(Note: All of the images from this trip are available for viewing over on my SmugMug site)
The glamorous life of a nature photographer on the road: the alarm goes off at way too early in the morning so you can shoot a pre-scouted location when the sun rises, breakfast at McDonalds, you spend time during the day shooting things where the mid-day light isn’t so bothersome if you can, but really you end up back in the hotel room eating lunch out of the mini-fridge (that you stocked when you arrived in town) and editing images and resting until you get closer to sunset and golden hour and the light hopefully stops glaring at you, and then you head out again. Then you shoot until deep into twilight to get the blue hour light, and then you’ve missed normal dinner time, find a place open that looks interesting, and then back to the room for more importing and editing and sleep, because god help you, that alarm is already set and leering at you…
But the first day dawn shoot is well behind in the rear view mirror, and now it’s time to be thinking about sunset. I gear up and head out down to the harbor early, about 4PM, to see what the otters are doing.
Here’s the thing about the Sea Otters in Morro Bay: they’re very used to people and tend to hang out in a few places where they’re easy to watch of photograph. Or at least in theory they are, because where they usually hang out the mornings are horribly backlit and in the afternoons the sun goes behind the rock and puts them into twilight early. This time of year you might have between 3PM and 5PM with decent light if you’re a bit lucky, and there’s a good chance the otters are spending most of that time in the water near you — napping.
Did I mention the glorious life of the nature photographer? This is another reality, trying to make usable images our of rotten light and sitting around for hours waiting for that 15 minutes where everything is happening (and then back to napping!) and hoping you get something good out of it.
It’s easier with the X-T2 because the larger sensor means images have more of an ability to be cropped and keep detail, and the improved dynamic range over the X-T1 means you can shoot in crazier lighting conditions without destroying the images trying to make them usable. That said, the camera can’t create miracles on demand, even if I sometimes think it can. But with some patience and care, even when the light and the critters don’t want to cooperate, you can still come back with something. But you also tend to come back with lots of black blobs sitting on the water with no discernible shadow detail…
This shoot did okay, I think.
One really nice thing was that two of the otter moms were carrying pups around, and so I tried to focus on shooting the interaction between them. Sometimes, though the pups look like little demonic Muppet nightmare puppets.
And sometimes all you really want is for both mom and pup to be in decent light AND have their eyes open at the same time, and you run off a string of images that don’t quite work like you want, and then you finally get it.
Only to realize you haven’t quite nailed the focus and the pup is just a bit soft. Oh well. I’m keeping it anyway.
And then you get something like this, and you feel much better about being a photographer
Of course, you spend a lot of time being bored and waiting for things to happen, so you go looking for subjects to shoot.
But mom and her kid come through…
And then the light goes behind the rock and you go looking for other things to shoot again…
And then you pack up your gear and head off for dinner. Because there wasn’t any light worth talking about for sunset. I had three possible locations scouted out for sunset, and as I got closer to the time, I decided it was a complete washout. We had clouds down near the surface and everything just went to gray. Rather than fight for anything usable, I decided I was happy for the day’s work and went off in search of a cup of chowder and some fish and chips.
I regret nothing. I sat and watched sunset from my table over the chowder and fish, and decided that was definitely the right choice.
Then, of course, back to the room to evaluate and start editing the images and then get some sleep because I knew I was going to be hearing from the alarm clock again long before I wanted to.