Saturday, December 20, 2008

Whale Shark Photo Brings Home First Prize at International Photo Contest

A photo can't get much more majestic than this one taken by Mark Gamba.

Gamba’s shot of a 21-foot-long whale shark swimming next to a diver earned first place, and $1,000, in the science and nature category in the International Aperture Awards 2008 contest; his photograph of a kayaker going over a 45-foot Oregon waterfall placed third in the sport category, and won a cash prize of $250.

National Geographic magazine sent Gamba to the west coast of Australia in the spring of 2000, and he went out on a dive boat with a guide and other divers to take the photo of the whale shark, the largest of the shark species.

“All sharks are sensitive to scuba gear and the sound of bubbles bothers them,” said Gamba, who had to snorkel to get the photo of the shark.

Once he started using his camera in an underwater housing, the shark began to swim straight toward him. He said he began to swim backwards and was almost completely out of air when he got the shot he wanted. The photograph appeared on the cover of Adventure Magazine in late summer of 2000.

The shot of the kayaker going over the waterfall was taken at Oregon’s White River Falls, also known as Celestial Falls, near Maupin.

“There are three waterfalls there, one is 60 feet, one is 45 and the other one is 20-something,” said Gamba, who first encountered the falls when he was doing a photo shoot for an Adidas river shoe.

While he was there, he decided that the 45-foot falls would be “runnable,” so he contacted “five really amazing kayakers out of Bend.”

He rappelled down to the lip of the falls “just as the light was coming up over the far mountains,” he said, in order to get the shot.

Also in the photo, down below the falls, are other kayakers watching one going over the waterfall. This gives the observer a perspective on how high the falls really are, although Gamba said the kayakers did not consider the 45-foot waterfall to be particularly dangerous, since it goes down into “a nice big pool.”

The photo was published in a catalogue for Extra Sport in the late 1990s, Gamba said.

This was the first time Gamba entered the International Aperture competition.

The judges awarded prizes and money to the top five entrants in eight categories; only seven Americans were given awards, and Gamba was the only one of those to win two prizes.

According to, Gamba captured the juvenile whale shark with a Nikon F5 Lens: Nikon 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye AF D.

Congrats to Gamba on this well-deserved award!

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