Bottle-nosed Dolphin diving
Bottle-nosed Dolphin submerging off the harbour wall at New Quay, west Wales; 25 Sept 2014.

My wife had a longstanding ambition to see wild dolphins and so we took a cheapo holiday from The Sun “newspaper” to visit New Quay in west Wales, where they are regularly seen.  This is one of the two most certain spots to see these sea mammals in Britain, the other being Scotland’s Moray Firth.  And as I write there is news of dolphins in the Bristol Channel too, although whether they will stay around is another matter.

I wanted to photograph these wonderful creatures and pondered how to do it.  Because we both felt a little apprehensive about going out in a boat to see them – unless there was no other alternative at least – and photographing them from the shore indicated the need for a long telephoto, but something that could be zoomed back if we were lucky enough to have them closely approach.  But the 80-400 is heavy, not something I’d want to be holding for long periods, and it is a “D Nikkor”, which means that it lacks its own internal focusing motor – it uses the camera’s motor instead, and the focusing is not snappy.

My much loved and very much used 70-300 is an “AFS Nikkor”, however, and as such has its own internal focusing motor, which makes for very snappy focusing indeed – and its a much lighter lump to hold too.  However 300mm (x6 magnification) is not as good as 400mm (x8), and so to using the D800’s DX format, which multiplies focal lengths by 1.5, so that 300mm becomes 450mm – more far reaching and useful.

On the day, armed with 10x binoculars, we got ourselves down to the harbour early, in what The Rough Guide to Wales considers perfect conditions – the tide was full in and the weather calm (searching for these creatures in rough weather would be far more difficult).  I caught a distant glimpse of a hooked dorsal fin, but that was followed by a long period of nothing and a dispirited retreat to the Mariners Restaurant – and the allure of a cooked breakfast.  But on regaining the seafront, we saw an excited crowd on the end of the harbour wall – and there were the beasts!

My wife was of course delighted, and for me it rather like being at a shooting gallery in a fairground.  A dolphin would appear from the depths without any warning, the camera would instantly find focus and blast away (without motor drive) – “bang! bang! bang! bang!” – and then the damned thing, I mean, the cherished particle of wildlife (my apologies for that lapse), would just as abruptly submerge again >>> leaving me with quite a few shots of very beautiful …. but completely empty … seawater …

D800 with 70-300 Nikkor used with DX and providing 450mm; 500 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Pinhole preset and selectively restoring colour.

About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for all sorts of images, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.


  1. BeckyHelps says:

    The photo is like the animal is made out of a single piece of flat material. Very eyecatchingly artistic.


  2. Sallyann says:

    Sounds like fun. What’s your oppinion on Newquay? I’ve heard it’s turning into the new blackpool.? or should that be the old blackpool.?


  3. Ahhhhh – the trick of being faster than the wildlife! Your trip sounds wonderful and I have to agree with you that the 70-300 is a tried and true tool to keep in ones photography bag! Enjoyed your post Adrian!


    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Robyn, thank you, that’s good to hear! 🙂 Thought I’d go into some detail re the photography and the place, as it was quite a unique experience. I saw an optical review of the 70-300 quite a while back and it was very favourable. Thanks again. Adrian


  4. Sonali Dalal says:

    How are you dear friend? Life has become so hectic once again and I am happy about it. Have started travelling for photography and that gives me immense happiness. After each trip I have hundreds(if not thousands) of photos to edit and discard or upload. My need for social media is fueled by this crazy photo capturing spree. I am making it up for last 12 months it seems!! Facebook,g+ or Flickr can never replace my WordPress blog. Here I dare to upload my experiments. I don’t publicize this blog at all. It makes me happy when people on their own find it and start following. I consider it a much better acknowledgement than “likes” on social media where I tend to publicize big time :). Though to be honest both boost my ego :). But I get creative satisfaction about what I upload here. Enough about me 🙂

    How have you been?


    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Oh I’m well thank you, and enjoying retirement immensely, my friend. I’m busy producing Blurb books at the moment, one for my wife on our “dolphin adventure”, and others as birthday or Christmas presents.

      I also enjoy WordPress very much, its definitely a major aid to improving my photography – as you say, its a place where we can upload our experiments – and I have not the slightest doubt that experiments are the way forward ->>> from them spring new ideas!

      I’m so glad to hear that you’re mobile once more, that must really make you happy – very uplifting for the spirit! 🙂

      One thing – if you’re taking all these thousands of photos, don’t discard “failures” too quickly. The best thing is to keep all your images and to let them “mature” – like fine wines if you like – and them come back to them later, when you may see them and their possibilities with fresh eyes. I have heard this from many quarters, and it definitely is something to do, in order to derive the greatest potential from your photography. Adrian


  5. Very nice Adrian – I’m glad the two of you had a good time and that the weather was kind, I spoke to Mum last night who said that summer has now come to a very abrupt end. I saw the video footage of the dolphins in the Bristol Channel – amazing 🙂


  6. A lot of camera focus hocus pocus that I don’t get, so I’ll just say YAY FOR THE DOPHINS AND E.’s chance to spot them. Should have done a video. Catch a little action, so to speak. 😀


  7. paula graham says:

    Nice evocative photo, sensitively of my dreams to see and ‘shoot’ these wonderful animals day!!


    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Thank you, Paula! Yes, I processed it with the aim of achieving something that looked nice, rather than just a shot of a dolphin – although in truth my shots are not great.

      Well, if you want to photograph them, there’s one, semi-satisfactory method here! We might have done better to have gone on one of the several commercial boats that go out each day from the harbour looking for them, I don’t know. I have a long background in looking at/for elusive wildlife – and luck can often play an unnerving part!

      Also, we were lucky in that the weather was calm and dry – doing anything like that in rough / wet weather would be something else again! Adrian


  8. Meanderer says:

    How lovely that you were both there to see these beautiful creatures. I’m intrigued about their appearance in the Bristol Channel.

    I like the processing here in what sounds like a very difficult photographic subject to capture!


    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Hi, M! Re the Bristol Channel sightings, google dolphin and “Bristol Channel” and you’ll see the recent news items. A thousand seems an awful lot to me but I’m no expert.

      Difficult is not the word! We would probably have done better to have gone out on a boat but our sea legs are not what they might be. As it was, good old digital let me blast away inordinately, but my shots are not great, none of them are portraits, and while we did see several jump clean out of the water, they were far too quick for me to capture them – but I’ll post more in due course.

      In this one, I aimed at a blend of “showing the beast” and looking nice – maybe its looks vaguely oriental, I don’t know. But glad it gets to you. A


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