Instinct and Opportunity

California Sea Lions, Channel Islands

Wildlife photography asks a lot of someone with a camera. In a heartbeat, you must freeze an instant in time, with both flattering light and an appealing design, with a subject over which you have entirely no control. Case in point: this shot of California Sea Lions taken at Point Bennett on remote San Miguel Island, California. On a guided National Park hike, I was allowed only a short time at this spectacular location, and in the middle of the day, so neither of the photographer’s essentials were available to me: light and time. Instead, I had to look for pictures quickly and instinctively, trying to fashion a composition out of a scene that was constantly changing.

Those of us who specialize in wildlife sometimes envy landscape photographers who, although they may have to scramble at those moments of peak light, often have their composition figured out and ready, waiting only for the gift of light. I rarely have a composition that sits and waits; animals have a perverse way of subverting whatever composition you carefully pick out. Here, I had to shoot from the hip, attracted by the combination of the four sea lions landing on the beach and the sprinkling of gulls. Together they made a coherent, appealing arrangement, one that lasted only a fraction of a second. As soon as I took this shot, everything changed, and the balance was gone forever. But I am grateful for that moment, brief as is was.

California Sea Lions, San Miguel Island, California
Nikon D800 with 80-400mm lens

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