The Friendlies: Baja’s Gray Whales

The Friendlies: Baja’s Gray Whales

February 2017

So many people have no clue about an amazing phenomenon that takes place every winter in Baja Mexico.

Gray whales migrate south every year in the fall, swimming some 12,500 miles down the Pacific Coast from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to their calving and breeding grounds in the warm protected waters of shallow lagoons in Mexico. Beginning in the 1970s or so, the whales of their own volition began to interact with humans.

Imagine the reaction of that first Mexican fisherman, Pachico Mayoral, who was fishing in his small open boat on the lagoon waters when he was approached by a huge gray whale that explored the small craft, going from side to side, until Mayoral was brave enough to reach down and touch it. And nothing happened. The whale stayed calm.

An entire ecotourism industry has sprung up devoted to introducing humans to whales – touching, petting, even kissing these wild whales! Let me know if you’d like an referral for the awesome tour group that hosted us in San Ignacio Lagoon. Peak season for whale watching is February and March. Our group camped in tents beside the lagoon, watched the whales cruise by our vantage point overlooking the water while the setting sun lit up the sky, voyaged out on the water in pangas (traditional Mexican small open fishing boats) to interact with the whales, and on the last day when a massive storm flooded the entire camp and washed out the local airport, we enjoyed a well-orchestrated impromptu adventure through remote Baja countryside in search of transportation home.

When we visited in February the juveniles were the ones that interacted most with the boats: five, six and seven year old young whales that delighted in gliding along the hull while excited whale watchers leaned over to touch them as they passed by. They opened their mouths, inviting us to touch their tongues. They rolled on their sides to peer up at us with a large intelligent eye. They would sink below the hull and pop up on the other side, teasing us. Then with the flick of a tail the young whales would race over to another nearby boat to flirt with those whale watchers in turn. Later in the season the protective mothers of the current crop of newborns would relax their guard and bring the babies to the boats, introducing their offspring to the interesting phenomenon of humans floating on top of the water in tiny floating shells.

What intrigues me the most is how their behavior has evolved through history. In the 19th century, the whaling industry discovered these nursery lagoons. The whalers cut off the entrances, trapping and slaughtering their quarry literally to the point of extinction. In self defense the whales became fiercely aggressive, earning the designation of ‘devil fish’ as they attacked their tormentors, smashing the boats with their tails or breaching out of the water on top of them. How, as the decades passed, did they revert from aggression to the charming playfulness they now display?

Since whaling days, gray whales have rebounded from the precarious edge of extinction. From a population decimated down to only 100 animals, in today’s world they number some 26,000.


Posted by Carol in Landscapes, Mexico, Seascapes, Sunrise/Sunset, Whales, 0 comments


I recently added a new collection of star-studded (literally) images to my portfolio, captured during a workshop in Maine’s Acadia National Park. The workshop focused on night photography, in particular the Milky Way. Did you know the Milky Way has a season? Here in the Northern Hemisphere its brilliant core, containing some 84 million stars, drops below the horizon in November and doesn’t appear again until next spring. Of course the workshop last June was orchestrated for peak viewing – and photographing – the glowing heart of our galaxy in all its splendor.

I’m not an especially accomplished night photographer but, with expert assistance from the group leaders, I came away with a collection of Milky Way images that I’m proud to add to my portfolio. The technique I was using to capture my shots required eleven minutes of in-camera processing per image – allowing me plenty of time to absorb the summer night air, the soothing rhythm of waves lapping the shore, and the sparkling infinity of stars overhead that we rarely see through the light pollution of civilization.

I added a new word to my vocabulary as well – airglow. Wikipedia defines airglow as “a faint emission of light by a planetary atmosphere.” Even in the dark of night, the sky may glow with softly luminous shades of green and magenta. With its sensitive electronics, combined with the long exposures needed for night photography, a camera is able to reveal more stars and more airglow than the naked human eye can see, making the results of night photography particularly satisfying. Those long exposures reveal the soft colors of airglow on the horizon and simultaneously transform the constant motion of the ocean and surf into an ethereal mist. The resulting images radiate with a magical light that shimmers between earth and sky.


Posted by Carol in Maine, Night Skies, Seascapes, 5 comments
Fire and Water

Fire and Water

January 2017

My sister Patty and I had booked this Hawaiian photography workshop well in advance, but right after the holidays I came down with a nasty bronchitis and a simultaneous knee injury. I was limping and coughing, generally feeling so under the weather that on the day before departure I was making plans to cancel. Luckily I realized at the last minute my symptoms had bottomed out and I was (barely) on the mend. Although certainly not at my best during the trip, I’m so glad I didn’t pass it up!

On Kauai the focus was on seascapes and beach scenes, where I concentrated on slow shutter technique that gives the waves and water a pleasing sense of motion while freezing the background into place. We started on the placid shores of Hanalei Bay near Princeville, before traveling to more distant beaches, each uniquely characterized by sand and lava rock. At Queen’s Bath a secluded tide pool fills and drains with the incoming wave action. Rogue waves have killed more than a few adventurers there, especially during the winter months when the sea is rough. We kept a safe distance but some more adventurous types were diving into the pool, giving our scenic shots a touch of human interest. On another day, a doors-off helicopter ride over the dramatic highland scenery of Waimea Canyon and the Napali coastline and cliffs provided a jolt of adrenalin along with dramatic aerial views.

The weeklong workshop ended with a side trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, where Kilauea Volcano dominates the landscape. Without a doubt, the highlight of the entire trip was a before-dawn boat trip to the Kamokuna coast, where a spectacular “waterfall” of lava from Kilauea was pouring into the ocean, creating a storm of fire and steam. Our captain maneuvered the boat close enough to the chaos that we could feel the heat and see floating chunks of hot lava sizzle in the water as they bumped against the boat’s aluminum hull. Hawaiian legend says that where lava meets sea, Pele the volcano goddess battles with her sister Namakaokahai, goddess of the ocean. This spectacular firehose of flowing lava had only appeared a few weeks earlier, on December 31, 2016, when several acres of built up volcanic delta collapsed unexpectedly into the sea, opening the lava tube. No one knew when it might suddenly close up again – making this opportunity exceedingly special.



Posted by Carol in Hawaii, Landscapes, Seascapes, Sunrise/Sunset, 0 comments
A Photographer’s Story – Revisited

A Photographer’s Story – Revisited

I wanted to repost a story I wrote a couple of years ago as the cover feature for Berthon Lifestyle, a yachting lifestyle magazine published in the U.K. It was one of those times when the words came together extraordinarily well to help me express what photography means to me, how I approach it, and why I share my images.

I have to admit I’ve been mildly depressed these past months as we put AVATAR up for sale and our cruising days have come to an end. AVATAR was my main photo platform for many a year and it’s been hard to come to terms with the loss of a lifestyle. But summer sunshine always gives my spirits a lift, so with this blog post I’m renewing my commitment to share my photography with you.

I hope you will take the time to read and enjoy A Photographer’s’ Story. I’ll be back in a week or two with another story, this time from Hawaii. It’s time to dust off the keyboard and get back to my storytelling.

Image: Fringing Reef #4 Wavelet | Suwarrow Atoll, Cook Islands, South Pacific

Equipment: Nikon D700, 1/45 sec at f/4.8, ISO 200, 14mm (14.0-24.0mm f2.8)


A dozen years ago, my husband and I surprised ourselves by making an impulsive, pre-retirement decision to purchase a bluewater sailboat located in New Zealand, ideally situated for exploring the prime cruising grounds of the South Pacific. My first (as it turned out, naive) impulse was to cultivate an artistic hobby to fill the leisure time generated by our idyllic new lifestyle. Many options – oil paints, watercolors, pastels – were discarded as too messy for a vessel’s tight quarters. Finally I settled on photography and embarked on not one, but two new adventures.The best camera, as they say, is the one you have with you. Photography on a boat can be pursued with a smartphone or a pro DSLR. It is neat and clean and portable, whether on deck or ashore or even underwater. Add a computer and appropriate software for organizing and editing the images, and the onboard studio is complete.

From the deck of a cruising yacht there is a wealth of inspiration and source material that ranges from scenic vistas to wildlife to foreign cultures. These days my photo platform is a rugged aluminum FPB64 motor yacht, supplemented by an aging much-loved inflatable kayak.

All it takes is one simple click to ‘take a picture’, a rectangle, destined to hang on the wall as a print or glow on a screen as a digital image or join a collection in a book. But as a photographer/artist I don’t want to just record a photograph. I want to create art, to meld technical material with creative insight, elevating that rectangle to a higher plane.

The equipment and software available today are sophisticated and powerful, but to transform photography into an art form requires more than just good tools. Is a great novel the product of a good typewriter? It takes more than a good camera to produce an artistic photograph.

My finished photo-based artwork results from multiple technical choices made prior to pressing the shutter button – lens selection, exposure, depth of field, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, dynamic range and more. On the creative side I incorporate composition, light, shadow, color, texture, gesture and motion, all to play their part in capturing the raw image, the first step.

Step two is the selection process that takes place in the digital darkroom (my computer) reviewing and culling to find those select images that resonate with my imagination. The third phase is post-processing, the judicious application of a variety of digital darkroom tools – software and filters, layered and retouched by hand to manipulate the image into its final form.

In the beginning I took a cyberclass that taught me how to get the most out of my Nikon’s buttons, dials and menus. Early on I learned the important camera techniques necessary to achieve the best results. But on a boat, many of those best practices are impractical. Focusing on a cavorting dolphin or a diving pelican while striving for balance on a boat navigating ocean swells is not an ideal scenario for keeping the camera steady. A shore expedition in the company of non-photographers is a source of irritation for those who don’t appreciate a 20 minute pause for setting up and composing the perfectly executed shot.

As a result I’ve learned compromises. On a moving deck I compensate by shooting at higher shutter speeds or raising the ISO setting. To keep my balance I bend my knees and widen my stance to absorb the shock. I jam my elbows into my ribs and mash the camera viewfinder into my eye socket for additional stability. Often I fire off a burst of photos knowing that one of the bunch will by sheer luck be more crisp and clear than the others. There will be a lot of throwaways, but a few will be keepers.

I do a lot of shooting from my kayak. It’s a soothing, soul-satisfying experience to rise just before dawn and glide silently in quest of a sunrise, or a seabird, or a village just starting the day. Again, the gently rocking boat and the low light of early morning limit my choices, demanding compromise.

A good image should relate a story to the viewer, not simply recreate a scene but instead share an insight into the very essence of what first captured the photographer’s imagination. It may be about how the interplay of light and shadow illuminates a seascape for a brief magical moment. It may be about reflections on glassy water, or how a bird’s feathers flare in flight. Perhaps it’s a story of village life, a new friend, a beautiful scene, or the devastation of a storm.

But there’s a second story that accompanies each image, and that is the story that belongs solely to the photographer. The travel, the gear, the camaraderie, the solitude, the discomforts, the challenges, the accomplishments – all are embedded into the making of that simple rectangle. Not just sight but also sound, touch, smell, even taste, are part of the experience. Whenever I review my work the memories come flooding back to let me relive the adventure once again.

To illustrate, this particular image tells the viewer the story of a mother whale helping her new calf breathe in clear blue tropical water. But for me it contains the hidden short story of how she first swam away from me, then changed her mind and returned to within touching distance of her own volition, lingering passively in the water next to me, eye to eye, observing me as I observed her, while her baby slept.

An even lengthier version of that narrative begins with a 6,000 mile journey to the tropical kingdom where the humpbacks congregate. It includes my history of previous whale-watching expeditions led by professionals, where I learned whale behavior and how to observe them in the water safely and respectfully. It is colored by a Sunday morning sail in search of a cooperative whale, and the frisson of excitement as I donned snorkel gear, grabbed the underwater camera, and slid into the water from off the stern of the boat.

Each photo, that deceptively simple click, is embedded with two stories, one for the viewing public and one for the photographer alone. To produce them with forethought, investing time and energy into making them the best they can be, is to embed that memory even more deeply into my being.

All photos are copyrighted and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.

Posted by Carol in Seascapes, Whales, 0 comments
Lighting the Path

Lighting the Path


Here’s another favorite from last week’s exploration of Sabino Creek with the water flowing, mist rising in the chill morning air, and rays of light beaming through the naked branches of the sycamores. I have so many winter portraits of bare-branched trees that I call them my ‘Dead Tree Collection’. There is a rhythm and poetry to the silhouette of bare branches against the sky, uplifted and graceful almost like dancers.

I did pay the price however. I have succumbed to some version of winter crud so, as I cough, blow my nose, and guzzle medicine, I’m keeping this post mercifully brief.


Sony a7RII, 1/800 sec at f/8.0, ISO 100, 70mm (24.0-70.0mm lens)

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.


Posted by Carol in Arizona, Landscapes, Sunrise/Sunset, USA, 0 comments
Sabino Creek Sunrise

Sabino Creek Sunrise


A new year, and back to my photography after a hiatus during the holidays. We’ve been having some lovely rainstorms with snow falling in the mountains. The result is that Sabino Creek, usually dry, is running again. We’ve lost our shortcut across the river, but the enhanced scenery is worth it.

This morning I woke before dawn and saw that a low fog was blanketing the creek. I knew the combination of the coming sunrise and the lifting mist would offer a rare photographic opportunity. I spent a couple of hours at the water’s edge, and even midstream (soaking my shoes) in pursuit of some landscape photographs to add to my portfolio. There were several keepers in the lot, but this one might be the favorite.


Sony a7RII, 1/500 sec at f/8.0, ISO 100, 25mm (24.0-70.0mm lens)

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.


Posted by Carol in Arizona, Landscapes, Sunrise/Sunset, USA, 2 comments
Winter Cottonwood

Winter Cottonwood



‘Tis the season for fall color photography! Of course here in Tucson fall color can be hard to come by. Plus the temperature hit 97 degrees just the other day – so it’s a challenge to get into the mood! But today is Halloween, tomorrow is the first day of November, and Christmas is right around the corner. So autumn it is and here’s an image to celebrate the season.

Cottonwoods are my favorite trees. We live along the banks of Sabino Creek, one of Tucson’s last living waterways, and so we are privileged to enjoy the ambiance of a riparian environment and we really do see a bit of fall color from the cottonwoods and the ash trees as they turn bright yellow before losing their leaves at first frost. But cottonwoods cling to their leaves for as long as absolutely possible, even if every other tree in the vicinity is stark naked. Usually the last cottonwood leaf falls in mid-December. The downside is that the raking season is extended by several weeks – and cottonwoods are massive trees with a LOT of leaves.

But by mid-February new leaves are already budding out in anticipation of spring, at least a month ahead of any other tree around. Personally I hate the chill of winter, even here in the desert southwest where snowbirds flock to avoid the real winter in the North and East. Those early budding cottonwoods lift up my depressed winter spirits with their optimistic forecast of spring.


Nikon D700, 1/250 sec at f/6.7, ISO 400, 340mm

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.


Posted by Carol in Arizona, Landscapes, Scenic, USA, 0 comments
Lighting the Lamp

Lighting the Lamp

We were cruising in the Bahamas early this year and one of our layovers was Hope Town in the Abacos. Hope Town is home to the iconic Elbow Reef Lighthouse, just a short walk from our marina berth. This classic red and white candy-striped lighthouse is over 150 years old and still in working condition. It is the last remaining kerosene powered lighthouse in the world.

This photo is a bit outside my usual style, but I thought it would be fun to share. The lighthouse attendant has just lit the lamp and he is watching to make sure the flame has stabilized. What makes this image work for me is the way his eyes are illuminated by the beam as the mechanism rotates. Handholding the camera in low light conditions is always a challenge, and it took several attempts before I was able to catch just the right angle as the beam passed over the keeper’s face.

The Hope Town lighthouse was built in the 1860s by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service despite vehement opposition from a local populace that had been profiting from a lucrative ‘wrecking trade’, luring ships onto the reef and salvaging the contents of the resulting shipwrecks. It took quite a long time to complete construction of the tower as repeated vandalism slowed progress.

Now, of course, the lighthouse is the pride of the island. It is even featured on the Bahamian $10 bill. The Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society works hard to raise funds to contribute to the maintenance and continued operation of the light, and vigorously opposes any effort to automate the operation. It is open to visit, free of charge, seven days a week. And, by request, the lighthouse keeper will allow visitors to come after hours to observe the lighting of the lamp shortly after sunset. This is a lengthy process that requires a period of slow heating before the light finally catches fire and begins casting its beam out to sea, slowly revolving as it warns ships away from the dangerous rocky coast. Another unusual job requirement for the lighthouse keeper is the task of winding up the mechanism every two hours, day and night, a process that has been going on without fail for the past 150 years of the lighthouse’s existence.


Sony a7Rii, 1/60 sec at f/4.0, ISO 3200, 25mm (16-35mm F4 AZ OSS), hand-held

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.


Posted by Carol in Bahamas, Humans, Night Skies, 2 comments
Caribbean Storm

Caribbean Storm

Confined to port on a day of blustery winds in the Bahamas, we elected to take a day trip to Harbour Island via high speed ferry that makes a daily round trip from Nassau to Spanish Wells to Harbourtown and back again. Wind and surging waves made it hard for the ferry to tie up to Harbourtown’s concrete sea wall, and as soon as all the passengers disembarked it made a hasty departure and we were informed it would not be returning for the afternoon run and that we would be taking alternate transportation home.

Harbour Island is known for its pink sand beach named, appropriately, The Pink Sands Beach, considered to be one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world. Despite the windy weather, due to the wind direction on this day the Pink Sands Beach was tranquil and calm, protected in the lee of the island even though the sky threatened on the horizon. Although we toured the island end to end (via golf cart), we lingered here the longest in pursuit of a worthy addition to my wave studies collection.

We were back at the dock for transport home by 3 p.m. Small but powerful water taxis loaded up groups of passengers and then took off at high speed straight into the wind and waves, crossing the strait between Harbour Island and Eleuthera Island in excellent form. On Eleuthera we were shepherded into waiting vans which then transported us some ten miles or so across the island, where we were shuttled again into another flotilla of water taxis that sped us back to Spanish Wells. Happy to have arrived at our final destination, we didn’t envy the Nassau bound passengers who were in for a rough ride home on the final leg.

Sony a7Rii, 1/400 sec at f/8.0, ISO 100, 200mm (FE70.0-200.0 mm f/4 G OSS), hand held

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy, but please respect.

Posted by Carol in Bahamas, Caribbean, Scenic, Seascapes, 2 comments
See You Later

See You Later



The summer of 2014 we spent cruising the chilly waters near Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Especially at the north end of the Johnstone Straits, near Blackfish Sound and Echo Bay, marine wildlife was abundant. We enjoyed multiple sightings of humpback whales, orcas, dolphins and more. I spent hours on AVATAR’s foredeck, wearing cold wet socks on my feet, trying to capture photos of these impressive creatures. Sometimes I scarcely knew which way to point my camera as the whales surfaced on all sides of us, announcing their presence with the whoosh of their exhaled blows. This humpback whale swam past our small open boat in Echo Bay, then showed his tail as he dove down deep. I was also captivated by the beautiful scenery, especially the way the mountains were silhouetted in the moisture laden atmosphere into multiple shaded layers. I count 15 layers in this photo – how many do you see?

Composite of two images:
Whale: Nikon D4S, 1/2000 sec at f/11.0, ISO 800, 180mm (80.0-400.0 mm f/4.5-5.6) hand held
Mountains: Nikon D4S, 1/1000 sec at f/11.0, ISO 200, 160mm (80.0-400.0 mm f/4.5-5.6) hand held


Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Please respect.

Posted by Carol in British Columbia, Canada, Landscapes, Marine Life, Scenic, Seascapes, Underwater, Whales, 0 comments