Friday, March 25, 2011

I am a northern elephant seal pup...hear me roar!

And now for something completely different... northern elephant seal photography!

Along California State Highway 1, just north of San Simeon, CA (site of the Hearst castle), there is a rookery of northern elephant seals. It's been there for around 20 years or so, and from December through March the beaches south of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse are carpeted with thousands of elephant seals. During this period there is much fighting amongst the males for the privilege of mating with the females, lots of mating, and birthing of pups. There is a wooden boardwalk that runs parallel to the main beach where you can watch all the activity from just yards/meters away.

You don't really need an exotic telephoto lens to photograph this: a 55-200mm zoom lens that's often bundled with a Nikon DSLR kit is plenty of lens. That being said, I usually take my 300mm f/4 Nikon telephoto for close-ups, but often the seals are so close that I have to switch to my 18-200mm zoom to get the pictures I want. I also take my 10-24mm zoom for different perspectives.

On this particular photoshoot, my photographer friend Robin and I went to the rookery in 2007. Leaving Los Angeles around 3am we arrived just before the 7am sunrise. The light was really wonderful as it came in low over the cliffs that overlook the rookery. Pups with their mothers were everywhere. This particular pup caught my attention because it propped itself up with its nose pointing skyward, then let out a bark that could easily make one think it was announcing its presence to the rookery.

I realized shortly afterwards that I had the white balance set wrong, so these pictures had a brownish cast.

(Shot with the Nikon D200 with the Nikon 300mm f/4 lens; program mode; 1/320 sec @ f/9; ISO 800; shade white balance (?); normal JPG.)


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  2. To have the opportunity to shoot these animals from close by, you are so lucky.