Paddling with a Seal — Thoughts on Backcountry Photography

Post by blogger | July 31, 2012      

Editor’s note: many of you might remember guest blogger Caleb Wray from our Denali blogging epic a few years ago. Caleb’s a good photographer so we roped him in for a series of photography posts over coming months. Enjoy.

Pouring rain, paddling against the tide, and then a spirited seal jumps onto the spray skirt. Can’t make that up, no Photoshop back then.

A standard day in the Prince Williams Sound, AK?

A standard day in Prince William Sound, AK?

Photography is as much a part of my backcountry experiences as reaching a summit. My companions don’t always understand it but I get more satisfaction from a great shot at 8,000 ft than I do from standing at 20,000 ft.

Don’t get me wrong, I have missed many image opportunities once the Dynafits are locked in and skiing bliss takes over my mind. But memories fade quickly and a nice photo is the ticket for a quick recollection.

We photography enthusiasts spend a lot of time and money on the craft, but my kayak seal photos always remind me that interesting images are more about being there than what we shoot with. In the old days, photographers called it “F8 and be there.” These days, that adage is probably “bring whatever device you have that contains a camera, and use it.”

Doing this is easy at your sister’s birthday party but might be a little tougher when you’re in the outback. Thus, it’s mostly a matter of habit. To assist building the habit, make sure you have a method of carrying your camera that makes it fluid to access. Also, take measures to prevent “camera paranoia” that causes you to miss shots because you’re afraid of messing up your expensive little box of electronics. Such measures could include having damage insurance, a waterproof housing, or just figuring possible destruction as a cost of doing business.

I took the seal photo a decade and a half ago with a cheap point and shoot film camera. Though the quality isn’t respectable (I was broke), the moment was priceless. Needless to say, my partner was forbidden by the teeth of a seal from paddling. I eventually managed to coax the big fish-eating mammal off the kayak so we could gain a foot on land. We still don’t know why she chose a Somali pirate boarding tactic but it sure made an interesting photo.

Again the point being: have that camera ready and use it. A seal might jump at any time.


Marooned. It rains in Whittier as much as it suns in Colorado and the camera died shortly after these photos were taken. The moment was worth it though!

(WildSnow guest blogger Caleb Wray is a photographer and outdoor adventurer who lives in Colorado and travels worldwide. He enjoys everything from backcountry skiing to surfing.)


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6 Responses to “Paddling with a Seal — Thoughts on Backcountry Photography”

  1. Joe July 31st, 2012 12:51 pm

    Classic photo!

    Love the look of older point and shoot prints.

    Funny how a $30 camera takes the same photos as a $400 iPhone with a $4.99 filter app.


  2. Caleb Wray July 31st, 2012 1:16 pm

    Correct Joe! And in the middle of nowhere Alaska, the fancy iPhone’s wet demise would likely have resulted in total loss of the images long before I was able to update the world via social media.

  3. Anton July 31st, 2012 1:57 pm

    I think I’ve got some good shots of your camera carrying method from Japan. It works even though you look 8 months pregnant.

  4. Lou Dawson July 31st, 2012 2:12 pm

    I’d agree on the lead photo, it’s super good, even the raw point-and-shoot look is perfect for it. Like, I caught the moment! The flash causing foreground backcountry separation is a bit harsh, but it still works with the overall effect. Could easily be tuned in various ways with minor Photoshop work. Terrific as is. Lou

  5. Robert Berceli August 1st, 2012 11:41 pm

    Great PO! My first guess is PWS but could well be BC or SE AK. I paddled 120 lb of Malamute on many trips in a Mad River Revelation. Closed cell foam pad to keep him from the bilge water, but rarely did he look that comfortable!

  6. Mark W August 2nd, 2012 5:43 pm

    Amazing animal shot! Bet that has not happened to many paddlers.

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