Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Lumpy Log

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In the Field

The Lumpy Log. Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 20, 2013.

And now for something a little different!

Non-habituated, wild sea otters can be a real challenge to photograph - not only are they quite wary of humans (for darned good reason!), but so often even when you see them you don't see MUCH of them! Given how hard it can be to get ANY shot of them, getting a creative shot of one of them is ridiculously challenging!

This is a female sea otter (the scab on the nose is diagnostic of a female - the males bite them on the nose during breeding) and one with a much lighter face than average. She seemed almost curious about us and swam parallel to our inflatable zodiac boat a number of times. The clear blue sky was reflecting off the dark water and I was quite taken with how the warm colors of the otter contrasted with the ever-changing blue bands on the water's surface. So, I decided I wanted to "work" with the colour contrast and have the visible bits of the otter stand out in the shot via colour and sharpness differential. Given the shooting conditions and the gear in the zodiac (and the fact that I was hand-holding a 600mm lens) the only way I could get low enough to get the shot was to plank my body totally across the zodiac (feet on one pontoon and upper back against the pontoon on the opposite side) and rest the lens on my chest and shoot between my feet! Hey...ya gotta do what ya gotta do to get the shot! I was appreciative of the time I've spent doing Pilates exercises during this sequence of shots! And I was real glad that no one photographed me in such a crazy (and decidedly non-flattering) contortion!

I grabbed about 20 shots of the little girl during this sequence, but in most of them the blue/near black pattern in the water wasn't visually appealing or - just as often - the otter was looking away while shooting. This was my absolute LAST shot in the sequence and it turned out pretty much how I visualized it. Neither the muscles in my core nor the otter permitted the capture of any more shots after this one!


1. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject is fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my 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).

2. This image was captured during one of my "Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions and More" photo tours in the summer of 2013. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

The Lumpy Log. Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 20, 2013.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 360.

Nikon D4 paired with Nikkor AF-S 600mm f4 VR lens. Hand-held from floating Zodiac; VR on and in "Normal" mode.

1/1600s @ f8; -1.0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Lumpy Log. Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 20, 2013.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Capture One Pro version 7. Two raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.5 stops in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the two output files from the raw converter, further slight exposure adjustments, selective saturation and desaturation of colors, and selective sharpening for web output.


The Lumpy Log. Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 20, 2013.

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

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? Its 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 25% to 38% 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.

*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