How to take photographs of Southern Right Whales

16th October 2009


I would like to give you a tail to tell all your family and friends, after you return from this exiting one day photographic tour to Hermanus...

Taking photographs of Southern Right Whales can be fun and frustrating at the same time, here are some of tips to get better photographs.

Let’s first talk about the equipment that you need. A lens of about 300mm or 400mm is usually more than enough, or if you are using a compact camera, a 10x zoom will do the trick. Set your camera to the highest quality, in case you might need to crop your photographs afterwards.

We sometimes settle for the cheapest memory card we can find, often offered to us on some sort of promotion, but the truth is that these are usually slow in writing images to the card. There are memory cards available that will write your images quicker, like the SanDisk Ultra and SanDisk Extreme memory cards. This means your camera is ready to take the next photograph so much quicker, so that you don’t miss any important photos. To capture the precise moment, set your camera to continuous shooting mode and delete the bad shots afterwards.

Set your camera to ISO 400, and I prefer to use the shutter priority mode (S) or (TV) with a shutter speed of between 1/800 or 1/1250 of a second. When I use my compact camera I will select the action or sports mode to achieve a faster shutter speed. And [name], remember that if a Southern Right Whale breaches (that’s whale talk for when they do a backflip leap out the water) once and you missed it, stand ready, because the chances are good that they will do it again. 

The exposure can be very tricky, with the dark whale and the dark blue ocean, so I found best results when I underexposed slightly, only 1/3 or even 2/3 of a stop will do, and try playing around between Sunny and Cloudy White Balance, depending on the weather.

If all of this sound way to complicated, join me on a Photographic Day Tour to Hermanus, and I’ll show you how...

Photograph beautiful seascapes along the scenic drive to Betty’s Bay and learn how to take better landscape photographs, what filters the pro’s carry in their camera bags and what depth of field to use. At Betty’s Bay I will share my secret on how to get great photographs African penguins with you, before we make our way to Hermanus. After a picnic lunch at one of the many lookout point across Walker Bay, and trying your hand at photographing these gentle giants from land, we board the boat that will take us as close as 50 meters to the whales! But hurry, the whales is here until the end of November.

Invest in your hobby, by adding amazing pictures to your portfolio, and “learning in the field” The cost for a Photographic Day Tour to Hermanus, to photograph Southern Right Whales, is only R1500 per person, including a picnic lunch and a 2 hour whale cruise.

And [name] ,if you have to fly in to Cape Town, you can enjoy the Photographic Day Tour to Hermanus, two nights bed and breakfast accommodation, a evening photographic workshop in Simonstown, and airport transfer for only R2600  (excluding airfare)

Southern Right Whales got their name from the early whale hunting days, as it was considered the right type of whale to hunt, as it did not sink like other whales when killed. Hunting reduced their numbers to about 50 by 1935, but the subsequent ban on hunting and other protection efforts have allowed the estimated population to swell to about 2200. These gentle can reach 18 meters in length, weigh up to 60 tons and potentially live to be a hundred years. They come to the still waters of Walker Bay at Hermanus to mate and calve every year. Southern right calves average 6.1 meters in length and consume 600 litres of milk per day!

While Hermanus is reputed to have the best land-based whale watching in the world, you can get even closer by joining this photographic tour with one of the certified operators who will take us into the bay. It is a wonderful experience to spend a few hours with these gentle giants, and if we are lucky, we might even get photographs of Bryde’s whales, humpback whales (not to be confused with the humping whales that are back in the bay) and killer whales.

Motion of the Ocean Workshop

The next “Motion of the Ocean” photographic workshop will be held on Sunday the 1st of November, directly after the Noordhoek Country Fair. On this workshop I will show you how to take stunning photographs on Noordhoek beach at the foot of Chapman’s Peak using a slow shutter speed to create movement blur in the waves. Invest only R150 in your hobby to join this workshop, you know what I always say:
If you want to take more interesting photographs, get your camera to more interesting places...”

Contact me for more information and other upcoming workshops

Personal Photocoach
If you want to learn more about photography, or just how to use your camera better, it doesn’t even matter what type of camera you have, I offer one on one photographic coaching, to help you become a better photographer.

Upcoming Exhibitions
Visit me at the following exhibitions in the Cape
22-25 October 2009    Destination Expo 2009            at the Cape Town International Convention Centre
1 November 2009        Noordhoek Country Fair on Noordhoek’s commen area, opposite the Noordhoek Farm Village

A moment in time...

This photograph of the old harbour in Hermanus was taken by Thomas Daniel Ravenscroft (1852-1948). He was the official photographer for the Cape Government Railways, with a lot of his scenic photographs decorating their train compartments. Hermanus was his favourite place, and you can view most of his photographs of old Hermanus, the old harbour, the fishing and whaling of the time, as well as the old field camera he used at the De Wet’s Huis Photo Museum in Hermanus.

The way I see it...

When we do things in our lives, it is not about what we do, or even when we do it, it is about who we do it with that makes all the difference.

Keep those cameras snapping, till next time.

Peter Haarhoff       

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