Intro by Chamira Young
Have you stepped outside of your comfort zone lately? Photographer Douglas Croft did, and discovered a new passion for photographing whales he didn't know he had. You never know where inspiration will come from, and being open to new experiences is a prime opportunity to rejuvenate your photography passion and learn about subjects previously unknown to your own personal "bubble".
It was by deciding to go on a whale-watching tour that photographer Douglas Croft discovered his passion for capturing breathtaking images of the behemoth mammals. And ironically, it was right in his own back yard of Monterey Bay! He's been hooked ever since. By using Tamron's 18-400mm VC HLD zoom lens for his adventures, he's been able to capture his giant subjects whether they surface right next to his boat or hundreds of yards away.
Check out his work below, as well as the fascinating backstory and process!
By Jenn Gidman
Images By Douglas Croft
For the first 15 years that Douglas Croft lived in San Jose, he had no idea that Monterey Bay existed. Then, about eight years ago, he went on a whale-watching tour, and he was hooked. Since then, he's served as a volunteer on the Whale Entanglement Team with the Marine Life Studies group, working to rescue large marine mammals that get caught in fishing gear and marine debris. He also works several times a week with Blue Ocean Whale Watch, which leaves out of Moss Landing Harbor to take spectators to see whales, dolphins, sea lions, and other marine life.
Douglas says his experiences in these local waters have been eye-opening. "Monterey Bay is such a vibrant ecosystem that it really boggles the mind," he says. "I went to Africa twice, and then I came home and discovered the Serengeti of the sea was right there in my backyard. The first time I saw a whale breach from a boat, I didn't even remember I had a camera in my hand until it had splashed down; I was in such awe. It still awes me like that. I've since seen hundreds of whale breaches, but it never gets old, and it's almost always surprising, because you never know where or when it's going to happen."
That surprise factor is what's drawn Douglas to the Tamron 18-400mm VC HLD zoom lens for his adventures on the water. "That's what makes this lens outstanding," he says. "Because you often can't anticipate where or when photo-worthy moments are going to happen, if a breach starts happening 200 yards from the boat, I can zoom out to 400mm and be right on it. Then, if something takes place right next to the boat, I can pull back in. It's such a versatile lens. Plus the autofocus is awesome, and it's a light-enough lens that I can shoot all day with it. The moisture-resistant construction is handy as well, since we go out on the boat even if it's raining—the whales are out no matter what."
Although participants on his whale-watching tours are able to see whales 365 days a year on Monterey Bay, some species are seasonal. "Humpback whales, for example, are migratory," Douglas explains. "We usually have them up here from early April through November. Then most of them head down to Mexico to the breeding and birthing waters."
Gray whales, like the mother and calf Douglas captured playing in the kelp by Big Sur, are seen in the fall and in the spring. "These two were doing their migration past Monterey," he says. "When they're not here, they're either down in Baja in the birthing lagoons or they're up toward Alaska feeding. The gray whales swim very close to the cliffs along Big Sur, because they want to avoid killer whales—swimming close to the cliffs reduces their acoustic signature so the killer whales can't hear them. So if you're on the cliffs, you can look straight down on them. On the day I captured this photo, the water was really clear, and there was a lot of kelp hanging around in the kelp forest because there hadn't been any storms in some time. These whales got right in there."
Although Douglas doesn't consider himself an expert on animal behavior, he's learned some tricks to anticipate better what's going to happen on the water. "There are always clues on what the animals are going to do," he says. "Sometimes a whale will breach completely out of the blue, but a lot of times, if they do it once, they'll do it again. And so you watch that area. On the humpback whale you see breaching here, that whale easily breached 50 times over the hour we were watching. I had plenty of opportunity to try and grab a photo."
The lunge-feeding humpback whales Douglas often photographs have their own particular "tell." "If we see congregations of diving birds, we know that schooling fish are near the surface," he says. "And if whales are in the area, the likelihood is that they're going to feed close to the surface. So if you see where the birds are diving, you can anticipate the whales will come up right where those birds are."
Even if you know what the marine animals may do, you still don't know when it's going to happen. "It always takes your breath away," Douglas says. "You can only somewhat anticipate it and be zoomed in to where you think you'll see some action, with your finger on the trigger. My hands get so sore after a day on the water, because they're clenched on the camera all day."
Read more and enjoy additional images from Douglas...
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