David Williams Wildlife Photographer – Interview
David Williams is a very talented wildlife photographer who frequently joins our whale watching tours. It’s always a pleasure to have David on board and see the magnificent photos he captures, especially when you’re working with a very dynamic environment and with a very large but sometimes elusive animal. So I thought it would be a great to ask David himself a few questions about his photography and share them with you.
David lives and works in Brisbane as a Motor Underwriting Manager during the workweek, but during his time off enjoys whale watching off the coast of Surfers Paradise, cruising up into the Gold Coast Hinterland where he can explore lush Gondwanan rainforest, diving and photographing the spectacular Great Barrier Reef, and travelling to the north of Sweden where he can photograph the Northern Lights and many other amazing landscapes of the Arctic Circle.
David is quite talented in Underwater and wildlife photography, however it’s only recently that David has started dabbling in Nightsky, and Weather photography. I must admit he has a natural talent for it. As many of you avid photographers would know how long and patient you need to be when it comes to these types of photography, with many different factors playing an integral part of capturing the perfect image.
David got his first camera when he was just 14 years old, however photography wasn’t high on the priority at this stage of his life, and as he said, ‘life kinda got in the way’. It wasn’t until many years down the track when David got into Scuba diving, that David picked up a camera again. Nowadays, David travels to some of the most beautiful parts of the world to capture the beauty and wonder of the world we live in..
So David, tell me how did you get into photography? And how many years have you been taking photographs?
I got my first camera when I was about 14. A cheap russian DSLR that I had absolutely no idea what to do with. I really didn’t get into photography though at that time. Life kinda got in the way, I moved to Sydney and I’m not sure what became of that camera. I didn’t pick up a camera again for many years. I got seriously into scuba diving about 10 years ago and the beauty of what I saw compelled me to start taking a camera with me.
So, what made you want to photograph whales?
I’m fortunate enough to live in Brisbane which is only about an hours drive from the Gold Coast. I think I went on my first whale watching trip about 6 years ago when some friends were visiting from Sydney and I wanted to show them something different than the usual tourist attractions.
I’ve always been fond the natural world and find it quite intriguing and enticing, so taking them out to see the Humpbacks was the obvious choice. Unlucky for them, they both got seasick, but we got a great close up view of a Humpback and calf.
At that time I had a relatively cheap camera (it’s horrendously expensive take a good camera underwater) and I foolishly held the idea that it wouldn’t be possible to take a good Humpback photo with such a piece of junk. About a year later, after getting a very generous bonus from my day job I went out and bought a Nikon D800 together with all the other equipment needed to take the camera underwater. After spending so much I thought what else is there close by that my new camera would be really suited to capturing and I immediately thought of the Humpback Whales. I’ve been coming out to the beautiful waters off Surfers Paradise with Whales in Paradise ever since.
As you know quite well, photographing whales can quite difficult at times.. how do you manage to get all these magnificent photos?
I think it’s a combination of factors. But one of the main ones is simply being in the right place at the right time. This can take a lot of perseverance, patience and in some cases luck. Some of the best photos I’ve seen have been taken by someone with an iPhone whilst I was on the other side of the boat with $10,000 worth of camera gear wondering what just happened. This means it’s important to take the opportunity of a great shot when it’s presented. This means understanding your camera gear and how to get the best out of it whatever the conditions are. Lighting is very changeable out on the water and the boat can move around a bit so you have to be able to react and adapt quickly. In my first season of whale photography I took plenty of really bad photos. I’m into my fourth season now and I’ve learnt a lot from my errors of the past so I take far fewer bad ones now and feel more confident in my abilities and my equipment.
What is your favourite time of day to photograph whales?
Early last season I was fortunate to be on a trip where it was nearly dead calm on a late afternoon cruise. When the sun is setting behind a humpback whale, lighting up its breath so it shimmers is almost magical.
What a sensational way to finish up for the day.. these 3 humpys were swimming in the lingering golden sunlight as we sailed back to shore on one of our 2.30pm sunset tours. We may get some amazing sunrises here on the Gold Coast, but the sunsets can be just as good! 🌅🐋#goldenhour #incredible 📸: David Williams @orsanx incredible!
What is your favourite image you’ve taken of the whales, and why?
This is a tough one. But I think for the reasons I gave above, one of the shots I took of a whale’s blow lit up by the setting sun on an early winter’s afternoon would have to be my favourite. At least until I finally manage to capture the killer breach shot that’s eluded me to this point.
The weather and sea conditions have been quite wild and wooly the past few days which has made it a little difficult to get out and see the whales, fingers crossed the next few days will settle down.. #wildweather #rainraingoaway☔️ Beautiful sunset shot by David Williams, obviously not from yesterday 😅 @orsanx
Your top 3 tips for photographing whales.
1) A zoom lense with a good range is important. With Humpback Whales you can never be sure whether they’ll pop up right next to the boat or several hundred meters away. The zoom gives you the flexibility you’ll need to reduce the chance of missing the shot due to having the wrong lens.
2) I recommend shooting in Shutter priority mode with the shutter speed set to a minimum of 1/1000 if possible (you may need to increase the ISO on your camera). Remember you’re on a rocking boat and there can be a lot of action and movement. I took a lot of bad shots early on because I didn’t use a high enough shutter speed.
3) Try to start to understand the whales behaviour. They’re actually a little more predictable than you might think. For instance, whilst they can have fairly long down times (spent underwater), if you time it the first time they go down, then the next down time will probably be similar length. If they arch their back on the surface get ready for a good tail shot (and possibly even a breach). And finally if a mother Humpback is with her calf be prepared for much shorter down times as the calf can’t hold its breath anywhere near as long.
We would like to thank David from the bottom of the ocean for taking the time to answer our questions, and most importantly, sharing his incredible images with us at Whales in Paradise. If you're lucky enough, you might catch him on board one of our tours over the whale watching season.