The Gray Whales of Long Beach

People have a lot of different perceptions of California, some are nice, some aren’t – and we’re not going to discuss or debate them here.

Among the many perceptions, one thing that usually isn’t in the mix is that it is a place where you can watch whales, and do so pretty easily at that.

Mr. and Mrs. Frog and some friends took an afternoon whale watch cruise from Long Beach Harbor on Harbor Breeze Cruises, and had a great time.

We followed (from a safe distance) a pair of Gray Whales on their journey back north, and came away with some images that can be shared on Laughing Frog Images.

I shot well over 150 images, and between the rolling of the boat, the waves, and the whales (who apparently aren’t worried about telepathic directions and request from photographers), probably a third of them were deemed worth showing.  Of that group, 19 are posted in the Whales Gallery.

Gray Whales, Long Beach CA

The images were taken with a Tamron 18-270mm VR lens on my Nikon D-90 at ISO 400, shutter speeds were generally 1/1000 second or higher.

So, you want to go photograph whales?

Here’s my two cents:

  • be patient, and remember that the whales are moving along at their own pace and on their own schedule – you might have a great day, and you might not…
  • make sure you have a lot of room on your memory card,
  • take the longest lens you have,
  • shoot with a medium ISO (200-400 or so), and,
  • if you can, set your shutter speed manually so that it is ideally 1/1000 or higher to compensate for all of the movement and things that you can’t control
  • if your schedule permits, avoid mid-day cruises – that’s when the lighting is direct and harsh, and much of the water detail will merely be shades of gray.  Go for early morning or late afternoon.
  • shoot a lot – because you’re not going to have a 100% success rate
  • don’t rely on the monitor on your camera to determine what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot – wait until you can see the images on your computer before you make those decisions.


Sometimes you need a little luck #2


Getting images of seals on a beach in their basic form isn’t all that hard.

After all – they’re seals. And, they’re on a beach.  As I said, the basics aren’t hard.

Getting those really memorable photos of seals on a beach isn’t technically hard – it’s not much different than getting an image of a seal on a beach.  You generally just need to capture a seal doing something on the beach other than sleeping.  But that’s the whole point of why they’re on the beach.  To sleep.

Starting to see the challenge?

So, you sit there and focus on a seal and wait.  Or, you scout the seals and, using your best seal sense, try to figure out which one is going to do something photogenic and focus on that one and wait.  At least until you figure out your seal sense isn’t quite as good as what you thought it was.  Then, you start to scan the seals thorough your lens, because you know that’s going to work!

As either and/or both your feet and butt get sore from waiting, you realize that there’s only one thing that is going to work for you.  Sometimes, you need a little luck.

That’s what finally happened here when I caught this guy/gal moving in mid-nap.  A little luck had come my way.  I swung the camera around (Casio Exilim EX-V8) and captured this image.  This is a crop of the original – I had a pocket digital with me, and not my DSLR.

There are a lot of potential captions for this image – and each of us has our own take on that.  We can all relate to having a peaceful sleep ruined by things like an alarm clock, or someone making a loud noise.

There was noise, and this guy/gal wasn’t all that happy.  I’m not sure if I saw the seal version of flipping someone off before the eyes were again closed and it was time to visit Sleepy Town once again.

CIMG0839 4x5 320w

(Yeah, I know, that was an incredibly bad groaner, but if you’ve been following along on the blog, you shouldn’t be surprised by now!)

You can see the original image here in the Galleries on Laughing Frog Images.

Most everyone out there knows someone who deserves this on their coffee/tea cup – and we can help with that!

Thanks for reading.

Sometimes, you need a little luck.

I was asked about this picture recently.  Specifically, “how did you do it?”

DSC_2727 LF

Well, from a technical standpoint, it’s easy to explain.  Nikon D-80 camera, Sigma 18-200VR lens, ISO 320, 1/800 shutter speed, aperture of f/9.

From a practical standpoint, you need a little luck.

We were on a Na Pali Coast cruise from the north shore of Kauai, and we came across a school of Spinner Dolphins.  They seem to be natural hams for the camera, and probably have figured out that we humans act silly when they play for us.  That was the first bit of luck.

Then – the guessing began.  You have to pick a dolphin (or small group of them) and try to track them with your camera.  And repeat.  And then, repeat again.  All the while, you’re hoping for that spectacular break and jump – and when that happens, you have to remember to be quick with the shutter instead of watching it.

What tends to happen is that all of the dolphins that are jumping and making those spectacular displays and memories for the babbling humans are those that you’re not tracking.  By the time you turn and focus on them, it’s over…

Sometimes, you need a little luck.

It all came together for me in a brief moment – the jump, the focus, the exposure, and the timing.  While I wished at the time that it was closer and on the other side of the boat so this wasn’t a silhouette shot – there is something about the shape and form of the dolphin that is accentuated by its’ silhouette.

I wish I could tell you that it takes a mastery of skills that only a few have achieved, but then, I’d be lying to you.  It does take the right ISO, aperture and shutter speed.  It does take patience.  (And, thank the programmers, developers, and engineers that made digital photography a reality – because there would be a lot of expensive and wasted film in the process!)

But, to be honest, sometimes, you just need a little luck…

You can find the image here on Laughing Frog Images, or you can start from the Main Gallery Page.