Humpback whales photography


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It’s prime whale watching season and record numbers of humpback whales are being spotted along the coast of Eastern Australia. These beautiful giants of the deep almost hunted to extinction, are one of my favourite marine creatures to photograph, however they often present may difficulties for photographers – even professionals. Here are a few photography tips for your next whale watching trip:

“Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales here-abouts! If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!” Herman Melville (1819 – 1891)

1- Humpback whale photography 

Photography of humpback whales is best undertaken from a water vessel

humpback whales

2- Use a polariser filter

humpback whales

3- Use autofocus

Use autofocus and make sure the focus point has an area of contrast to lock in focus.

4- Exposure settings

Mode: For digital SLR’s use Shutter Speed Priority or Manual Mode. If you have a point and shoot camera use the Sports/Action Mode

ISO: Depending on the available light with the majority of DSLR’s you should work around 400 or higher

Shutter Speed: keep it high as the whale is moving and if you are on a boat, so are you. I usually try and use 800th-1000th

Aperture: If working on Shutter Speed Priority your camera will set this. If working in Manual Mode change the aperture to correctly expose your image.

Lens Choice: Long is great and I generally use a combination from 100mm to 500mm though humpback whales are naturally curious animals and often come close to boats where a wide angle lens is best.

5- Photographing Humpback Whales on an overcast day

If photographing on an overcast day, get up high and try excluding the sky as it is usually grey and washed out unless there’s dark storm clouds that can create a dramatic backdrop.

humpback whales

6- Be in the moment

Don’t delete on your outing. Firstly you waste precious time looking at images and you may miss that awesome shot and secondly, it wastes precious battery power.

7- Practice patience

Patience: You’ll need every ounce of this you can get. Mother Nature does not work to your timetable and these are creatures in the wild.

Don’t forget to enjoy the moment.

8- The top five images to take home are


Tail Slapping

The waterfall from a fluke

humpback whales

Pectoral fin slapping

The blow

humpback whales

For more information on how to photograph humpback whales see Blue Dog Photography. One of the best places to photograph humpback whales is in Hervey Bay, especially during the Hervey Bay Ocean Festival and around July or August. There’s also the Paddle Out For Whales event that provides great shots.


  1. Great photos and great tips Danielle. Hope to make it out this season and use some of your suggestions to capture some great whale images of my own.

    • Thanks Karen! This year is looking at being another record breaking season with whales numbers off the coast of QLD. Make sure you plan your trip to allow the best photo opps and viewing for you and your family.


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