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

Orca at sunset, a snapshot of wildlife photography 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 https://www.colinmunroimages.com/Prints-for-Sale/i-2Bp3WgP
Male Orca at sunset, New Zealand South Island, East of Stewart Island.

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 que, 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.

Art prints and downloads

The orca picture shown here is one of my images I have selected to make available as fine art prints. These are available as 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 colinmunroimages.com. Default printing is my Bay Photos professional fine art printers in California. For orders from the UK, contact me directly and these can be supplied by Loxley professional printers in the UK. It can also be downloaded as a digital file, for private or commercial use, in a range of file sizes.

Fishing canoe (pirouge) being landed at sunset, Senegal

Fishing canoe (pirouge) being landed at sunset, Senegal

Pirogue fishermen at sunset, Senegal, West Africa Image. MBI000914

Pirogue fishermen at sunset, Senegal, West Africa Image. MBI000914

 

Fishing canoe (pirouge) being landed at sunset, Senegal. Image MBI000914. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.

A wooden fishing canoe returns from a day at sea, and men haul the boat and engine up the sandy beach as the sun sets.  M’bour, Senegal.

Fishing boat at sunset, Eastern Mediterranean, off Egypt

Fishing boat at sunset, Eastern Mediterranean, off Egypt

Egyptian fishing boat at sunset, Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Image MBI000912. Colin Munro Photography

Egyptian fishing boat at sunset, Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Image MBI000912.

Fishing boat at sunset, Eastern Mediterranean, off Egypt. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.
I spend a couple of weeks working off in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a few miles off the Nile delta, a while back.  It was mid-winter, and we spent much of the time dodging gales.  Although we were in a fairly substantial boat, waves piled up high in the shallow waters off the delta, so work was completed in brief sorties, then running back to port with four or five metres waves chasing us.  When the sea was calm however, it was absolutely beautiful, with the most stunning sunsets.  Calm weather also brought out large numbers of fishing trawlers.  At one time I counted twelve trawlers all within sight of us; it seems highly unlikely that such fishing is sustainable and indeed I saw precious little catch when nets were hauled.  As the sun set all nest were hauled and the boats headed back to port leaving us with the sea to ourselves until the sun rose again.  I watched this boat inch past the dipping sun, with an almost blood red sky as a backdrop.  There has been vistually no editing to this image – the sky really did look like that.  Sometimes you have to really work to get great pics, and sometime you just need to be there.

The fishermen of M’bour

M'bour, Senegal. Fishermen haul a small fishing pirogue (wooden canoe) up on to the beach at sunset.  Image MBI000739

M’bour, Senegal. Fishermen haul a small fishing pirogue (wooden canoe) up on to the beach at sunset.

In November 2008 I spent two weeks living in M’bour, a dusty transit stop and fishing port halfway between Dakar and the Gambia. I spent this time getting to know the fishermen, going to sea with them, learning how they worked, the risks they took travelling up to 20 miles offshore in leaky open canoes without so much as a compass to guide them. I learned how they spent days at sea in tiny canoes, sleeping in the bottom of them, risking storms or being swept out to sea. As there canoes have no lights they also run the risk of being mown down by trawlers at night. Many do lose their lives each year, but economic pressures are causing a growing number of young men to turn to fishing. This brings its own problems; the fishery is almost completely unregulated but anecdotal reports suggest this is having a significant impact on stocks of some species.  Robust data is hard to come by, given the unregulated nature of this fishery, but the Senegalese Directorate of Marine Fisheries estimated that in 2004 a little over 6000 such canoes were operating along the coast of Senegal.  The main species caught are small sardinella (Sardinella aurita and S. maderenis) and horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus). In 2008 the fishery off M’bour and nearby Joal Fadiouth was considered over-exploited (source FAO,Fisheries Circular No. 1033, 2008).

Fishing canoe,  or pirogue, being lanched off beach on wooden rollers, M'bour,  Senegal.  Image MBI000628

Our fishing canoe, or pirogue, being lanched off beach on wooden rollers, M’bour, Senegal.

 Now fully laden, our ancient outboard is securely fastened with bailing twine. Note the well balanced ice box perched toward the stern of the canoe.

M'bour, Senegal. Two Senegalese fishermen head out to sea in a small pirogue (traditional wooden canoe).  Image MBI000909.

M’bour, Senegal. Two Senegalese fishermen head out to sea in a small pirogue (traditional wooden canoe).

I spent a day at sea on one of these tiny boats. Simply making it through the surf was quite an acheivement; the boat had no ballast and was so top heavy, due to ourselves and the large box of ice we were carrying, that we appeared in imminet danger of capsizing. Fortunately we shipped quite a lot of water quite quickly during a rather shaky lauching. This few inches of seawater inside our boat at least gave us some stability by providing some ballast, albeit not a recommended way of doing so. Powered by an ancient 15hp outboard engine attached by bailing twine and duck tape, we headed out to sea for about three hours, by which time I estimated we were about fifteen miles offshore. For the first 30 minutes or so we saw a few other boats, but they quickly dispensed in differing directions and we were along. We had set off in a grey haze that quickly enveloped the land and turned the sun in to a nothing more than a lighter glow in the haze. Both sea and sky were otherwise quite featureless.  I watched with growing alarm as the sky changed; growing dark and heavy, and a stiffening breeze spring up.  Maybe two hours out we came upon a similar canoe, drifting aimlessly as their similarly ancient outboard engine had died.  To its crew’s consternation our boat skipper offered not to towed them to back to port but to a point where they ‘had a better chance of being spotted’ by a home-bound canoe.  So for half and hour or so we towed them further out to sea (or at least it seemed that direction to me) before leaving them to anchor on what appeared an equally featureless spot of grey sea as the one where we picked them up.  We never saw them again; I rather hope this indicated that they had indeed been towed ashore.

Our unhappy fishermen drop anchor and start their wait for a passing vessel after we tow them to a ‘better’ location.

At one point Pape, the boat’s owner, asked me which direction I thought M’bour lay.  With no visual clues to guide me I based my guess on the heading I thought we had set off on.  Apparently I was almost 180 degrees out.  I asked Pape how he could tell, with no compass or electronic aids; the wind direction he informed me.  So, I enquired cautiously, does it always blow from the same direction this time of year?  No, he cheerfully informed me, sometimes we get lost.  I rather wished I hadn’t asked.

Eventually we arrived at the fishing grounds.  What exactly identified them as ‘the fishing grounds’ I have no idea.  Hooks were baited with little, frozen prawns from our icebox and handlines set.  A small stove was fired up in the middle of the canoe and sugary tea the colour and consistency of stockholm tar brewed.  A cup was passed around from which we all took small sips; more than would most likely have resulted in irreversible damage to my intestines.  This was supplemented by joints also passed around.  Tea, reefers and small amounts of rice and peanut porridge (gosi) were pretty much all the crew had to survive on apart from whatever they caught.   Around two hours passed, in which time we had caught maybe a dozen fish, mostly sardinella, horse mackerel and a few bigeye grunt (Brachydeuterus auritus).  Barely enough to feed us at sea, let alone provide a wage for all three fishermen.  Around four in the afternoon, by which time the chop on the sea had risen significantly and little whitecaps had started to appear, we finally decided to head back inshore.  Much to my relief, Pape’s sense of direction proved accurate.

The sun was setting when we finally reached M’bour, and there have been few occasions when I’ve been quite so pleased to step on to dry land.  Pape and his crew would probably go to sea again tomorrow, maybe staying out for one or two nights this time.  I thought that night of the meagre catch we returned with after a day at sea, of the broken down canoe we had come across and of the stories Pape had told me of getting caught in a storm and drifting helplessly for three days before sighting land.  Overfishing is a massive problem on the West coast of Africa.  Much of this problem is actually due to poorly regulated fishing by large trawlers from outside Senegal: Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and European boats.  It has been estimated that a large trawler will, on one good day, catch as much as fifty pirogues will in a year.  Vessels are licensed by the Senegalese Government who argue that if they don’t sell licenses then neighbouring countries will; stocks may still suffer and Senegal will lose vauable revenue (Grégoire Allix, le Monde/Worldcrunch, 2011). What is a matter of concern about the long term effects of overfishing for us in the West can be a question of survival for some on the coast of Senegal.

M'bour, Senegal. Fifteen miles offshore a Senegalese fishermen hand lines for fish over a sand bank. Image MBI000908.

One of our crew handlines, delicately holding the line waiting patiently for a bite.

Fish salting pans, M'bour, Senegal. Image MBI000609.

Fish salting pans, M’bour, Senegal.

View more of my images of  Senegal and from other regions of the  World here at my Colin Munro Images website.

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, Northwest Scotland.

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, Northwest Scotland.

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Loch Alsh at sunset, looking across the Isle of Skye.

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Loch Alsh at sunset, looking across the Isle of Skye..

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Loch Alsh at sunset, looking across the Isle of Skye. Image MBI000901. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image.
The Skye Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, is simultaneously one of the most impressive and contentious feats of recent engineering in Scotland. Completed in 1995, it sparked much debate about how it would change the nature of Skye now it was possible to drive there. More heated debate arose over the much hated toll to cross the bridge. It was described by some as ‘the only place you could get mugged and then receive a receipt’. The toll was abolished in 2004. Crossing to and from the mainland is now free. The village of Kyleakin lies on the Skye side of the bridge, with the small islet of Eilean Ban forming a stepping stone roughly mid-way across. Both locations featured heavily in the life of Gavin Maxwell, and were made famous in the book ‘Ring of bright water’. The island now belongs to the Eilean ban Trust, a joint project between the Born Free Trust and local communities. The Eilean Ban lighthouse can be seen in the last picture.
Loch Alsh at sunset, looking west towards the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge. Image MBI000902.

Loch Alsh at sunset, looking west towards the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge. Image MBI000902.

Loch Alsh at sunset, looking west towards the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge. Image MBI000902. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image.
Skye Bridge and village of Kyleakin on the east coast of the Isle of Skye. Image MBI000903.

Skye Bridge and village of Kyleakin on the east coast of the Isle of Skye. Image MBI000903.

Skye Bridge and village of Kyleakin on the east coast of the Isle of Skye. Image MBI000903. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image.