Being Responsible, How I Get The Shot + What Craft I Use & Why.
This year (2016) I have had the incredible opportunity to explore the Central Coast via kayak, standup paddleboard, jetski, and boat to witness the awesome beauty of these Creatures, The Humpback Whale.
Besides the Whale Watching Tour Operators (we have two here in Avila Beach), I probably have been out there in the ocean more than almost anyone (photographers) hoping to capture a unique shot. I feel as if I have accomplished some good images so far, but feel as if there is so much more I can do with more time. Conditions do dictate the outcome somewhat and it has been very windy on the Central Coast this year.
With that being said, I have to say that what many people don't realize is the utmost care and responsibility I feel to not impede or distract the whales from doing what they do. And this is not only because of the 'Federal law' governing this called the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it's because its the 'right' thing to do. Altering the behavior of the animal or causing distress is my number one priority.
Here are Guidelines I always adhere to while photographing not only Humpback Whales, but all animals such as otters, harbor seals, sealions, and dolphin:
CRAFT I USE TO SHOOT ON
I like shooting from a kayak. The view and experience is nothing short of spectacular. I like being almost at water level and I feel as if the shots look much more dynamic. The kayak is always my first 'go to' I can and I have logged alot of miles in the ocean, just paddling and watching for signs of the whales. Being near the animals while in a kayak really brings you closer to feeling like you are One with them.
Now I am no real fan of irresponsible PWC/Jetski use, but I think there is a purpose for using this craft for my task of taking photos. First, I can shoot lower as I can do in my kayak. Secondly, if the wind comes up I can get back to shore (sometimes I am over five miles offshore.) easier and its just safer. And mainly, it allows me to position myself easier to get the best light and angle. I am really careful to shut motor off when I am aware of the whales around me.
This year, I had the unique opportunity to get out on Seaweed Express' Zodiac. Captain Lee Egan is knowledgeable and also has the right eye to get me to the spots that allow me to get the best shots and be extremely responsible to the whales. We have the same goals. The smaller Zodiac allows me to shoot at a really low angle. I find it difficult to shoot from a larger boat (like most Whale Watching Boats...actually never had any desire to do that...) like a sailboat. The Zodiac is fast and relatively a stable platform to shoot from.
Sometimes I get lucky and the whales just come close. I have never felt fear! I have never felt as if the whales did not know where I was. I have gotten so close to these animals I can smell the distinct odor they emit (actually quite pungent and stinky!) and I could touch them if I wanted. I don't. I am just a bystander...hoping to take a shot that shows the beauty of this animal. I find them to be very aware.
Every time I go out I always ask the Humpback Whale 'Permission' to take their picture. They seem to respond, most of the time, with a 'yes, thanks for asking...' and they proceed to give me a show...most of the time. Not always though.
I shoot with a Canon 7D and a Canon 100-400L Lens...and most of the time its at full length, with is approximately 640mm at that is very far!
Here are Guidelines for Whale Watching (Again)
I am also very happy to work with Ted from Happy Whale and contribute my shots of the Humpback Whale Tails to help identify and track these awesome beasts. Support them! And if you have a shot they may be able to identify the whales by your photos. Go to the site and check it out.
I just love being near these animals. They are just mesmerizing and I am in awe every time I get to see them. I have always loved anything related to the Ocean and getting to spend time with these animals have brought me closer to understanding that everything and everyone is interconnected. Nature and Humans need each other and it's about time we, as humans start to take better care of our Earth, or these animals won't be there nor will we as a species.
This goes beyond any political or spiritual beliefs. Way beyond....
If through some of my photos people get to 'feel' and become more connected to the beauty of all Life, then I feel as if I have accomplished my goal as someone who 'Documents'.
You can always come by my shop, Avila Beach Paddlesports, if you are Local SLO County Person and take a look at all the photos. If one speaks to you and you connect positively then grab one. Many to choose from. I am not out to 'sell' anything...come on down, lets chat.
Or message me here!
Check out this gallery for just some of the most recent shots.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to get out and do humpback whale photography on a zodiac with Captain Lee Egan from Seaweed Express based out of Avila Beach, California. We traveled about seven miles out beyond the breakwater to see if we could spot any humpback whale activity.
It took a bit, but soon encountered a large group of humpback whales feeding amidst a sealion group. I was overwhelmed with the amount of activity and I managed to shoot a few really awesome tail shots.
About 5:30pm, we started to notice that a few miles south of where we were at a group of 2-3 humpbacks started to breach. We moved away from the feeding group and waited until the breaching whales came a bit closer to us. To our amazement, it seemed like all the whales started to breach at the same time and we had breaching humpback whales it seemed all around us.
Even though the conditions were a bit choppy and seas were larger than usual, I managed to capture a few decent shots this day.
Thanks to Captain Lee Egan of Seaweed Express for taking me out. If you ever want to go with a knowledgable and very respectful tour boat operator, check out this guy.
Enjoy the shots!
On August 27, 2015 I got to (really gingerly due to back surgery 8 weeks ago!) paddle out and check out the calm waters of Avila Beach. After several weeks being on the 'disabled' list due to a severe bulging disc which resulted in back surgery, I was anxious to see my 'friends'.
This day we not only had a lone humpback whale feeding very close to shore for most of the day but I had the awesome pleasure of checking out our local resident southern sea otter family.
HUMPBACK WHALE STORY (Preview, June 2015)
In 2012, Avila Beach residents and tourists alike were greeted to about four to five humpback whales feeding all throughout the Harbor Area. I have spoken to several long term residents of the Central Coast and many local commercial fishermen and they have never seen this behavior before so close to land before 2012.
We all thought this behavior would never be duplicated but the Humpback Whales proved us all wrong by showing up again June of 2015. I was not going to let this opportunity to elude me this time and it always crushed me when I did not bring my camera gear out to record this behavior in 2012.
This behavior escalated and I counted 15 whales at one time circling me as I took shots and captured some of the most special images of my life as a photographer for over 25 years. I would wait up to 6 hours at a time for them to follow the bait and circle me, never pursuing the Humpbacks, to get my shot.
I have this special technique that I like to think works at getting these whales to 'come to me'. I would put my feet over the edges of my kayak and move my feet in the water in a circular pattern. I have literally watched the whales come directly at me when I did this. Seemed to work for me.
I took many shots in June this year but the one shot I wanted and I envisioned I finally got after waiting for many hours. There were these two who would seem to always be together...sort of working together to feed. My hope was to not have a moored boat in the background and they would come up together near me and I would be able to capture the experience. This is the shot and the single best shot I think I took in the three days I went out to see these creatures.
HUMPBACK WHALE STORY (AUGUST 27, 2015)
So, back to me paddling on August 27, 2015. I was working at the shop with our 'SuperCrew' and the guys all of a sudden got really excited. They then explained that about 50 yards from the shop a lone Humpback Whale just totally came out of the water. Jake, a 19 year old Cal Poly Student from Colorado was floored for he had never seen a whale before in his life.
Everyone told me to go get my camera and it didn't take much convincing. I rushed home got my equipment and promptly got out there. There was only one and it was ACTIVE and FAST. Hard to actually get a decent shot though, but it did feed a few times pretty close to me right in the moored boats. Here is one of the shots.
This just doesn't happen two times in one year around here. Something is changing right now in the ocean. The bait fish in the harbor is thick! Alot of life here.
THE BABY OTTER STORY
Since the whale seemed to be a bit elusive, I moved on to take a few parting shots of our local resident sea otters. These guys hang out right near our (Em and I) shop, Avila Beach Paddlesports and are almost there all the time and I love taking shots of them. I was amazed and shocked to see a little fur ball on one of the females and assumed it was a baby. Really happy to see another one that was born, since there are only approximately 3500 in all of California, I started taking shots.
As I circled around, being very careful not to disturb the raft, I then noticed 'blood' of the end of the female! I kept shooting and upon closer inspection felt like this little baby was probably born only mere hours before these shots.
Avila Beach is not only where we have our kayak and paddleboard shop, but it's really a body of water that Em and I call home. Our friends are here too...all of them. Not only the Humpback Whales and Sea Otters but all the LIFE. Em and I are truly awestruck that we get to call Port San Luis and Avila Beach our 'Community'.
Until next time, enjoy the Gallery below.