Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Fire Breather

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In the Field

The Fire Breather. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. October 2, 2016.

Another image resulting from my "get caught up with the image culling and processing backlog" pandemic project. This one is from a photo tour I led in the Great Bear Rainforest back in October of 2016. Humpback Whales are common but super-cool subjects on most of the photo tours we offer on the spectacular BC coast (the only real exception being our "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours where your chances of seeing a Humpback are pretty darned low).

Humpbacks that are just "sitting" and relaxing in calm water can be challenging subjects to work with and really challenging to use as the basis of an interesting photograph. BUT...if you happen to get really, really just might happen to catch one in calm, dark water in the very last, warm rays of sunlight of the day. Then it comes down to waiting until the whale is positioned and angled just right (and for these kind of shots it REALLY helps to be using a zoom lens rather than a long prime lens...I have found most whales don't listen particularly well to instructions about how to position themselves). Oh, and then there's the matter of timing your shot to catch its blow at JUST the right point...the velocity that the water droplets leave the blowhole is crazy high and you have just fractions of a second to capture the blow before it's beyond the top edge of your viewfinder. This one brings back memories of an absolutely unforgettable evening in the Great Bear Rainforest. And, best of all, soon we should be back to creating new memories in the Great Bear Rainforest, possibly as early as this August!

Here's a larger version (2400 pixel) of this fire-breathing behemoth:

The Fire Breather: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.0 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. Like all photographs on this website, this image was captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

3. This image was captured during one of my "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in the autumn of 2016. Each year we offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes on the northern and west coasts of Vancouver Island. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

The Fire Breather. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. October 2, 2016.

Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 560.

Nikon D6 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm f5-6.3 zoom @ 270mm. Hand-held. OS on and in OS1 mode. 9-point Dynamic AF area mode.

1/400s @ f7.1; -1.0 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Fire Breather. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. October 2, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 21. Global adjustments on this image were limited to a single tweak to highlight retrieval. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 6 separate layers and included one or more tweaks to clarity, blacks, and exposure, brightness, and colour balance.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


The Fire Breather. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. October 2, 2016.

Species Status in Canada**: Threatened - North Pacific population (May 2003).

Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeagnliae) are active, acrobatic whales that can throw themselves completely clear of the water (a behaviour known as breaching) and will swim on their backs with both flippers in the air. Humpbacks are large (up to 14m - or 46 feet - in length and 40 tonnes in weight) and with huge flippers.

Humpbacks are found in tropical, temperate, and sub-polar waters around the world. They are found on both the east and west coasts of North America. The North Pacific population has been estimated at between 6,000 and 8,000 individuals, but only a few hundred of these are found in the waters off the coast of British Columbia.

While Humpbacks are recovering from the damage done to their populations by commercial fishing, the are still subject to a variety of threats from human activities, including becoming entangled in fishing nets, noise and chemical pollution and habitat destruction.

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