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Going whale watching - any tips?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by rcky, Apr 11, 2012.

  1. rcky

    rcky Mu-43 Regular

    61
    Apr 6, 2011
    Washington state
    Hi all,

    I'm going whale watching this Saturday (out of Everett, WA, for the curious).
    I'll be bringing my usual gear - GH1, 25/1.4, 14-42 kit zoom, Oly 40-150, and I have a CP filter on the way for the 40-150 (not sure if I need it, but it "felt" like I will...).
    Would appreciate any tips, tricks and pointers!

    Thx.

    r
     
  2. capodave

    capodave Mu-43 Top Veteran

    514
    Jul 4, 2010
    Southern Cal
    Dave
    I had a 40-150 on my E PL1 on a trip to Alaksa.
    It was too slow.
    The whale breached, I snapped, and just got the tail.
     
  3. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Don't go with a bunch of kids. I did a Whale Watch assignment once, when a bunch of Cub Scouts showed up for the same boat (Cub Scouts not part of the story).

    My initial reaction was cool ... a little more color for the story. The minute we pulled out of the harbor and hit the rougher Pacific water ... the Cub Scouts started getting sick. Everywhere I looked and everywhere I went ... they were dropping like flies ... chumming all over the deck. (I must admit I also have a weak stomach, anything smaller than an aircraft carrier and I am literally green within an hour of open water ... going through crackers like a hot knife through butter ... so this was not good.)

    I managed a classic shot of a fluke high in the air prior to sounding (with a 300mm). Then I escape the carnage on deck, slipped into the helm and pretended to interview the captain for the rest of the trip.

    Gary
     
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  4. shnitz

    shnitz Mu-43 Top Veteran

    989
    Aug 25, 2011
    Austin, TX
    The speed with which a camera captures a photo is mostly independent of the lens. If you missed a shot, it wasn't because of the lens; no other lens on your camera would have made you catch significantly more of the creature. A lens being "fast" or "slow" refers to the amount of light that it is capable of bringing in for a specific shutter speed. The only reason a lens would cause you to miss a shot is if you were in low light, and the smallish aperture of the lens caused you to focus hunt. However, without being there, I'd venture that your missed shot was a combination of your slow micro 4/3 camera, which is a slave to contrast detect autofocus, and your technique. Our cameras can't really follow moving subjects, and they have a hard time catching initial focus, as they have to take multiple readings to decide which the accurate focus distance is.

    OP, with m4/3 cameras (and pretty much all mirrorless cameras), you have to be quick, and use prefocus. Understand the lag that our system has, so focus out to a distance about where the whales are. Fire the shutter earlier rather than later, and don't be afraid to take multiple large cards and shoot in multishot mode. Practice before you go out there, try shooting cars far away, with the lens zoomed all the way to 150mm. You will have a pretty deep depth of field, so even if your point of focus is a little close, you'll find that the whales will still all be in focus. Try to err by focusing closer rather than futher, as whales moving towards you will eventually move into the plane of focus, and the depth of field extends further behind the plane of focus than it does in front of it. I.e. if you take a photo, it's easier to blur the foreground than the background.
     
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  5. MajorMagee

    MajorMagee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2011
    Dayton, OH
  6. songs2001

    songs2001 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    693
    Jul 8, 2011
    It also depends on how the lens is geared. Some lenses are slow to focus from near to infinity, especially macros.
     
  7. shnitz

    shnitz Mu-43 Top Veteran

    989
    Aug 25, 2011
    Austin, TX
    Does the 40-150mm have this shortcoming?
     
  8. songs2001

    songs2001 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    693
    Jul 8, 2011
    I haven't tried any of the other M43 tele lenses. Supposedly, the 45-175 has a much faster AF motor.
     
  9. capodave

    capodave Mu-43 Top Veteran

    514
    Jul 4, 2010
    Southern Cal
    Dave
    I think you are right Schnitz.
    I was new to the camera at the time.
    Most of my pics from that trip were so so, except for this one which someone took of me.


    5205069631_edcf512e34_z.
    Palmer AK by CapoDave, on Flickr

    and it was with the kit lens.
     
  10. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Dave, did you go whale watching with Sarah Palin?
     
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  11. kinlau

    kinlau Mu-43 Top Veteran

    836
    Feb 29, 2012
    Big boat or little one? It's not hard to change lens on a big boat, but a zodiac will be tricky, and a lot more wet. In Hawaii, the whales came under the boat, so anything other than a wide angle was useless... I took a few shots and then spent the rest of the trip in the bathroom.
     
  12. capodave

    capodave Mu-43 Top Veteran

    514
    Jul 4, 2010
    Southern Cal
    Dave
    Dave, did you go whale watching with Sarah Palin?
    __________________
    Hah I wish!
     
  13. Lawrence A.

    Lawrence A. Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 14, 2012
    New Mexico
    Larry
    Bring the longest lens you have. I've seen more whale watch photos of tiny specks out in the distance than I care to remember.
     
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  14. shnitz

    shnitz Mu-43 Top Veteran

    989
    Aug 25, 2011
    Austin, TX
    Doesn't all salt water have corrosive properties? You have to worry about bow spray and such as much as what comes out of the whales.

    That was a half-rhetorical question. The 40-150mm is an MSC lens, and while not 70-200mm f/2.8 fast, the focus is quick enough. I've never had any complaints.
     
  15. steve16823

    steve16823 Mu-43 Regular

    181
    Sep 26, 2011
    Brookfield, IL
    I fixed your typo above, Dave. :biggrin:

    The last whale watch I went to I used an OM-2S (which tells you how long ago it was) and I managed to get a few keepers -- on slide film no less!

    If (hopefully when) I attend another whale watch with digital gear I would probably approach it the same way. Try to anticipate where the whale is going to be and have the lens prefocused and ready to go. If you wait for them to breach and then try to aim, AF, and shoot -- you're gonna miss it.
     
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  16. songs2001

    songs2001 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    693
    Jul 8, 2011
    That's your opinion. Being a MSC lens only helps finalizing focus. It doesn't help when your lens is at near focus and then you take your lens out and then shoot at something far away.

    For the person above, it wasn't fast enough for shooting whales. Therefore, the lens wasn't fast enough.
     
  17. Luke

    Luke Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jul 30, 2010
    Milwaukee, WI
    Luke
    My whale watching experience is that the lenses in your arsenal are not long enough. You'll be better off buying a few postcards to remember the experience.

    Schnitz' advice is spot on. Practice before you go. These kinds of quick action shots are not this camera's forte. I would likely focus on where the whale is and then switch to manual focus. Good luck and make sure to share your shots when you get back.
     
  18. shnitz

    shnitz Mu-43 Top Veteran

    989
    Aug 25, 2011
    Austin, TX
    No, the PHOTOGRAPHER wasn't fast enough. MSC lenses are pretty quick focusing, as they're designed for CDAF, so they have highspeed focusing motors, along with the design of only moving small elements to adjust focus, instead of whole lens groups.
    Learn & Explore | Olympus Imaging Australia
    Here's a focus speed test on Youtube with an E-PL2:
    [ame=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqmiSI8-0U0]Olympus EPL2 m43 40-150 vs 43 40-150 AF test - YouTube[/ame]
    Your comment about finalizing focus is not true at all. The lens racks focus impressively quickly. The speed bottleneck of the setup was not the lens; it was the contrast detect autofocus system, the shutter lag, and the photographer's unfamiliarity with the system. Just because a particular person was unable to get shots with it doesn't mean that the lens is to blame. If I find a random person on the street, give them a Canon 1D with a 300mm f/2.8 lens, and they're unable to capture photos quickly enough, do you blame the lens for not being fast enough? I have this lens, used it just fine for a kit festival last month, and those kites move much faster than whales.
     
  19. songs2001

    songs2001 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    693
    Jul 8, 2011
    No, you said that there isn't any slow AF lenses. That the only reason a lens would AF slow focus is because the amount of light. I presented the alternative lens that is reputed to focus faster.

    You also admit that a MSC lens focuses faster than a non MSC lens. So a lens can be blamed for their slow focus.

    You must've never seen a whale, they are sea mammals, they live under water. You cannot prefocus on them, nor can you easily predict where they will be like with your kites.

    Back to topic, 300 equiv is too short. There are laws on how close a boat can get to a whale. I would concentrate on getting pictures of other things.
     
  20. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    This time of year I imagine you may be stalking the California Gray Whale nearing the end of its migration to the Bering Sea (if you're in the Pacific Northwest). Gray's are not big time breachers, unlike Humpbacks, which breach all the time. Gray's will spyhop (stick their heads out of the water for a look around, also this behavior is useful for gravity to help slide a mouthful of gunk across their baleens. Gray's are filter feeders.) Gray's are pretty Steady Eddie swimmers, as they have a long way to go, travelling down to the middle of Baja California in winter and back to the Bering Sea in Spring.

    They will leave a footprint (swirling water) when they submerge and a plume of spray when they surface. A good Captain knows all this and can follow a Gray for a bit then guess where it will surface next and head to that spot. There are local and federal rules about how close you can stalk a marine mammal ... so a long lens is helpful. I've been on whale watch boats when the whale comes up next to the boat and I have photographed their blowholes. (Gray has two blow holes ... other whales have but one.)

    In all action photography, one's knowledge of how the action plays out is immeasurably helpful in anticipation of where "your" photograph will be and where one needs to direct the camera and proper lens/zoom selection.

    Pre-focus is extremely helpful in action photography, creating a lens setting which is close to your actual target means less reactive time for you and your camera. This shortening of the reaction time is important for manual focus, phase-focus and contrast-focus cameras and will result in more and better keepers.

    Gary

    PS- Whales don't have tails, they have 'flukes'.
    G

    PPS- Being that your are in the Pacific Northwest, in addition to the Gray's, the tour may include a pod or two of Orca's, which are much smallers and very unpredictable in their swimming habits but stay permanently (resident) in a general area and a stray Humpback for some good breaching shots.
    G
     
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