Cameraman Captures Well-Timed Picture Of A Whale Creeping Up On Unwary Whale Watchers

Last year, photographer Eric J. Smith was shooting a whale migration when he caught this amusing shot of a stealthy whale appearing right close to a gathering of unsuspecting whale watchers.

Smith, a documentary photographer based in Los Angeles, went to Baja's San Ignacio Lagoon in March 2020 shortly before COVID-19 lockdowns to shoot migrating gray whales. Tourists visit the region as well, boarding tiny motorboats known as "pangas" to observe and photograph the whales up close.

We were fortunate to speak with Smith about the shot and what it's like to have his art propagate around the internet. This is Smith's second viral shot, and the first also included whales. In 2015, his photograph of a man staring at his phone while a massive whale rises from the sea became his first viral success. The 2020 image elicited a similar reaction and Smith told us a little bit more about the day it was taken.

“In March 2020, a week before the world ended I returned to Baja's San Ignacio Lagoon to shoot the migrating gray whales. I went there in 2017 and it transformed my life. The chance to have such intimate contact with those wonderfully clever and friendly creatures was unlike anything I had ever encountered. Every morning, small groups of people board tiny motorboats known as pangas to watch the whales,” Smith explained. “In this image, a panga carrying people from my camp is approached by a mother and her infant, also known as a 'cow and calf pair.' The calf appeared towards the bow of the boat, forcing everyone to gaze ahead. A split second later, the mother emerged a foot behind the stern, a maneuver known as a spy hop. She carefully and quietly raised her head above the water to have a look around.”

Smith, who was positioned in another boat a few feet away, was able to take the shot before everyone noticed what was going on. And it's a good thing he was quick since the whale dived back below the surface just as everyone turned around. Smith realized straight away that he had something exceptional on his hands.

“Happy accidents are rare, but I strive to place myself in situations where they are far more likely to happen,” he says. “I also make it a point to have a nice camera with me at all times, since you never know when you'll witness something great. I'm always seeing the world in single frames and can't seem to turn it off. I'd rather be prepared to capture a fantastic event than have it disappear from my memory.”

As the photograph spreads throughout the world, Smith is relieved to know that it is bringing people joy at a time when it is sorely needed. And he's still trying to figure out why these two images touched a nerve with him. “This is my second viral photograph in five years, both of which include humans and whales. I've been trying to figure out what this means, but these are the two images that have truly taken off out of the hundreds I produce and post each year. I do know that when I'm on the sea with whales, I feel at ease.”

Eric J. Smith's second popular "whale-centric" photo is this wonderfully timed whale watching the shot.

Smith has almost 25 years of expertise as a photographer and director.

Eric Smith: Website | Facebook | Instagram

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