Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

A Killer Scene

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In the Field

A Killer Scene. Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 8, 2015.

Killer Whales (AKA Orcas) are absolutely fascinating animals. And, most humans' attitudes toward these highly intelligent and sentient marine mammals have evolved dramatically over the years. Decades ago they were known simply as Black Fish, and many viewed them as dangerous predators that the world would be best without. Today, they're among the most beloved of animals and considered to be icons that strongly symbolize the power, beauty, and wonder of nature. If we could only transition the public's view towards wolves, grizzlies, sharks and other apex predators in a parallel fashion we'd be getting somewhere!

As photographic subjects Killer Whales are extremely challenging. While they WILL breach and perform other eye-catching above-water antics (including spy-hopping and tail-slapping), most of the time all you get are dorsal fins! One approach I like to take when photographing Killer Whales is to create expansive animalscapes that show them as part of a larger overall scene. Animalscapes are always very tough to capture (and process from raw), at times even just finding appropriate scenes with wildlife in them is a major challenge. Fortunately, the place where I most commonly photograph Killer Whales (in and around the Johnstone Strait of Vancouver Island) commonly presents photographers - at least those who are willing and able to see the "big picture" - with some fantastic (and moody) backdrops. In this shot a large bull is accompanied by two smaller Killers as they swim along the fog-shrouded coast of Vancouver Island. Those wishing to read more about creating photographic animalscapes are encouraged to read this piece - "Subject Dominance - Just How Big?". You can also view numerous examples of animalscapes in (not surprisingly) my Animalscapes Gallery.

Animalscapes always looked better BIG - so here's a higher resolution version of the shot (2400-pixel) for your perusal:

A Killer Scene: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.9 MB)


1. 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!

2. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants (including vocalizations).

3. This image was captured during my mid-summer "Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions & More" photo tour in August of 2015. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly 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

A Killer Scene. Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 8, 2015.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 400.

Nikon D750 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom at 230mm. Hand-held from sailboat; optical stabilization on and in OS1 mode.

1/800s @ f7.1; no compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

A Killer Scene. Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 8, 2015.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 8. Global Levels adjustment (redefinition of black and white points) performed during raw conversion.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included for separate selective curves adjustments (using adjustment layers) and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of tones and exposure balance performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" and "zonemapper" tools.


A Killer Scene. Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 8, 2015.

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

Species Status in Canada*: Endangered - Northeast Pacific southern resident population; Threatened - Northeast Pacific transient population and the Northeast Pacific northern resident population; Special Concern - Northeast Pacific offshore population.

Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) have an extremely high profile in modern pop culture and have become the "poster child" of a number of conservation groups. In most areas where Killer Whales are found they show a remarkable ability to adapt to a variety of habitats - they are found in all oceans, in water ranging in temperature from below 0 Celsius to almost hot tropical waters, and will occasionally even spend significant amounts of time in brackish water or even rivers.

Because the population sizes of Killer Whales are very low and because they have a very low reproductive rate, they face immediate risk from human-related environmental disturbances, including the immunotoxic effects of toxic chemicals we pour into the oceans and to reduction in prey availability (such as salmon).

For more information on the status of Killer Whales in Canada, go to: and search under "Killer Whale".

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