Animals

By Jack Williams


This committed photographer spent a grand total of 3,000 DIVE HOURS trying to get the perfect shots, capuring beautiful images of a rare shark feeding frenzy.

Laurent Ballesta’s images show the glimmering gray reef sharks hunting in swift packs, flying through the water and feasting on the the likes of helpless grouper.

LAURENT BALLESTA / CATERS

The challenge facing Laurent, 44, to get these images, in Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia, cannot be underestimated: The grouper there spawn only once a year under a full moon, some time in June or July, and only for around 30 minutes.

In total, the set of images required 21 weeks of diving, day and night, spanning over four years and 85,000 images.

Having begun devising a plan in 2014, Laurent and his friend, Jean-Marc Belin, created a way that would allow the diver to spend 24 hours 65 feet underwater.

The pair also decreased the time to allow Laurent to decompress from 20 hours to six.

With a committed team, strategy and mixture of oxygen and other gases, Laurent began his work in 2014, returning for the next four years.

Laurent, from close to Montpellier, France, said: “Night dives in the middle of the shark pack are very addictive.

LAURENT BALLESTA / CATERS

“It’s the same place every night and every year, but everything changes from one night to the other – behaviors change – and you can expect the unexpected. And sharks are very generous.

“I tried to show a piece of true wild nature, a well balanced testimony of life, death, innocence and violence and how pristine wild predators can be beautiful even during violence.

“I tried to figure out how strong and powerful they can be all together, but also to show how weak and clumsy they can be when they’re alone.”

Shooting the sharks was a tough challenge, Laurent said, as their swiftness and the dark conditions posed ever-changing errors.

LAURENT BALLESTA / CATERS

There was also the matter of not getting bitten, as the diver was not in a shark cage or using a protective suit.

He plans to continue photographing such phenomenons, with these shark photographs spanning a two-book set, 700 Sharks Into The Dark.

Laurent said: “In one hand I’m very proud, because it’s something new, and I’m proud also because all photographs were taken without feeding or using chum as bait.

“There was regular physical contact.

“Thus, our approach was careful and progressive but we never used shark cages, chainmail suits or shark-sticks.

“This was not as a challenge, but out of a desire for consistency.

LAURENT BALLESTA / CATERS

“It seemed illogical to distance ourselves from the wild animals we wanted to understand.

“In the other hand, it was a lesson of modesty, as I completely failed during the first year to take photos.

“It was too fast, too dark, to short-event, too much current.

“The secret of these photos is that there is no secret: Just a lot of work.”