Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Harbour Seal - Calm Attention

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In the Field

Harbour Seal - Calm Attention. Barkley Sound, BC, Canada. March 15, 2023.

I captured this tightly-framed Harbour Seal image during my Pacific Rim Herring Spawn Instructional Photo Tour and Workshop (phew...that's a mouthful!) in March of 2023. While there's no arguing that seals (along with many other marine mammals) may not have the most aesthetically appealing overall body shape (they look remarkably akin to sausages!) they do have amazingly expressive faces. However, unless you are in a region that has seals very habituated to humans, getting close enough to photograph their wonderful faces is more than a little challenging.

Enter the Z 800mm f6.3S. In March of 2023 I had the opportunity to lead my first photo tour since acquiring my Z 800mm. This trip featured marine mammals and seabirds...two categories of wildlife where long focal lengths are an asset. But this trip also involves doing the majority of your shooting from a Zodiac inflatable boat in rolling water, i.e., anything but a stable platform! And, of course, it means you have to hand-hold your camera and lens. So...overall...this photo tour presented me with a perfect opportunity to test how well the Z 800mm performs in "less than optimal" conditions (to say the least). did the Z 800mmm work out on this photo tour? Overall, very well. And...more to the point...infinitely better than the Z 800mm's F-mount precursor, the 800mm f5.6E would have. Not only was I easily able to hand-hold the Z 800mm during all-day field outings, but in situations where I had to continuously hold the lens while waiting for the subject to give me just the pose I wanted, I found it was possible (tho' certainly not easy!) to do so. This Harbour Seal shot is a fine example of what I took many minutes of continuous hand-holding the lens before it turned its head and gave me this fleeting pose.

Overall I have to say that having the Z 800mm f6.3S proved to be a very big asset on this first photo tour "test". Not only did the focal length suit the subject matter (and the camera-to-subject distance) well, but because of the lens' relatively compact size and low weight, I was able to hand-hold it (and simply use it) in conditions I could have never used an 800mm lens before. And, most importantly, it allowed me to capture some pretty intimate images of wary subjects that left a smile on my face! And that's a good thing... 😉

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of this calm yet attentive seal for your perusal:

Harbour Seal - Calm Attention: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 4.2 MB)


1. This image was captured during my "Pacific Rim Herring Spawn" photo tour in March of 2023. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as ones to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes on the northern and west coasts of Vancouver Island. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

2. These images - in all resolutions - are 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 photographs on this website, these images were 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

Harbour Seal - Calm Attention. Barkley Sound, BC, Canada. March 15, 2023.

Lossless compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 1250.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Z Nikkor 800mm f6.3S. Hand-held. VR on in Sport mode. 3D-tracking AF area mode with subject detection on "Animal".

1/2500s @ f7.1; -1.0 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Harbour Seal - Calm Attention. Barkley Sound, BC, Canada. March 15, 2023.

Initial noise reduction and sharpening on the .nef (raw) file using the DeepPRIME XD algorithm of DXO PhotoLab 6 Elite.

Subsequent adjustments to the adjusted linear DNG file (exported from PhotoLab 6) and conversion to 16-bit TIFF file (and JPEG files for web use) - including all global and selective adjustments - made using Phase One's Capture One Pro 23. In the case of this image there were no global adjustments made. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 5 separate layers and most were under the general umbrella of "exposure balancing", with one or more selective tweaks to brightness (mid-tone exposure), clarity (mid-tone contrast), highlights, and colour saturation.

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


Harbour Seal - Calm Attention. Barkley Sound, BC, Canada. March 15, 2023.

Species Status in Canada*: Not At Risk (Pacific subspecies).

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.