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And if you think timing the tail is difficult (and it is), getting the head up on lunge feeding is even more difficult. You're looking at open water when suddenly you have a whale head in front of you and it's only there for a moment. But you have no idea it's coming, let alone where. It's all quick reaction and having the camera preset.

Here's an example where I was set all wrong (I was at 100mm because I was photographing the whales right next to me; I would have liked to be at 300mm, obviously, but you have absolutely no time for that, as this happens very rapidly). If you look closely you see little black bits to the left and right of that whale: those are fish jumping out of the water in front of him as he lunged upward ;~). Also, if you don't recognize what you're looking at, the vertical part is the top of the whale's mouth, the horizontal part is the bottom. In other words, his mouth is open at 90 degrees as he came up.
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Marius Hartmann's profile photoMike Heller's profile photoKen Whitcomb's profile photoAllan Colton's profile photo
16 comments
 
+Frances Schermers I agree. I saw pretty much every whale behavior I'd heard of on this trip. And then some. At the point where I took this picture I was trying to keep track of where nine different whales were, as I was pretty much in the middle of them.
 
Wow, +Thom Hogan, I have never seen a picture of a whales mouth like that. Neat! With a D800 you may have had enough pixels to be a 'cropper' :-). Great teaching point as usual. Tnx!
 
+Ralph Telford cool shot as well!
+Thom Hogan had you said this was a canoe with a black sail, I would have taken that bait ;) Were you in the kayak for this shot? Aren't the waves from the diving and lunging hard to navigate? Or do the whales keep their distance?
 
So did you manage any other whale head images? If yes, may we see more? If no, how many tries to get this one image?
 
Awesome experience to be there watching all that
 
Great work and teaching point +Thom Hogan It is a wonderful expearance to spend time with animals like this. Glad you shaired it with us Thom. Thank you Allan.
 
You should be happy being at 100 - the result is equally enigmatic and informative
 
I was one for one in terms of heads I shot. I wasn't well positioned for the feeding that was provoking this action on their part so wasn't shooting it, but very well positioned for different feeding behavior. Almost too well positioned ;~).
 
+Lior Kravitz Whales do not keep their distance. They don't tend to directly interfere with boats, but one came up so close and so unexpectedly that my guide actually jumped out of her seat ;~). I just photographed him as best I could (100mm is a bit too much for a whale you can almost touch).

I was actually surprised at how little water disruption the whales caused. The normal wave action was far more of a problem, and keeping kayaks and the boat oriented to where you wanted them pointed was the biggest problem. Shooting from a kayak is something I'm going to have to write about. It wasn't obvious to me at first on how to handle the dual chores of navigating and photographing. After all, a kayak paddle is a two-handed task.
 
The whale trips out of Juneau can provide an amazing experience.  Recently we saw a group of about 12 Humpbacks repeatedly surfacing together.  I have posted a coupe shots of them on my Google+ page.  Lots of open mouths and other acttivity.
 
Like other wildlife, Humpbacks have behavior patterns that can help a photographer anticipate their next move.  Humpbacks will repeat behavior patterns and spending some time observing an individual can provide clues as to what it will do next.  As previously stated, bait fish leaping from the water is often a clue that a whale is close.  In the Northeast US, humpbacks will blow bubbles in a ring and then come up thru the middle.  Known as bubble net feeding, it's a great predicter of where the whale will come up.  Not sure if the Alaskan bunch do that or if it's just this breeding stock.  Likewise, if a humpback breaches twice, the third jump will be easy to predict where and when.  Just note the distance, time and direction between the first two jumps, extrapolate and you'll be real close to where and when the third jump will occur.
After a few hundred whale watches, you'll get the hang of it!
 
I managed to catch a humpback breaching off the coast of Ucluelet.  Like you, I had to take a bunch of shots as the whale was never in the same place twice and you never knew exactly when it would come up.  This is a heavy crop from a D800, my longest lens was only 200mm.
http://photo6.photokaz.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2012-10-07-Uclulet-BC-4010-MKH.jpg

Later, from a boat, I got a much better shot of the tail fluke of a grey whale :)
http://photo6.photokaz.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2012-10-07-Uclulet-BC-4510-MKH.jpg
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