Dolphins are among the most amazing creatures on the planet. They’re playful, quite intelligent and typically harmless, making them excellent subjects for wildlife photographers. However, their energy and speed often make them pretty challenging to capture on camera. The best type of camera for these wonderful animals it a digital SLR (single lens reflex) and with a lot of practice and some experimentation you can get some amazing images.
An SLR is usually the best choice of cameras as they generally have shorter shutter lags. This means the photos is taken almost immediately after you release the shutter. On many point and shoot models there could be considerable shutter lag and this means the photo won’t be taken when the shutter is presses as there’s a pause. Your camera manual should let you know what the shutter lag on your camera is. Some of them can be as low as 0.01 second, which makes them ideal.
If you’re taking the shots form a boat or even from land, you should really be using a zoom lens to capture dolphins. Something in the 100mm to 400mm range should be fine and it will help a lot if it has an image stabilization feature. A wide angle zoom lens is perfect if you happen to find a whole pod of dolphins and hope to photograph them. It’s a good idea to have a large memory card so you don’t have to change them in the salt air.
Since you’re going to be around salt air you should have some good camera and lens-cleaning equipment with you and make sure they’re clean and dry. Rubbing alcohol is good for leaning both the lenses and camera body. But before you pack all of your gear for a trip to the ocean, it’s recommended that you do a bit of homework on dolphins and learn how they like to behave in the wild. When you reach the water and see the animals for the first time it’s a good idea to just watch and observe how they move.
If there are several dolphins you should try to focus on those that are in the best available light, with the sun at your back. If you’re looking right into the sun it’ll be harder to get crisp, clear shots. After checking where the sun is you may want to take shots that show motion as well as those that freeze the action. If you want to freeze the action you should use a fast shutter speed combined with shallow depth of field. This will result in a sharp image of the dolphin with the background being blurred.
If the ISO is set at 200 you can use fast shutter speeds and you should get less noise or grain in the photos. The higher the ISO is the more chance you have of getting grain in the images. If it’s a bright day, try 200 first and if it’s now that you’d like then try going to 400. Shooting in the manual mode is usually better since a camera’s light meter is basically a reflective meter and they can sometimes be fooled depending on the color of the surface you’re aiming at, such as the sea. If you use the automatic mode the images could end up being overexposed. If you set the camera to slightly underexpose the shots you should get better results.
If you want to freeze the action try setting the shutter to anything between 1/1250 and 1/1600 or setting the aperture to the lowest f-stop on your lens. This will enable a lot of light to enter the camera and is ideal for fast shutter speeds. If you’d rather show motion and creativity you can set the ISO to 50 or 100 and use a slower shutter speed such as 1/125 or 1/250. The best way to capture the motion is to utilize the panning method, which means move your camera along with the dolphin.