I used to shoot with a Sony a6000 and a kit lens + teleconverter. On my last full day on San Juan Island last summer, I was kayaking as the residents (Southern Resident Orcas) zoomed past all spread out on the west side of the island. As I got back to shore, something distracted me (I think it was a seal), and I stood up to get out of my kayak. I had forgotten to strap my camera around my body, so it plopped right on into the water. It was completely ruined. Later that day ALL of the residents went past the island, close to shore, tightly grouped AT SUNSET. All I had was my cell phone to record their pass. Although I wish I had been able to capture real photos, I was glad to be more focused on the entire moment, instead of just “getting the shot.” Soon after returning to Seattle, I got a Sony a7r II plus a Sigma 150-600mm lens. And, oh wow, it has been incredible shooting with a better camera and lens!
Why, when & how did you start photographing? When whales?
As a kid, I was interested in photography, but never really got serious about it. After moving to Seattle, being an avid hiker and backpacker, I was focused on landscape photography, to capture the beautiful scenery of the mountains I explored. For me, photography is a way to capture my experiences, which I can use to share with others, but also to look back on, and remember those moments, experiences, and beauty. I don’t always have a great memory, so photography helps trigger those memories for me. I also love telling the stories of the awesome things I’ve seen, and the photographs help show what I’m talking about. Sharing these moments with others is a great way to connect with other humans, and if I can get more people to care about nature in any capacity, then I’ll consider my photography a success. I saw my first wild whale, as an adult, in 2017 (I think). After seeing a report on facebook of some orcas near Carkeek Park, I flew out of bed on a Sunday morning, drove to Carkeek, and managed to see some orcas. I cried, I screamed, I jumped up and down, and probably looked a bit weird to other beach-goers. Shortly after I first spotted the orcas a few other people showed up to also see the whales, so there was someone to share in my excitement with. It wasn’t until 2021 that I found out that it was JPOD. I may have known it was Jpod back then, but I didn’t have a clue what that even meant. From then until 2021, I would very casually try to see whales if I saw a report and the whales were nearby. In 2021, I found myself unemployed after a very demanding/high-stress job, and needed some time to relax. One March weekend, my partner and I went to Cama Beach for 2 nights to take a break of pandemic city-life. I knew gray whales were in the area, so was keeping my eyes peeled, just in case one was near. The weather was windy, sometimes rainy, and not great for even being outside. Fortunately we had a waterfront cabin, so we were able to sit inside, and look outside as often as we pleased. As I was reading, I would look up every few sentences. Eventually, we were rewarded with ONE surfacing of a whale jussssst off the beach. I screamed and ran outside, and managed to see it surface a couple more times as it traveled along Camano Island. I WAS IMMEDIATELY HOOKED. Looking back, I think I had been hooked on whales for a while, but here I was, unemployed, still recovering from the stress of my last job, and needing a way to spend time during a pandemic, when I couldn’t interact with many people.
Outside of photography and looking for whales, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy so many things. My first 4 or 5 years in Seattle were spent hiking and backpacking as frequently as possible. I haven't done much of it over the last couple years, but I'm hoping to be able to start again this summer. I also enjoy playing board games with friends and family a lot. During the pandemic, my household built raised garden beds, which has been a lot of work, but it is very satisfying being able to grow your own vegetables. I also have a flock of chickens in the back yard, living in a ~200sqft chicken mansion that I built for them. Chickens are such funny little creatures, and it is really fun watching their individual personalities. Also, this past year, I've gotten in to birding and searching for owls. My favorite things to do all involve being outside in some capacity, since there's just so much beauty and awesomeness out there to see and experience. I also read a lot...all fiction, but a variety of genres within that. My favorite books to recommend are "The Starless Sea" and "The Night Circus."
Favorite experience photographing whales...
I haven't had a ton of land-based chances for photography, since they're almost always on the opposite side of the channel from me in north Seattle. BUT, last summer before I got my new camera, I had seen a report of a few orcas coming south in San Juan Channel, so I headed to Land Bank on San Juan's west side. I sat there in the sun for HOURS. The whales were SO far away, that I couldn't even see them with my binoculars for quite some time. Although I was pretty sure the whales were never going to get within range, I stayed...because why not...there could be whales. Eventually I was able to see a few spouts wayyyyy off in the distance. Like, WAY WAY off shore and still well north of where I was. At some point, a few other whale enthusiasts showed up to see if they could see the whales. We all sat and sat and sat, waiting for them to get closer. Eventually we could see them with our naked eyes, and THEN they started to veer towards shore. Then, all of a sudden, they were hunting right in front of us, less than 50 feet off shore. The few of us that were there were so surprised that we couldn't contain ourselves. I had my camera aimed in their direction when all of a sudden one of them spy hopped, and I ACTUALLY CAUGHT IT ON CAMERA. I couldn't believe it. We were all just so excited that we stayed and chatted a bit after the whales headed away after a presumably successful hunt. The photo I captured isn't even all that good, but it was a great, long-awaited, surprising experience.
Your single favorite image you've captured and why?
That is a really tough question. I enjoy my photography for the moments and memories that they represent and remind me of. This winter, during our snowy week, I captured an Anna's hummingbird with a tiny snowflake on his tiny head. Around the same time, I found a Great Horned owl in Discovery Park, and got some great shots of it glaring at me in disgust, as it was being harassed by a couple ravens. As I type this, trying to narrow it down, I'm reminded of what my actual favorite image is, a closeup of a giant Sequoia tree. I have a large print of this hung at home, and although it slightly reminds me of a time when I was very sad, it also reminds me of an incredible trip with friends to see trees that have lived for MILLENIA and have seen war, fire, floods, etc. If these massive trees can survive through all that, then I can survive almost anything. Nature is pretty stinking incredible in so many ways, and I love being reminded of that on a regular basis.
Do you have a favorite whale? Why?
Dubknuck and Shackleton, 2 of our beloved Sounders (gray whales), are my favorites. During my many days kayaking in Port Susan last spring I encountered these two a lot. I love that they've been coming into the Sound for decades, and are pretty easily distinguishable from other whales. I had so many incredible experiences with them last year, that I just feel connected to them in a special way. I felt like they got to know me, and they surfaced within 5-10 feet of my kayak a few times each. I did also ram my kayak onto a rocky shore one day, as Shackleton was feeding down the beach. I wanted to get closer, so paddled as hard as I could to shore, and then ran down the beach to catch up with him. I cried so much and one of my photos from that day is still the background on my phone...Shackleton's fat belly and pectoral flipper sticking out of the water.
Describe your photographic style... or learning your style.
I like capturing the essence of the animal or landscape I'm experiencing. Sometimes that means closeups of the animals, other times far out shots of the animal in its natural surroundings. Especially lately, capturing the beauty of the PNW has been a lot of fun, and finding ways to share that beauty with others is rewarding. I'm learning more every day, as I play with settings on my camera, look at other photographers' work for inspiration and ideas, or listen to advice from others. I think my style changes a bit depending on the conditions, but finding ways to really show off the beauty I'm seeing is important. If I can translate real-life beauty into my photography, I can help others feel connected to nature, which will lead to more people caring about the choices and decisions they make, and how those things impact our environment and the many many other animals within it.
What is your dream whale shot? Any specific location or whale?
I really just want to see and capture a gray whale breaching. I did see one breach twice last year, but it was several miles away. Actually maybe any whale breaching pretty close to where I'm at. Most of the breaching I've seen as been quite a ways away, which is still incredible, but capturing one up close would be really exciting.