Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

A Steller Moment

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In the Field

A Steller Moment. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 15, 2017.

One of the things I love about photographing Steller Sea Lions is related to the high-energy environment that they choose to live in. To photograph these amazing creatures you have no choice but to go their stomping grounds, which means you'll be photographing them from a small boat while being buffeted around by large swells, chop, and waves. It's true "cowboy" shooting where you're hand-holding medium-to-large lenses (high shutter speeds highly recommended!) in conditions not for the faint of stomach (those prone to seasickness or queasy stomachs are forewarned!). And it's great fun!

If you find yourself in a situation where you're shooting a group of sea lions on haul-out rocks I can provide you with at least two suggestions that might lead to interesting images. First, think in terms of "sub-sampling" the scene...look for interesting groupings of sea lions among the "chaos". Simply put, if you try to capture it all (in one image) you'll usually get nothing of interest. Second, work WITH the energy and try to show just how inhospitable of an environment the lions live in (and apparently enjoy). In this case I waited until a large wave broke over the protesting lions - in my mind if you remove the streaming water from this image you also remove a lot of the appeal.

I captured this seal lion enviroscape shot using what was (at the time) Nikon's latest version of their 70-200mm f2.8 lens - the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. While I had done some preliminary testing with the lens before going on the trip where I shot these sea lions I was still very much in the "experimental" phase with it. While not perfect (if you want the sharpest possible shots with it don't shoot it between f2.8 and f4 when zoomed to 200mm), I have to say I think it's Nikon's best 70-200mm effort to date. The lens has great contrast, is very sharp at MOST aperture/focal length combinations, has an excellent (and incredibly fast) AF system, and a very, very good VR system. Overall just a super solid performer!

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this water-soaked scene:

A Steller Moment: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.26 MB)


1. This image was captured during my "Humpback, Sea Lions & More" Marine Mammals photo tour in the summer of 2017. 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.

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 images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our 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/luring devices (including vocalizations or other sounds).

Behind the Camera

A Steller Moment. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 15, 2017.

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

Nikkor D500 paired with AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR @ 200mm (for an EFL of 300mm). Hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/2000s @ f6.3; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

A Steller Moment. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 15, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 10. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.25 stop total difference between the variants) and both highlight suppression and shadow recovery settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2017 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the four output files from the raw converter, selective contrast adjustments (selective curves adjustment), very minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


A Steller Moment. Northern Vancouver Island Region, BC, Canada. August 15, 2017.

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

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).

*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