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Thread: Whale watching shutter speeds?

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    Member Pinarelloman's Avatar
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    Whale watching shutter speeds?

    I will be going whale watching on the weekend with the 7D. My questions revolve around, lens choice & shutter speed.
    I do not have a mono-pod but may try and get one before the weekend.
    As I will be on a rocking, rolling boat, what sort of shutter speed should I aim for?
    To make it more complicated I have to choose from a 70-200F2.8 IS or 100-400F4.5-5.6 IS.
    If the whales are breaching etc I am thinking I will need about 1/250th if the weather is Ok and boat not rolling too much. Otherwise about 1/500th.
    Any advice would be great.

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    I may be totally wrong because I haven't been whale watching, although I have done a lot of fishing off Sydney, I would select the following kit and settings for the following reasons:

    Irrespective of what happens I believe you will need to maintain your shutter speed because the boat will be rocking a lot so use SHUTTER PRIORITY with a shutter speed higher than the reciprocal of the lens focal length. The sea bottom is shallow until you get about 4 Kms off the Sydney Heads therefore the waves build up and they back wash out from the rocks on the shore-line. I would not take a monopod because with the movement of the boat and people it could become a lethal weapon.

    I would start off with :
    Shutter Priority with a setting of approx 1/400 sec or higher. (you want sharp shots and you want to freeze the action)
    The 70-200mm lens for reach and ease of use hand held. (you can crop a bit if some whale shots are a long way off).
    Start with an ISO setting 400 and see if that supports an aperture of approximately f5.6 then adjust the ISO to suit. (f5.6 is usually a sweet spot for the lens).

    Have a nice trip.
    Cheers
    Darey

    Nikon user, Thick skinned and wanting to improve, genuine C & C welcomed.

    Photographs don't lie ! - Anonymous Liar

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    Member David Kembrey's Avatar
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    From my experience whale watching a mono pod is near on impossible to use because you will be rocking and rolling unless it is a dead flat day, and that doesnt happen very often. Depending on the available light eg nice bright day or cloudy, I tend to aim for 1/250th or 1/500th of a second also use manual focus as I found auto would pick up on the water flowing off the whales and not the actual whale.

    hope you have a great day
    C&C most welcome, please if reworks are made post what adjustments etc have been made so I can learn from them

    Thanks

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    I did whale watching + photography, just about 6 months ago.

    1) Tripod is impossible! Mono-pod is not that particle neither!

    2) I was enthusiastic enough and brought 2 lens - 120-400 and 24-70. But I can tell you from my limited experience that even the 400 or 500mm range is not long enough if the whales are far, then some whales will suddenly spy hopping just right next to you and you have almost no times to change to shorter focal length lens neither! And first time ever I wish I have the Tamron 18-270 super zoom with me!

    So if you have 2 camera bodies, 1 attach the long lens and the other attach the short one. Otherwise I will get a super zoom But if quality of photo is essential then you have to take your pick.

    3) Last 3 times I watch whales, all in the time where the sun is in the middle and reflection from water is terrible!!! Get a CPL filter to cut off haze. You have a 7D, ISO 800/1600 shouldn't be that much a problem.

    4) I use spot metering... center point. I am not sure about 7D but if it has "Highlight Priority", turn it on as well! Very useful when spy hopping is close. The whales very likely will be spinning and their back is black and tummy is white. You want the camera do all the hard works for you.

    5) I used Tv 1/500 and photos are nice and sharp. (Hand held)

    6) 7D use CF card right? Get a very fast CF card, shoot JPEG and set the burst rate to 5fps rather than using 8fps. You don't want to buffer out too often as whales tend to provide lots of surprises to photographers who are not prepared.

    Hope this help
    Last edited by andylo; 05-07-2011 at 1:38pm.

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    I would agree with the CPL, however I'd use manual mode since u can't rely on spot metering when u can't stand straight. Do some test shots, see what you can get with f5.6-f8, choose an ISO so you can get 1/1000 or so.

    Don't know how big your 7D buffer is, but the 5fps idea is good. Don't JPEG, you have too many variables.

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    Quote Originally Posted by reaction View Post
    ...... however I'd use manual mode since u can't rely on spot metering when u can't stand straight.......
    Why standing? I was pretty much on my knees most of the time....

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    i see a fatal minor flaw/s in all some of the above statements.

    what do you want to achieve in the photographing of whales? you want to freez the frame right? but there are other non-constants to take into account like the boat rocking, wales moving around, etc...

    #1 scrap the monopod! you do not want to use one (or a tripod for that matter) in this sort of situation. hand held is the only way to go. your body will automatically counteract the swaying motion of the boat... its just what it does, and having the camera in a fixed spot will see your fov being anything for 100% water to 100% sky and rarely trained on the target at hand.

    shutterspeed. its a no brainer! you want to freeze the motion right? you arent going to pan, you dont want funky motion blur showing how fast the whales were going! just shoot as high a shutterspeed as you can without inducing too much iso related noise. its that simple.
    lens wise, take the 100-400 for the reach. you will get a fast enough shutterspeed with it and there is only a 30mm difference at the wide end between the 2 lenses.

    best of luck and be sure to show us your results
    Last edited by ving; 06-07-2011 at 11:20am.

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    Probably need to time your shutter finger depending on the swell.....wait until you are at the top if you can and the boat is stationary ( or very slow) Make sure your camera is firmly attached to your neck or shoulder.......it will sink if dropped... and its very easy to drop if the swell is up The smaller the boat the rougher the ride .....
    have fun!
    cheers
    Jan

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    Quote Originally Posted by ving View Post
    i see a fatal flaw in all the above statements.
    Hi ving, I agree everything you have said - but just for the sake of me learning, please advise where is the fatal flaw in my statements?

    (Not trying to argue, just really want to see what I am missing, as I am going to whale watch again soon)

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    Amor fati!
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    Quote Originally Posted by andylo View Post
    Hi ving, I agree everything you have said - but just for the sake of me learning, please advise where is the fatal flaw in my statements?

    (Not trying to argue, just really want to see what I am missing, as I am going to whale watch again soon)
    oh ok, not all the above then...

    but generally: D x (Y*2 / L) + T - S = ss
    where D = distance to object, L = focal length, S = boat speed, T = boat roll pitch, and Y = whale speed....

    what i am saying is that trying to pick a shutter speed to perfectly match the scene will see a miss opportunity.

    is it bright and sunny? shoot at sharpest aperture and pick a lowish iso like 200-250. if shutter speed is too slow dues to drop in light bump up the iso or open the aperture.
    dont sit there and over Analise the shot or you will miss it.

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    Where is my fatal flaw Ving? I want to learn too.

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    can't remember Tannin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ving View Post
    dont sit there and over Analise the shot
    Err .... you are saying you don't want him to take it out of his bum?

    You might care to review your spelling

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    Wow! Amazing how many opinions there are! Well, listen up because I'm right and anyone who doesn't agree with me is ... er ... not right.

    20 rules for boat trips
    • 1. Hand-hold. I doubt that the boat operator would even let you use a pod. Too dangerous! Useless anyway. A small boat on anything other than a mill-pond is like riding a horse. You are the primary image stabilisation system - you are constantly flexing and anticipating to try to smooth the motion out. Can you imagine trying to use a monopod on a horse? Where would you put it? (No, no, Ving. Not there! )
    • 2. Use whatever exposure mode you are most comfortable and familiar with. Eight people out of ten would use aperture priority, which is probably the best, but if you like shutter priority for some strange reason, you could do that instead.
    • 3. Don't mess about trying to spot meter! You will be flat out getting a reading anyway, and by the time you fiddle about with spots and adjustments, the whale will be somewhere off the coast of China. If you are not familiar with partial or average or evaluative metering, learn fast! Partial is the best for this sort of work - it's a large enough metering area to pay some respect to the overall scene, and a small enough area to both respect the central subject and to give you a fair chance of estimating the correct EC factor by eye - you might not get a chance to chimp and tweak!
    • 4. Ignore (3) if you feel strongly about it. I recommend partial, but I firmly recommend being familiar with and comfortable with whatever metering mode you opt to use.
    • 5. Listen to Andylo! Andy has done this stuff before, you can tell 'cause he makes the most sense.
    • 6. If you are comfortable shooting JPG, that's a good idea. Ignore the JPG-challenged crowd who don't know how to get their white-balance right (easy - set it to DAYLIGHT and don't damn well touch it!) and don't trust themselves to get their exposure even approximately right - you don't actually get all that much more headroom for error with raw, just a little bit. The question you have to ask yourself is "am I more likely to regret a minor technical flaw, such as a not-quite-right exposure? Or a complete missed-the-shot-got-nothing-at-all failure?" If you are running out of buffer, switch to JPG!
    • 7. But don't switch to JPG if you are not running into buffer-full issues. With careful, rather miserley use of the shutter button, you should be able to manage raw OK. Just!
    • 8. Better yet, use two bodies. I usually shoot raw + JPG, and on my trip I found that, yes, the creatures were completely unpredictable. Add to that the fact that the boat is moving and spinning around to give everyone a turn at the best view, and add to that the unpredictable combination of wind and wave and tide and swell .... you just don't know when stuff is going to happen and when it does happen you want to ripple off your shots and nail every chance you can - you might only get one chance! So I took both the 7D and the 1D III as my long-lens cameras and was (mostly) able to swap between them to avoid buffer full situations without resorting to JPG-only.
    • 9. Lenses. I used the 500/4 (which was an absolute pain because of its size and weight, not to mention not being a zoom - you can't move closer or move away, so a zoom is much, much more useful than a prime) and the 100-400. I used them both about equally. Remember that I wasn't looking at whales, it was seals, sealions, dolphins, albatrosses, cormorants, and assorted other seabirds. If I was mostly doing mammals and had to pick just one lens, I'd take the 100-400 - lighter and more versatile. For the birds, the longer, faster lens would be better.
    • 10. Take something shorter. Doesn't matter much what. My 24-105 was fine. Anything in a normal to longish-normal zoom would be sweet. Hell, because it was there, I even used the 10-22 a couple of times.
    • 11. You shouldn't need to go over ISO 800 unless the weather is really horrible.
    • 12. Yes! Take filters, especially a CPL!
    • 13. I have severe doubts about his unorthodox placement of a monopod, but Ving's assessment of the reasons in favour of using aperture priority is good. You certainly want to be controlling your depth of field with aperture, and if you can't do that and keep one eye on the shutter speeds you are getting, ready to sacrifice some DOF or up the ISO if needed, then you should be over in the NTP area learning the basics.
    • 14. There is probably no 14.
    • 15. Use centre point focus. Do not use auto-selection as the camera will pick the nearest thing (as it is supposed to do) and you will have a lot of very sharp pictures of waves with very blurry whales in the background.
    • 16. If you think you know better and are perfectly competent to select your own focus mode depending on the circumstances, then you probably are.
    • 17. See 14.
    • 18. Take several cleaning cloths (better for absorbing spray) and a packet or two of lens tissues as well.
    • 19. If in the slightest doubt, take your motion sickness pill before you venture out onto the choppy water! 20 minutes before is about right. You need to give it time to take effect - otherwise, you can't keep it down and it doesn't work!
    • 20. Enjoy!
    Tony

    People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tannin View Post
    Wow! Amazing how many opinions there are! Well, listen up because I'm right and anyone who doesn't agree with me is ... er ... not right.

    • 5. Listen to Andylo! Andy has done this stuff before, you can tell 'cause he makes the most sense.
    • 19. If in the slightest doubt, take your motion sickness pill before you venture out onto the choppy water! 20 minutes before is about right. You need to give it time to take effect - otherwise, you can't keep it down and it doesn't work!
    I am not sure about #5, I am just sharing my experience on something I have done before on a occasionally basis. The reason I ask ving purely for my own educational purpose, as I am sure most people on the board has more experience than I ever do. So don't take it as gospel. I stand by my comments, but put me on a spot light kind of turn my face red


    I am sure #19 is THE BEST advise has given so far
    Last edited by andylo; 06-07-2011 at 8:40am.

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    Wow, some incredibly detailed repsonses. Good stuff, well maybe not ALL good stuff, Davids monopod technique sounds interesting. though his formula is well thought out ..: D x (Y*2 / L) + T - S = ss
    where D = distance to object, L = focal length, S = boat speed, T = boat roll pitch, and Y = whale speed....


    You should be pretty right on those bigger whale boats, but for smaller boats I carry a little spray bottle of fresh water to rinse gear if it cops a spray of salt water.

    Also tend to turn the IS/VR off, it seems to give a higher keeper rate. I think at times it gets confused trying to couneract too many opposing forces when out on boats...particularly small boats & rough water. Your shutter speed should be well up around 1/1000 to 1/2000 anyway, so no problem.

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    Remember also to "say cheese"
    Darren
    Gear : Nikon Goodness
    Website : http://www.peakactionimages.com
    Please support Precious Hearts
    Constructive Critique of my images always appreciated

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darey View Post
    Where is my fatal flaw Ving? I want to learn too.
    oh there! fixed... touchy lot!

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    Wow, thanks for all the replies. I think I am going to go against the trend here. Not because I know more than you guys, but because I don't.
    I am setting the camera for shutter priority of between 1/500-1/1000th. Partial metering as suggested and single point AF.
    I will be getting a filter on Friday. I have a UV filter, is a CPL that much better?
    Should be a great weekend, drive up to Nelson Bay with the Porsche club & whale watching in the arvo.
    Thanks for all the replies. Will post a link to my photo's from this thread.

  19. #19
    can't remember Tannin's Avatar
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    If you are most comfortable and familiar with shutter priority, so be it. 500th-1000th is good - you could go a bit lower than that if you have to - a 250th, say.

    A UV filter only keeps spray off the lens proper. It cannot improve your pictures in any way. (UV has no effect on digital sensors, they just ignore it. UV filters used to be useful back in film days, 'cause the UV did nasty stuff to the film. These days all it does is slightly degrade your image quality (more glass = bad) and offr soe small protection to your lens (good things to use in a sandstorm!).

    A CPL is a completely different thing. I wouldn't try to learn how to use a CPL (it takes a little while) this trip. You need a day or two experimenting first.

    See 20 above!

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