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Whale Photography

July 18, 2009

The Humpbacks are here!
How and where is the best way to capture these giants of the deep?

Along the coast of Queensland the mighty humpbacks are playing! They have come earlier this year and the numbers are way up! It’s the best year on record since before 1940 to photograph them.

Still listed as ‘vulnerable’ under the Queensland Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 1994, these giants of the deep are fighting back! Their population declined from more than 10,000 in the 1940’s to approximately 400 in the 1980’s and today is it estimated more than 5,000 humpback whales will make the annual breeding migration from Antarctica to the warm waters of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.

Photography of humpback whales is best from a water vessel. Any photography from a moving vessel provides challenges – a tripod is out as it will pick up the vibrations of the motor. A bigger boat is better.

Shutter Speed: Use a high shutter speed. We prefer 800-1000 as both we and the whale are moving.

Lens: Long is great – above 100-300, or 400 mm lens. If you can hand hold a 500 great!
We always carry a wide in case the whale comes close to the boat.

(c) Rolf Winkler

ISO: Work on 400 ISO for those fast shutter speeds required.

Mode: Shutter Speed Priority or Manual.

Focus: Generally auto focus though we sometimes switch to manual.

Use a polariser

Patience: You’ll need this. Mother Nature does not work to your timetable and these are creatures in the wild. It’s great if you can plan extra time.

Never delete on the field!

Photographs for identification: Humpbacks are identified using photographs of the undersides (ventral side) of their fluke (tail) which have unique pigmentation and trailing edge patterns. So the ideal photograph of a humpback whale would be taken as the animal is headed away from you at the moment when the whale has lifted its fluke, and you can see the full shape of the fluke in your viewfinder.

If you want to send your image on for identification purposes it will need: The date and time taken, location (GPS coordinates), the photographers name and the vessel name. Many cameras can be set to give you the first two.

Where’s the best place to photograph whales?
Our favourite place to photograph humpback whales is in the sheltered waters of Fraser Island’s Platypus Bay. It generally allows us calmer waters and the whales rest here in good numbers for up to 5 days per group.

For one of the best tours for photographing whales in Queensland visit:

(C) Danielle Lancaster

All images copyright.
Image 1and 3: Danielle Lancaster; Image 2 Rolf Winkler

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