How to photograph dolphins

Experienced dolphin photographer Tim Stenton offers his tips for capturing the wildlife of the Moray Firth.

Bottlenose dolphin by Rhian


A digital SLR with a 300–500mm lens is the best tool for the job, but these lenses can be expensive and a 70–300mm lens will also work well.

When dolphins are close to the shore, zoom out to a wider shot so you don’t miss any action – you can always crop on a computer later.


Sunny days deliver the best shots, so pay attention to the forecast.

Ideally you want the sun behind you so use a map and tide times to plan your day.

At Chanonry Point dolphins often feed with the rising tide and sightings occur to the east or north-east. So in the morning you tend to be shooting into the sun, but in the afternoon you will find it less challenging.


Creating an attractive composition is not easy when photographing fast-moving dolphins from the shore or a boat.

Think about what you might want in the background. People, boats and recognisable landmarks often work well, adding perspective and a sense of place.

A low angle is particularly effective to make the dolphins appear larger in their environment.


You should set the camera up to take the highest-quality shots possible.

You are working with fast-moving animals so you need to keep your shutter speeds as high as possible, while a small aperture will increase the depth of field to make it easier to focus.


The action can happen very quickly. If it does, just keep shooting – you can look at your images later.

Take spare cards and batteries. And don’t expect to get that perfect image on your first visit – it may take hundreds of hours, and thousands of images, before you get your shot.

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