Photo Contest Winner David Valencia – The Story Behind the Shot

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David Valencia Whale Shark photo - Winner of the 2014 PADI Diving Society photo contest

“A caption for this photo might be, ‘Whale Shark Surrounded In Joy.’ It’s the dream of many divers to have the experience of a dive with these incredible sharks.” – David Valencia

In 2014, every PADI Diving Society member will receive a membership card with this amazing whale shark photo from photographer David Valencia.

David, a marine biologist and PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer has logged more than 7000 dives and currently works on the Solmar V liveaboard out of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We asked David to tell us a little about the circumstances that lead to the winning shot:

“[It was] taken aboard the Solmar V at my favorite dive site Roca Partida, Socorro Islands, Mexico with a Nikon D300 using Ikelite strobes.  What makes our interactions with whale sharks at Roca unique is that the Whale Sharks will swim circles around the rock, coming back again and again.

“I tried to communicate what it was like actually being there. This shot shows how large the whale shark is with the divers as a size comparison. You can see all the divers and the dive site in the background. This particular shark was 11m / 35ft and stayed with us the entire dive. The curiosity of these sharks amazed us and if you give them their space they will stay in the area.

“Although the Socorro Islands are a Mexican National Park , the islands do not receive any protection from human threats like illegal fishing both commercial and for sport. Unfortunately, Mexico does not have the resources to police the islands. Led by the Solmar V there is a movement among the liveaboards here in Socorro to protect the islands. The islands are so isolated, that most people in Mexico and around the world don’t even know they exist. It is my hope that sharing these images might not only bring Mexican national awareness to this valuable natural resource, but drum up world wide support. May this image of the Whale Shark at Roca Partida, Mexico inspire divers to go experience these magnificent animals and inform divers about threats to them and their habitat.”

David Valencia Underwater Photographer and PADI Instructor

We asked David a little more about his diving background and the steps that lead him to become a PADI Scuba Instructor.

“I have been diving for all of my adult life and have a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology. I have always felt like I was good at finding unusual things underwater so I wanted to be an instructor to share those moments with other divers.

“My first job on a boat was in 2002 on a boat called the Horizon. We dove all the Southern Channel Islands and even did Great White Shark Diving in Guadalupe, Mexico. The experience I gained on this boat showed me that there was so much more to learn and inspired me to travel. Many dives later, I landed my present job as a dive guide on the liveaboard Solmar V. I get the opportunity to share with dive enthusiasts from all over the world how special a place the Socorro Islands, Mexico really are.”

“My understanding and experience in Marine Biology in all oceans not only helps me find rare and curious things, but helps me describe them. I have only been shooting photos for a few years, but it is my goal that my understanding of the underwater world translates to my photos.”

We asked David if he had any advice for aspiring underwater photographers. He said:

“Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for being familiar with your equipment and knowing how to use it. Next, take lots of photos underwater. You are bound to make mistakes so don’t get frustrated. Sometimes you’ll even miss the shot, but with more experience you will increase your chances of capturing that ‘magic moment.’ Once you’re confident, you need good subjects so go to that destination that draws you and give it go!”

David had two of those magic photo moments. In addition to the whale shark image, David had a second shot in the running – with an even more amazing story.

 Humpback Whale photo David Valencia

“My other entry into the photo contest…is a summary of our amazing Humpback Whale season in the Socorro Islands. I shot it using a Canon 5D MarkIII with all natural light.

“This momma and baby pair camped out at Roca Partida, Socorro Islands, Mexico for the entire month of February 2013. It’s a rare glimpse into the way a mother Humpback Whale nurtures her young. The pair were always in close contact and the baby positions herself under the momma because she is quite buoyant. Without momma’s perfect buoyancy the baby would constantly be on the surface. So when they rest, they rest together motionless.

“I got this shot at the end of a dive. As we rounded one of the points, the momma and baby were there. They were only at 40ft. (13m) or so and allowed us to get close. You could see momma’s eye watching us, and since this was not our first time seeing the pair underwater, she trusted us. I was overwhelmed with emotion because of this trust the mother granted us.”

When I am off the boat for a few days, I like to stay active and still be in or near the water. Fortunately I live in a place that allows me to surf, snorkel, run, or just walk my dog on the beach. I can’t be away from the ocean for too long, my gills will dry out.

Dave Valencia, Photo Pro and PADI Instructor

I have so many dive stories it’s mind-numbing for me to think back and pick only one. However, one story that sticks out most is one that has been shared all over the world of a determined Divemaster aboard the Solmar V rescuing a Whale Shark from a life-threatening rope. Although I was not the hero of the day, I was lucky to be a part of the rescue and I am proud to tell the story. Not to mention, I was even luckier to get the shots to prove it. Read the complete story on Sport Diver’s website.

“Becoming a PADI Diving Instructor my life has changed for the better. The world’s oceans have opened up to me in a way I never imagined and I have been fortunate in many great experiences as an Instructor. Whether I am guiding guests, instructing students, or diving for pleasure I feel most at home in the water and PADI got me there. In working as a dive instructor, I can share the underwater environment I care for so much.

“My favorite part of being an instructor/photo pro is raising awareness to those who may not know these things exist and that these moments actually happen. I hope that when people view one of my images that they are inspired to find that moment for themselves. With more people motivated and caring for the ocean environment, it might be preserved for generations to come.”

Thanks, David! Thanks for sharing your stories, your great images, and for your passion to protect the underwater world we love so much.

To see more of David’s images, or to purchase prints, please visit: To join PADI Diving Society, and get a membership card featuring David’s amazing image – which also entitles you to excellent scuba diving benefits – visit

 David Valencia Underwater Photographer and PADI Instructor