How To Photograph a Dolphin

How To Photograph a Dolphin.

So you want to photograph a dolphin? Who doesn’t?

Doing it is nothing like you would imagine though. It’s both incredibly difficult and very easy at the same time.

The difficult part is getting the dolphin in front of the camera.

Firstly, you need a boat and a skipper and about 15 trips out to a part of the sea that dolphins are known to frequent. I’m lucky that I get to shoot a lot of Robben Island to Big Bay swims with Derrick Frazer of Big Bay Events so that’s the boat sorted. Now we need a dolphin. Go out enough times and eventually you will get lucky and the dolphins will shadow your boat. It took about 3 years of trying before I got lucky and that’s when the trouble started. When the first dolphin appeared I realised I had absolutely no idea how to do this.

The Problem.

  1. Dolphins may be highly intelligent, but they aren’t trained and they have no concept of a work ethic during the shoot. They are all over the bloody place.  Trying to feed them Ritalin will only make your arm soggy.
  2. In South African waters you are not allowed to park the boat to make it an easy photo opportunity for either yourself or the dolphin. The boat has to keep moving at all times. No amount of pleading with Derrick will change his mind about this. The boat has to maintain speed and direction. Finish and klaar! (He’s very good at the environment and stuff).
  3. This means that the dolphins will be moving at high speed to pace you, and all the while the boat is bouncing up and down at a merry rate.
  4. The water is dark and so are the dolphins. It’s impossible to see where they are relative to you or to predict where and when they are going to appear from below, or even on which side of the boat. They are there, then they aren’t. Too late. Next, please.
  5. When they do appear from nowhere they are there for less than a second, making it impossible to point a camera at them, let alone focus it.

Honestly it’s an absolute nightmare.

The Solution:

  1. Get a camera with super-fast autofocus ability like a Sony A7iii or A9. (Not a paid endorsement, I pay for all my kit. I know right? *rolls eyes*)
  2. Set it to the fastest rate of fire that it has.
  3. Point the camera at a point in space where you hope a dolphin will appear.
  4. Mash the shutter button down and hold it.
  5. Hope a dolphin pops out in the required bit of air.
  6. Photograph a dolphin.

And that’s it. How to photograph dolphins. Essentially its a bit like firing a gun and hoping a target walks into the bullet.

I have a few blog posts about open water swimming over here, as well as a portfolio page.

If you want to see how a proper photographer does it, then I strongly suggest you check out the page of the amazingly talented Chris Fallows.

Check the individual image captions in the gallery below for all of my camera settings.

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