Nothing is quite as thrilling as spotting a pod of dolphins while you’re out on the bay. No matter how many times it happens, everyone still gets excited. But I swear there is nothing harder than getting a good dolphin photo.
Obviously the porpoise spends most of its life underwater, so that already makes photographing it a challenge. They pop up with no particular pattern, sometimes ahead of where you saw them last, sometimes behind … sometimes not at all.
And most of the time, they never even stick their heads out of the water. All you get is fin.
It’s hard to get excited about fin shots. We’re always waiting for the shot where they just come leaping out of the water, but you never know where it’s going to be, so it’s hard to make sure they’re in focus — it’s usually not.
The only consistent way to get in-focus dolphin photos seems to be by watching the bow wakes of large ships.
And even then, they may still not even show their face … or they’ll inconsiderately decide to swim off the bow of the ship between you and the sun causing terrible backlight conditions.
Two weeks ago I tried shooting them with a 50mm lens set at f8 and focused to infinity. With that combo, basically anything more than 30′ from the boat would be in focus. Results were mediocre. All the shots were in focus, but the porpoises were just too far away.
This weekend I packed the 400mm lens. It had enough range that I couldn’t just set the focus to infinity, so while it got me much closer to the dolphins, I couldn’t always nail the focus in time.
Aside from training a pod of dolphins to follow the boat swimming on their tails begging for fish, I don’t know that we’ll ever get REALLY good porpoise pictures. If you’ve got any good dolphin photo tips, please share!