Photo of the Day - Spy-Hopping Orca

For years now, I've had two goals in mind when heading out to Johnstone Strait to photograph orcas and other marine wildlife.  One has been to get whales in settings that portray the beauty of the Canadian West Coast -- whales and mountains, whales in fog, whales in little coves, etc.  And two has been to get killer whales displaying some of their playful behaviour, whether it be tail-slapping, spy-hopping, or (yes, please!) breaching.

Of course, having goals is all fine and dandy, but achieving them is often far more difficult. In two full weeks photographing in the strait, we saw 20-30 orca breaches, 50-60 spy-hops, and 100+ tail slaps.  And in two full weeks photographing in the strait, we saw 0 orca breaches, 0 spy-hops, and 0 tail slaps that we had any warning of and that were within a kilometer of us.

So you can imagine how easy it is to photograph a breach of a whale when you have no clue that it's going to happen.  It's almost impossible.  Which direction should you be looking?  What settings should you have your camera on?  Is the moon aligned with the sun?  In fact, if you're going to attempt a shot of a breaching whale by just winging it and hoping, then you might as well go buy a lottery ticket.

But wait a second, you say, didn't I just post a lovely shot of a breaching humpback whale a few weeks ago that was taken on this same trip?  Absolutely, but you'll note in the story accompanying the photo that the whale breached repeatedly for a solid twenty minutes, so there was plenty of fair warning and time to get prepared and watch for the behemoth to come sailing out of the saltwater.

Anyways, this all brings me back to one of my greatest triumphs as a wildlife photographer.  My first and only great orca spy-hop, taken on the fly like a papparazzi snapshot on my final day in the strait, with no warning or inclination that it was about to happen -- just the extreme good fortune to have my camera and big lens (500mm) in my hands and my settings correct 'just in case', and the luck to lift, fire, aim, and compose all in one split second of glory.

An orca spy-hops beside our boat in Johnstone Strait - handheld 500mm, 1/3200th, f9, ISO 800

Hope you enjoy it even one-one hundredth as much as I enjoyed the moment right after this shot when I realized that "I got it!"

Happy shooting!


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