Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Keep that Chin Up!

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In the Field

Keep that Chin Up! Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. 13 July 2019.

I'm always amazed by how sea lions choose to live in an ever-changing and insanely energetic environment. What's high and dry (and a great place to catch a few Z's) one moment is soaked the next moment when a bigger wave crashes in (or when the tide rises an hour later!). As a human it's hard to imagine a more "hostile" environment to live in but it seems to work just fine for the sea lions!

Images where waves, droplets or other obstructions suddenly appear between you and your subject can be tricky to capture effectively. Why? Because unless you have your autofocus custom settings configured correctly the AF can almost instantly drop the focus on your subject and re-focus on the closer obstruction. And, depending on the distance between the obstruction and your subject you can easily end up with your subject out-of-focus and soft. How do you adjust your camera to delay switching from your primary subject to the obstruction? Well, on the Nikon D5 or D500 that's what Custom Setting A3 (AKA "Focus tracking with lock-on") is all about. In the case of these two cameras Nikon offer 5 options for how adjusting how quickly the camera "grabs" the obstruction - from 1 (Quick) to 5 (Delayed). The default setting on the camera is 3, and that does work well in a lot of scenarios. However, as one who shots scenes like this one (where a wave broke right in front of the sea lion and partially obscured the subject) or things like sea otters in swells where it can be challenging to keep the subject under the focus point for two long, I have found that going to more delayed settings (like setting 4 or 5) works well for me. So for custom setting A3 my D5 and D500 are now set to "5".

Here's a considerably larger (2400 pixel) version of this about-to-be-soaked sea lion for your perusal:

Keep that Chin Up! Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 2.2 MB)


1. This image was captured during our "Gwaii Haanas Explorer" photo tour in July of 2019. Each year we 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

Keep that Chin Up! Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. 13 July 2019.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 500.

Nikon D5 paired with Nikkor 180-400mm f4E at 400mm (TC not engaged). Hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on and in Sport mode. 9-point Dynamic Area AF mode.

1/4000s @ f7.1; -0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Keep that Chin Up! Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. 13 July 2019.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 12. Global adjustments to this shot were limited to a minor modification to highlights (i.e., highlight retrieval). Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 3 separate layers and included local/selective editing of (or adjustment of) clarity, colour saturation, and shadow detail.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Keep that Chin Up! Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. 13 July 2019.

Species Status in Canada*: Special Concern (November 2003) - protected in Canada since 1970.

The Steller 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).

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