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 humpback whales breaching 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.
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.
During my recent trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, 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 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.
I want to share another recent cover that features one of my humpback whale images. I photographed this dramatic breach while in Tonga last year. My friends and clients often joke with me that I should publish a book just on humpback whales breaching since I have been fortunate to be able to frequently photograph this extraordinary behavior.
I recently made some progress on editing my backlog of humpback whale images from Tonga last year and thought that this one was worth sharing. I was very lucky to be able to spend 90 minutes photographing this very relaxed mother-calf pair. They spent most of the time calmly resting on the surface during which the calf moved around a lot and curiously check me out. This was an amazing experience, which is why I can’t wait to return to Tonga in 2014 to lead a few week-long tours in search of more encounters like this.
I’ve been meaning to share this news for the last few weeks, but have been so busy that I am only now getting around to it. One of my underwater humpback whale images from Tonga was published on the cover of China’s Digital Camera May 2013 issue! This was the first time that I have worked with this magazine, but I hope to continue building upon this new relationship in the year ahead.
My image Humpback Whales Bubble Feeding 110 is featured in Outdoor Photographer’s June 2013 article “Pro Tips For Summer Hotspots”. In the article, I describe what it is like to observe humpback whales as they cooperatively feed in Alaska, as well as how to photograph this incredible behavior. Also featured in the article, is one of my personal favorite images Tonquin Valley Sunrise 3 along with a description of how to photograph this dramatic scene located in Jasper National Park.
If I could do one thing every day for the rest of my life, it would be to go out on the water to photograph whales for the day. They are simply the most amazing creatures that I am fortunate to regularly photograph. My favorite images of humpback whales are created when they breach. This behavior is an impressive display of emotion and power. You can see my entire gallery of photos of humpback whales breaching. Two of the things that make my breaching pictures stand out are; I shoot from small boats, close to the water so that the whale erupts above the horizon and I am close enough to my subject to use my 70-200mm lens. This image is a good example of utilizing the lowest point on the boat, as well as being taken at 70mm. During the Tonga portion of my 2012 Humpback Whale Tour, this whale repeatedly breached so close to the boat that I probably should have utilized a slightly wider lens. Incredible! I created this image using my Canon 7D and 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens, and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6.