Tonga is the only country in the southern hemisphere where you can actually swim with Humpback whales. Every year, starting around June/July, thousand of whales undertake the longest migration known, crossing half of the world to meet near the island of Tonga.

Before this, the last time I had had the opportunity to see humpback whales was in Antarctica, but I had never had the opportunity to swim with them. We purposely decided to go early in the season, and so Craig Parry and I headed out to Vava’u, Tonga in July. Going early in the season meant less whales, but also less tourists visiting those islands—a prime time if we were hoping to increase the quality of our interactions. And I have to tell you... we got really lucky.

Literally 3 minutes later, this young whale was swimming toward us, looking to play with us.

On day two, while we were swimming with a mother and cub, we noticed a lone teenage whale playing around. We slowly approached him and gently slipped into the water, hoping not to scare him. Literally three minutes later, this young whale was swimming toward us, looking to play with us.

A scary moment, you might say, when you realize that you can’t fit this airplane-sized animal into your fisheye lens. When his nose and tail are about to touch you... missing by just a few centimeters. This whale would swim in front of us, roll next to us and swim under us, only a few centimeters from our fragile human body.

We understood that this animal meant no harm to us, and as this realization seeped in confidence replaced fear, and we literally spent the next 2 hours playing with this beautiful creature. Those two hours were magical, intimate, and powerful. Having previously shot whale sharks underwater, I didn’t believe Craig when he told me that I would constantly need an ultra-wide angle lens. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and both of the shots you are seeing were taken with a fisheye lens.

We understood that this animal meant no harm to us, and as this realization seeped in confidence replaced fear, and we literally spent the next 2 hours playing with this beautiful creature.

In fact, I used the following configuration for this trip: Aquatech underwater housing, Sony A7r II, and a 28mm with Fisheye adaptor (16mm). I also used the Sony 11-22mm.

I decided to shoot 7 bracketed exposures in 0.3 stop increments, hoping to either get (1) A high dynamic range composition or (2) A correctly exposed photo (given how fast the whale was coming to us, I had no time to adjusting the metering of the camera). Regarding autofocus, those two lenses seems to focus too much on the picoplankton at wide aperture. Reducing the f-stop from F6.3 to F8 increased the amount of keepers. And finally, regarding shutter speed, I wouldn’t recommend going below 1/640s, given the movement of water and the speed at which the whale moves around.


Josselin Cornou is an explorer, contemporary and landscape Photographer, and an addict of the unknown. He's travelled all over the world capturing some of the most stunning photographs you've ever seen. You can find more of his work on his website or by following him on Instagram.