…morning light is magic…


Whale Tails

My second whale watching trip last week brought sunny skies and record numbers of whale sightings.  There was an abundance of krill in the area so the whales were out in force with 265 spotted on Sunday.  Typical sightings this time of year are 10 to 15 whales on the four hour trip.  They reported over 120 humpback whales on my Tuesday trip.  It was very cool to get lucky enough to see so many whales.  They were spouting and slapping tails everywhere we looked.

Here is an article from a local paper about the high whale counts.


Catching the whales diving with their tails in the air as they ready for a dive is always a good photo op.  This day was more challenging with the rougher seas.  The boat was rocking severely, especially when stationary.  Had to try to lean on the rail, which was waist high, while trying to get the shot.  Had to keep grabbing the rail to keep from falling over.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 100-400 II lens, handheld, 400mm with minimal cropping

Aperture priority, 1/3200 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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Aperture priority, 1/4000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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Aperture priority, 1/3200 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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Aperture priority, 1/1250 sec @ F5.6, ISO 640, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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Breaching Humpback Whale

Made a trip to Monterey Bay in California last weekend for some whale watching with my daughter.  Went back again on Tuesday as it’s very addictive.  On Saturday’s trip, we saw 10 humpback whales, 3 blue whales and 1 fin whale.  It was foggy/cloudy but still made for some decent photography.

Got to check one photo off my bucket list when this humpback jumped out of the water.  It was very cool to see and was hoping that I got the shot as it happened very quickly.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 100-400 II lens, handheld

Aperture priority, 1/4000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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Offshore Killer Whales

Spent last weekend in the San Francisco, CA bay area after having business meetings there during the week.  My daughter flew into San Francisco on Friday afternoon and we spent the weekend seeing the sights, which included a whale watching trip from Monterey Bay.  I had made the same whale watching trip in 2013 and have been looking forward to going back ever since.

With the bad weather that they were predicting for the weekend, we changed the day that we went on this trip from Sunday to Saturday.  We missed the rain but they issued a high wave warning for Saturday.  We were thrilled that they didn’t cancel the trip but they warned everyone that it was going to be a rough ride on the boat with the high swells.

We went off-shore for about 10 miles and spotted a gray whale.  He wasn’t very close to the boat and didn’t do much so we were hoping that it wasn’t going to be the only sighting of the day.

We then came upon a large group of long-beaked common dolphins that came very close to the boat.  They estimated that there were at least 250 dolphins.  It was cool to see so many dolphins but we wanted whales.

Not too long after seeing the dolphins, they spotted some Killer Whales in the distance.  Everyone got very excited with the anticipation of seeing these majestic mammals.  We ended up seeing 3 groups of these Orca’s, 15 to 20 total whales.  The crew on the boat identified the whales as “offshore Orcas”, which are a rare find.  The biologist told us that this was only the second time that she had seen this type of Orca in the past 5 years.  There are three types of Orcas and this variety is rarely spotted this close to shore.  The dominant male had the largest dorsal fin and there was a baby Orca, which was doing his best to keep up.

It was a real challenge to get any decent photos of these whales with the high swells.  The boat would rock up and down violently and it was all that we could do to stay upright at times.  We initially stayed at the back of the boat, which was the most stable part of the boat but had to move to the front to see the Orcas when they were first spotted. I about fell over several times when trying to move around.  There were lots of people who got sea sick but we made it unscathed.

We had a great time but wished that we could have stayed out longer.  We then headed to Big Sur to see the landscapes and further south to see some coastal redwood trees.  Drove back to San Francisco on Saturday night and went to Alcatraz/Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday.  It was a very fun trip and I’d love to do it again when we had more time.

All photos were taken with my new Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 100-400 II lens, handheld.


Aperture priority, 1/1000 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 286 mm

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Aperture priority, 1/800 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 400mm

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Aperture priority, 1/800 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 214 mm

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Aperture priority, 1/800 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 349 mm

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Aperture priority, 1/1000 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 400mm

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Whale Tales

Tales from the whales…the Monterey Bay, CA whale watching trip was awesome.  The day started early with leaving the hotel in Morro Bay at 5:00 a.m. so that we could get to Monterey Bay in time to catch the boat.  There were +/- 30 to 40 people on the boat along with a couple of dogs (?).  More to come on the canines.  It was a cloudy/foggy/hazy day which wasn’t a bad thing as the sun would have been pretty harsh for photography at mid day.

The best advice from our photographer guide, Bill,  was that I shouldn’t take my 500mm lens as the whales would be too close.  To be honest, I didn’t believe him but luckily took his advice and used my trusty 100-400mm lens.  We sat at the back of the boat and headed out to sea towards the continental shelf where the whales like to feed.  Killer whales had been seen in the area recently so we were hoping for the best but I wasn’t convinced that we would see anything.  My previous whale watching experience was limited to on-shore spotting from Palos Verdes, CA which was always a bust.

On the upper deck of the boat where the captain was, they had a naturalist that would tell us where the action was happening and give some detailed information about the wildlife that we would see.  They also had a dog up on the upper deck, which was a little strange in my opinion.  During the trip off shore, the naturalist didn’t have much to talk about except a few birds flying around.  The boat was bouncing around too much to try to get a decent shot so I stayed put in a seated position.  Finally she spotted a whale off of the right side of the boat so everyone moved in that direction.  I could see a whale with his head sticking straight up out of the water but wasn’t able to get in position quick enough and got a blurry shot, bummer.  At least we had spotted one I thought.  My hopes started to rise.  It was a Humpback whale and we ended up spotting a few of them with 2 getting very close to the boat.

It was like roller derby when they would call out a whale sighting at different positions and everyone was quickly moving from side to side on the boat.  It would have been fun to stand at the back of the boat with a wide angle lens and take pictures of all of the people trying to run back and forth on a bobbing boat.  My 100-400 lens was small enough that it was fairly easy to manuever around with it.  I would lean up against the railing with my body to try to stabilize myself while shooting.  Had to grab the railing a few times as the boat was rocking pretty good.  Talking my long lens would have been a major mistake.  Thanks again Bill for the advice.  A very smart man he is.

The whale watching boats communicate with each other to share whale locations and two other boats joined our hunt for the mighty humpback’s.  At one point, the 3 boats were maybe 50 yds apart and we had 2 whales leisurely feeding in between us.  It was an awesome experience.  You could tell by their body position when their tails would be coming out of the water.  Had to zoom out a few times as they were too close at 400m.  My bird photography experience came in handy as  and I ended up being fairly fast on the trigger to get action shots when they surfaced.  Trying to get water spout shots was a challenge as by the time that you got your camera up to your eye, the action was over.  Ended up using my camera like a big point and shoot and just would quickly point the camera in the direction of the spout, focus and shoot.  Ended up getting a few decent shots using this highly scientific method.

Now the fun part of the trip.  Once we slowed to a crawl while taking pictures of the whales, the boat was rocking back and forth big time and much more noticeable than when we were moving at higher speeds.  Well, the motion of the ocean was not a good thing for some people in this case.  We had several people “ralfing” off the sides of the boat.  One guy got really good distance with some good ol’ fashion projectile vomiting but I wasn’t able to get a shot of it.  Would have been a classic.  I turned to the guy standing next to me and claimed that the sick guy was “chumming” for whales.  Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.  Luckily, none in our group got sick.

Now for the stupid part of the trip.  One, highly intelligent young couple, brought their very large dog on the boat.  Now that was a very bright idea.  I ended up having a love/hate relationship with that dog.  On the way off shore, the dog ended up leaning up against my leg while bracing himself to keep from falling over.  I didn’t complain too much as he helped keep my one leg warm.  The intelligence factor came into effect when the dog ended up dropping loads out of both ends before the trip was done.  Thanks people.

Needless to say, I had a great time on this whale watching trip.  Here are some of my whale tail shots.  I’ll post some more shots later.

Taken with Canon 7D and Canon 100-400 lens, handheld

Here are the two Humpback Whales that came close to the boat

1/1600 sec @ F5.6, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 400mm

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This is a full frame shot without any cropping.  Had to zoom out to get the tail in the frame.

1/800 sec @ F5.6, ISO 250, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 285mm

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A different angle showing the jagged edge of the tail, barnacles on the tail and a bird flying underneath it.

1/1000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 250, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 400mm

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This is my favorite photo from the trip.

1/1250 sec @ F5.6, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 400mm

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