On a recent trip to Santa Cruz, I decided to go on a whale watching tour. For those who have never been on a whale watching tour, here are some tips in general and for photography.
- Pop them Pills – Now, if you thought I was speaking of drugs you were correct, that is, over the counter Dimehydrinate tablets, aka, Dramamine tablets. These are essential, especially, if you get motion sick easily. Even if you do not get motion sick easily, it is better safe than sorry. Besides either you keep your food or the fish get a nice snack.
- Jackets – I made the horrible mistake of not wearing a jacket, for this was my first whale tour. Unless you wish to feel like a polar bear, in December, in a snow storm, on top of Mount Everest, take a jacket.
- Elbows – They are there for a reason. I quickly learned that the elbows were designed, not as a strategic location for a joint, but as a deadly weapon. If your tour is full; first, prepare emotionally for the battle ahead. Then be sure to elbow your way to either side of the boat. Eventually whales will end up on your side, that is, if there are even any whales on your tour.
- Do not be scared – Yes, some will argue their camera is more important than anything in the universe; however, you made the choice of being on a rocking boat, fully surrounded by enormous mammals that out weigh you by at least 200x and you payed for the experience. If you are worried about your camera getting wet, that is the least of your problems. Remember the camera can be replaced, but if you have to choose between a life-vest and your camera, please choose the life-vest.
- Timing – As I said the boat will likely be rocking. Timing the shot is difficult and very irritating at first. Later you will learn to anticipate when to take the shot. For what ever reason, in Santa Cruz sea lions always seemed to know where the whales would surface. I do not know whether this is just a Santa Cruz thing or if it is common in multiple areas. So, look for sea lions, they’re psychic.
- Gray – If you are using auto-focus, you better pray for a sunny day. Many cameras can not distinguish between a gray sky, with gray water, and gray whales. So, the camera’s ability to sense differences in color and lighting drops to a very low level, further complicating taking photos on a rocking boat full of irritated tourists. If the sky is gray and similar conditions occur, I recommend switching to manual-focus, if you have the option. This worked for me and is one of the few times where it is was required to go to manual-focus.
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