I captured this image the first time I took my dad kayaking. It was early one afternoon in Tomales Bay, when the winds were calm. While I have seen many seals on the bay, we were lucky on this day with how many were surfacing around us, and how closely.
We didn’t try to approach any of them, but rather chose a course and paddled straight. I’ve found the best way to get close to seals is not to approach them, but to let them approach me. They are curious but shy. They love surfacing behind kayaks for example, so they can watch without being seen.
I had already taken some test shots with my camera to make sure that my exposures were close to what I wanted. With water this can be especially important, since there is so much extra light reflected, that things don’t always expose quite how you expect often times it will become necessary to compensate your camera’s settings.
I used a longer lens for this photograph, 300mm with a 1.4x booster, to keep a respectful distance from the seals. There was a hood on the lens to keep sun and reflected light from the glass at the front of the lens. A hood is especially helpful when kayaking to keep stray water droplets from confusing the autofocus. (For more tips on wildlife photography while kayaking visit here.)
I made sure to focus on the eyes. I did this by having moved my autofocus point to the side of my camera, instead of just using the default focus location.
The near lack of winds is why the water is so reflective. If you will be photographing water, wind can play a huge role in the appearance of that water, so pay attention to the weather.
For more tips on photographing seals while on the water read Seeing and photographing seals when kayaking