Renaissance Big Shot, November 1998

Text and Photograph by Amos Nachoum

'I used Kodachrome 64 because of its fine grain and saturated color but rated it at ISO 80 to allow a smaller aperture and more depth of field' Jim, Paul and I entered the warm, clear water gently and quietly from the back of the inflatable. We were off Vava'u in the Kingdom of Tonga. Holding my breath, I freedived to 40 feet, then leveled off. When I looked up, there she was, only 15 feet away, casting a giant shadow over me. The fully grown 40 foot long Humpback was helping her one week old, nine foot long calf to the surface to take a breath of fresh air. I raised my camera to my eye and took several shots before my lungs demanded air. Since it would be impossible to illuminate the scene with strobes (the whales are too large and too far away) and because strobes would cause drag that would make freediving more difficult, the photo was taken with available light. I used a compact Nikonos III with 15mm lens. On a previous dive I had used a Sekonic lightmeter (mounted on a camera tray with my Nikonos) to check the midwater background, then opened the lens one stop so the dark parts of the whale's body would not turn black. The photo was shot at f/5.6, 1/125 second (the faster shutter speed freezes the action). I used Kodachrome 64 because of its fine grain and saturated color but rated it at ISO 80 to allow a smaller aperture and more depth of field. The southern population of Humpback Whales was almost wiped out by whaling. Because the comeback of the southern stock has been slower than that of the northern population, I call the image that appears here 'Renaissance.'