Friday, July 19, 2013

Photographing Dolphins on Florida's Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast Dolphin
Dolphins are common along Florida's gulf Coast all year but don't often swim close enough to shore for good photo opportunities. They can often be seen from the beach surfacing for air and sometimes jumping. Several times I have had them swim within 20-30 feet of me when swimming only 200-300 feet out from the beach. But for the best photographs it is best to be on a boat.
Florida Dolphin

Nearly every town with a marina in the greater Tampa Bay area has several boats that specialize in dolphin sightings. They are always a good bet and seldom fail to find dolphins willing to play in the boat's wake for a little while. Dolphins are intelligent and curious and will often jump quite close to the boat in order to get a good look the people aboard.
Dolphins Jumping In Tandem

I have gotten my best dolphin photos using a wide to short telephoto zoom lens at a medium aperture and an ISO setting high enough to maintain 1/500 second shutter speed or faster. Image stabilization is a huge help on a moving boat with a moving subject. The best location is the stern(rear) of the boat as the dolphins usually like to play in the wake waves.

Calm, sunny days are the best for good dolphin photography. There is not as much boat motion from waves and wind when it is calm. Bright sun seems less harsh at sea as the water surface acts like a huge fill reflector. Direct sun also tends to bring out more color in the water. Cloudy days are less contrasty but the water tends to look dull grey or black.
Breaching Florida Dolphin

To avoid transferring boat vibration to the camera during exposure, don't brace anything above the waist against the boat. I try to stand with feet slightly spread and well planted and brace a knee or thigh against some solid part of the boat. I then brace both elbows against my upper body and keep the camera tightly against my face.

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