I am not a nature photographer (but I played one on a whale watch cruise)
I had a moment Monday morning at the B&H Photo OPTICWEST Conference that will stick with me for a long time. At 6 AM, we pulled out of Monterey harbor before dawn on one of two huge whale-watching boats – each packed with hundreds of photographers, chartered by B&H Photo for the conference attendees. I was on the smaller two-deck boat – but it still had around 150 photographers on it, along with reps and loaner gear from Sigma and Sony (Canon and Nikon were over on the “big boat”). I was asked to be kind of an informal Cruise Director on the smaller boat (I shared cruise director duties with the awesome David Brommer on a cruise around Manhattan at the New York City OPTIC conference, so I was a seasoned tourboat sidekick.
You probably already know I am not a nature photographer or a whale expert. The only whale watches I had been on previously were pretty much a bust (they claimed there was actually a whale out there somewhere, way off in the distance, but it was probably a sea lion or some driftwood). But on this whale watch, not only did we see lots and lots of whales, it was “whale soup” out there. We had lots of shooting opportunities, and even some “Friendlies” – whales that would come right up alongside the boat while our engines were off – they were literally six feet away. They were so close you could pet them, as long as you didn’t mind falling in the sea and never being seen again. Anyway, they were right there, and photographers who only brought their 400mm lenses groaned at the missed opportunity because the whales were actually too close to get a shot, so out came everyone’s iPhones.
Luckily I was not alone on this whale-watching hosting journey – I shared mic duties with a really nice nature guide named Jacob, who worked on the boat, knew the waters, knew whales, and (bonus) he was a photographer with some great whale shots himself. So, all I had to do was fill in the dead air between him announcing, “Three whales at one o’clock!” over the mic, and then he would hand me the mic. At that point, I would say something silly, like “For those unfamiliar with nautical boating terms, the front of the boat is referred to as the “Frontus.” So, you can see I did a whale of a job (That bad pun should give you some indication of how little I brought to the party).
I did bring my camera, though, and I had a great view from up top with Captain Bill (super nice guy) and Jacob, “the whale guy,” and I got an okay shot or two, but I wasn’t really there to shoot – I was there to bring those crucial insights I usually save for the chapter intros of my books (stop snickering).
What this story is really about
So, Jacob spots a small group of whales 200 yards out in front of us (a group of whales swimming together is called a “Cankle.”). Anyway, we start heading that way, and I’m out in front of the wheelhouse all by myself, and whales are diving in front of us, and the sky was amazing, and it was gorgeous brisk morning, and I was just taking it all in, and suddenly tears started streaming down my face.
It wasn’t the whales, and it was. It was all of it. The nature, the moments, how kind and gracious Captain Bill and Jacob were to me, who was clearly a fish out of water (no pun intended) on this whale watch. What I was, was overwhelmed. I was just so grateful that I was there. There in charming Monterey, on this beautiful morning, seeing these amazing creatures God made, up close like this. I couldn’t believe I was getting to do this – any of it. I was so grateful that B&H had chartered these boats for us; that they asked me to be a cruise director on one of them that morning, and that they asked me to teach at the conference in the first place. I hadn’t been in California since the January before COVID hit, and yet here I was – on the front deck of a whale watch boat, crashing through the waves, tears in my eyes and my heart exploding with joy.
This conference – all of it – had been a blessing. I saw the most amazing wildlife images I’ve ever seen during Frans Lanting’s wonderful keynote speech, and I think seeing his work had an effect on me, too. His heart for animals and nature is a joy to behold, and his talent as a photographer is extraordinary.
I guess this post is really about gratitude and perhaps a new appreciation for being out in nature and seeing it up close, or even experiencing it through photographs. As amazing as this past week’s experience has been, I’m thankful to now be on a flight back home to be with my wonderful family – the greatest gift God’s given me and the one I’m most grateful for.
Here’s wishing you a weekend full of gratitude, joy, and maybe even a win for the Buccaneers (Hey, it could happen). :)