Last July, I lead two back-to-back expeditions in Southeast Alaska in search of humpback whales bubble net 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?
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 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.
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.
I’m finally home long enough to start editing my images from the last 6 months. Dang, have I been busy and time flies. This is my favorite image that I photographed while co-leading the Alaska portion of Tony Wu and my dual hemisphere Humpback Whale Tour last summer. See how sunny and perfect the conditions were? I kept telling our clients that the weather never got this nice in Southeast. It was an ideal day to spend with a large group of humpback whales that were bubble-net feeding. As this glorious day progressed, the whales stopped feeding and did what whales do best. Absolutely nothing! However, we decided to work on our tans and patiently stay with the whales hoping that they might do something. Eventually, they all started to breach at the same time. It was insane watching all of these enormous animals launch themselves out of the water, let alone positioning the skiff so that everyone could photograph this behavior. I love how the water cascaded off of this whale, plus there is a small rainbow behind it from its blow. I’ve seen this multiple breaching behavior happen enough times to consider that it is some kind of goodbye gesture. Sure enough, after all this breaching was over, the whales swam off in separate directions. I created this image using a Canon 1DmkIV with my 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6.
I was traveling all of December, so forgive me for not having posted any new blog updates for awhile. However, I am excited to share that Outdoor Photographer published my “Discover Alaska Wildlife” article in the February issue! In my article, I give lots of advice about where and how to photograph many of Alaska’s most sought after animals. I especially like the opening full page image of the lynx that I encountered while leaving Denali National Park last July. I have dedicated most of my last 5 summers to photographing Alaska, and look forward to another productive summer up north starting in May. Please let me know if you read that article and what you think.
I have consistently been part of the Nature’s Best Photography Awards the last 7 years, but each year the photography is more amazing and the competition more difficult. I am honored to have even one image accepted and especially pleased that this year it was one of my underwater images. I love photographing dramatic landscapes, but I am equally excited by underwater and wildlife photography.
My underwater portrait of a Steller sea lion had an excellent 2010. Last summer, it received 2nd Place in the 2010 International Conservation Photography Awards in the Underwater Category and was featured on the promotional poster for the event. The poster was highly visible around Seattle all summer and even made a cameo appearance in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. This image is currently Highly Honored in the Underwater Category in the 2010 Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice International Awards and is one of 6 images featured on the cover of the current issue. I’ve also been told that it will be displayed in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
I created this image with my Canon 5D and Canon 17-40mm f4 lens with a +2 diopter inside an Ikelite 5D underwater housing with dual Ikelite DS 160 strobes attached with ULCS arms. The image initially required minimal processing, but I spent a lot of time cloning out backscatter in Photoshop.
Photographing humpback whales bubble-net feeding in Southeast Alaska is the most incredible experience that I have. Over several days in July, I was again fortunate to witness this extraordinary behavior. Even though I cruise with my own boat, finding a groups of whales feeding can be difficult and time consuming. However, once I have located them I drift nearby for hours hoping that they will occasionally come close enough to be photographed. During their attack the whales emit a high-pitched song to scare the fish and coordinate their timing. (Check out my YouTube video to hear what it sounds like.) To create a picture like this, my reflexes have to be lightning fast. It certainly helps if my camera is already pointed in the right direction when they break the surface. The momentary drama of water exploding into the air and fish jumping out of the whale’s wide-open mouths to avoid being swallowed is beyond my wildest dreams. I used my Canon 7D and 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens at 70mm to create this image.
“Whadya lookin’ at?” That is surely what this majestic bald eagle was thinking when it looked at me like this. The low-angle sunlight perfectly illuminated its breast while perched on this log, while the forest in the distance rendered as fantastic orange bokeh. Magnificent! Over the course of our time together, I photographed the occasional glare in my direction, but this picture with the curious tilt of the head was the most compelling. Notice how I left enough empty space above the eagle’s head so that a publisher could use this as a potential cover? I have to resist the urge to fill the entire frame. I used my Canon 7D and 500mm f4 IS lens to create this image.
Here is another amazing humpback whale breach that I photographed during my July trip in Southeast Alaska. Breaching whale encounters never get old. I wish that I could photograph whales every day, but for a variety of reasons it would be impractical, least of which is that they don’t cooperate like this very often. This juvenile humpback probably breached close to 100 times over the 2+ hours that I spent photographing it. This gave me ample time to maneuver my inflatable into position with the sunlight at the best angle and with the most pleasing mountains in the background. I did not anticipate where the whale was going to breach correctly every time, but when I did, I was rewarded with images like this one. The hardest part of photographing breaches is having my camera pointed in the right direction and responding fast enough before the entire moment is over. I used my Canon 7D and 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens with a shutter speed of 1/1300 second to stop the action.