Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

Essential Tips for Photographers While Whale Watching

Humpback whale breaching

Humpback whale

If you are a Whale enthusiast or a seasoned Marine photographer, Whale watching can bring you face-to-face with some of the most amazing animals.

For photographers, it presents a unique and thrilling opportunity to capture these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. To ensure you make the most of your whale watching photography adventure, here are some essential tips to consider.

Lens: Whales are common in Monterey Bay, but they may not always come too close to the boat. To capture stunning close-ups and intricate details, a telephoto zoom lens can give you the reach you need for these shots. I use a lens with a focal length of 100-400mm, a lens like this will allow you to photograph these marine giants from a distance without disturbing their natural behavior. But, having a wide angle lens close by is nice to catch the animals you have those close encounter with humpback whales and to capture the environment that they are in. Better yet is having a second camera with a wide angle lens that is ready or a phone for wide angle and selfie images

Use a Fast Shutter Speed: Whales are dynamic creatures, often surfacing and diving with surprising speed. To freeze these moments in time, set your camera to a fast shutter speed. A shutter speed of at least 1/1000th of a second is recommended to ensure sharp and clear images, especially when capturing breaching or tail-slapping behavior.

Humpback whales double breach

Humpback whales double breach

Use an Aperture that will get everything in focus: I typically shot at f/8.  Using F/8 allows me to get photos in focus across a huge depth of field, baitfish jumping out of the whale’s mouth, or all the feathers of a bird while in flight.

Lunge feeding Humpback whales

Lunge feeding Humpback whales

Be Mindful of Composition: Compose your shots thoughtfully to tell a compelling story. Consider the surrounding environment, such as the vastness of the ocean, other wildlife, or the boat itself. Including these elements can add depth and context to your whale watching photographs. Experiment with different angles and framing techniques to create visually captivating images.

Humpback Whale Monterey Bay

Humpback Whale-watching tours with a whale breaching during an Ocean Safari in Monterey Bay

Anticipate and Patience are Key: Whale behavior can be unpredictable, and you might need to wait patiently for the perfect shot. Anticipate their movements by observing their patterns – if a whale surfaces in a certain area, there’s a good chance it will return. If you have breaching whales or if a whale has just breached, if the whale is tail-slapping, pectoral slapping, lunge feeding, fluke diving, performing spectacular breaches  or another interesting event happened, it may do it again, so be ready. Keep your camera at the ready, at eye level and be prepared to act quickly. Patience is a virtue when it comes to wildlife photography, and the reward is often a breathtaking shot.

Humpback Whale Tail at sunset

Humpback Whale Tail at sunset

Respect Wildlife and Follow Guidelines: While capturing stunning photographs is the goal, it’s crucial to prioritize the well-being of the whales and other marine life. Ocean Safaris follows responsible whale watching guidelines and we maintain a safe distance to avoid causing stress to the animals. Remember, ethical photography ensures that future generations can also enjoy these incredible animals and continued access to unique environments like the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Happy whale watching and happy shooting!

Join us for a guided marine wildlife expedition on one of our  wildlife photo tours  for a chance to photograph humpback whales, Blue whales, Killer whales, ( Orcas) dolphins. sharks, sea lions, seals, sea otters, birds and more on our family-friendly adventures departing Santa Cruz North Harbor