Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Cirque de Dolphin

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In the Field

Cirque du Dolphin. Johnston's Strait region of northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 22, 2011.

I don't know how many of you have seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, but when these 4 Pacific White-sided Dolphins (with the salmon as supporting cast) gave me this, I figured they must have been practising for the Cirque...

I captured this shot during my aquatic mammals photo tour in late summer of 2011. Since aquatic mammals spend at least 90% of their time below the surface, they are just a tad challenging to shoot from above the water. The solution? Get 'em while they're jumping or breaching (but WAY EASIER said then done).

We stumbled upon this team/school/pod/alliance/party (pick your favourite collective noun!) of dolphins while they were feeding on salmon. The salmon were literally leaping out of the water to get away from the dolphins, but as this image shows, that was a pretty fruitless activity. I tried for about 20 minutes to catch multiple animals "in flight" with a 70-200mm zoom but simply couldn't move quickly enough to get them in the frame (there was NO predictability to where they leapt up). So, I decided to "change gears" and put a wide angle lens on a higher resolution camera, with the thought that with wider angle of view would make it easier to at least get the leaping dolphins in the frame. And, I went to the higher-resolution camera with the thought I'd likely have to crop (potentially a LOT) to make the jumping dolphins "fill" a frame. Turns out my thinking paid off - this is only one of several frames I captured that included multiple flying dolphins (and I DID have to crop a lot - this frame represents ONLY about 2000 pixels of the 5000 or so pixels across the width of the frame.

While this image is really little more than a lucky grab and differs quite a bit from my usual posts (and is quite lacking in image quality), it was a whole lot of fun to capture. And, I suppose it would be great for a field guide - hard to imagine seeing more different angles of a Pacific white-sided dolphin in a single frame!


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!

2. 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.

3. This image was captured during my "Humpback, Orcas, Sea Lions & More" photo tour in August of 2011. 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 owl species of the boreal forest and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

Cirque du Dolphin. Johnston's Strait region of northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 22, 2011.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 110

Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 zoom @ 50mm (75mm EFL) - handheld.

1//1000s @ f3.5; No compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Cirque du Dolphin. Johnston's Strait region of northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 22, 2011.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening and levels adjustment using Phase One's Capture One Pro 6. Two exposure variants - one at -0.4 stops (for bulk of image, including foreground and background) and one at +0.4 stops (for the dolphins and salmon).

Further digital corrections on 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CS5 and Light Craft's LightZone. Photoshop adjustments including compositing (layering and masking) the two exposure variants, selective curves adjustment (using simple layer masks), selective exposure adjustment (again using simple layer masks), selective colour saturation and desaturation, and final sharpening for web output. Final contrast/tone tweaking performed with LightZone using the tonemapper/re-light tool and the zonemapper tool.


Cirque du Dolphin. Johnston's Strait region of northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. August 22, 2011.

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

Species Status in Canada**: Not listed as Endangered, Threatened, or of "Special Concern"

Nicknamed the "Lag", the Pacific White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) is known for its exuberance and is one of the liveliest dolphins in the northern Pacific. They commonly leap clear of the water, perform flips and somersaults, and will often approach and ride the bow waves of ships.

Lags will often form schools of 1,000 or more individuals. Their social lives are dynamic, with groups frequently joining together and breaking apart. Even though both sharks and killer whales commonly feed on them, they frequently have long life spans and some have lived for 40 or more years in the wild!

*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