Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Launch

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In the Field

The Launch. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 15, 2016.

You're looking at the bottom side of a breaching humpback in this shot (which, I suppose, is not an everyday sight for most people!). It's one of two "serial breachers" that we encountered during my 2016 "Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions & More" Marine Mammals photo tour. Serial breachers (i.e., whales that repeatedly breach for an extended period of time) aren't that common but, when you DO find them, they provide wildlife photographers with multiple repetitions in their efforts to capture these massive beasts in full flight! So think of them as Wildlife Photographer Nirvana! ;-)

I captured shots of several different breaches this particular whale offered up to us, but I like this one for several reasons: it shows both an orangish collection of barnacles right under it's "chin" and an awesome (and almost symmetrical) white-black patterning in its throat region (and right over its expandable "pleats" that stretch outwards when the whale is filter feeding), and I love how the whale is using its huge pectoral fins to create a twisting motion (and it almost looks like it's flinging those fins in pure joy, which...for all I just might be doing!).

Humpback Whales are now being considered a conservation success story. Over-harvesting of these spectacular baleen (filter-feeding) whales in the 19th and 20th centuries drove them to the brink of extinction, and their worldwide populations dropped by an estimated 90%. In 1966 a moratorium was placed on the humpback hunt, and today they are rebounding back to near-normal (pre-hunt) population sizes in some regions. Humans do continue to negatively impact on them, with entanglement of fishing gear, collision with ships, and even noise pollution still taking a toll on humpbacks.

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this humpback launching itself into space for your perusal:

The Launch: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.7 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 Launch. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 15, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 800.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR, providing an EFL of 600mm. Hand-held from sailboat. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/1600s @ f8; +0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Launch. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 15, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9.2. Adjustments during raw conversion included a minor exposure adjustment, highlight retrieval, and a Levels adjustment (i.e., redefining both the black and white points to increase contrast).

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included a selective contrast adjustment (via a curves adjustment laver), minor colour saturation adjustments, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Launch. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 15, 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