Whale Photography

For Oceanic Eco Tours whale photography is both a tool for conservation and an artistic expression. Our staff are enthusiastic photographers with years of experience taking photos. On our days off, you will often find us out on the ocean pursuing our artistic and conservation goals by taking photos of whales. Photography as a tool serves numerous purposes including inspiring the public via images related to whale conservation and donating photos to support cetacean research. We hope you will join us to share in some wonderful moments photographing the whales of San Diego. If you are not ready to start into whale photography, nothing to worry about as we’ll share the tour photos with you. If you do get some really good photos, particularly of identifying features, please share them with us and we’ll pass them along to the scientists and conservationists that we’re in touch with.

Whale Photography Tips

What camera will get good whale photos? – Although mobile phones and some point-and-shoot cameras offer great technology these days, a DSLR or mirrorless camera body with a zoom lens, fast focus and decent buffer is important for better success. To capture the action of whales and dolphins, it would be great if your camera can take 6+ photos per second.

What lenses are good for whale photography? – Professional photographers will have several lenses handy, as the whales may be far off from the boat (300mm+) or the whales might surface near to the boat (wide angle lens). For beginners we recommend starting with one zoom lens that has a significant range (55-200, 70-300, 28-300, etc). Using a lens hood, UV filter, or polarizing filter will help on most days, especially sunny ones.

What camera settings should I use for whale photography? – Whale photography has more in common with sports photography than nature photography. Whales are always moving and capturing the more dramatic whale activity requires shutter speeds of 500fps+. We often shoot in either Aperture or Shutter Priority mode. For beginners we recommend using Aperture Priority mode set to f/8 or f/16 with ISO set high enough that the camera can shoot at least 1/500. We recommend using servo-focus to avoid blurry photos and set the camera to use as many focus points as it will allow.

What else do I need to bring for whale photography? – Spare batteries and memory cards with plenty of space are always nice. Especially if you decide to shoot some video with your camera, shooting video uses a lot of battery power. We recommend a good hand strap and a harness of some sort to control your camera. You should also consider a waterproof bag with a cushioned camera insert to keep your investment safe.

How do I compose a good whale photo? – Practice and Patience are the keys. There are some tips we can share beyond these obvious elements:

  1. Know your subject. What type of behaviors does this species of whale typically display? Do they breach? Show their tail when diving? Is there a any way to know where they are just before they surface? Knowing a bit about their surfacing behavior can assist you in preparing for getting a good photo.
  2. Get low to the waters surface. Some larger boats have upper decks where it can be easier to track whales, but when you are closer to the water the whale will stick out better from the ocean’s surface and thus stand out better in your photos.
  3. Consider where the sun is. You want the sun behind you, illuminating the whale.
  4. Stay safe and keep stable. Boats are always moving and unsteady. Keep your safety in mind first. Second, the safety of your equipment. Third, try to be stable when shooting.
  5. Go whale watching with a group that specializes in whale photography. Be patient. Getting some wonderful whale photos takes time, effort, knowledge and a great crew.
  6. Finally, join us in being grateful for the opportunity to enjoy taking photos of the whales and dolphins in beautiful San Diego.