Eric J. Smith, a photographer, has a knack for being in the right location at the right time. He’s always watching the world with a camera in hand, looking for photo opportunities. When an opportunity arose during a whale-watching expedition in Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon in March 2020, he was more than ready. His shot of a mother whale poking her head above water has gone viral, and the whale-watchers appear completely unaware of what’s next to them.
We had the opportunity to speak with Smith about the photograph, and it’s like to have his art circulate online. This is Smith’s second viral shot, the first of which also included whales.
His first experience with viral popularity came in 2015 when an image showed a man staring at his phone while a gigantic whale rises from the water. The 2020 shot elicited a similar response, and Smith told us a little more about the day it was taken.
“In March of 2020, the week before the world shut down, I returned to Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon to photograph the migratory gray whales. I had been there in 2017, and it changed my life. The ability to have such close contact with those amazingly intelligent and friendly creatures was like nothing I had ever experienced.
Every morning, small groups of visitors board small motorboats known as pangas to see the whales,” Smith stated to My Modern Met. “In this photograph, a panga with people from my camp was approached by a mother and her baby, known as a cow and calf pair.’
The calf made an appearance near the boat’s bow, causing everyone to look forward. A second later, the mother emerged a foot behind the stern in a behavior called a spy hop. She slowly and silently stuck her head high above the water to look around.”
Smith, who was on another boat a few feet away, was able to take the photo before anyone else knew what was going on. And it’s a good thing he was quick since the whale sunk back below the surface just as everyone turned around. Smith felt he had something spectacular on his hands right away.
“Happy accidents are rare, but I try to put myself in scenarios where they are much likelier to occur,” he expresses. “I also make it a point to have a good camera with me at all times because you never know when you’ll see something amazing.
I’m always viewing the world in single frames and can’t really turn it off. I’d rather be ready to make an image of a great moment than have it fade from my memory.”
Smith is pleased to know that the photograph is bringing people joy when it is sorely needed. And he’s still stumped as to why these two photographs struck such a chord with him. “This is my second viral image in five years, and both of them involve humans and whales. I’ve been trying to figure out what this means, but out of the hundreds of photos I make and publish every year, these are the two that have really taken off. I do know that when I am on the water in the presence of whales, I feel at home.”
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Eric J. Smith’s second “whale-centric” photo to become viral is this perfectly timed whale watching photo.
H/T: [My Modern Met]
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