Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tips for Whale Watching in Monterey Bay!

Yesterday morning I headed out on a whale watching tour in Monterey Bay. Now that I am a resident of this incredible area, I felt it was time I indulged myself in something people travel thousands of miles to see, which is literally on my doorstep!

I chose Monterey Bay Whale Watching as I often see their boats heading out they have excellent reviews. I also like the double level viewing platforms, which makes the vessel seem less crowded when it is packed to the gills! This allowed me more maneuverability on the lower level, which I tend to prefer.

Heading over to an area between Marina and Moss Landing, we were treated to several awesome humpback whale sightings which included pectoral fin slapping, lunge feeding and breaching!  We also encountered a large number of dolphins including Risso's and Pacific White-Sided dolphins.

ISO 640, f/7.1 @ 1/2500s, 300mm

Here are some useful tips for going out whale watching, particularly if you are susceptible to sea sickness! There were several people on this trip that did not fair too well and being out on the water for 4 hours feeling like absolute crap is not fun at all.  I have been there and done that on more than one occasion and it is only through my annual trips to the polar regions that I have finally found a solution.

First off, I recommend taking medication "the night prior" to your whale watching trip and NOT half an hour before boarding. This not only gets the medication into your system several hours prior, it helps you get a good night's sleep as many of these medications also cause drowsiness. I also take another tablet the morning of the trip, about an hour or two prior. I personally think the "recommended" half an hour prior is way too late because once you feel sick, the medication is not going to have an impact.

I eat a good breakfast consisting of tea, toast and a bowl of oatmeal. I avoid greasy food and also skip the coffee. Going out on a boat on an empty stomach is asking for trouble. I also bring saltine crackers and ginger ale on the boat to nibble on an sip throughout.

I avoid sitting inside the boat or at the rear where the diesel fumes tend to be more noticeable. I occasionally watch the horizon and make sure I have fresh air in my face. I will put the camera down every so often, as looking through a view finder for long periods can lead to feeling queasy.

This is the ONLY method that works for me.  It might not work for you, but I think it is worth trying if you are not having much success?

ISO 640, f/7.1 @ 1/2000s, 300mm
From a photography perspective, bringing a zoom with a wide range is going to cover a variety of situations as yesterday I failed to do this and regretted it.  I only brought my Nikon 300mm f/4 PF ED VR lens and a 1:4 teleconverter and was very limited in what I could ultimately capture.  With a breaching humpback calf so very close to the boat, I missed out on some awesome shots.  Lesson learned!!!

Capturing a breaching whale involves shooting at a high shutter speed and in continuous drive mode. Paying attention to the behavior and where it might potentially emerge from the water also helps. I will focus roughly in the area where I think it might happen and scan back and forth with my other eye open, so I can quickly reacquire focus on the whale if and when it happens!

As for clothing, wrap up with several layers as a sunny day out on Monterey Bay can be very deceiving.  I found myself switching from a cap to a warm beanie and adding another layer as the wind picked up.

I hope these tips will both help and inspire you to also get out there give whale watching a try, whether that is in Monterey Bay or some other location around the globe!

ISO 720, f/8 @ 1/2000s, 300mm

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Arctic Highlights - Part Two

I always make sure I bring my GoPro on all the expedition tours I take, as I find it is fantastic for capturing time lapse footage. I generally set it up on the top deck of the ship and include the front of the bow to convey a sense of scale, particularly while traversing through areas with large icebergs!  I also include footage from other parts of the ship and on this most recent trip, I tested out the view looking back on both the port and starboard sides.

Here is a video I compiled using a combination of short clips, primarily as we traversed the stunning fjords of east Greenland. 

The GoPro version I use is the Hero4 Silver Edition. I particularly love the touch screen back, which makes it very easy to adjust settings quickly and I use the open back protective casing allowing easy access. If I was to put the GoPro under water, I would switch the back for the full protective casing. I learned my lesson the hard way last year by putting the GoPro in the water, not realizing I had not switched and it was completely ruined.

I use the GoPro Jaws Flex Clamp, which allows me to clip the camera onto a variety of spots around the ship. I have found this to be the most sturdy and versatile attachment after trying a variety of other options including the Jobu Gorillapod, which I would wrap around a pipe only for it to slip down due to the vibration from the ship's engine, whereas the Jaws Flex Clamp stays firmly in place.

Settings are as follows:

Mode: Time Lapse Video
Interval: 5 Seconds
Resolution: 4K

I prefer the Time Lapse Video mode as opposed to the Time Lapse Photo mode simply because the video is compiled "in-camera. If I wanted stills from the video, I would go with the latter.  Note however, in the Time Lapse Video mode there is no option as far as the field of view i.e.: Wide, Medium, Narrow.

I compile the video using the now obsolete "GoPro Studio", which I thankfully have on my laptop and desktop computers. I have heard the new "GoPro Quik" is lacking many of the previous features, which makes very little sense to me.  Otherwise I would go with iMovie as an alternative.