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Orca at sunset, a snapshot of wildlife photography technique: decision making.

Orca at sunset, a snapshot of wildlife photography technique: decision making.
A large male orca glides through the water at sunset.  Photograph by Colin Munro, available as a fine art print or wall art at Colin Munro Images
Male Orca at sunset, New Zealand South Island, East of Stewart Island.

I think wildlife photography technique is often best discussed through examples. Orca are hugely impressive animals. They have come to symbolise power, intelligence, grace and – sometimes – ferocity. Often known as killer whales, largely due to the way they would attack harpooned baleen whales, or harry and gradually wear down larger whales in a similar fashion to wolves on land, they are in fact large dolphins. Few of us will not have seen the BBC footage of orca powering on to beaches in Peninsula Valdes in Patagonia to grab unwary elephant seals. The power of these animals is quite awe-inspiring. Large individuals may weigh up to 11 tonnes, and females may life to be at least 80 years old. We now think of orca as a highly variable species, or species complex, with up to nine different types recognised. Advances in science may eventually split these into sub-species, or possibly separate species.

I took this photograph a few miles off the coast neat the southern tip of New Zealand South Island. We were sailing from Stewart Island, the small, rugged island to the south of South Island, heading towards the city of Dunedin. It was a perfect evening in mid-November, summer in the southern hemisphere, around 8.30pm. The sun was already almost touching the horizon, creating deep shadows in the troughs of the ripples pushed along by the light breeze. The orcas approached our bow from the northeast, then passed close by on our port side. This was going to be the best shot I would get, before he disappeared towards our stern. However the low sun was directly behind him, casting his curved back and giant dorsal fin almost in silhouette. I had a couple of seconds to decide. I could ramp up the camera ISO and expose my shot to bring out the details on the orca’s back, but doing so – shooting straight in to the sun – would blow out all detail in the water around him, or… I could do the opposite. I could aim for silhouettes and shapes, patterns and texture on the water. If this were a studio shot it would be termed ‘low key’; but of course this was not a studio, there would be no posing, no running around with a hand held light meter, no test shots. I dialled down the ISO, ramped up the shutter speed, quick check of the viewfinder light meter …. focus… and click, click, click. And that was it. I watched as the dorsal fin slipped beneath the water, to reappear several minutes later, far behind us. The sun was dipping beneath the horizon, and the light was gone.

I find wildlife photography is often like this. Animals don’t appear on cue, they don’t appear when you’re standing waiting with your camera gear all set correctly, they don’t appear in the right place or the right conditions and often they don’t allow you time to think through your choices and your settings. This is where practice and experience comes in. After years of taking shots in all sorts of conditions, you learn to instantly recognise situations, and dial in settings almost with muscle memory. Not that you can ever become complacent. Camera technology is constantly improving; that means that the rules that you automatically followed three years ago may no longer be the best way. Advances in technology may mean that the settings you used last year may now be improved upon by turning them on their head. So successful wildlife is a continual process of learning, practice, relearning, practice..repeat. Wildlife photography technique is not simply a question of reading a manual, or a blog like this; like every art, in the end it comes down to practice and learning from what doesn’t work as much as from what does.

Fine art prints of this orca photograph

The orca picture shown here is one of my images I have selected to make available as fine art prints. It is available through my website as a fine art giclee print on some of the best archival quality papers available, and as a canvas wrap, both at 16 x 24 inch size. It is also available as a poster (on museum quality paper) in three different sizes, 12×18, 18×24 and 24×36 inches. Canvas wraps can be ordered through the link directly below. For giclee prints and posters please visit my website and follow the appropriate links

Canvas wrap

Sharp, detailed canvas prints that last 100 years without fading. Printed onto bright 400gsm cotton, hand-stretched on heavy-duty 4cm-deep stretchers, your photos & art look compelling. Ready to hang. They are printed, using the giclée method, and advanced large-format printers print at 1440 dpi using a 10-colour pigment ink system, for smooth graduations, less bronzing, and an impressive colour range. The canvas used is tight-weave bright white 400gsm cotton canvas with a uniform, non-cracking surface. Prints are hand-stretched onto heavy duty 38mm-deep knotless solid kiln-dried fir stretcher bars from sustainable sources in Europe. Prints come with built-in corner wedges that make it easy to tighten the canvas. They arrive ready to hang, backed with brown framing tape and a flat hanging system that keeps your canvas lying perfectly against the wall.

Prints if you are in North America

If you live in the USA or Canada, These prints can be ordered directly from my website. They are available as fine art prints, and on a range of other media, stretched canvas, canvas wraps, flat canvas, dye-infused aluminium prints and acrylic on alumimium in a range of sizes and crops. They can be ordered directly from my website Default printing is my Bay Photos professional fine art printers in California.

Fine art prints and canvas wraps printed in the USA

Fulmars and gannets over stormy seas, St Kilda, West Scotland. Colin Munro.

I’ve recently decided to make some of my photographs available as fine art prints and canvas prints through a print vendor based in the US.

Fulmars and gannets over stormy seas, St Kilda, West Scotland. Colin Munro.

Fulmars and gannets over stormy seas, St Kilda, West Scotland.

These can now be in a wide range of fine art print sizes, rolled canvas prints and stretched canvas wraps (canvas on wooden frames).  These can be browsed and purchased direct from my website  Printing and delivery is handled by EZ Prints. EZ prints are a large-scale printing facility based out of Norcross, Georgia, USA, whose innovative technology and personalization expertise combine to deliver affordable and easily accessible prints and products.

Hound Tor, Dartmoor, Devon, fine art print

Hound Tor, Dartmoor

All EZ Prints orders are processed in a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant using the latest digital printing components.  This process is fully integrated within my website.

Sunrise over the Navua River, Viti Levu, Fiji. Colin Munro Photography

Sunrise over the Navua River, Viti Levu, Fiji


Printing within the US allows far cheaper shipping costs within the US and Canada. Print sizes from 10″ x 15″ to 24″ x 36″ are available.


Hallowe’en in Glen Nevis

River Nevis in spate, Glen Nevis, Scottish Highlands. Colin Munro Photography

Christmas is coming, and with this thought in mind I’ve produced a new range of fine art prints on canvas.

I spent this Hallowe’en in a small, backpacking two-man tent with my ten year old son, near the base of Ben Nevis.  It had been a wet and chilly day, with gale force winds howling across Rannoch Moor and through Glen Coe when we passed though earlier in the day.  As we sat in a pub restuarant in Fort William, thawing and drying out over large plates of chips, I gave him the choice of bailing.  We could stay in a hotel tonight if you like?  But no, we had planned to camp and camping was what he wanted to do.  I was pleased by his gumption (though part of me was thinking a warm, dry hotel wasn’t such a bad idea). So, by 8pm that evening we were tucked up in sleeping bags listening to the steady patter of rain on the tent walls whilst eating tinned curry by the weak candlelight emanating from a pumpkin lantern.

Tinned curry by candlelight. Hallowe'en in a two-man tent, on a very wet night in Glen Nevis. Colin Munro Photography

Tinned curry by candlelight. Hallowe’en in a two-man tent, on a very wet night in Glen Nevis.

Crawling out of our tent to face a sea of mud the following morning was a fairly grim affair.  However we managed to pack up with extraordinary speed and after a hot breakfast the World seemed a much better place.  The incessant rain had turned the River Nevis, impressive in ordinarly conditions, in to seething cauldron; much of the river was simply a thundering wall of white foam cascading down between the steep side of the Glen.  It would have been the perfect location for great photographs were it not for the incessant rain.  Each photo-opportunity had to be grabbed during the briefest intermission between downpours.  Even so, with everything thoroughly drenched it, lenses becoming fogged or coated with droplets, I was left with only a few useable images at the end of a long and chilly day.  Calum, on son, on the other hand stood up to the rigours admirably provided he was continually fed with chocolate.  We will certainly be back in 2014, and hopefully climbing Ben Nevis together – in the summer months!

Helping Calum (or Calum helping me?) ford a mountain stream in Glen Nevis. Colin Munro Photography

Helping Calum (or Calum helping me?) ford a mountain stream in Glen Nevis

A self timer pic as we headed up the glen.

River Nevis in spate, Glen Nevis, Scottish Highlands. Colin Munro Photography

River Nevis in spate, Glen Nevis, Scottish Highlands. Image MBI001493.

Signed canvas prints

You can buy signed, made to order, canvas wrap framed prints of this image directly from me here by selecting the print size you want using the Paypal drop down menu below and clicking the Buy it Now button.  Please note that sizes are approximate; postage costs apply to mainland UK only.  If you live further afield please email me directly to get costs, or you can buy through my Esty store (below).

Canvas Print Sizes

Buy signed canvas prints, signed photographs ready to frame and gift tokens for my photography and Photoshop sessions through my Etsy Store.

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The Three Sisters, Bidean nam Bian mountain range, Glen Coe.

The Three Sisters of Glen Coe, Glen Coe, Highlands, Scotland. Colin Munro Photography

The Three Sisters of Glen Coe, Glen Coe, Highlands, Scotland.  Colin Munro Photography

The Three Sisters of Glen Coe, Glen Coe, Highlands, Scotland.

The Three Sisters, Glencoe, Scotland.

The Three sisters are three steep-sided ridges forming part of the mountain complex Bidean nam Bian along southern side of Glen Coe.  These ridges are Gearr Aonach (Short Ridge), Aonach Dubh (Black Ridge) and Beinn Fhada (Long Hill).  The summit of Bidean nam Bian lies at 1150m (3773ft) making it the highest mountain in the former county of Argyll (regional boundary changes in recent years means Argyll no lnger exists as a county).  Bidean nam Bian is popular with walkers and Munro-baggers (Munros are Scottish mountains over 3000ft) summer and winter. The most popular route passes down through the col (low gap between two peaks) between Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach, more commonly known as the hidden valley or lost valley.  The name derives from it’s reputation as a hiding place for rustled cattle taken by the Clan Macdonald in earlier times and the fact that the valley is all but hidden from view until one is in it.

Glen Coe is an awe inspiring landscape of looming mountains, the soul of which is most clearly seen on darky and stormy days.  It is sometimes known as the ‘Glen of Weeping’ in reference to the Massacre of Glen Coe in  February 1692 when Thirty-eight men of the Clan MacDonald were killed in the night by soldiers from the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot who they had accepted in as guests.  Many more died of exposure on the hills as their homes had been burnt down.  The soldier in command of the Foot Regiment was Captain Robert Campbell of GlenLyon; this fact, allied to an existing history of feuding between the Campells and MacDonalds and attempts by the Government of the time to deflect blame and have this seen as no more than inter-clan feuding.  The orders for the massarce were in fact signed by King William II (King Willaim III or England).

The dramatic scenery of Glen Coe has formed the backdrop for many big budget films; these include Highlander, Rob Roy, Braveheart and, more recently, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In the summer of 2003 vistors to the glen occasionally stumbled across Hadrig’s hut nestly behind the Clachaig Inn.

The picture.  I took this image at 16:45 on the 31st of October 2013 (Hallowe’en).  I was on a brief walking and camping trip with my ten year old son during school half term.  It was a wild day; storm force winds were battering the west coast.  The wind was literally howling down through the glen driving needles of rain before it and forcing me to keep one hand on my camera tripod at all times lest it was blown over.  At 15 minutes to 5pm the sun had just set, though this was not obvious through the thick black cloud overhead, but an already gloomy day was darkening rapidly.  As light was disappearing I dispensed with the polarising filter I had been using earlier but kept the gradient nuetral density filter.  The image is a composite of three seperate exposures, ranging from a 1/60th to a 1/15th of a second duration, to capture detail in both the dark mountain shadows and the clouds overhead.  Between each exposure rain droplets had to be carefully dried off the filter in front of the camera lens and the entire camera covered by my jacket (taking care not to accidentally jostle the camera or tripod) until the next brief gap between squalls allowed another image to be taken.

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