Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Blackfish. Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. October 5, 2013.

View additional Killer Whale images beginning here: Killer Whales

Although the Great Bear Rainforest is best known for its terrestrial wildlife, the nutrient-rich waters that dissect and infuse the region are teeming with life. Abundant krill feeds and supports a diverse network of organisms, including a now-rebounding population of Humpback Whales as well as many species of fish. And with the fish come fish predators, including sea lions and seals. And that brings in both resident (fish-eating) and transient (mammal eating) Killer Whales.

Blackfish. Killer Whale. Orca. What's in a name? In a nearly bygone era Killer Whales were known simply as "Blackfish". This name was used to describe many species of whales, including the Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra), the Pygmy Killer Whale (Feresa attenuate), the False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens), the Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas), and the Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus). Ironically, none of these animals are fish - all are air-breathing marine mammals. And, just to confuse things further, the Killer Whales (or Blackfish) shown here are also known as Orcas and were even historically referred to as Grampus. Today, the most commonly used name is Killer Whale - which appears to be a mistranslation of the Spanish name "Asesina Ballenas" - which literally means whale killer. And, of course, many, if not most, Killer Whales (or is it Whale Killers?) don't actually kill other whales - they feed on fish. And, Killer Whales (or are they Fish Killers?) aren't actually whales - they're dolphins! Sheesh!

Anyway...I photographed this mother and calf team of dark-coloured aquatic mammals in a narrow channel within the Great Bear Rainforest. We had calm waters at the time and the wet animals chose to swim quite close to our sailboat. Very commonly Killer Whales (or Whale/Fish Killers!) are stingy in giving up quality photo ops - it's quite rare to have much more than a dorsal fin and "blow" to work with. But in this case, rather than just seeing "fin and blow" I saw smooth lines, texture, contrast, and a nice tonal range. Which - at least to me - all added up to a nice bit of natural drama!

Regarding the conversion of the scene to black and white (or B&W): I've heard many nature photographers say "I didn't like how the image came out in colour so I decided to try it in black and white". I tend to approach B&W conversions differently - I specifically look for scenes that will be strong as B&W images, and my personal preferences for B&W images tends towards scenes that contain some true blacks, some true whites, and a nice tonal range "in-between". I was thinking "black and white" on this image from the outset - even before image capture. In my mind, retaining colour in this scene wasn't at all essential to make the image "work" - and removing colour allows one to focus on those factors that DO contribute to the shot - the smooth lines and curves, the contrast, the detail and texture, and - of course - the tonal range of the scene.

Ironically, a few years back we encountered some Killer Whales not far from where this image was captured and on that occasion I managed to capture a shot of a mother and calf that is strikingly similar to this shot. But at that time we had blue skies and strong-backlighting and the image worked pretty well in colour. That image - which I entitled "Orca Art" - took top honors as the "Most Creative Nature Image of the Year" (2009) by the Creative Nature Photographers - an international group of nature photographers based out of India. You can see that award-winning image right here.

The texture and detail that makes this image work for me is best seen in a higher resolution version of this image - so here's a 2400 pixel version of the image for your perusal:

Blackfish: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.4 MB)


NOTE 1: This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of it (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!

NOTE 2: This image was captured during my "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" instructional photo tour in the autumn of 2013. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic 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.

NOTE 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

Blackfish. Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. October 5, 2013.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2000.

Nikon D4 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8G VR lens. Hand-held from sailboat. VR on and in normal mode.

1/1000s @ f5.6; -1 stop exposure compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Blackfish. Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. October 5, 2013.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Capture One Pro version 7. Black and white conversion also performed by Capture One Pro during the raw conversion.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC. Photoshop adjustments included minor selective contrast adjustment (via a selective application of a tonal curve adjustment layer) and sharpening for web output.


Blackfish. Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. October 5, 2013.

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).

These two Killer Whales were photographed along the coast in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. The Raincoast Conservation Society is fighting to protect the Great Bear Rainforest along the central and northern coast of British Columbia. This unique ecosystem harbours a strong population of many high-profile species such as Brown Bears and Gray wolves, plus many species that serve as prey for the Killer Whale. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest and all its associated species, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

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