Nfld. & Labrador

Want to snap a perfect whale picture? Tips from a world-class photographer

Want to take Dave Howells-level pictures? You're gonna need a lucky bandana.

You're looking for a humpback, and you're after a breach, says Dave Howells

Dave Howells had taken pictures of celebrities like Amy Winehouse and Lou Reed, but he loves the unpredictability of photographing whales. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

You've likely seen one of Dave Howells's whale shots.

There's one in particular that has made it far and wide, with a whale bursting out of the water, mid-twist, in front of a screaming orange sunset.

"If you get a better shot, it will be an absolute miracle, really," he told The St. John's Morning Show.

If them's fightin' words for you, here are a few tips from Howells on how to snap a shot that might beat him.

Think you can beat this shot? Go for it. Howells has a few tips. (CBC Arts)

1. Get out there

Are there whales in your living room? No? Then you can't get a great shot if you don't get up and leave.

"Get out there. It's beautiful anyway," he said. 

"If you've seen nothing … you spent three hours out in the sunset and the water, and it's absolutely fantastic."

Hello there, big fella. Can you beat this Howells shot? (Dave Howells)

2. Embrace the chaos

"If they want to play, then you can play. And if they don't want to play, then you're not playing, you're sitting on a boat getting slightly frustrated about how you wish they were playing," he said.

"That's part of the joy. You're in their world."

3. Look for humpbacks

If you're looking to beat Howells's photo, you're looking for a breach shot.

And that means you're looking for a humpback, he said — preferably a youngster.

"They're the only ones that really do any jumping," he said.

"And it's very much the young ones who do most of the jumping.… The mother goes down for a dive and the calf is not being watched, so to speak, and gets a bit naughty and starts flapping around."

This could be your reward if you head out on the water to look for whales. (Dave Howells)

3. Get the light

You can't control the whales but you can control the lighting.

"I know where the sun is, I know what's gonna make a beautiful shot," he said. "We're sort of moving the location around so if it does start happening then we can be in the right position shooting the right way, getting the light I want.

"Nothing's worse than having a beautiful breach and the light's not very good."

4. Buy a bandana?

You may not buy into lucky charms, but Howells has a bunch of them, and he's photographed people like Amy Winehouse so, hey, something's working.

"With this, the challenge is that you're not in control at all." - David Howells on chasing whales. 3:11

His latest lucky charm is likely out of reach: it's a lightweight, super-fancy camera with a massive lens.

But he also credits his lucky bandana — which he's had in his bag for his entire 25-year career — with some of his success.

"And I have a bit of a lucky hat, and a lucky watch," he said.

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show


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