5 tips for Improving your Whale Photography

by | Jun 3, 2022 | Photography | 0 comments

5 tips for Improving your Whale Photography?

I have been photographing and exploring the wilds of nature around Vancouver Island and the BC coast since 2005.  Whale photography (orcas and humpbacks) has been a regular part of my nature photography for the last 10 years.  It takes time and patience.  Throughout my many experiences, I have put together my “5 tips for improving your Whale Photography”.

  • First on my list is to ensure you have your camera settings dialed in properly. Well, what does that mean?  In my mind, shutter speed trumps everything.  If it is blurry or out of focus, what can you do with the image?  Nothing really.  If there is action (breaching), I will set the shutter speed to at least 1/1600 or preferably 1/2000 sec.  If the whales are moving normally in the water, with just fins visible, then 1/800 to 1/1000 will work.  I start with aperture f/7.1 and adjust accordingly.  I use full manual settings with auto ISO.  The component regarding camera settings is to ensure you have continuous auto focus (AF-C in Nikon) set.  I will use single point or dynamic in 90% of the shots.  Single point remains the fastest.

Transient orca near Cowichan Bay, BC

Northern resident near Campbell River, BC

  • Number two on my list is to check if the whale watching tour company of your choice offers an evening sailing. Over the years the 5-9 pm spring and summer sailing are my absolutely favourite as the light is much softer than during the daytime (especially in the summer).  As an added bonus, be ready for amazing sunsets and other scenes on your way back.

Sunset in the Gulf Islands near Vancouver Island, BC

Portlock Point Lighthouse, Prevost Island, BC Canada

  • The third tip may seem obvious but be ready.  Anticipating the action can provide you with one in a lifetime shots.  There is not guarantee to get the breach shot, but without anticipation it is very difficult to get these types of shots while sharp and in focus at the same time.  Keep trying and don’t give up.  Your time will come, as mine did a few times on the last 3 years.

Humpback whale, Strait of Georgia, Vancouver Island, BC

  • Fourth on the list is paying attention to your background. This can be a challenge in whale and marine photography, but anticipation can also help greatly.  A poorly composed background can ruin an otherwise wonderful image, but a beautiful background that truly puts you in the place, can turn an average image into a wonderful one.

Transient orca whales, Swanson Channel, Vancouver Island, BC

  • The final tip for whale photography is to be prepared for the unexpected. If you look around you will start to see things that you might not have expected, especially if it is your first time out on the water (or it has been a long while since you were last out).  I don’t think I have ever been on a whale trip where something interesting didn’t happen.  I could be a lighthouse, or a family of sea lions, or some eagle nicely posing with Mount Baker in the background.

Bald eagles near Samuel Island, Gulf Islands, BC

Dave Hutchison is an award-winning landscape & wildlife photographer based near Victoria on southern Vancouver Island.  Dave offers Adventure Photo Tours around Vancouver Island with info available at https://davehutchison.ca/adventure-tours/.  He also leads multi-day workshops for wildlife photography in The Great Bear Rainforest.  Details are at https://davehutchison.ca/grizzlies-great-bear-rainforest/.  He also offers webinars & workshops around the globe on Long Exposure Photography – “The Art of Seeing What You Can’t See” and soon on Drone Photography.

Dave is an International Brand Ambassador for Singh-Ray Filters based in Florida (discount coupon code dhi15 for 15% off at checkout at https://singh-ray.com ).  Other discounts and deals can be found at https://davehutchison.ca/affiliates/


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