Behind the Scenes

The day I was almost swallowed by a Humpback Whale

“Sea Lions!”, my friend Tom yelled to me, barely audible over the chaotic roar of thirty lightning quick flippers, surfacing and disappearing in a boil of water to my right. Then one thumped into my kayak hull and I knew I had maybe 10 seconds. I pulled my camera away from my face, laid it sideways on my lap above a pool of saltwater on my skirt. 6 seconds… I nabbed my paddle, flipped it and planted it into the water with the awkwardness of going too fast.

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I could suddenly hear myself breathing as my heart became audible and I pushed backwards with a stroke. 3 seconds… A few more strokes and my kayak gained momentum and slid, frictionless, through the water, away from the sea lions. And then suddenly the sea lions vanished beneath the surface.

A quiet moment passed but I kept paddling, then swiftly raised my camera with one hand. Suddenly, the ocean in front of me burst open as three humpback whales lunged, enormous jaws agape, straight out of the water where I had been moments earlier. Those 50 ft whales with jaws 15 ft long pushed up and footlong anchovies shot everywhere, sparkling silver amidst white foam. That’s the goal. They were here for the anchovies. We were here for the whales.

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In Monterey Bay, California, anchovies school in large numbers and attract humpbacks who feed on them through a technique known as bubble-netting. The whales swim around a school in circles, releasing a steady stream of air bubbles. The fish won’t cross this wall of bubbles and become corralled into a tight ball, at which point the whales dive deep and come up, mouths wide open, swallowing ocean and prey alike.

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Tom and I had paddled out in our handmade traditional kayaks, having noticed the rare coincidence of a small ocean swell and whales not far offshore. We shot out of the marina a few hours before sunset, fully loaded with photo gear. Straight out of the gate we heard them blowing, the smell of a fish market lingering in the air.

Minutes later, a lone humpback surfaced in front of my bow, ten feet away. I stopped paddling and braced, one hand on my paddle, the other on my camera. It snorted and blew a fine mist sky-high, which landed all over my kayak and lens. I was still clicking despite my heart having stopped beating.

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An hour later, we spotted a group of feeding humpbacks and paddled to about 100 yds away, careful to avoid disturbing them. From afar I watched and learned the patterns of their behavior— first the whales would dive, exposing their tail flukes, and then the sea lions and pelicans would start diving in a frenzy. Moments later the humpbacks would come crashing out of the deep blue as they inhaled and strained anchovies through their baleen. The thing about wild creatures, though, is that they don’t stay put very well. The whales moved around us as I watched, and then they were amongst us.

Truthfully, despite having paddled thousands of miles in beautiful waters and having had lots of wildlife encounters, this one tops the list. To be in the gaping maw of wild creatures in their environment is a bit transcendental. As a person, I died that evening, and was born again, like a sudden gust of wind or a wild thing on a wild sea.

Filming Goshawk Nestlings by Remote Camera

I sure do love my job. I spent the night over in the goshawk woods east of Seattle about 100 miles, woke up, and worked with falconer Aaron Allred to install a remote camera. Aaron did a tree climb about 100-150′ up and placed the camera at a terrific angle and we ran 500′ of cable to our blind to kick back and watch the goshawks get fed and grab some terrific footage. Here’s a quick glimpse.

Interviewed by Shoot for Thrill Podcast

Shoot for Thrill

Last month I was interviewed by Chris Smith (@theecjsmith), Founder & Host of the Shoot For Thrill Podcast. The podcast is one of the top podcast in iTunes and focuses on successful photographers that are at the top of their craft who desire to spur on inspiration and action in others. There are some great interviews with some fantastic shooters on there, such as Joel Grimes and Delphine Diallo, definitely worth listening to.During our podcast we talked about my personal background as a developing photographer, the path to inspiration through personal work, the need to assist, and the business side of commercial photography.In the interview Chris drew out of me not only my story, but also some struggles I went through, successes I found, and we even talked about some of the gear I use. I would love for you to hear the story of my journey. Take a listen below and let me know what you think. http://shootforthrill.com/kiliiifish

Gear and Photo Prep: Deep in the Mountains in Winter

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Hey friends, it’s been a intense few days! My assistant Dalton and I were up at 8500 ft in the Enchantment Lakes shooting a new campaign about wilderness survival. More on that later, but I thought I’d share with you some of the gear preparations it takes to go up and shoot at elevation in the mountains in the winter. Shooting up there can be really challenging but the landscapes are truly mind-blowing and the mountain goats unbelievably persistent. Makes me miss my days running survival courses in Oregon. So what did we pack and how the hell did we get our packs down to 35lbs each while carrying all our camera gear and delicious food?  (more…)

Clear Water- Poster for the film about the Suquamish relationship with the sea

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to work with Tracy Rector and Longhouse Media on the promo poster for their new film, Clear Water. Longhouse Media’s an unusual media company– awarded by National Geographic for their work on films about indigenous peoples and minority issues.

As a young indigenous photographer, it was great working with both elders and younger Suquamish tribal members to produce their portraits– it felt like doing important work. I felt like I was catching a brief glimpse in time as the Suquamish continue to blend the modern world with their strong culture.

One woman still freedives for Geoduck clams, some 30ft down in the icy waters of the Salish Sea (Puget Sound). Amazing, and such a strong spirit. I hope that with these portraits I can share some of that strength with you.