Last July, I lead two back-to-back expeditions in Southeast Alaska in search of humpback whales bubble feeding. I co-lead these trips with my good friend and regular partner Tony Wu. I have been photographing the whales doing this exciting and dramatic behavior since 2007. Man, it really was a decade ago that I purchased my little C-Dory and set off for Alaska without a clue. After my initial struggles, I became very good at finding and photographing the whales while they are bubble feeding. Still, it is never easy to do. I often have to spend several days searching for them by covering hundreds of miles of shoreline combined with the nearly constant bad weather, but when I find them it is incredible! I am looking forward to returning to Alaska with Tony in July 2018. Who wants to join us?
Last week, I returned from my annual pilgrimage to Hawaii to photograph humpback whales. I spent 10 days chartering a boat with my good friends Robin & Stuart Westmorland and our buddy Ken Howard. We have been photographing whales together for over a decade from Hawaii to California up to British Columbia and Alaska. We call ourselves the F***ing Whale Crew. Anyone who has ever spent time around whales can probably appreciate how often we curse them for being uncooperative and unpredictable, thus the name of our small fellowship. Anyway, the wind and the whales were working against us most of this trip, however, we were rewarded with this impressive breach close to the boat on our last day. My buddy Patrick Kelley flew over from Kauai to join us that morning. It was his very first visit to Maui. He had basically been on Maui for about 2 hours before joining us to go out for our final day. After departing the Kihei boat ramp, we encountered a group of whales within 20 minutes. I have been fooled enough times over the years by whales who suddenly breach without my camera being ready, so I advised everyone to get their cameras out. I am pretty fast when I need to be, so my camera was out in a flash, but I am pretty sure that I heard Patrick’s lens click onto his camera body about 1/2 second before this whale suddenly flung itself out of the water. Talk about beginner’s luck. You are welcome PK! Once we calmed down from hooting and hollering at what we had just experienced, we realized how fortunate that we all were able to photograph this breathtaking moment. I created this image using my new Canon 7DmkII and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens. I processed the RAW file using Adobe Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC 2015, and Nik Software’s Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter.
Because I have photographed so many humpback whales breaching during my career, I have become very specific about the type of photograph that I am searching for. First off, I prefer to be very close to the surface of the ocean so that the cetacean emerges well above the horizon line. This is only possible while working from small boats. Secondly, the animal needs to breach pretty close by, because I use a medium telephoto lens. Thirdly, since I use such a short focal length, I like to line up the whale with a dramatic backdrop in order to give a better sense of place. In this case, I used the dramatic sidelight illuminating the north shore of Lanai with dark clouds in the sky above as my background. Finally, the direction and rotation of the breach are very important, and the further the leviathan comes out of the water the better. I love how in this photo the enormous whale is momentarily suspended above the waves with its back perfectly arched and its pectoral fin out to the side as water is being thrown off in all directions. Awesome! I created this image using my new Canon 7DmkII and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens. I processed the RAW file using Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC 2014.
My recent visits to Lanai to photograph humpback whales breaching were among my most productive trips ever. I have dozens of new photos of this awe-inspiring behavior. This stunning moment of an adult whale almost completely out of the water was photographed in January on an especially calm day, as can be seen by the reflection of the whale on the surface of the ocean. I worked especially hard to keep my boat in position in order to line up the whale with the West Maui Mountains in the background. Normally, I prefer breaches at their apex, but my auto-focus was slightly off for the 2 frames before this one because I was zooming in tighter as it transpired. This behavior is so fleeting that it is always disappointing to lose any photos because they are soft. Fortunately, this one is razor sharp. It is also not that common to see an adult whale almost totally out of the water. I created this image using my new Canon 7DmkII and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens. I processed the RAW file using Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC 2014.
I took a gamble when I decided to ship my 12′ Achilles inflatable boat and 15hp Honda outboard motor to Lanai last fall. I had never gone whale watching in the area, though, I had seen a ton of whales from shore during my previous winter visits. Since my boat was so small, I needed the weather to cooperate and crossed my fingers that the whales would provide me with some dramatic photo opportunities. Once I was there, I required an enormous amount of patience and dedication to be out on the ocean every day, but never in my wildest imagination did I expect to encounter as many breaching whales as I did. I have probably observed over 1000 breaches over the last decade, but after my two trips to Lanai this winter that total is now closer to 2000! This image of a repetitively breaching humpback was created in the ‘Au‘au Channel on the north side of Lanai on an overcast day. I really like how far the whale is out of the water and all of the spray and its blow are perfectly frozen at 1/2000 second. The island and cloud backdrop also makes this image much more interesting to me than just a simple horizon. A lot of people have commented to me over the years how much nicer my breaching whale images are from Alaska compared to Hawaii or Tonga because of the background. I hope that my regular readers won’t get bored with all of the new breaching images that I will be sharing in the coming weeks. I created this image using my new Canon 7DmkII and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens. I processed the RAW file using Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC 2014.
I have been back home from my most recent trip to Lanai for a few weeks now and finally made some time to edit my photos. Over the years, I have witnessed double breaching humpback whales on the horizon, but never gotten close enough to justify pulling out my camera. So, when these two whales started repetitively breaching close by I became focused like a laser on creating this image. For about 30 minutes, these whales timed their dives together before spectacularly erupting above the waves in perfect choreography. It was incredibly windy and the waves were beating me up in my small inflatable boat, but I was not going to allow anything to stop me from photographing this amazing behavior. I was also able to line up the West Maui Mountains in the background, because why not make an already dramatic scene even more stunning? I created this image using my new Canon 7DmkII and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens. I processed the RAW file using Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC 2014.
For the last two years, my 12′ Achilles inflatable boat has been stored rolled up in my garage. I used it a ton in Alaska between 2007-2012, but not since. I decided last fall to ship it and my 15HP Honda outboard to Lanai in order to use it to photograph humpback whales this winter. When I visited Lanai in January, I assembled it and then spent a week out on the ocean using it. My main goal was to be out well before sunrise in order to photograph a breaching humpback in golden light. I was unsuccessful, however, I did observe numerous breaches at that time of day, but they were all too far away. As the sun rose higher in the sky, I had better luck getting closer. This is a nice breach of a male during a heat run. Every five minutes or so, the entire group would pop back up to breath and this male would do a head throw or breach. That made it much easier to anticipate and with the aid of my polarized sunglasses I could see the whale about to launch above the waves a second before it happened. I created this image using my new Canon 7DmkII and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CC 2014, plus Nik Software’s Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter.
Over the last decade, I have focused much of my travel and photography on Alaska. However, my only trip up north this year was in early August when I lead a small group tour in search of my favorite subject, humpback whales bubble-net feeding. There were some ups and downs associated with this particular trip that I do not need to get into, but it was definitely my most productive tour photographically for bubble-net feeding. I told my clients that they should be proud of what we accomplished. The exhilaration of photographing over a dozen humpback whales cooperatively hunting and feeding on schools of herring never gets old. It does get frustrating, but never boring. This image shows a very close encounter where I had to zoom back to 70mm as the whales erupted above the surface with their mouths about to slam shut. If you look in the mouth of the whale on the right, you can even see a silver herring flying through the air about to be engulfed. I created this image using my Canon 7D and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CC 2014, plus Nik Software’s Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter.
During my recent trip to the Big Island, I was planning to photograph humpback whales as much as possible, but alas the whales and weather were not all that cooperative. I always advise aspiring whale photographers that they better enjoy the boat ride and their companions when venturing out on the water. This is the best image that I got while spending much of the day with a small group of whales in a heat run. All of the activity was taking place beneath the surface and there was no ryhme or reason to their change in direction. Many times, I was set up perfectly for a great shot, only to be thwarted by a whole lot of nothing. This tail image was as exciting as it got that day, and even this was very surprising. I created this image using my Canon 7D and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens with my Canon 1.4X III tele-converter attached. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CC, plus Nik Software’s Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter.
I am happy to share my first Alaska photo cover! This image of a humpback whale breaching straight out of the water happens to be one of my personal favorites, so I am pleased that it is being published so prominently. I was fortunate to be able to photograph this amazing moment in July 2010. The weather was perfect and my father was also with me. We were in my small inflatable north of the Brothers Islands in Southeast Alaska when this whale started repetitively breaching for over an hour. It was one of my most memorable days as a photographer.