Photography as decor

North shore sunrise

                                                       North shore sunrise


One of the questions I get asked a lot, is what kind of photography do I have on the walls in my house.  North Shore sunrise is next to my bed.   It is the first thing I see in the morning and always brings a smile to my face.

Fierce Competitor

                                                         Fierce Competitor

This Bull Shark portrait is in the front entry way.

Living Art_copyright

This colorful reef portrait is next to my desk.

Gold Medal Winner  Our World Underwater

                            Gold Medal Winner   Our World Underwater

Hope is the name of the whale portrait and it lives above my dresser in my room.

I will rotate a few pieces soon, as I want to enjoy a portrait created at Jaws Surf Break last month of a 50 foot wave, and a Sperm Whale portrait created last December in Dominica.   I think I need a bigger house!

Posted in art for decor, black and white photography, Decor, fine art photography, Gallery, guided photo tours, guided whale swim tours, hawaii, humpback whales, incredible adventure, Island scenic, landscape photography, maui photo safari, Nature Photography, Nikon, once in a life time | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early morning light on Maui’s North Shore


I watched the waves come in for a while and really enjoyed the waterfalls over the exposed coral. The lines of the reef and incoming wave helped me see the image I wanted to create,  but the incoming waves limited where we could put my tripod.    Getting wet and sandy is often part of happens while creating landscape or in this case seascape images.  So, here is a tip.  If creating seascape images, leave your cell phone, wallet, and keys in the camera bag, and have a towel and extra pair of shorts in the van.

I a nikon D810 and 14-24 mm lens, 3 stop ND Hitech filter, Gitzo tripod.



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MoRe JaWs InSaNitY

It’s been a few weeks since I got up in the dark, and joined a bunch of fearless photographers and surfers and headed towards Jaws Surf Break in order to catch the sunrise and some waves prior to the surfers and jet ski’s.  I remember Capt Loren having the spot light on the bow as we made our way out so we could see any whales logging at the surface. After an hour or so the sun came up and we in the zone.


There is nothing like the power and beauty of nature.  Each wave is a unique piece of art perfect in form and function.


That men and women surf these waves shows the human spirit has no boundaries.


I look forward to sharing more images in the coming weeks online and in a new gallery. Details coming soon……




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Surf up JAWS in Maui!


I can only imagine the view the local photographers got up there.  I have to say that is one hell of a pilot! What an incredible day!  Witnessing those waves was simply incredible.   Nature is so impressive.   I am not a surfer but I have nothing but respect for  the men and women who ride these waves and drive the jet ski’s.    Live pono everyone.

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Honorable Mention at Beneath the Sea

Received Honorable Mention in 2016 Beneath the Sea Photography Competition

Received Honorable Mention in 2016 Beneath the Sea Photography Competition

I have not entered a photography competition since receiving first place in an international competition in San Diego five years ago and thought it was time.  So I sent this and a few other images to Beneath the Sea.   Called Eye to Eye, this image received an honorable mention.   I will never forget this day, as I spent a long time observing the pair and all the while I had a stomach ache.   The mother at one point during our swim seemed to look at my tummy then directly in my eyes as if she wanted to tell me something.   Later that night my appendix burst. True story.   Thank goodness for DAN insurance and the Drs. in New Zealand.   I am forever grateful….  Check out other images from the trip here

Posted in art for decor, bucket list adventure, Decor, fine art photography, Gallery, guided dive trips, guided photo tours, guided photography tours, guided whale swim tours, guided whale swimming adventures, humpback whales, incredible adventure, tonga, underwater photography, whale photography workshop | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tonga Whale Swim Guide

>Whale Swimming in Vavau Tonga Sept 21-30, 2010

Whale Swimming in Tonga  –   by   Douglas  J Hoffman

Tonga, used to be one of the best kept secrets in adventure travel but those days are numbered. The increase in tourism is to a large part related to whale swimming but not all. Tonga has good scuba diving, and is famous for sailing and fishing. In the future look for operators there to start blue water adventure tours in January and February that go out looking for bait balls,  pods of dolphins, Pilot Whales, Sperm Whales,  Oceanic White Tip Sharks, and Sail fish. This could become a new niche industry. 

Pilot Whales

Tonga is an island nation location in the South Pacific, just three hours flight from New Zealand, or an hour and a half from Fiji.  An independent kingdom, Tonga has three island groups, and is comprised of 176 coral and volcanic islands, thirty-six of which are inhabited. Nuku’alofa, the capital, is located on the main island of Tongatapu, while the outer islands are more for tourism.  

The Ha’apai group is the middle group and contains numerous flat & low lying islands.  When the weather is good, this location is wonderful as it is pristine and there are no crowds.  When the weather is bad, there is no place to hide and it can get nasty. 

Tanquil Harbor Tonga

The Vavau’ island group lies to the north and features tall hills, volcanoes, jungle, sandy beaches, and plenty of safe anchorages for boats.  For this reason, the majority of visitors go to Vavau’. There are a variety of accommodation levels and standards making it a destination with options for those who travel first class as well as economy. There are several restaurants, bars, shops, and an open market that is colorful and fun.

Each year, Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whales leave their feeding grounds in Antarctica and swim to the tropical waters of Tonga to mate and give birth. They like the shallow protected waters between the islands to nurse and the deeper water for mating.

Wisely, the Tongan government see’s the value of Humpback whales in terms of eco-tourism. Income from Charter boat companies, restaurants, hotels, and taxi’s supports local businesses and generates revenue for the government through taxes.  


Whales are wild animals and are not dive sites. In an effort to respect the whales needs, and keep Tonga as the preferred mating and birthing grounds, guidelines have been established that outline how whale swimming activities are conducted. 

For example, there can be no more than 4 swimmers plus a guide in the water at any time. Swimmers must float together with the guide and are prohibited from free diving on mother and calfs. Scuba diving with the whales is not allowed. Whales must be given a 90 minute break between the time one boat finishes and another boat starts putting swimmers in the water.


Fiji Airways and Air New Zealand offer international service to Tonga.  In April of 2016, FIji Airways will start offering two direct flights a week from Nadi to Vavau’ Tonga.   Contact Fiji Airways for details at

Currently Real Tonga is the only domestic airline in Tonga (  They have small propeller planes that seat 16 and 19 people. There is no overhead storage in these planes. Upon boarding most personal items are taken and stowed. The baggage allowance on the domestic flight is 44 pounds for check in and 8 pounds for carry on.  The fee for extra weight is supposed to go up in 2016 to about $3 US dollar a pound. Be advised Real Tonga will weigh everything including you!  Pack accordingly.

Mother and calf checking me out

Mother and calf checking me out

There are several kinds of behavior happening in Tonga. Singing is one of them.  When this happens the male will go down to 40-60 feet get vertical and start singing.  Songs last about 20 minutes.  The pitch or tone may change from male to male but the song remains the same.  

Tracking is another behavior and as it suggests it is when the whales don’t settle and continue heading to an unknown destination.   Heat runs are when when male whales fight for dominance and the right to mate with the female.  Watching the battle that happens underwater is incredible with action going on everywhere.  If the female has a calf  the bulls may well try to separate it so they can mate. The female does not want this to happen, but nature is cruel as well as beautiful, and sometimes this happens.

Male whales fighting

Male whales fighting

Calm periods occur when the mother whale is resting and nursing. This behavior is what can often lead into mutual interactions.  This is when the whales are as curious about us as we are about them. If swimmers stay together as a group and the female does not feel stressed by our actions, she will relax and become very comfortable with our presence. When this happens humans and whales float along together, and the baby gets to play


fearless baby

Swimming with whales is unlike any other experience on earth. Besides being surreal it is quite humbling. Literally your floating next to a leviathan that could crush you easily but instead is gentle and curious. When a whale looks you directly in the eye there is an instant connection that will change your life.

Mother and calf swimming in the same position

Mother and calf swimming in the same position

When an extended encounter develops and you float along side a mother and calf its possible to observe incredible behavior and communication between the whales.  With subtle movements of the body & fin position, and vibrations from the almost invisible hairs on the whales tubercles, the mother communicates with the calf to lets it know its boundaries. Tubercles are the bumpy things that look like barnacles on the front of the whale.

When the mother is relaxed she might log, which is to hang out on the surface or start what is called breathing cycles. This is where the mom goes down to 25 feet or so and hovers motionless in the water for 20 minutes or so.  When its time to breathe, she will slowly rise to the surface and pack her lungs. If everything is good, she will then descend back down to about 25 feet and hover.  Each time the mother surfaces is referred to as a cycle.  When the mother is relaxed the calf is free to explore its world and check out the humans. This is when wonderful encounters take place and life long memories are made.


There are a three types of boat charters for swimming with whales. The first are live-aboards. As the name suggests you live on the boat. Currently there are two that operate in Tonga.  The first is the Naia, operating most of the year in Fiji, but spends about 5-6 weeks in Tonga. This is a luxury trip complete with chocolates on the pillow.  The boat takes 16-18 people.  


The other Live aboard is owned by Whale Discoveries LTD, and is a 53 foot sailing catamaran. This is more of an eco- charter and takes 4-6 guests on a more intimate adventure.  Both are good at what they do.

53 foot sailing boat called Wildlife

53 foot Wildlife

The second way to enjoy whale swimming in Tonga is to join a open charter boat. This where the boat takes anywhere from 8-12 people on day trips.  Open boats are more affordable and cost an average of $200-250 US per day depending upon the size of boat, number of people taken, whats included, and hours on the water. The majority of boats do 6 hours a day and take between 8-12 people. This is perfect for visitors that want to enjoy a few days whale watching/swimming, as well as a few days of scuba diving, sailing, or exploring the island.  

Open charters take anywhere from 8-12 people, and must rotate the swimmers in groups. Each boat is different in how they rotate people in and out of the water. Some do it by time, others by interaction, or breathing cycles. 

Those that want to be in the water as much as possible are better suited for a private charter.  In this style of charter there are fewer people and less rotations. With fewer people on the boat the price will be significantly higher. But, you get what you pay for.


this is one of the boats I charter in Tonga

Most often Private charters are organized by marine naturalists & underwater photographers that understand whale behavior and have years of experience. This insight and knowledge adds to the overall quality of the charter. Rather than try to swim with every whale these professionals will look for specific behaviors that might lead to extended interactions. In comparison, a captain of a open boat might put swimmers in the water with whales he knows are on the move just to be sure all of the rotations of people on the boat get at least a glimpse of whales in the water.  While the people will see whales, the quality of experience will be very different.

three of a kind

happy whales

When it is time to swim, it is very important to be as quiet as possible when entering the water. Whales do not like a lot of noise coming from the surface and their reaction to it is to simply disappear. As each boat is configured differently the crew will explain entry techniques that enable participants to get into the water creating as little noise as possible.

Big fin kicks that break the surface and create a bubble wake are loud and end encounters. Depending upon style of fin used it might be wise to swim side-ways in order to keep them underwater. Large fins made popular by skin divers are not needed as they are designed for ascending and descending not for horizontal swimming at the surface. Open heel fins are great for scuba diving, but not good for whale swimming.   Booties are buoyant and tend to keep the feet toward the surface, which is not good for whale swimming. Full foot fins are best.


Whale swimming is the ultimate adventure

When in the water always stay together in a group and never swim straight towards the whale. Try not get so lost in the moment that you get between the mother and the calf, as this causes stress for the mother and could quickly end an encounter. If you do get separated from the group just float and give the boat a signal that your ok, but to pick you up. Never free dive on the whales.

Mother, calve, and new boyfriend

Swimmer observing whale behavior

Whale Photography Tips

When photographing large animals in the blue, strobes are not used. They create drag and are not powerful enough to light up a whale. So the best thing to do is work with Ambient light. When possible keep the sun behind you and allow it to illuminate the subject. Using a fast shutter speed helps prevent problems like image blur and freezes rays of sunlight bending in the water column.  This adds a sense of drama and dimension to the scene.  A shutter speed of  1/250th is highly suggested. On days when the sky is dark and overcast turn up the ISO from 100 or 200 to 400 or 800. Set the focus to single, and the drive to continuous low. Shoot short bursts at a time and try to avoid filling the cache. 

As or camera mode, select shutter priority. This lets the camera select the f-stop. In blue water work there is not a big issue with depth of field so let the camera does what it wants, as long as it freezes the motion. That said, whales are big and if the camera selects an F-stop of 2.8 -3.5 part of the whale may not be crisp.  

Family Unit

Lens Selection

When it comes to whales the wider the lens the better.  For those that have cropped sensor DSLR cameras the Tokina 10 -17 mm fisheye and fixed 10.5 mm fish eye are the most popular. Full frame DSLR users can use the Sigma 15 mm, Tokina 10-17, (at 16 or 17 mm), 16 mm fish eye, 16-35 mm, 14-24mm lens, 17-35 and other lenses, or 20 mm.  There are a lot of choices, just remember when swimming with whales the smaller the port and camera configuration the easier it is to travel and swim with at the surface. 

Born wild born Free.web

Quality time with mother and calf

Trip Insurance

Everyone planning a vacation to Tonga anticipates having a great time.  Sometimes however life circumstances beyond your control arise and things change.  Boats break, storms arise, people get injured, have accidents, or get sick. For these and other reasons it makes sense that everyone traveling to Tonga should have travel insurance. 

DAN, or Divers Alert Network is fantastic.  This is for evacuation, and medical expenses due to diving and snorkeling accidents.  Their coverage is not comprehensive in terms of medical coverage, nor does not cover trip cancellation.   So additional trip insurance is suggested. 

 I hope you have found this guide helpful.  If interested in going on a Private Whale Swim Adventure with Douglas check out for details or send an email to

Posted in black and white photography, bucket list adventure, dive travel, Dive with a Photo Pro, fine art photography, guided dive trips, guided photo tours, guided photography tours, guided whale swim tours, humpback whales, incredible adventure, Nature Photography, Nikon, once in a life time, photo tour and workshop, swimming with whales, tonga, Uncategorized, underwater photography, whale photography workshop, Whale swimming | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Children are the future

talented kids at Montessori School

                                      Talented kids at Montessori School

I have been busy creating a new educational program to share with the children at Montessori Up Country Maui,  with about 90 new images of Humpback and Sperm Whales.  I presented there about this time last year and had a ton of fun. Thats why I am so excited to to share new stories and answer questions from the inquiring young minds.

I will bring three signed photographs of whales and give them away to three lucky kids.  In order to enter the drawing each child must do a drawing of a whale.  Later, the teacher will draw three names and those students will get the photographs.

Safe place for Mother whale to tend to her calf.


Posted in black and white photography, children, childrens art, education, fine art photography, guided dive trips, guided photo tours, humpback whales, Maui community, paradise, photo safari, Sperm Whales, swimming with whales, whale art | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Priceless Moment

Priceless Moment DJH_2485.1

Priceless Moment

Observing the relationship of a mother and calf in the wild is incredible. During the encounter time seems to stand still and all that exists is the moment.  Within the moment  glimpses of the relationship that exists between a mother and baby, but more than that you feel love.  And, that is a Priceless Moment.

Experience this for yourself in September 2016, as space is available on a private whale swimming adventure.  

Posted in emotion, fine art photography, guided photography tours, guided whale swim tours, humpback whales, incredible adventure, Island scenic, life, love, Nature Photography, Nikon, once in a life time, photo tour and workshop, photography workshops, scenic photography, snorkeling adventure, swim with whales, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whale Tales 2016 Feb 12-14, 2016 at The Ritz in Kapalua Maui

A week or so ago the director of Whale Trust, asked me to exhibit whale photography in the foyer of the 10th annual Whale Tales conference, happening in February in Maui. If that was not exciting enough, yesterday I got a call asking me to do a short 10-15 minute program with Marty Wolff on opening day.  The icing in the cake would be that I would follow Flip & Chuck Nicklin.  This father and son combination are icons in the underwater photography industry and have been my role models ever since my Grand Parents got me a subscription to National Geographic Magazine.  Needless to say I said yes!

So this week I am assembling a program and selecting a few portraits for the exhibit. I will also work on some sort of promotion so people can purchase a whale portrait and know that a percentage of the proceeds will go to Whale Research.

created under Gov't Permit

                                                    created under Gov’t Permit

If coming to Maui, or if you live here try to check out this event Feb 12-14 at the Ritz in Kapalua Bay.  While on that side of the island check out the whale photography exhibit at the Beach Club in the Montage Kapalua Bay Hotel.

Mother and calf  swimming in the same position

                                                             Mother and calf 


The weekend is packed with educational programs, fun whale watches, and a whole bunch of like minded people.  It’s going to be a whale of a time…..

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Nature Challenge Day Two

Thank you to Mark Strickland for this most recent Nature Challenge. This is day two and as part of the challenge need to call out another photographer.  Kai Matthes, I choose you! Post a Nature image for seven days and nominate someone each day.

Moby Dick

                Image used by WDCS for campaign to End Commercial Whaling.

Image created under Govt Permit.

This image was created while volunteering on a project with the Whale Dolphin Conservation Society several years ago.  It was the face of a international campaign to end Commercial Whaling, with signed petitions sent to both President Obama and the European Union.

The feelings I experience when swimming with whales are incredible and hard to describe. The best I can come up with it is humbling, surreal, emotional, exciting, and in my case addicting. Each year like the whales I migrate too, but rather than feed, mate, or give birth I observe and create photographs.   Who wants to join me?    The next adventure is in Tonga with Humpbacks this coming September.

Poetry in Motion

                                Poetry in Motion –  Kodak Award of Excellence 

Posted in education, fine art photography, guided photography tours, Nature Photography, Nikon, once in a life time, photo tour and workshop, photography workshops, Sperm Whales, swimming with whales, whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment