For many people visiting Hawaii during the winter, joining a whale watching tour isn’t just about experiencing some incredibly large and acrobatic animals up close…it’s about shooting a photo of a lifetime. Whether it’s the detail in a 15 foot wide fluke or a full aerial breach, these photos are hard to come by! Here, we highlight a few suggestions from seasoned veteran whale watchers and photographers to help you get that one of a kind shot.
Part 1: The Right Boat
Choose the right vessel! Depending on the type of photo you’re hoping for, the vessel will make a huge difference. Choosing a small, open air vessel that has just a few feet of clearance off of the water allows for a clear and unobstructed view of the animals, without being too close to water level. A small, maneuverable boat can get you to the animals quickly and efficiently, and the first boat near the whales can position themselves most appropriately for the sun angle - and most importantly – for the background. Having the lush green West Maui Mountains or the island of Lanai in the background of your shot will add a depth that blue sky and water will not always provide. At Makai Adventures, our captains are known for their ability to arrange that beautiful background for your photos.
Part 2: The Seat
Pick your seat carefully! Most people boarding a boat might want to sit in the front, as if in the race to the whale, they will get there first! Truth is, while the front of the boat might have a view of an animal doing surface displays from a distance as we race over, the back of the boat will get the best, most unobstructed view. For photographers to get that shot, its best to not have any vertical poles in the way, and on Kainalu, our swim step ladders provide a perfect sturdy object to steady your camera hand. Port or starboard? Whales are constantly changing directions so either could land you that perfect shot. Be sure to get to the harbor at least 25 minutes before your trip so you can check in and get one of the first boarding passes - that way you can secure your seat wherever you’d like!
Part 3: The Frequency
Go more than once! The best advice any crew member on a whale watching vessel can provide an avid whale watcher is to go on more than one tour. Take advantage of multiple trips to maximize your time to see these beautiful animals up close! No two trips are the same. While some tours may experience an amazing acrobatic show, others may have curious whales that come up to “spy hop” and check out the boat, competition pods with males aggressively competing over a female, or a gentle mom and baby interaction. The more whale watches you go on, the more likely you are to see the behaviors you desire to capture. No time of day will make a difference for activity; however, it will make for some impressive light changes that can produce incredibly unique photos. Weather is also constantly changing and surprising even the most experienced meteorologists on the islands, so multiple trips will allow you to have more flexibility in case its too bumpy to get a steady shot on one trip or another. Best to always look ahead and plan for potentially inclement weather!
PHOTO COURTESY OF BOB WATKINS, frequent whale watcher and photo extrordinaire