The challenge of stingray photography

Amanda Nicholls’s office is different from most. It’s open to the elements, usually sunny, with a pleasant breeze blowing through it … and it’s about waist deep in water. Oh, there are a few dozen stingrays swimming around in it too.  

Nicholls is a professional photographer and videographer with CPS, who regularly accompanies boat trips to Stingray City Sandbar to capture those unforgettable stingray encounters on camera.  

Although the location is idyllic to those who visit for fun, the conditions are often less than ideal for the photographer. There is the movement of the water to contend with, as well as the fact that, with an average of 1,000 visitors a day heading to this spot, keeping a clear backdrop is not exactly easy.  

“Trying to get a professional-looking picture of a guest in calm blue water, with no one in the background on a choppy day and having only a minute or so to achieve a series of photos, as the rays rarely stay with one guest for more than a few seconds, is certainly a challenge,” Nicholls says. “But I love a challenge.” 

Originally from the United Kingdom, but born in Tenerife, Spain, Nicholls has been shooting at Stingray City since 2006, and underwater since 2008. Her portfolio includes images of wrecks, reefs, turtles and underwater models, as well as many land-based shots taken in exotic locations around the world. But it’s underwater photography that is her passion.  

“I have always loved the ocean. When I was younger, I remember telling my mother that I wanted to be an underwater photographer,” she recalls. “She laughed, and suggested I get on with my algebra.” 

Nonetheless, Nicholls took her camera with her everywhere she went, and 13 years ago, she set off backpacking. In 2002, she made her way to Thailand, where she learned to dive. Even then, the conversion to underwater photography was not instantaneous.  

“I enjoyed just being underwater so much that I didn’t take any photos for the first four years I was diving.” 

When she did start shooting underwater, it was without any assistance. 

“I haven’t had an ounce of training or schooling,” she says. “I’m proud to say that everything I know I have taught myself, with a little help from photography books and the Internet. Self-motivation is the best motivation.” 

It’s a question of patience, perseverance and endless practice, she says. Anybody can learn to take great photos if they have the will and put in the time.  

“Many people think that with a great camera, the great images will just come – but this is not the case.”  

Reading up on technique is essential, she adds, but so is trying out these techniques in the real world and practicing new ideas.  

“There isn’t a point you reach where you know everything about everything. It’s all about practice – and having fun while you’re doing it,” she says. 

For Nicholls, being able to take photos underwater and in locations like Stingray City is as good as it gets: She has turned her two favorite hobbies into a full-time job. 

“I have never had to work a day since becoming a photographer because if you love your job, you will never work again!”  

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A rare view of an octopus out in the open by day. These shy creatures usually only emerge from their hiding places under cover of darkness.

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A perfectly timed shot as a school of reef squid drift across the bow of the Kittiwake.

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A squadron of spotted eagle rays framed against the deep blue of the open ocean.
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