More Nat Geo Expeditions Stories

National Geographic Explorer Shares Whale Tales & Photography Tips in Honor of World Whale Day

Robyn Sheckler

by , External Communications Manager, Disney Institute and National Geographic Live

It’s world whale day this Sunday, and at National Geographic Live and National Geographic Expeditions, we’re celebrating this milestone by sharing some fun facts and insights about these majestic animals, along with some storytelling and photography tips from our award-winning photographer and National Geographic Explorer, Brian Skerry.

Whales first appeared 50 million years ago. Since their introduction to our oceans, they have helped maintain equitable food chains, provide a cleaner atmosphere by capturing carbon, and aid global economies through ecotourism. 

Brian travels across North America with National Geographic Live to share his on-stage presentation “Secrets of the Whales” at performing arts centers in the U.S. and Canada. With National Geographic Expeditions he helps lead experiential trips that invite guests to safely observe and learn about regional wildlife. On these trips, he also teaches travelers ways to enhance their photography skills.

Specializing in marine wildlife and underwater environments, Brian has spent over four decades exploring and documenting the world’s oceans. For “Secrets of the Whales,” his docuseries on Disney+ alongside James Cameron, he turns his lens to illuminate groundbreaking new insights into their lives and culture. After spending more than three years in 24 locations around the world capturing remarkable images and video, one of the most unique things he learned was how much whales were just like people.

Whales pass down stories and traditions from generation to generation and they visit places where their ancestors lived before them. Whales also segregate by language, and have clans based on specific dialects. They also have singing competitions, in fact, as Brian stated, humpback whales change their songs every year. “It’s like tuning into American idol of the sea, where the males have contests to win over mates – it’s fascinating!”

Orca whales on the other hand have unique feeding strategies. The diets they eat are chosen based on how they were taught by their mothers and grandmothers and are based on where they live. Similarly to humans, they experience a high emotional range – from love and joy to grave sadness and grief. In Canada, beluga whales journey each summer to their “vacation resort” as Brian calls it.

From those who have traveled with National Geographic Expeditions, we often hear it’s a life-enriching experience. National Geographic Expeditions offer amazing experiences around the world, several of which include whale observation and knowledge offered by experts. When you’re on a trip – whether it is with Brian or another National Geographic Expert – you’re able to gain insight into the stunning places you travel to while learning new skills. “Expeditions are awesome – Antarctica and the Galapagos are two of my favorites I’ve been on. As one of the experts on trips, you can have dinner with guests and they can ask personal questions about your career, and the next minute you can show them how to use and understand their camera equipment better or offer them tips on photography and production.”

Brian’s tips for aspiring photojournalists:

  • Being a photojournalist is more than just making beautiful pictures – you must tell a story.
  • Find a subject that interests you and that you can photograph repeatedly.
  • Invest time to hone your skills and make connections – get to know other people.
  • Understand basic composition and the rules of third. Divide the image into thirds, either horizontally or vertically, and place the subject in the frame where the lines intersect. The subject shouldn’t always be in the middle. Be sure you understand the exposure. Also, mix up focal lengths and change up your angles.
  • While it’s okay to mimic others’ style in the beginning, develop your own vision and how you shoot things.
  • Most importantly, he says have fun, follow your heart, create your own creative vision, and know that breaking the rules is okay.
  • And finally, curate your portfolio and have about 25 images in your portfolio to show a director of photography or art director at a magazine. Create stories and see if you can sell those to a local publication.

Whether on a stage or in the water, Brian says he hopes people can see the ocean through a new lens and see the magic with his work.

To learn more about how you can hear from National Geographic Explorers like Brian in your city, visit our website. And to travel and observe whales alongside the experts, visit National Geographic Expeditions for a complete list of itineraries. Destinations include Iceland, Baja California, Antarctica, Alaska, Islands of the Azores, Greenland and more.