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.
This week, I am going to share several images of baby animals that I have photographed during my recent trips, starting with this gregarious humpback whale calf in Tonga. While I was snorkeling on the surface, this calf swam right underneath me while its mom patiently watched below. I really like the arching position of the calf’s body and pectoral fins, as well as the eye contact that the calf made with me. In order to photograph an image like this, I have to spend a lot of time searching for friendly whales and be comfortable swimming in the open ocean with my camera. Most of my best pictures were taken at 17mm, which is a very close encounter. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkIII and Canon 17-40mm f4 lens inside my Ikelite 5DmkIII housing with an 8″ dome port. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6, plus I applied Nik Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter. Check out my photo gallery for more humpback whale photos underwater, of breaches, tails, spouting and bubble-net feeding.
This is a photo of a tender moment being shared by a humpback whale mother and her young calf. Humpback moms spend most of their time resting beneath the surface, but their babies have to breath much more frequently. When a calf comes up to breath, it will often playfully frolic on the surface, otherwise, it stays close to mom and hides underneath her pectoral fins or tail. After this calf came up for a breath, I photographed it gently nuzzling up against its mom’s belly. Aww, cute! Check out several more stunning images of these two humpback whales underwater. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkIII and Canon 17-40mm f4 lens inside my Ikelite 5DmkIII housing with an 8″ dome port. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6, plus I applied Nik Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter.
Recently, I have been rethinking my workflow and processing techniques. I am not talking about a total overhaul of the way that I edit, but rather becoming more efficient and effective. Processing underwater images requires much more effort than above water images, particularly if I want a gray whale swimming through a blue background. For this reason, I have been holding off on editing my new underwater humpback whale images until now.
Tony Wu and I co-lead an exciting Humpback Whale Photography Tour in both Alaska and Tonga last summer. This beautiful portrait is from our first encounter with a friendly mother and calf in Tonga. Momma was resting about 20′ below the surface as the curious calf swam over to check me out and pretty much ran me over. We did not actually make contact, but if I would have extended my arm bent at the elbow I would have been able to touch it. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkIII and Canon 17-40mm f4 lens inside my Ikelite 5DmkIII housing with an 8″ dome port. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6, plus I applied Nik Color Efex 4‘s white balance filter.
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 love photographing humpback whale breaches. It is one of the most rewarding, but frustrating ways to use a camera. First, I have to be lucky enough to even see a humpback breach. At this point in my whale watching career, I am guessing that I have probably witnessed close to 1000 breaches. Even if I see a whale leap out of the water, that does not mean that I can photograph it. The only hope I have of getting a shot is to have a whale(s) start breaching multiple times. Next, I have to be able to close the distance so that when the whale breaches I am close enough to fill the frame. Keep in mind that I am trying to do all this while moving around on a boat that I am either piloting myself, or in the case of this image just a passenger. Finally, the stars need to align properly as my spider-sense tingles for me to be able to point my camera in the right direction at the moment that the whale begins to breach. Don’t even get me started on whether my camera’s autofocus works properly or not. I photographed this spectacular breach while co-leading the Tonga portion of Tony Wu and my Megaptera Mania Tour this past August. 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.
Now that my new website is online, I am excited to start sharing my spectacular new images from my adventures during the second half of 2012!
In July and August, Tony Wu and I co-lead our first Megaptera Mania Tour with 6 wonderful clients. After the Tonga portion of tour was over, I spent a second week whale watching with just 2 of our clients. (I should mention that anyone who travels with me for any length of time also becomes a close friend.) This humpback whale calf seemingly levitating is my most interesting image. See the humpback whale photos gallery for more spectacular images!
We spent the better part of the morning following this mother, calf, and escort. They basically did nothing for hours, but we stayed with them because there weren’t a lot of other whale options around at the time. However, we could sense that something was going to happen, and eventually the 3 whales exploded from the water in what can only be described as a goodbye greeting to each other. This breaching behavior lasted for about 15 minutes, during which we frantically tried to point our cameras in the right direction as they continuously erupted from the water. After the whales settled down, I was flabbergasted to discover this breaching calf photo while reviewing my images. 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. The original image was a little tight on the right side, but since it was just empty background I slightly expanded it to allow for more space.
This past winter I was contacted by Pacific Life Insurance Company to submit images for their annual report. Guess what? One of my images was selected for the cover! This image is the only breaching humpback whale photo that I have from Hawaii and has never been one of my favorites, however, it just sold for a reasonable amount of money. The lesson here is that no matter how I might feel about a particular image, it can have more value than any of my favorite images. When I was in Alaska last month, I saw an amazing full body breach by an adult humpback whale, but of course I was still too far away to photograph it. After a lot of excited screaming of many expletives, I had a very interesting discussion with my crew. They asked me how many breaches I have seen? I guessed somewhere between 300 and 500 breaches in the last 10 years, but only 20-30 of them were photographable. That is a ratio of at best of 1 photographable breach for every 30 breaches I observe. It also means that I have spent a lot of time on the water around whales, which happen to be my favorite subject to photograph. I created this image with my Canon 5D and 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens. This image is a single-exposure which required a minimal amount of processing using Aperture 2 and Photoshop CS4. You can enjoy more photos of whales in multiple galleries on the rest of my site.
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.
Check out my latest feature in the June issue of Popular Photography! My article is about photographing cetaceans, otherwise known as whales. They are my favorite photographic subject and I’ve routinely stated over the years that if I could only photograph one thing that it would be whales. My article gives advice on how to photograph them, what lenses to use, and where some of the best places are to find whales. I also share how much patience is required for whale photography. In case it’s not obvious, they spend their lives underwater, so not only is it difficult to catch a glimpse of them, it is even harder to photograph them. I have been very fortunate to accumulate many months of time with them in the last decade. You can read more about the image in the double page opener in my blog post from 2010. Also, If you’ve ever wanted to photograph whales, I am co-leading a tour with Tony Wu to photograph humpback whales in Southeast Alaska and Tonga in 2012.