Anatomy of a photo #68: Elephant Seal Pup


Elephant Seal pup looking cute

Two important factors when taking photographs of wildlife are finding them and safety (for the photographer and the wildlife). Right now, there is a chance to find both at the same place and time. I was able to take this image while aiding scientists in a flipper tagging study, but those interested in seeing these flippered swimmers in the wild don’t have to put in all that work.

Today, we all have a chance to gain ourselves an outing to see Elephant Seals in the wild, either with pups or go through their mating rituals, or when they haul out in the fall to shed their outer coats. You see, the Point Reyes National Seashore Association (PRNSA) is auctioning off an outing with one of the top marine mammal scientists on the West Coast to head out into the field with Doctor Sarah Allen, and to learn about these denizens of the deep. The auction is now closed.

The experience is amazing, and designed to protect both you and the animal. I know Sarah Allen through my work in the Point Reyes National Seashore, in fact some of my images are in her new book Field Guide to Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast , which she coauthored.

The Point Reyes National Seashore Association (PRNSA) runs a summer camp in the heart of this beautiful national park. The proceeds from this auction go towards a financial assistance fund that helps children that might not otherwise  be able to afford this magical summer camp to attend. The camp is focused on nature, and teaching children about the natural world around them. Some who attend now nature quite well, but others know only the cities and the asphalt jungles that surround them. Many have never spent a night sleeping in the great outdoors. But wait, there’s more. A few years back, the camp began a new program where they’ve created a special out reach to children that have recently arrived in this country as refugees, whose only knowledge of “camp” is of refugee camps. PRNSA’s program immerses them with the other kids, showing them some of the better, more natural parts of the land they are now part of.

Another auction item you can win, is a kayak photography outing with me, and a print. Enough auction talk though. This post is actually supposed to be an anatomy of a photo.

I took this picture from a safe vantage on a small hillside above the winter elephant seal colony at Chimney Rock, in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Elephant Seals cannot climb a steep hillside, so it was a very safe location, even though we were quite close to the beach. Our higher vantage point also kept us out of the pinnipeds direct eye line (they don’t look up too much). There was little danger from our actions and presence of spooking the large marine mammals and setting off a stampede where the babies could get trampled by the adults.

I used a long lens on my camera (420mm). A medium high shutter speed to be able to freeze action (which there was a lot of) and a medium high ISO to allow me a higher shutter speed in the foggy overcast light. Aperture was pretty much open.

Hope you bid on Sarah or my self and support this excellent cause.


About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in Anatomy of a photo, elephant seals, marine life, National Park, nature photography, photography, wildlife photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Anatomy of a photo #68: Elephant Seal Pup

  1. Vicki says:

    you’re right, pretty darn cute.

  2. Emily Gooch says:

    Cute shot! Looks like he/she is posing for you. :)

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