If you live near or are vacationing near a coast, whale watching can be a great summertime activity. Trying to capture images of these giants of the deep can be a challenge, though.
Here are 10 tips on getting good whale pictures.
1. Protect your gear
The relationship between water and cameras is usually as tenuous as a Game of Thrones alliance. Water spray can quickly do damage to your camera.
When shooting, loop your camera strap around your neck. Smartphone and iPad users, keep a firm grip and try not to hold your device over water.
2. You don’t need a fancy camera
Will a pro-level DSLR and a huge telephone lens get you better pictures? Maybe. But great shots can be taken with point-and-shoots and iPads.
Shutter delays can be an issue with those devices, though. One tip is to look into shooting video, especially if you have a device that records high quality video and software that will let you isolate individual frames as images.
3. Be ready for action
Whales are constantly in motion, so you need to be ready to freeze action.
If you have a point-and-shoot camera, put it on sports or action setting. For a bigger SLR, you’ll want to turn on the continuous shooting setting. Try using shutter-priority mode and setting the action for at least 1/1000 to freeze it.
4. Zooming in may not be worth it
Having a big zoom lens can be more of a pain than it is worth. Tripods and monopods don’t work well on rocking boats full of people, so you’ll more than likely have to hand-hold. That can result in blurry images.
Try a mid-range zoom that you can comfortably carry. Digital zooms on point-and-shoot cameras also often result in blurry images, so try to use a point-and-shoot with an optical zoom.
5. Don’t overload with gear
Bringing tons of gear on a whale watch can be a real pain. The sitting areas are often crowded with no storage space to safely put a bag full of valuable equipment. You might consider downsizing into a holster type case and using one versatile zoom lens.
6. Be ready for changes in lighting
Whales move around quickly, and there is no guarantee what the lighting conditions might be where might show up. It’s important to know your camera controls well enough so that you can quickly adjust for variable light conditions on the fly. Check your shots every now and then to make sure you’re getting the exposure you want.
7. Be prepared
Whales can have a sick sense of humor – if they hear the words “My battery just died” or “My card is full,” that’s almost a guarantee they’re going to do something spectacular.
While you should enjoy the moment when it happens, you should always have spare batteries and cards ready to go.
Whales are constantly moving, so staring at where it just disappeared under the waves is looking at the last place it will probably reappear.
Try to anticipate where it might be headed. That’s a tough choice, but the chances of success are better than looking at where it was.
9. Don’t expect the boat to get closer
There are specific rules about how close tour boats can get to whales. Generally, Canada boats remain 100 meters away, while in the United States, it is 200 yards. Whales may well come closer to check out the boat, but well-run tours will stop far enough away to give them space.
10. Enjoy it
The power and strength of a whale rising up and powering down into the depths is one of the most spectacular sights of the animal world. Make sure you put your camera down occasionally and soak in your other senses.
Breathe in the fresh ocean air. Close your eyes and listen to the whales blowing as they burst to the surface. Enjoy.