This shot of a humpback whale tail was a "fluke" resulting from being in the the right place at the right time (one of several bits of luck). Being in Monterey, California was lucky in and of itself as I was the non-working partner going to a medical convention. While there, I booked a whale watching boat ride on November 10, 2011 with Monterey Bay Whale Watch (http://www.montereybaywhalewatch.com/). While my wife was in class honing her skills at reading 12 lead ECGs, I headed to the wharf toting my camera bag. The weather cooperated, which was the next bonus. The ocean near Monterey was calm and amazingly flat thanks to the weather. Fortune was again with me as these tours do not guarantee you will see a whale. We saw nine whales. Captains are required to stay a certain distance from the whales and cannot intentionally maveuver within this set distance. If the whales come closer to the stationary boat, however, there is not an issue. Luck was again with me as this whale came closer on its own.
While observing the whale requires some degree of good fortune, this will not necessarily result in a good photograph. Again luck was on my side. The sun was not on the opposite of the whale, leaving me with a fluke in shadow, but somewhat from the side. Could the angle of the sun have been better? Probably, but I was happy with the lighting on this shot. Then there is the issue of your location on the boat. After a flash back to the movie, Titantic, I had positioned myself in the bow of the boat so I was able to shoot to either side of the boat with very little movement. Not so much luck there, but a bit of pre-planning.
Pre-planning also means having your camera settings set for the shot. Here are my settings: 1/320 @ f/8 and ISO was 800. I was shooting with a Nikon D300 and a 70-200 f/2.8 with a 1.7x teleconverter.
I had taken some test shots and then patiently waited for whales. The whales did not disappoint. It was difficult to judge distance on the flat water but I am guessing this whale was about 75 yards away. (I could be way off on that estimation though).
The whales would surface about three times and their backs produce graceful shallow arcs above the surface of the water. A tighter arc meant the whale was diving and that is when the tail would come completely out of the water, flatten out and go straight down. That is the shot I wanted and this is what I got.
On this trip, it seemed like the captain was putting me right onto the whales. There were about 50 people on the boat and I didn't see another DSLR camera. Maybe the captain thought I was serious and put me in the right spot or maybe I was just lucky. I planned ahead, prepared, and tried to control the things I could. The rest was luck.
The image was edited in Lightroom 3.