Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Smoky Sunset Seal

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In the Field

Smoky Sunset Seal. Northern Vancouver Island region, British Columbia, Canada. 21 August 2018.

In August of 2018 - and just like in 2017 - much of British Columbia was smothering under a thick blanket of smoke generated from wildfires. This included even the coastal regions on the western edge of the province. The smoke was very unwelcome for anyone suffering from even mild respiratory problems, but the resulting spectacular sunsets and warm mid-afternoon colors imparted by the "natural smoke filter" made the smoke easier for at least some photographers to choke down!

I captured this Harbor Seal in very warm golden-orange light as the sun began lowering toward the horizon. Aside from the smoke it was a completely clear (cloudless) day, and that smoke softened and evened up the light sufficiently to have some fun shooting almost directly into the sun.

Since reading an early lens review about how poorly the Nikkor 180-400mm f4E performed in backlit situations I have been trying to "replicate" the reported problem in a real world situation. This seal couldn't have been much more backlit (the sun was VERY low on the horizon and I was shooting directly into it, but the ocean swells DID give me a bit of a favorable angle on the posing pinniped) yet I still failed abysmally in making the lens choke (or flare) up! And, most importantly, the lens held its great contrast in this backlit situation. So at this point I'm not sure I agree that the 180-400 is a poor performer in backlight. But...I'll keep trying to make the lens trip up! ;-)

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this backlit seal for your perusal:

Smoky Sunset Seal: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.7 MB)


1. This image was captured during one of my "Humpback, Orcas, Sea Lions, and MORE!" Marine Mammal photo tours in the summer of 2018. 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 the northern portion of 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

Smoky Sunset Seal. Northern Vancouver Island region, British Columbia, Canada. 21 August 2018.

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

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 180-400mm f4E zoom at 400mm and with teleconverter engaged (total focal length with crop factor of 840mm). Hand-held from floating and bobbing Zodiac. VR on and in Sport mode.

1/1600s @ f6.3; +0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Smoky Sunset Seal. Northern Vancouver Island region, British Columbia, Canada. 21 August 2018.

RRAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 11.2.1. Global adjustments to this shot were limited to an overall exposure adjustment. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 2 separate layers and included local/selective editing of (or adjustment of) shadow recovery and exposure (balancing).

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.


Smoky Sunset Seal. Northern Vancouver Island region, British Columbia, Canada. 21 August 2018.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to The Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

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.

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.