camera settings for aerial survey of endangered whales in patagonia


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Apr 1, 2009
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while hanging out of an airplane provided by the argentine navy, this will be my twentieth year of leading a low level aerial survey of the endangered southern right whales that gather each year in waters off the coast of patagonia in argentina. for the past six years we have used a nikon d-70 digital camera and this season i anticipate switching up to a nikon d-90 with 70-200 lens. shooting in jpeg. raw format is hard due to high rate at which we shoot. in three hours, perhaps 2,000 shots.
i usually set the camera at shutter priority 1000th second. 400 iso. - 0.7exposure compensation.
reflection of the sun is an issue. often the shots are burnt out in highlighted areas. thus the -0.7 ev. problem is the extremes between the dark water and the sunlit backs of the whales especially the white callosities, which are like birth marks on the whale's backs. no two have the same pattern of callousites so getting the shot of the pattern is critical for the scientists to be able to identify individual whales.
i am looking for tips on how to setup camera for best shots
One step might be to use a circular polarizer - that would help cut out reflections from the sun in the water and also help prevent highlights from blowing out. I would certainly give one a try - but make sure you get a highquality one or else your going to lose image qualiy
Based on your comments, your experience probably outstrips most of ours in this specialized shooting environment.

If I were handed this project, I would bracket one frame each side of center. Knowing that you've had problems with highlights, "center" would be a -EV as you've already suggested. I'm the opposite of a "spray and pray" shooter BUT memory and batteries are so cheap there days, no one could convince me NOT to bracket my shots in this situation.

I don't own a D90, but I would think that it would keep up with your speed requirements shooting raw and bracketing. With all of the time and expense invested in getting up there, please tell me that you have backup equipment......

hi marc, i am the guy doing the aerial survey of whales in patagonia. just wanted to say we do have a backup system on hand! we are using an external battery pack so power is not an issue too. this year, if we can afford it, i am going to try the d-90 with a polarizer filter. the d-90 might give me enough extra shutter speed to make the polarizer feasible. regardless of all of the above, the view from my seat in the airplane is, needless to say, spectacular. sometimes i ask the pilots to circle around so i can take a look without the camera. thanks for taking the time to reply, all best, john
And I'm really hoping that you will share some of your favorite images with us!

Good luck to you.

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