Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Alone Against the Elements

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In the Field

Alone Against the Elements. Northern Vancouver Island region, BC, Canada. August 20, 2013.

While Steller Sea Lions are normally gregarious, sometimes - like in this shot - you can catch them alone. We were cruising around a small, remote group of islands in a small Zodiac when, as we were completing a circle around a wind- and surf-swept rock, we were presented with this scene. I instantly thought "wow, beautiful scene - a classic sea lion 'scape." We were between cloud bursts and behind us the clouds were thin, thus beautifully illuminating the scene with reasonably bright (but still soft and diffuse) light, but leaving the threatening skies in the background dark. The net result was that the colors of the rock and lion absolutely popped - especially against that foreboding sky and rapidly approaching storm.

I've seen and photographed enough sea lions now to know that this type of scene is just so, so typical of where they live. We would consider the conditions harsh, unforgiving, and virtually unbearable. Yet to the sea lions they just seem to be as a matter of course - completely normal - and (apparently) as comfortable as can be. So while I was thinking "inhospitable" and that this guy was "Alone Against the Elements" (and attempted to convey that with this shot), he was probably thinking "Hmmm...nice day, time to catch a few rays". Yet one more reminder of how wimpy we Homo sapiens really are! ;-)

This is pretty much the exact type of shot I consider an "enviroscape" (for a discussion of the image types I call animalscapes and enviroscapes - and the subtle distinctions between them - just go here...). When creating enviroscapes I find two factors to be absolutely critical and I strive to keep them foremost in my mind. First - exactly what elements have to be included in the shot to accurately portray the environment the animal is normally found in? I try to include this, and little else, in the image. In this case the breaking sea, mussel and Fucus (the brown leafy algae) covered rocks, and the foreboding sky were all critical elements to include. Having a zoom lens in my hands allowed me to frame the image to include just those elements (and in the relative size, position and proportion of them in the image just the way I wanted). I love and mostly shoot with primes, but in this case I was darned happy I had a good zoom in my hands.

Second, in my opinion Depth of Field (DoF) concerns are critical in making an enviroscape work. There's no hard and fast rule beyond this - what's in-focus, and what's out-of-focus, can make or break an enviroscape. In this one I felt I needed the entire rock (and foreground water) in focus, so had to stop down a bit. In other enviroscapes you may have to distinctly throw backgrounds OUT of focus, while keeping the subject and the other key elements of the environment (the ones you want to associate with the subject) in focus. It can be a tough challenge to balance those in-focus and out-of-focus zones just right to make an enviroscape work, but who said wildlife photography was easy? ;-)

For those wishing to see a higher resolution version of this shot, here's a 2400 pixel version for your perusal and scrutiny:

Alone Against the Elements: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.6 MB)


1: This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of it (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 one of my "Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions and More"" photo tours in the summer of 2013. This trip offers fantastic photo ops for Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions, Sea Otters and more - along with great land- and seascapes. 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

Alone Against the Elements. Northern Vancouver Island region, BC, Canada. August 20, 2013.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 900.

Nikon D4 paired with Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR lens @ 280mm. Hand-held from a floating Zodiac inflatable boat in large swells. VR on and in "Active" mode.

1/1600s @ f7.1; +0.33 stop exposure compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Alone Against the Elements. Northern Vancouver Island region, BC, Canada. August 20, 2013.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Capture One Pro version 7.Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.85 stops in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three raw variants, further slight exposure adjustments, and sharpening for web output.


Alone Against the Elements. Northern Vancouver Island region, 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 (November 2003) - protected in Canada since 1970.

The Steller's Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus) is the largest of the sea-lions, and males can weigh up to a ton (females are considerably smaller and rarely weigh over 600 lb). Males compete among themselves for females, and successful males end up breeding with several females within their harem.

From the early 1900's through to the 1970's huge numbers of Steller's Sea-Lions were culled for their fur and to remove a competitor (for humans) for salmon. During that time approximately 55,000 sea lions were killed and the breeding population of BC was lowered to about 4,000 animals. Since the Steller Sea Lion first received protection in 1970 the population in the coastal waters of BC has grown to between 18,000 to 19,700 animals (7,600 or so of these are of breeding age).

*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