Top 5 Whale Photography Tips
We get asked this a LOT by our whale cruise passengers! The social media epidemic means there’s hardly a passenger these days out whale watching without a camera held up in front of their faces. While we’d probably recommend being “in the moment” and leaving the photos to the professional wildlife photographers who spend their whole careers and thousands of dollarydoos hunting for that epic shot, we totally understand the desire to capture the experience for yourself!
1. Smartphone Snappers, Stick to Video.
For most of us the only camera we have is the little sucker jammed into the top of our phone. The good news is, some of our best whale footage has come from cameras that live in passengers pockets! If you’re shooting on a smartphone we would recommend taking video. This gives you the best chance of capturing any epic moment that happens, such a breach or a close encounter from a curious giant who comes to visit the boat. From there you can always take a screenshot of the best millisecond to impress all your insta-mates!
2. Choose your Weapon
If you want to get the real goods you do need to step up from your smartphone. This tip is the expensive one; buy a bloody good camera with a bloody big lens. Most whale encounters are 100m-200m from us little humans on the boats. While you do often get lucky and get to see the big fellas up MUCH closer (if they choose to approach the vessel) most of the time if you want to capture a great whale shot you’ll need a lens that basically acts like a telescope, letting you see the distant details up close. Having this reach in your lens is also helpful on busy boats so that your shots aren’t obscured by people and boaty bits. As we mentioned in the opening paragraph, people spend years and thousands buying and learning to use the really good quality equipment, but everyone starts somewhere, so don’t be scared to get into it yourself!
3. Know Your Whales
A huge part of getting that perfect shot is understanding the nature and behaviour of the wildlife you’re chasing. Whales and dolphins are notoriously hard to shoot because (a) They’re under water almost all the time, and (b) When they do the really cool stuff, it happens FAST! So talk to our expert crew and quiz them about the whales you’re seeing on that particular cruise. All whales will have semi-predictable behaviours which will enable you to be ready when they do surface to breathe/breach/blow/backflip/bellyflop etc! Knowing, for instance, that the Jervis Bay humpbacks in the pod you found that day are averaging a breathing sequence every 5-7 minutes will help you have everything in place ready for that surprise triple breach right in front of a paddleboarder high-fiving a seal by Point Perpendicular lighthouse. There’s nothing worse than missing the one epic breach of the day, so knowing whale behaviour patterns will make sure that doesn’t happen too often!
4. The more you go, the luckier you get.
People who consistently get good whale shots cruise a LOT. Most of our favourite whale photographers here in Jervis Bay come out with us at LEAST 5 to 10 times per season. If we know they’re really good and coming out a lot we love to give reduced-price, or sometimes even free, cruises to these people so that we can use their shots for publicity. So if you’re really getting into it and really talented, chat to the tour company and figure out a way to get out on the water as much as possible. The more you go, the more likely it is that you’ll improve your skills, and capture that once-in-a-lifetime shot you dream of.
5. Take Zillions of Shots
Everyone does this with digital cameras, even for the common bathroom selfie, but this is especially important when shooting whales. Most good cameras can shoot between 3 and 14 frames (pictures) per second in a sequence, so shots like the ones in this article have been “cherry picked” from the hundreds that were most likely taken on that particular cruise. You don’t want to have a thousand boring shots to wade through when you get home, so follow the above steps (plus study the billions of technical articles on wildlife photography that are out there!) but when the action happens, be ready and shoot off big sequences so you get the goods.
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