Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Simply a Seal

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In the Field

Simply a Seal. Barkley Sound, SW coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 5 April 2019.

While Harbor Seals are exceptionally common residents of the west coast of North America (and some locals even think of them as "pests"), I have always found them both fascinating and GREAT photo subjects. In fact, for the last several years I've been trying to capture a certain seal image that...until then...existed ONLY in my head. That imaginary shot involved a seal on dark-to-black (and smooth and reflective) water with the seal sitting motionless and looking at me. You of those very simple and clean shots showing just the "essence" of seal.

This shot? Captured in the Pinkerton Islands of Barkley Sound at the very beginning our first annual "Pacific Rim Explorer" photo tour. Is it the shot that I had long imagined and been watching for forever? ALMOST - but not quite! While I do like the strong contrast and simplicity of this shot, the shot that STILL exists only in my mind is much more subtle, with much less light on the subject. Kind of an understated black-on-black shot where the fine detail of the seal merges with foreground and background almost seamlessly. So...close but no cigar...and my "essence of seal" image quest continues...

On the technical side, this image was captured with (at the time of this writing on 16 April 2019) Nikon's latest 500mm lens. This lens - the 500mm f5.6 PF - is still very rare and highly sought after...owing largely to Nikon churning them out in numbers far under the demand. While I had been testing this lens extensively for several months before heading out on our Pacific Rim Explorer photo tour, there's nothing like a multi-day field shooting session to get a feel for how a certain piece of gear REALLY performs in the field. My experience with the 500mm PF on the photo tour? It absolutely confirmed what my field-testing had strongly suggested - that this is simply a top-notch lens that is SO easy to handle and use in a field setting. I just love it!

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this simple (but not so simple to capture!) seal image:

Simply a Seal: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.8 MB)


1. This image was captured during our "Pacific Rim Explorer" photo tour in April of 2019. Each year I offer photo tours into several different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well trips to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes in locations on Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as Dall Sheep, Bald Eagles, and more. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

2. 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!

3. Like all wildlife photographs on this website, this image was captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

Simply a Seal. Barkley Sound, SW coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 5 April 2019.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 280.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 500mm f4E PF. Hand-held. VR on and in Sport mode.

1/800s @ f5.6; -1.3 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Simply a Seal. Barkley Sound, SW coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 5 April 2019.

RRAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 12. Global adjustments to this shot included modifications to exposure and clarity. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 4 separate layers and included local/selective editing of (or adjustment of) shadows, exposure (balancing), and colour balance.

Photoshop adjustments were limited to image re-sizing, conversion of Prophoto RGB colour gamut (to sRGB), final sharpening for online display, and insertion of watermark.


Simply a Seal. Barkley Sound, SW coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. 5 April 2019.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

Species Status in Canada*: Most Harbour Seal populations in Canada are not listed as Threatened or Endangered. The Lac des Loups Marins landlocked population of Quebec (Ungave Peninsula) currently listed as Endangered (most recent assessment update - November 2007).

The Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) is found on both the eastern and western coasts of North America. They tend not to make long migrations and in many areas they are present year-round. When foraging Harbour Seals normally dive to between 30 and 100 metres in depth and stay below the surface for 5 to 6 minutes. On occasion they have been known to dive to depths of over 450 metres and have stay submerged for almost 30 minutes. Harbour Seals have a diverse diet, including cephalopod, crustacceans and a variety of fish such as herring, eulachon, pollock, and salmon.

Historically bounty programs were used in both Canada and the USA to reduce populations of Harbour Seals. In more recent times seals have become protected over much of North America and some populations have rebounded strongly (it is estimated that over 150,000 seals now occupy the coast of British Columbia). There is a land-locked and freshwater sub-species of the Harbour Seal found on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec. This population is now down to an estimated 100 individuals and is listed as Endangered by COSEWIC.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.