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The Story Behind the Photograph

The Pink Salmon

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Packing for a trip is always a mental tug of war -- what to bring, what to leave behind. For our 2011 Humpback Whales of Southeast Alaska Photo Tour, and for the Coastal Brown Bears Photo Tours (One or Two)that would follow, I thought about bringing one of our EWA underwater bags in case I'd have a chance to shoot spawning salmon underwater. My plan, if I brought the bag, was to plant the camera, equipted with a Pocket Wizard remote, in a stream and to fire the camera remotely when I suspected fish were nearby. We decided the opportunities would be too few for the extra gear, and left the bags behind.

We didn't expect to walk up a teeming salmon streat on our whale tour, but we soon found ourselves motoring up a small creek to a bear dung-covered shoreline where we broke through tall, soft ferns and spikey-limbed Devil's Club to search for a likely spot for photographing the big schools.

We found a headwaters pool where the Pink Salmon had gathered before their final push upriver to spawn. The light was tough, as the pool was mostly in deep shade with patches of bright sky filtering through the surrounding spruce and cedar trees. I tried some natural light shots at a high ISO but the shutter speeds were still too slow and a school of salmon, even when moving at a relaxed pace.

salmonThe water was deep, and my EWA plan wouldn't have worked anyway. The bank where we had our best view was steep, as well, and I worried that I'd drop a lens or flash or filter and lose it in the deep. Since an underwater view was out, and a simple tight shot of the schools -- which I did -- wouldn't be much different than a hatchery shot, I decided to try to capture fish and habitat, incorporating the trees and shoreline of the opposite bank with the schools of fish in the foreground.

Fortunately, the shoreline was in shade so severe contrast wasn't a problem. Still, the fish and the pool were dark and the shutter speed slow, since I needed a polarizing filter to cut through the glare. Luckily I did bring a flash and off-camera flash cable ashore with me, although I can't remember what my original intentions were. By placing the flash on TTL and aiming the flash downward to strike the fish and not the entire scene I added enough light to the fish to add some color to their dorsal surface and really accentuate their silver sides and white bellies.

While using flash off-camera and a polarizer addressed the reflections and lighting, workingon the image in the RAW converter really enhanced the image. In addition to the usual Basic Tab adjustments, with temperature, exposure, brightness, etc., I also used the Adjustment Brush to paint in more exposure and brightness in the darker areas of the pool, which evened out the lighting and made the final image appear much closer to what my eye saw. It is amazing, however, how one's eyes/brain can poke through the reflections and essentially erase these bright distractions but the camera's sensor captures the literal view. Accordingly, there is a lot more work involved in capturing one's vision than simply seeing the shot.

Past Stories Behind the Photograph

The Raccoon

The Pileated Woodpecker

The Striking Rattlesnake