Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Life on the Edge!

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In the Field

Life on the Edge! Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 19, 2016.

Like all the truly marine mammals that have adopted an aquatic life, Pacific White-side Dolphins must regularly return to the surface to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide (i.e., to breathe!). many respects these fascinating creatures live on the edge of two VERY different environments, which leads to no end of photographic possibilities.

I captured this shot as a moderately large pod of Pacific White-sides quickly passed by (and interacted with) the sailboat we were using to explore the area around the northern tip of Vancouver Island. These speedy swimmers break the surface so fast that all you really see with your naked eye is a quick you need to use some pretty high shutter speeds to freeze the action (and a bit of luck to capture them in a position like this). In this shot only a small portion of the dolphin has actually broken the surface (the top of it's back and about 1/3 of its dorsal fin) - the bulk of the dolphin (even most of those parts outwardly above the water) is still below a boundary layer of water (good ol' surface tension in action!). Pretty cool, eh? ;-)

Shortly before the photo tour on which I captured this shot Nikon updated the firmware on the D5. That update (to version C:1.10) added a new autofocus area mode called 9-point Dynamic Area. After installing the update and noticing how small of an area was included in the 9-point zone I wondered what use it would be. With its small size it seemed it would be tough to use on birds in flight or any erratically moving subject and I couldn't think of any situation where it would be of much use. But was I ever wrong! By the end of my 2016 Marine Mammals photo tour I was absolutely HOOKED on the 9-point Dynamic Area mode! It's now my default AF area mode. Why? It's still small enough to allow highly accurate positioning of the AF point, but if you happen to slightly "slip off" your subject (like happens ALL the time when photographing sea lions, sea otters, and whatever from a Zodiac in even choppy water) it still holds the focus. Having a bit of a struggle hand-holding a super-telephoto lens on a small subject (like a perched bird)? Try the 9-point Dynamic Area mode. I'm just LOVING IT for the kind of shooting I do a lot! And, I'm now hoping Nikon adds it to the D500! It never ends...

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this speedy dolphin for your perusal:

Life on the Edge: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.2 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. This image was captured during my "Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions & More" Marine Mammals photo tour in August of 2016. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to additional locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species, fishing grizzlies, and more. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

3. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants (including vocalizations).

Behind the Camera

Life on the Edge! Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 19, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2000.

Nikon D5 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR. Hand-held from sailboat. VR on and in "Sport" mode. 9-point Dynamic Area focusing mode focused just behind the dolphin's eye.

1/2500s @ f5.6; -1 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Life on the Edge! Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 19, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9.2. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.67 stop total difference between the variants).

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, minor exposure and colour saturation tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Life on the Edge! Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 19, 2016.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

Species Status in Canada**: Not listed as Endangered, Threatened, or of "Special Concern"

Nicknamed the "Lag", the Pacific White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) is known for its exuberance and is one of the liveliest dolphins in the northern Pacific. They commonly leap clear of the water, perform flips and somersaults, and will often approach and ride the bow waves of ships.

Lags will often form schools of 1,000 or more individuals. Their social lives are dynamic, with groups frequently joining together and breaking apart. Even though both sharks and killer whales commonly feed on them, they frequently have long life spans and some have lived for 40 or more years in the wild!

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

**as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada