Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Happiness is...?

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In the Field

Happiness is...? Northern Vancouver Island region, British Columbia, Canada. August 16, 2016.

This one is a slightly older (but newly-processed) image - it was captured back in August of 2016 of the "Before" era. And it's one more for the catalog resulting directly from my ongoing "...get caught up with the image culling and processing backlog" pandemic project.

For those that might not know, this is a male Sea Otter enjoying some rare leisure time...and doing what male Sea Otters seem to love to do in their down time: wrap themselves in anchoring leaves and stems of kelp and groom themselves between short power naps. And, as a human watching the natural spectacle it's hard NOT to think the otter is as happy as a clam! Of course, what at least LOOKS to be a smile on his face helps reinforce our bias that this little dude is in bliss!

This shot represents one of the few times I obtained an image result that pleased me when shooting a super-telephoto lens with a TC-20EIII (2x) teleconverter on a Nikon DSLR (in this case the DSLR was a D5). The "host" lens in this combination was the Nikkor 400mm f2.8E, which was probably the lens that I eventually became the most comfortable with in pairing with teleconverters on a DSLR. This is not to say that others who are less reticent about using teleconverters are in any way wrong - maybe they just are better at squeezing good results out of teleconverters than I am!

Here's a larger version (2400 pixel) of this "I'm so happy" Sea Otter":

Happiness is...? Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.3 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 "Marine Mammals of the Central Pacific Coast" photo tours in the summer 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

Happiness is...? Northern Vancouver Island region, British Columbia, Canada. August 16, 2016.

Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1800.

Nikon D5 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E plus TC-20EIII (2x) teleconverter, for a total focal length of 800mm. Hand-held for floating Zodiac. VR on and in Sport mode. 9-point Dynamic-area AF area mode.

1/1250s @ f10; no compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Happiness is...? Northern Vancouver Island region, British Columbia, Canada. August 16, 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 tweaks to highlights and saturation. 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, noise reduction, color balance, sharpness, and structure (it's a Capture One thing).

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


Happiness is...? Northern Vancouver Island region, British Columbia, Canada. August 16, 2016.

Species Status in Canada*: Special Concern (April 2007) - protected off the North American coast since 1911.

Back in the late 1800's and early 1900's the Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) was hunted to near extinction along both the Asian and North American Pacific Coasts. The reason? It's luxuriant coat. Otters are unlike any other aquatic mammal in that they don't use fat or blubber to insulate themselves from the chilling effects of the water they are found in. Instead, they rely on their amazingly thick fur coat for insulation. Their amazing coats have a higher density of hair (up to 150,000 strands of hair per square cm!) than any other animal in existence today. To ensure that this coat serves its insulative purpose, otters spend a disproportionately large amount of time grooming their coat (to ensure its natural oils continue to provide an effective waterproof barrier). Unfortunately, the biological functioning of the otters coat can be easily fouled by contamination by oil and other hydrocarbons - thus making them extremely sensitive to the effective of marine oil spills.

Other fascinating aspects of the biology and behaviour of the sea otter include the use of tools (they will use rocks to break apart shellfish such as sea urchins), and the fact that they have an metabolic rate two to three times higher than other mammals of their size. This means they must eat 23% to 33% of their own body weight DAILY, just to to replace the calories burned through maintaining their body temperature in the cold water environment they live in.

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