Tips on obtaining excellent whale photographs

Whale breachCredit: DWCC photography

 The dream of every avid whale watcher is to capture spectacular whale photographs rivalling photos taken by professionals. The main difference is of course, the experience and the equipment. Listed below are a list of things one could do to improve the quality of their marine photography:-

  • Use SLR (single lens reflex) 35mm cameras with a 80-200mm zoom (bigger lenses give closer shots but may not be suitable due to their bulk and time required for change on a rocking ship). As a guide, a 50mm lens portrays the image as the eyes beholds it. A 100mm lens gives a 2x magnification, a 200mm lens gives a 4x magnification, a 300mm lens (the biggest zoom lens that can be steadily held without the aid of a tripod) gives a 6x magnification and so forth. These days, with the advent of digital SLR's and bridge cameras, it is easier than ever to have a camera with a bigger zoom. Most of these camera's also have anti shake functions so you can go even higher in the zoom department! Its not uncommon now to be able to shoot with bridge cameras having zooms as high as 30 to 40x, with image stabilization.
  • Make sure you use a high ASA setting. Generally a higher ASA setting requires less light and hence is suitable for low light conditions (i.e. overcast days). However, they tend to be grainier. Slower ASA tend to give finer image resolution but a balance must be struck. A ASA of 200 film is usually the best bet for a 200-300mm lens.
  • Make sure the horizon line is level in your viewfinder (harder than it sounds on a rocking ship)
  • Depress the shutter slowly and do not follow the whale through its movements. This will cause the image to blur
  • Set shutter speed to 1/500th of a second (I use 1/2000). This will freeze any movement
  • If your camera has a light meter, set the correct aperture by aiming the camera at the water (the whales are in the water, not in the sky). This will ensure that your photos have proper color balance
  • Filters enhance the quality of your photographs. A UV or skylight filter will reduce the brightness of the sky while a polarising filter will greatly reduce the glare and increase water penetration (but may result in loss of 1 or 2 f-stops)
  • Practice makes perfect. That means taking lots of crappy photos before you get it right. This is of course so much easier with digital cameras. Just delete the ones you don't like. Have fun experimenting.

Tips on selecting the best whale watching trip and getting the most out of your money!

Most whale watch enthusiast would want to get the most out of their day whale watching. Selecting that perfect whale watch tour can be very difficult, especially if there is a wide range of tours and cruises to select from. Several factors can influence this decision. Below are some tips that might help you to make the all important decision for that trip of a lifetime.

  • Type of cruise ship and speed. The type of ship is essential as generally, monohull vessels tend to be less stable than double hull catamarans. The last thing you want is to try the balancing act while fiddling with your video recorder or camera. Also, the size of the vessel might influence its stability. Speed is also essential as most cruises need time to get out to the prime whale watching areas. A faster vessel can get you there in half the time, allowing for more time with the whales. Take into account the time required for travel! Some of the hours stated on brochures for day tours can be very misleading.
  • Number of people and viewing areas. This is also essential. In general, go for vessels which offer 360 degree viewing, preferably with a large open deck. Also go for cruise ships with a lower number of people. Such trips are better for video recordings and photography.
  • Profile of the vessel. In general, low set vessels are ideal for close encounters and sometimes, whales can come within touching distance. However, the best photos are normally obtained from top view so high profile vessels might enjoy this benefit.
  • Choice of tours. Its recommended that you choose full day tours (if you have time to spare) over half day tours. Half day tours are designed for travelling whale watchers who are on transit (like the whales, pun intended!). Its advisable to stay the night before heading out for the whale watch cruise the next day. For full day tours, try to choose the tour with the longest time out in the waters. And don't forget to take into account the speed, stability and of course, for backpackers, the price.
  • Plane spotting. Another consideration is if the whale watch vendors spot the whales using spotter planes. These greatly increase the chances of the cruise ships being able to get you to the whales and to spend the longest time with them.
  • One last word, dawn tours may be short but they are well worth it. The sea is calmest and the whales are most active during that time of day.

Most importantly enjoy you whale watch!