Our tours are designed with photographers in mind. We don’t expect you to arrive in Tonga as a whale photography expert, but its fine if you are. If you want to make the most of the tour, we would suggest that you have an understanding of basic photography principles so that the tuition we supply in the limited time we have together can be about things specific to underwater/whale photography. We can, and do, accommodate all cameras from point-and-shoots up to housed full-frame DSLRs on the boat, and caring for equipment is all part of the day’s activities.We respect the whales and the privilege they afford us and we don’t put photographs ahead of the whales’ best interests.
Underwater camera equipment
Underwater photography can be a big investment in dollars, time and energy and there are really four options to choose from based on your level of commitment:
- All-weather cameras;
- Housed Point and Shoot compacts;
- Mirrorless Systems and;
- Housed DSLRs.
Where you fit in to that range will depend on your budget, your commitment and your ability to physically move your kit through the water and through the airports you’ll transit en-route.
One of the keys to success with underwater photography is to get close to what you are photographing, so there is as little water between the camera and the subject as possible. Hence wide angle lenses are popular with underwater photographers.
Entry Level – All-weather Cameras
Most affordable, easy to manage – All-weather cameras
All-weather cameras (like the Canon D30) will do a pretty good job for what they are… but aren’t ideal as you are limited to .jpeg files which have limited capacity to be adjusted in post-processing and usually don’t have very wide lenses … remember that a lens behind a flat port has its angle of view reduced by around 30%. Olympus makes an all-weather camera called the TG-5 which has the capability to shoot Raw files, which is an advantage in post-processing.
GoPro makes a small video camera with a wide lens in a tough waterproof housing that can take stills as well as FullHD (even 4K video on some models) for those just wanting a record of their underwater adventures. Note they are very small–so small they are actually quite difficult to hold steady, so many users use a handle set to steady their GoPro. A head strap is not really suitable. Latest model GoPro cameras also shoot RAW format stills.
Entry-level – Housed compacts that shoot RAW
The best of the housed ‘compact’ cameras is probably the Canon G series (which has RAW file capability). Canon make affordable housings for the range, or third-party housings are available. The G series shoot RAW files, which is a huge advantage over .jpeg only cameras when it comes to processing your files.
Mid-range budget – Small Mirrorless Systems
If you’re a bit more serious, an alternative to a DSLR is a “mirrorless” system (such as the Canon EOS-M) which offer great image quality without the weight and bulk of a DSLR. They can shoot RAW and offer great wide angle lens choices.
Higher-end – DSLR and Mirrorless
A HOUSED DSLR or Full Frame Mirrorless system will add an additional 15-25kgs to your luggage, not to mention the hit on your bank balance. This is a pretty big commitment. There are two main types:
SPLASH HOUSINGS which are designed for shooting on and below the surface (to about 10m) these are very tough and suited for surf and extreme sport work. Some have limited control, depends on the model. Aquatech is a popular brand.
DIVE HOUSINGS are designed for greater depths. They usually have better levels of control and depending on the brand you choose, adequate to very good and even exceptional optical dome port options. We use Nauticam Housings.
If renting equipment is of interest, see the rental page for offers from affiliates.
Terrestrial camera equipment
Don’t forget to bring your ‘land” camera as well… the whale’s surface activity is sometimes awesome, and the islands are picturesque. If you don’t have two cameras consider a compact point-and-shoot for surface snaps. The Tongan Fluke Collective is an initiative to collect individual tail flukes I.D. photographs from as many photographers who visit Tonga as possible. Your images of tail flukes could be a valuable addition to the database.
Darren and/or your photography host will be available to answer your photography questions at all times. Obviously its hard to do complicated tuition on the boat while we’re looking for whales (our main priority) or in the water, with snorkels in our mouths, so we want to get as much of the basics sorted early in the tour and fine-tune things during our afternoon sessions and over meals.
Post-processing and editing time
Each afternoon we return to the house and have a couple of hours before dinner to download, edit and process the day’s images. Guests who want to make the most of this time will have their own laptop and post-processing software. Our preferred workflow uses Adobe Lightroom. Please consider purchasing Lightroom and doing an introductory course in its use prior to coming. We do not really have time to run basic computer courses, and the techniques we would like to share are particular to underwater photography – participants will get the most out of this editing time if they are already familiar with their computer and with Lightroom’s basic functionality and workflow or that of their chosen program.