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Tips for taking great fluke photos

  • When using a camera that has adjustable settings, Tv or S mode (Shutter Priority) is preferred, with shutter speeds of 1/1000th of a second or faster to keep your shots sharp. If you are using a point and shoot, sports mode may be used but may not push your shutter speed high enough for good results.
  • Ideally keep the aperture at f/8 or higher, as a greater depth of field is often needed with a large animal and it gives you some forgiveness with missed focus.
  • ISO should be kept as low as possible for the light conditions, typically not above ISO 800 if possible depending on your camera.
  • Turn off any 'auto-off' feature on your camera to keep it ready to shoot at all times.
  • Use a single auto focus point or a single zone to more tightly control where your camera is focusing.
  • Set your camera on 'burst mode' to increase the frames per second.
  • If you are using a point and shoot camera, use the optical zoom only and crop if needed on the computer. Digital zoom negatively impacts image quality.
  • Memory cards with faster write speeds will allow you to take more images without your camera filling up its buffer.
  • Always try to take photographs when the sun is behind you, or at least not behind the whale.
  • Use both hands and keep your arms and elbows in to steady the camera.
  • Always have your camera ready by holding it up in front of your face. Always be scanning and avoid fixing your sight into one place. Point the camera where you are looking at all times. Have your finger on the shutter release button so you are able to move and react quickly.
  • Observe the whales’ behavior. The ideal photograph is taken as the animal is headed away from you. Prior to “fluking up”, a whale will arch its back giving you a precious few seconds to take a shot. Zoom in and frame the flukes in the center of the image. Take multiple shots as the whale dives and save the best one for submission.
  • Last but not least, it takes patience!

Important: Please record the date and location (latitude/longitude if possible) for the whales that are photographed.


Selecting the Best Photo of a Whale to Upload

When choosing the “Best Photo” of each whale to upload it is important to keep in mind the process of SPLASH scoring. If your photo does not pass SPLASH, it won't be used in the catalog. Training in SPLASH scoring will benefit your ability to select the best photo, but is not required.

There are numerous parts of the fluke to take note of and you will have to prioritize them, as not all photos will have all parts shown perfectly. The order of importance to use (from most to least important) is:

  • Overall clarity and visibility of pigmentation, scars and marks

  • Clarity and visibility of the trailing edge and central notch

  • Whether the fluke is completely out of the water or not

Do not focus only on the visibility of scratches and pigment patterns, as these can fade over time and make it tricky to determine a match. It is equally important to pay attention to the pattern of the trailing edge, and the notch shape. 

See this series of photographs as an example:

1 and 2

3 and 4

In the above series of photos, note that the trailing edge is folded over and obscured in photos #1 and #2, while it is clearly defined in photos #3 and #4. Trailing edge is a highly important feature for matching. On the downside, in photo #4, the pigment near the tail stock is under water and so it would be classified as a “Type 1 or 2”, whereas choosing a different photo, like photo #1 or #2, would allow the user to make the distinction between the two classification types. How do we know which photo to select for uploading? The trailing edge being clear and visible is of higher importance than having the entire fluke out of the water, thus, the “best photo” from this series would be photo #4. 

Technical Requirements

CROPPING: If your photograph requires cropping, please do so prior to uploading. Use your own software or free program such as Photoshop express editor, Picasa, or GIMP. See examples of photographs that do and don’t need cropping. Please do not attempt to crop out all water from around the fluke – leave approximately a finger’s width on all sides. This is important as cropping any portion of the fluke out of the photograph will negatively affect its ability to be matched.

Fluke photo cropping examples

OTHER EDITING: Do not perform any other technical edits to your photograph, such as adjusting the lighting. 

ACCEPTED SIZE: We will accept photos up to 100 MB max size.

FILE FORMAT: We accept png, gif, jpg, or jpeg. If your photos are another raw image file, please convert them before uploading.

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