Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Beauty in the Beast

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In the Field

The Beauty in the Beast. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 16, 2016.

One of the more difficult shots to capture in wildlife photography is that of a breaching (airborne!) whale. To some it's almost the Holy Grail - I've had clients come on both my "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" and "Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions & More" photo tours who had breaching humpbacks at the absolute top of the list of what they wanted to capture during the trip. Humpback breaches tend to come in two types of frequency patterns, with the first being spontaneous, random, and un-repeated fashion. The chances of photographing one of these random breaches is always low.

The second pattern of breaching is something I call "serial breaching" where a single whale repeatedly breaches and often along a fairly predictable "pathway". THESE are the breaches (and the whales!) that you always hope to find...and they're the ones that often lead to great shots. Serial breachers are only very rarely encountered - I've been leading one-week long marine mammal photo tours continuously since 2010 (in a region where there are gobs of humpbacks) and in that entire time we've only ever seen ONE serial breacher. can only imagine the delight of the trip participants (and me!) when we ran into TWO serial breachers during the 2016 edition of the Marine Mammals photo tour! I've never run a Marine Mammals trip before where EVERYONE on the trip came back with one or more breaching humpback shots (uh oh...the bar is set pretty darn high now!).

The two serial breachers did their thing under very different conditions and in very different "scenes". The humpback captured here was breaching along a very rugged (almost beastly!) island shoreline and under overcast and foggy-misty conditions. In this shot I chose to "back off" a little and capture both the breaching whale and some of the environment (a good ol' "enviroscape"). The other serial breacher was doing its thing in a much wider channel (and under much brighter conditions). To be honest, my own taste tends toward moody the shot shown here appeals to me more than those "cleaner and brighter" shots given up by the other serial breacher...

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

The Beauty in the Beast: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.4 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

The Beauty in the Beast. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 16, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 4000.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 550mm. Hand-held from sailboat. Optical stabilization on and in "OS1" mode. 9-point Dynamic Area focusing mode.

1/1250s @ f7.1; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Beauty in the Beast. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 16, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9.2. Two raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure setting (0.4 stop total difference between the variants). Minor (and identical) Levels adjustment on both variants during raw conversion.

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 two output files from the raw converter, selective contrast adjustment (via a curves adjustment laver), and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Beauty in the Beast. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 16, 2016.

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

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.

*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