Every photo excursion has surprises. What’s unexpected is part of the fun. Then sometimes a plan is completely foiled, but you win a consolation prize. That was the case earlier this year on a guided tour of Año Nuevo State Park in California.
It was my second trip to witness and document one of the largest breeding colonies of northern elephant seals in the world. Every December through March they gather on shore after months at sea to birth and breed new pups. Tours are required for safety and I highly recommend taking one if you’ve never visited.
My tour time slot was late in the day. It was mostly cloudy and very windy. When the sun did pop out, I was forced to shoot directly into it, fighting high contrast and difficult shadows. While I did capture some intimate moments with the seal pups, I already knew there wasn’t much to get excited about, especially compared with my previous visit. Regardless, the visit is a great experience.
Before heading back to the car, I took a detour onto Cove Beach. The tide was out and the beach was wide open. I could see a few stray elephant seals stretched out on the sand. They were young bulls, tired after long breeding battles with other males. On my way down the steps I passed a couple surfers.
I’ve never thought of Año Nuevo as a surfing hotspot. The walk from the parking lot to the beach is probably a half mile or more, but I guess a good break will always draw a crowd. I snapped a few photos of the seals, but quickly turned my zoom lens to the surfers. The late day sun was beautiful, hitting the ocean spray just right, while the silhouetted surfers carved up and down the beach.
Capturing surfers isn’t my typical subject matter, but the action and setting was ideal. There was some real talent on display, as you can see from my favorite sequence that day. It was a joy to watch and I left the beach feeling pretty stoked.
Here’s a photo from my 2019 excursion to see the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo.