for groups of no more than seven. Those days are spent camping in a fisherman’s hut on the water while spending time each day in the water with the American Crocodiles.

Although the crocodiles are present year-round, conditions in the rest of the year aren’t ideal for photography opportunities.

The fishermen who live on the water surrounding Banco Chinchurro have been fishing the waters in the area for generations. The crocodiles have become conditioned to hearing the boats return to the huts in the afternoon where the fish will be cleaned.

For more than a hundred years, crocodiles have approached the fishermen’s huts to eat the cleanings from the fisherman’s catch. For this reason, guests have sessions in the water in the afternoons when the crocodiles are most likely to approach.

The crocodile photography sessions take place in water approximately waist-deep surrounding the huts. Guests enter the water in pairs for a designated time, accompanied by two guides. One guide stays alongside the guests, while the other positions at the rear, keeping an eye on the crocodile’s behavior.

underwater crocodile photography

The guides use a bamboo pole planted in the sand between the crocodile and the guest to discourage crocodiles from getting too close to the guests during their photography sessions.

Before entering the water, the guides explain that crocodiles hunt by using the sensors on the front of their snout.

They sense movement in the water, then approach hoping to find something soft, which to them represents food. If instead, they bump into the bamboo pole, they will turn away because it is hard and does not represent food.

Despite its seemingly simple nature, the bamboo pole proves to be an effective means of preventing further exploration by these apex predators.

Swimming with these animals is a carefully regulated and monitored experience, organized with the utmost attention to ensure the safety of both crocodile and human.

Essential equipment for underwater crocodile photography

Visitors are required to have a mask and snorkel for the photography sessions, but the snorkeling activity doesn’t take place on the water’s surface. Instead, a weight belt is provided to prevent floating, enabling participants to submerge underwater for optimal photography.

The choice of photography equipment may vary depending on individual preferences, but it is advisable to use an underwater housing with a dome port and a wide-angle lens.

underwater photography crocodiles

Some photographers opt for wide-angle conversion lenses, fisheye lenses, or rectilinear lenses with a narrower field of view. Given that American crocodiles typically measure between four to seven feet in length, a wide enough lens is essential to capture the entire animal in the frame.

For those who prefer a more casual approach to photography, a compact camera, cell phone (in housing), or Go-Pro is also considered sufficient.

Read more: What Equipment Do You Need for Underwater Photography?

How to photograph crocodiles underwater lighting

Natural light is appropriate for photographing crocodiles since you will be in shallow water in the middle of the day. This allows you to manoeuvre easily without the cumbersome weight of strobes or video light.

However, some images can be enhanced with artificial light, so whether to use strobes or not is a personal choice.

black and white underwater photography

Striking images can be captured that are best viewed in black-and-white. If you plan to create some black-and-white photographs, remember to consider where the sun is relative to the animal.

If the sun is at your back, you will get more detail in your image. When the sun is overhead, the shadows can be too heavy under the animal and around important elements such as the mouth and eyes.

Shooting into the sun can deliver beautiful silhouettes and deep shadows for a more dramatic outcome. Awareness of the direction of the natural light is critical to getting the image you plan for.

Read more: 8 Tips for Creating Amazing Lighting in Underwater Photos

Composition for underwater crocodile photography

Composition is another element of photographing crocodiles that you should plan for.

Think of whether you want to show the animal in its environment. Do you want to include habitat and potentially other animals such as fish? If so, you should plan to use a wide-angle fisheye lens.

underwater crocodile photography

A fisheye lens can be useful for distorting the animal in face-on shots. For example, if you want to emphasize the large snout and teeth, you can get very close with a fisheye lens and bring out those parts of the animal.

However, you should also be aware that a fisheye lens is very wide, so it can make the animal look smaller if you are more than a few inches away.

Perhaps you will want to shoot a portrait of the crocodile. You may want to use a wide-angle rectilinear lens in this case or even a mid-range lens such as a 35mm or 50mm lens.

crocodile photography underwater

This lens will make the animal look bigger in the frame and can emphasize the crocodile over its habitat. In most cases, you will be able to approach within approximately twelve inches of the animal if you are brave enough.

Getting close is one of the fundamental elements of underwater photography, particularly when using wide-angle lenses, so consider this while you are composing your images.

Read more: 8 Tips to Create Beautiful Underwater Animal Portraits

Final top tips

Engaging in underwater crocodile photography presents a unique amalgamation of excitement and challenge. These elusive creatures navigate the water with grace, demanding patience and skill to capture their behavior effectively.

Here are some final tips to help you make the most of your underwater crocodile photography experience!

underwater crocodile photography

The photography sessions occur on a sandy bottom with sea grass, emphasizing the need to avoid stirring up the sand, as it can compromise the quality of your images. Keep your lower legs as still as possible – no flailing or kicking!

Anticipate unexpected moments and maintain constant awareness of your surroundings. It is crucial to recognize that crocodiles are indiscriminate eaters and, as wild animals, demand utmost respect.

Pay attention to their environment, interpret their body language, and heed the advice of guides who ensure your safety and a meaningful experience. Following these few tips will ensure you have an enjoyable and successful photography adventure.

In conclusion

Photographing crocodiles underwater is a thrilling and rewarding experience for adventurous underwater photographers.

By choosing the right locations, employing proper safety measures, and using the recommended equipment, you can capture mesmerizing images that showcase the beauty and power of these ancient predators in their aquatic realm.

Tourism here can help support local communities and raise awareness for the area and these ancient reptiles, which may ultimately lead to better protection for the species. Remember to respect the wildlife and adhere to ethical practices for a memorable and responsible photography expedition!

Visit Brook's website

Brook Peterson is an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer who enjoys capturing the beauty in the world’s oceans. A member of the Ocean Artists Society, her award-winning work has been featured in many publications. Brook is the author of WaterdogPhotography.com, a resource for underwater photographers. She leads expeditions to diving destinations worldwide where she coaches photographers of all levels.

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