The story of this shot started about a year before it was taken. I was going out to dinner in Miami with my sons and we happened to park in front of a photographer’s gallery that looked really cool, so we went in to check it out.
Coincidentally, a couple months before, I had purchased a camera. For years, I been focused almost completely on my job and was looking for something to provide some balance.
Fast forward a few months and the photographer, Sean Havas, and I had gotten to know each other, as I visited his gallery often and we found we had a lot in common. I had talked to him on several occasions about my new hobby and how I was developing a real passion for it.
Not long after that, Sean offered me the chance to join him on a trip. He was planning a photography trip to the Sea of Cortez. Sean has travelled all over the world but had never been there and had learned that there was a very good chance of seeing and photographing several species of whales. Thrilled at the prospect of joining him, I jumped at the chance!
On the Sea of Cortez
We met up in San Diego and, at around four-thirty in the morning, we headed south…Baja bound!! After about a nine-hour drive through the desert, we arrived at our destination.
Every day for the next fourteen days, we were up before sunrise packing our camera gear and our freediving gear. Finally, we’d put our wetsuits on and drive to the boat ramp. We’d load the gear onto the boat, put jackets on over our wetsuits to shield us from the pre-dawn cold and head out to open water.
The wind was usually light in the early mornings and most days, the ocean was almost impossibly calm. By early afternoon, though, the wind would pick up and the conditions would become too much for our small boat. Nevertheless, we spent six to eight hours on the water each day.
The ocean provided beyond any expectation that I could have possibly imagined. Dolphins surrounded us in the thousands. We swam with sea lions. A blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived, swam nearly within arm’s reach. Grey whales came to the boat and lifted their heads out of the water for us to pet them. Sperm whales dove as we approached, and we timed their dives between breaths at nearly an hour.
Getting the Shot
There is one day that stands out for me, though. As we headed out that morning, just as we were leaving the bay for open water, several humpback whales appeared. Almost immediately, they began breaching all around us. One launched herself out of the water so close to us that, had I known she was coming, I could have touched her.
Frustratingly, every time I turned around; the next breach was behind me! Sadly, I never got that shot. A shot that still eludes me. It’s my “white whale!”
Then, after at least ten of these amazing displays, I spotted a whale lifting her tail out of the water and slapping it back and forth.
Our captain steered our boat toward her, and we were off. Next to Sean on the bow of the boat with my camera to my eye, I knew I’d only have seconds to dial in my settings, keep her tail in focus, and keep her in my shot – all while standing on a moving boat!
When we got back to our rooms that night and I saw the picture for the first time, I was beyond stoked!
In the moment, I hadn’t even realized how perfect the soft morning light was; I didn’t know that I had caught the drops of water flying off her tail; or that I was able to get some of the detail of the island in the background.
As I write this, a little over two years and tens of thousands of images later, this shot easily remains my favorite. This is the shot that started it all, the one that made me believe that my work would be worth sharing with you.
All because of which street I turned down to look for parking. You never know when a simple, small decision is going to change your life.
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