By now many have seen it: the photograph and video of the giant humpback whale as it leaps out of the ocean and flies a short distance before landing on the water, its entire body clearing the water's surface for a second or two. It was made by Craig Capeheart off the coast of South Africa on a clear July day. The video on YouTube alone was seen by over 10 million people, and millions more around the world have seen it embedded in news and social media websites.
Words like “incredible” and “amazing” have become clichés today as they are often used to inject excitement to boring items. But this, I think, is a case where bombastic words can be justifiably applied.
I saw a still photograph of the whale sailing through the air before watching the video, but I was unprepared for the shock of the new dimension that the video added. There is nothing in the video to suggest the sheer size – or scale - of the event; no boat or other hint to tell us how large this whale really is. Yet, every time I have watched the video and experienced the primeval force of that whale, it has made me sharply catch my breath.
I had never heard of Capehart until this event. Searching the Internet, I see that he is a diver and adventurer who shoots underwater videos. His FaceBook page indicates he holds conservative views and is a climate skeptic.
Be that as it may, that whale effortlessly raising its 40-ton body and sailing through the air for a split second – this image I cannot erase from my mind's eye.
As a photographer who focuses on birds, wildlife and nature, I find myself in a dilemma. Like many other photographers, I am constantly trying to make that very special photograph, the unique creation that artistic types call “The One.” Uniqueness often stems from showing what has not been seen before. And, yes, I have photographed whales, my best effort being the tail-flip of a humpback whale in Iceland. Whales capture my imagination, and I have always wanted to photograph more, perhaps catch them when they jump straight up from the water, or perform some other interesting, unexpected act, not caught on camera before.
Now I am left wondering: how on earth does a photographer improve on this flying whale? Should I, then, remove whales from my list of photographic aspirations?
Upon further reflection, my initial dismay, tinged with jealousy, gives way to hope. Every day we are bombarded by bad news, wars, injustices, disasters. Life on this planet appears on the cusp of calamity. We are supposedly in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction in the history of this planet - caused by Homo Sapiens. In the middle of it all, this example of Mother Nature dazzling us with her grace and prowess is like a breath of fresh air.
No, I will keep the whale in my list. I have a feeling that nature has many more secrets up her sleeve, and, who knows, if I am very, very lucky, one day she might reveal one for my camera.
(To see this video, search for “Craig Capeheart” in YouTube.)
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