Friday, October 21, 2011

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!


Labels: , , ,


Anonymous Dylan said...

I love animals, I love photography, and I love to travel. My passions for all of these is just a dream (for now). Someday, I'm going to travel and take pictures of different animals like this orca.

October 21, 2011 at 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Tana said...

Perfect shot of a killer whale. Wish to see one someday.

October 21, 2011 at 8:37 PM  
Anonymous Starboy said...

This is a very good way to shoot animals without hurting them. Great shot!

October 21, 2011 at 8:39 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Lovely shot, John

October 22, 2011 at 12:13 AM  
OpenID 44thparallel said...

Great image John! I can certainly understand your happiness at getting such a great shot. What's the saying? Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet. I did a blog post a while back on the role of serendipity in wildlife photography - be ready for anything. I'm constantly reminded in the field of how true this is!

October 22, 2011 at 8:34 AM  
Anonymous Bill Maynard said...

Lovely moment John, however as a good friend of mine always says "Lucks Got Nothing To Do With It". Good fortune to be in this magical spot in the first place you bet but the rest of this marvelous image can be chalked up to plenty of patience and a whole lot of experience. Well done.

October 22, 2011 at 7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


October 22, 2011 at 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

Having gone "whaling" 5 times on the west coast (in BC and California) I could not agree more with you about how difficult they are to shoot while performing their interesting behaviours. I liken it to playing whack-a-mole: you don't know when or where they will come up, and you don't even know where the darned holes are. Best I've done so far is a couple of so-so tail fluke shots, and that was only from my last trip. So, I applaud your patience and your luck, because it takes a lot of both. And, great shot of spy-hopping - fantastic portrait of a magnificent beast.

October 23, 2011 at 7:42 AM  
Anonymous Wally said...

I just spent nearly a week in early August of this year photographing Orcas in Johnstone Strait. I can totally endorse your comments on the need for "luck" or "good fortune" when trying to effectively cature these types of shots of these fascinating marine mammals. Great image! Well done.

October 23, 2011 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger Stephane said...

Very nice! I know the feeling you are talking about and it's amazing.

October 24, 2011 at 5:50 AM  
Blogger JohnEMarriott said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone, I appreciate it!

October 24, 2011 at 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Photo Restoration said...

Really great, it shows beauty, scale and power all in one.

October 27, 2011 at 1:58 AM  
Anonymous Linda Elm said...

wonderful picture. Killer Whale is very beautiful and powerful. one of my favorite animals.

November 10, 2011 at 1:35 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home