Tips on How to Photograph Whales

Last Updated on March 22, 2021

Photographing whales can be a life changing experience if you do it the right way. Take the time to understand the equipment, techniques, and behavior of whales to ensure you can capture truly breathtaking pictures.

How to Photograph Whales

1. Have the Right Equipment

woman photographing whale

When photographing whales, be sure to always have a zoom lens available with you just in case the whale you are photographing decides to swim far off. If the whale comes close on the other hand, you’ll be able to use your zoom lens to fit the whale in the frame. Nature photographers will use their zoom lenses all the time.

The type of lens that you use also matters and you want to make sure you aren’t using one that is longer than 400 mm because anything longer can prove difficult to use while on a boat.

2. Adjust Your Shutter Speed

humpback whale tale in antartic

Another important thing to consider when taking photos of whales is your shutter speed. Animals in general tend to move around – and quickly, which means it’s important to have the right shutter speed to catch a sharp image. Ideally, you will want to set your shutter speed to 1/500 or faster.

You will also want to make sure you are adjusting your focus to wherever the whale is moving to. If you see that the whale is moving in one particular direction, focus your camera on that direction so you can be ready when the whale inevitably moves that way.

3. Set the Right Exposure

whale jumping out of ocean

Before you start taking photos, be sure that you set your camera to Sports Mode. This is so that you don’t have to worry about adjusting your settings with the changing light and weather conditions.

If you do decide to change the settings manually, however, try and use shutter priority, where your camera selects the appropriate aperture and you set the shutter speed. The smaller the aperture that you use, the more depth of field you will get in your photos.

4. Continuous Shooting Mode

humpback whale jumping out of the water

Many times, whales can be difficult to shoot because they are constantly moving around. What helps in this situation is to put your camera on Continuous Shooting Mode. By doing this, you won’t miss a single moment and you will be able to capture as many shots as your camera will let you.

Your camera will continue to shoot repeatedly, so it’s important to have extra batteries and media cards on hand in case you end up needing them. The last thing you want to be dealing with is having to change your camera’s batteries mid-session.

5. Use a Scale

whale tale in sitka alaska

If you can, try and capture the whale in front of a horizon or next to some flying birds. This will help in emphasizing just how big the whale actually is and will help people get a better perspective on it when they see the photographs.

You may also want to consider getting as low to the ground as you possibly can so that you can separate the whale from the horizon. If you can, try and use a small boat as opposed to a larger one because with a small boat you can be closer to the water and get a better shot.

6. Consider the Weather

Before you decide to go out and photograph whales, you want to make sure that the weather conditions are suitable to do so. If the weather is too sunny, the light will reflect off the whale and thus create harsh shadows and lose detail.

The best time of the day to go is early in the morning when the light is soft and won’t significantly affect the shot. If you are looking to go in the evening, keep in mind that a sunset will create a silhouette and thus make it harder to recognize the shape of the whale.

7. Learn Their Behavior

Make sure that you are taking note of the different types of behaviors that whales have. Knowing so will allow you to recognize patterns and can help you predict what a whale is going to do next. As a result, you will be more prepared to take the perfect shot. If you are trying to get a shot of the whale feeding, for example, it would be good to know that if there are birds around, they typically tend to go into a frenzy just before the whale is about to come up and feed.