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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | Art Talk | February 2009 

Photo Tip of the Week: Photographing Humpback Whales
email this pageprint this pageemail usLarry Bennett - PVNN

Photo Tips of the Week are written by Larry Bennett, a professional photographer living in Puerto Vallarta. To view more of his work, visit
Photographing the mighty Humpback Whales are probably one of my biggest sources of frustration as a photographer but if you have a little patience and wait a few minutes, those mighty creatures will blow and raise those mighty humps in the air and show you some of the most beautiful flukes you will ever see. You will suddenly feel like you deserve a nature photographer of the year award. Let me explain this comment.

I put "photographing the whales" as one of the hardest things to do. With over 15,000 whale images under my belt I still continue to get frustrated and wonder just what Iím doing wrong sometimes. At times itís a juggling act, between white balance, lighting (Kelvin Temperature), speed, focus, peopleís elbows, and other boats getting in the way. Youíre standing in a boat trying to steady your camera while going 20 miles per hour in three foot waves. When all of sudden an object as big as a 45 foot school bus, weighing 45 tons with side pectoral fins over 16 feet in length appears 90 feet off your port side, blows water (or as I refer to as whale snot) all over you and your equipment. Pandemonium breaks out with breaths of joy, fear, and awe; the boat is rocking and pitching and your adrenalin just spiked! It just doesnít get any better. Whales are fun, not only to see but to photograph. Letís take a look at some things I do to capture the ultimate whale images.

Choosing a Boat and Guide

All boats that advertise and take passengers out into the Bay of Banderaís need to have the special orange flag which proves the boat and crew are registered with the authorities and have permission to take passengers into the whale zones. The boat, captain, and crew must observe the rules set forth and respect the whales and their rituals. I can say that most of the boats do a pretty good job with this. It has always been the best for me to find a smaller boat which has the capacity to hold 8-12 passengers as they have the speed and maneuverability to put you on the whales rather quickly. Tell your guide that you are a photographer and they will more than likely give you a special spot on the side or at the front of the boat.

Letís Look at our Equipment

For those of you that are not into serious photography or just donít want to pay the big dollars for a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex), you will still be able to get some good images with your point and shoot.. I will tell you how a little later in this article. However, if you are shooting a compact point and shoot, one good piece of advice is that not all memory or flash cards are the same! If youíre all proud of yourself for saving big bucks on a discount flash or memory card there is a 100 percent chance youíll be shooting just that, an image that you will not be happy with. When it comes to shooting action or moving objects such as the whales, having a flash or memory card which has a fast processing speed is very important.

DSLR people, letís look at lenses. We will talk a little later about settings but for now letís pick out our lenses. All of my cameras are Canons. Now this doesnít mean my stuff is better than yours, it just means I like and shoot Canon and have always had great luck and success with Canon. My favorite lens for running around the bay is my 70-200 F2.8 SS/IM. I shoot 85 percent of my whale images with this lens. In prior years I have used my 100-400 SS/IS, but the focusing on this lens is very slow when shooting whales. I also shoot an 18-105 F3.5 SS/IM. Using these two lenses, I feel that I have all of my bases covered while shooting the whales. Thatís why I always shoot with two cameras.

I carry an extra battery for each camera, as well as two extra high speed professional flash or memory cards. I also keep a dry lens rag in my vest or pocket, a bath towel in my back pack, and a few plastic trash bags to wrap my camera and camera bags, just in case you get into rough seaís or foul weather.
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Photo Tips of the week are written by Larry Bennett, a professional photographer living in Puerto Vallarta. These tips are to be just tips, refer to your cameras owner's manual for specifics on your camera. Readers are welcome to enjoy Larry's website at

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