“The Art of Whale Photography” DVD Reviewed

By Diane Berkenfeld

the art of whale photography dvd cover artJim Tierney, the CEO of software maker, Digital Anarchy, happens to also be an adventure photographer who loves photographing whales. Tierney also lives in Hawaii, which, conveniently enough is where the Pacific Humpback whales migrate, to mate and give birth. He launched the website http://whalewatcher.net/, to provide whale enthusiasts with information about the 12,000 Humpbacks that make the trip from Alaska to Hawaii each year. According to Tierney, about 13 million people go on whale watching tours annually. And it’s not just the Humpbacks that are fun to watch, but other types of whales too. One of the first products available from the website is the 2 DVD set, “The Art of Whale Photography.”

According to Tierney, who launched the website last month, “We’ll be adding additional training content, but also we plan on adding a lot more information and resources for folks interested in whales, whether they’re watching them or photographing them.” He added: “We also really want to promote what it’s like to see them on a small boat. I think many people think of whale watching as being on a large boat with the whales way off in the distance. In many places, like Maui, HI and Baja, CA, you can go out in small boats on calm water and see the whales up close. Close as in a few feet away close! It’s really an amazing experience.”

Tierney also noted that content related to issues involving whales will also be put on the website in the future.

“The Art of Whale Photography,” was created to provide aspiring and experienced photographers with tips and tricks on taking action photos of Humpback Whales, together with ways to get the most out of their DSLR cameras. Tierney moderates the video, interviewing Michael Sweet, considered to be Maui’s most experienced whale photographer, and marine naturalist and whale expert, Melissa Meeker. “Anyone who has ever tried photographing the fast moving Humpbacks or other whales likely has ended up with many shots of razor sharp water and blurry gray whale shapes,” says Tierney. The videos and website were created to help folks limit the number of bad shots they get, while increasing the chances of getting great photographs.

Michael Sweet photo of humpback whales

Pictured in this photo, is one of the 12,000 majestic Humpback Whales that migrate from Alaska to warmer waters every winter. This year nearly six million Americans will venture out on whale watching tours. Photo © Michael Sweet.

I checked out “The Art of Whale Photography” and have to say it has a lot of great information. I’ve been a photographer for over 20 years now, photographing on the water and land, but when it comes to Humpback Whales—which I have photographed in the past—there was definitely plenty to learn. Along with information specific to photographing the Humpbacks in their natural environment, Tierney and Sweet touch upon a number of general photographic tips that can make the difference between getting great photographs or being left with little in the way of a photographic record of your trip. Since so many people are now venturing out on these smaller whale-watching tour boats, such things as what gear to bring, the way you hold your camera, and which metering and focusing settings you choose can make a big difference.

While Sweet talks about capturing images of the Humpbacks from a photographer’s point of view, Meeker adds to the video by explaining an awful lot about the habits and actions of the whales that you might see when on the water. Knowing what you’re watching—she points out—will make it easier for you to anticipate where to point your camera. Understanding some of the graceful behaviors you might see will also make your excursion more enjoyable. And as Tierney points out, while he loves spending as much time as possible photographing the Humpbacks, every once in a while you ought to put the camera down and just enjoy the sights and sounds of being so close to these wondrous creatures. Using a toy model of a Humpback and easy to understand language, Meeker does a great job of explaining the Humpback’s anatomy, some of the activities that occur among the whales when they’re looking for a mate, as well as how the moms care for their young. This really is important to know, since the Humpbacks migrate from food-rich waters off Alaska, down to Maui, to mate and have their calves.

Overall, I felt the video was a great educational tool, both for the photographic tips as well as the great info. on the whales themselves. I think it was a little longer than it needed to be, but that’s mainly because after each section, the information was recapped—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re going on a whale watching excursion, one using small boats—especially if its to view Humpbacks, “The Art of Whale Photography” is a great tool to use in preparing for your trip.

Along with the DVD set, the website also offers an iPhone app. and “The Humpback Whale Guide.” Other products are expected to follow. For more information, and to see Jim Tierney’s whale photography, go to http://whalewatcher.net/. To see more of Michael Sweet’s photography, go to his website at www.gallerysweet.com.

Behind the Scenes on the Production of the Video

With DSLRs now capable of shooting video, we bet you’re wondering what camera/camcorder/video camera was used to shoot the video. Well, they used Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D DSLRs. I asked Tierney how the cameras worked out. Due to limitations of the camera’s autofocus, the on-water footage didn’t come out as well as expected. He explained that the DSLRs “worked beautifully for shooting the [human] talent. When you can lock the camera down, set the focus and depth-of-field, and let the camera roll… it produces exceptional video.” He added that the limitation of 12 minutes/4 Gigs of video shooting was frustrating to have to deal with, when the interviews were going great, but overall he recommends using the DSLRs for video.

For shooting video footage of the Humpbacks though, Tierney said professional video equipment or even dedicated consumer camcorders would have worked out better, because of their autofocus capabilities, image stabilization designed for a moving image, and aliasing/rolling shutter issues that the current crop of DSLRs have with fast moving subjects. “True video cameras have filters and components to minimize or eliminate these problems,” Tierney explained. He stressed that more controlled situations wouldn’t cause such issues, and DSLRs would be ideal for capturing such video.

That’s the main reason that there was little video footage of the Humpbacks in the DVD. I personally would have loved to see more video footage, even some more still photography—and will look forward to future Whalewatcher.net instructional videos.

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