Getting the perfect shot: Four tips to improve your whale photography

Whale Watching

Everybody wants to capture that ‘wow’ factor whale photo; the beautiful tail fluke, the perfect breach…only to end up with a blurry and grainy mess that only if you squint hard enough, you can see a whale. Here are four tips to up your whale watching photography game and bring humpback envy to all of your friends.

1. Patience

Whale watching is all about patience, and to capture the ultimate breach, it requires even more. Whales are wild creatures who swim by their own rules, making it hard to locate where they will appear. This elusive behaviour can be frustrating when you are pursuing the perfect shot. Firstly, find your ideal spot, preferably with the sun behind you. Secondly, listen to your captain. Your captain is knowledgeable in whale activity and will be your eyes and ears on your trip. Pay attention to what they have to say about whale behaviour as this will help you know what to expect and where to look.

2. Know your whales

Different species of whale have different types of behaviour, and to get those ‘wow’ photographs, it is important to learn what each behaviour means. If you are eager for a breach, keep an eye out for a fluke up dive. Humpbacks dive deep into the ocean to gain enough power to launch out of the water. On average a humpback whale will spend 7 minutes underwater, so keep an eye on your watch while you get your camera ready.

Heat pods, when a female is being chased by multiple males, are notorious for sudden changes in direction. As tempting as it is to keep moving back and forth from one side of the boat to the other, staying in the same spot may be a smarter strategy for spotting and photographing whales. Much like picking a checkout line in a supermarket, swapping at the last minute rarely works out for anyone.

3. Camera settings

Have you ever tried taking a photograph of a fast moving object only to get a grainy blur? It is important to adjust your digital or DSLR camera settings correctly to capture fast whale action. To do this, put your camera on shutter priority mode and adjust your camera’s shutter speed to at least 1/1000. 

If you don’t own a digital camera, you can also take amazing photographs using your iPhone. The iPhone has a ‘burst feature mode’ which takes photos of action as it happens by holding down the shutter button and releasing it when you’re done.

iPhone’s also offer ‘live mode’ which takes a photo and a video simultaneously. When live mode is turned on, it records a video for a few seconds before and after you take a photo. This feature is a life saver when you just missed out on a spectacular breach, as your phone will have automatically recorded the moments before. From here you can scroll through the video and select the photos you want or save it as a video. 

Note: Burst mode will not work when live mode is on.

4. Zoom

To zoom or not to zoom, that is the question. Depending on what type of zoom you have, you can more often than not be better off by ignoring zoom. There are two types of zoom functions: optical and digital. Optical zoom uses the physical lens of a camera to magnify an image without losing quality. This ensures crisp photo quality compared to that of the digital zoom seen on mobile phones. Digital zoom magnifies using the sensor and loses image quality the more you zoom.

If you don’t have optical zoom, wait to take photographs when the boat is stopped or close to the whales. By doing this, it preserves the image quality and can prevent image grain if you choose to crop it.

Most importantly, remember to have fun in your pursuit of the perfect photograph. It can sometimes be discouraging, but with practice, patience and following the tips above, you are on your way to becoming a pro whale photographer on your next Sea World Whale Watching Cruise.

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