Anatomy of a photo #9: Harbor Seal portrait

Harbor Seal portrait

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 kayak photography this can be especially important, since there is so much extra light being reflected by the water that things don’t always expose quite how you expect. Often times it will become necessary to compensate your camera’s settings, although cameras are getting smarter and smarter.

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 center 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

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, kayak photography, photography, seals, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Anatomy of a photo #9: Harbor Seal portrait

  1. Such a curious stare – wonderful shot! Kathleen

  2. She is very cute. Love the expression and intense look. I detect the trepidation.

  3. Lovely shot; it’s so true, letting wildlife approach you is key – to disrupt them as little as possible. Thanks for the post!

  4. Nae's Nest says:

    Oh so sweet. Great photo.

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