We’re BACK with another photography tip highlight from one of our 2022 Whale SENSE photography contest winners! Stephanie Johnson was on a trip with Rudee Tours when she took this year’s “Breaching Category” winning photo of two dolphins in a beautiful synchronized breach! Stephanie also claimed first place in the “Breaching Category” for our 2021 Whale SENSE photography contest with the photo above. We’ve been excited to feature Stephanie’s fantastic dolphin photos over the last couple of years, and wanted to learn more about how she got into photography. Find her answers, as well as some tips and tricks about photographing marine life, in the blog below!

How did you get started in photography? 

I actually took photography classes in high school and college (before the digital age) doing work in the dark room and developing and printing my negatives.

I am a Virginia Beach native and dolphins have always been my favorite animal. The ocean has always been fascinating to me, as well as all of its inhabitants. Photographing wake ride riding dolphins just became an absolute favorite pastime of mine. It never gets old.

What is one thing you wish you knew earlier about photographing marine life?

The ocean is an aquatic wonderland. I enjoy marine life photography so much, I just wish I had started it many years earlier. 

What are your top tips for photographers? 

  1. If you want to take great photos, not knocking the cell phone per se, but you need a faster camera if you want tack sharp images.
  2. A DSLR, I always have my settings on shutter priority with 1/1000 or higher and Automatic ISO.

What is one of your favorite photos you’ve ever taken, and why is it a favorite?

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Johnson

What sets the “In Sync” photo apart for me is the fact that in all of the dolphin images I have taken, this is the first one where they are facing one another during the breach. It looks like they are dancing. 

Do you have any future goals or ambitions for your photography?

I want to encounter more species as time goes on. I was lucky enough to go to Monterey CA this spring and encounter Orcas. That was a first for me and it was absolutely exhilarating!

In your opinion, how can/does photography support and encourage ocean conservation? Also, how can you use photos to create a story and in what ways you think photos of whales can promote Whale SENSE.

Rudee Tours is very diligent about leaving the ocean better than they found it. By that I mean that if there is a balloon in the ocean, they always stop to get it, probably saving the next curious turtle. We always photograph the naturalist doing their part.

Photo Courtesy of Rudee Tours

As far as whales? Distance… our photos are mostly taken with telephoto lenses and many other photos show that our vessel is at a safe distance, not approaching the animal too closely. Sometimes however, the whales approach the boat on their own and of course the captain puts us in neutral. Only after it is seen that the whale has moved a safe distance away, do we then move.

Thank you so much to Stephanie for the great insight into her journey as a photographer, and for giving us some great examples of SENSE-ible whale watching practices in action! Keep an eye out for more tip blogs from our 2022 Whale SENSE photography contest winners and runners-up, and let us know how their photography advice is working out for you!