Life-size whale pictures go on display in Norway

OSLO (Reuters Life!) - Taking pictures of whales is notoriously difficult, underwater photographers say. The world’s largest animal is shy and too big to capture in great detail.

But a new exhibition in Norway, the first ever showing life-size whale photos, uses state-of-the-art technology to produce sharper and more intimate views of the giant mammals.

“Sensitive, inquisitive and gentle -- most people would never get a chance to see whales like this,” said Bryant Austin, a former marine researcher from the United States who spent much of the past five years snapping close-ups of whales.

To produce a single picture, a whale has to swim past Austin at a distance of no further than 2 meters (6 feet), during which the diver normally takes about 15 pictures of its sections with a specialized camera.

With a high powered computer and image-editing software, he morphs the separate photos into a single picture of the entire whale -- creating a detailed illustration without having to sacrifice the sense of the whale’s gigantic proportions.

“Most whales are shy, or just not interested in people, so you have to seek out individuals that are curious or inquisitive, which can take three or four months of daily diving,” Austin told Reuters.

“There could be only two or three encounters during such a trip, in part because whales like to roll over to get a better look, which makes it more difficult to morph the pictures.”

Austin has dived with humpback whales in the Caribbean, sperm whales in the Pacific and minke whales off Australia. The blue whale, the biggest creature ever to live on earth, with a tongue the size of an elephant, is too shy to approach.

The exhibition is pointedly being held in Norway, one of the world’s only remaining countries that continues to hunt whales, defying an international memorandum.

Partly funded by Norwegian anti-whaling groups, and designed to provoke public debate on the issue, the month-long exhibition is being staged in a whaling museum in Sandefjord, a coastal town in southern Norway.

“We provide an important contrast to the views shown at the museum, said Austin.

“I show people a close up, intimate view and give people an opportunity to be moved.”

Some of the pictures from the “Eye to eye” exhibit can be found on

Editing by Steve Addison