Michael Gordon's Sea World San Diego Slide Show


START (click here)

START BIG ONES (click here) Same show, but zoomed 1024x768 throughout.

GALLERY (click here)

99 Photographs. Photographed by Michael Gordon with a Nikon 8700 digital camera. Each image is available in these sizes: 1600x1200 (huge), 1024x768 (big), 512x384 (the slide show itself), and thumbnails.

License. You may use these images for your personal collection (view, cache, store, reproduce) and for use by not-for-profit organizations. Beware that some types of usage may not be permitted in those cases where a corporate trademark is conspicuous (no doubt the reason that "Shamu Adventure" is prominantly displayed on the "Shamu Vision" screen) so enjoy the show but if you want to make a great advertisement with a whale, you'll need to negotiate with the owners on how to go about doing so.

Sea World is Shamu. Yes, a great many things are at Sea World, but take away Shamu and you have just another theme park. Lagoon in Utah has a raft-on-rapids ride ("Rattlesnake Rapids" I think it is called) pretty much the same as at Sea World; not to "diss" either, they are lots of fun. Then there's the Atlantis ride; that one is a doozy; won't get me on that without a double-dose of Dramamine I think but it sure does look fun. Many (most?) of the rides at Sea World are soakers, you'll get wet. One that won't get you wet is Wild Arctic. They don't tell you much before you go in so I went twice. All these warnings about not riding the "helicopter" if you are subject to motion sickness -- well, that's a relative term, almost anyone gets motion sickness if you keep up the motion long enough. So I went through the landlubber line (my word for it) and it was disappointing. But, you see, the ride and the movie is just the come-on, Sea World is a marine "zoo" where you can see a great many fascinating animals, birds and sea creatures and quite a lot of legitimate research is done here. So the rides and action is the sugar that brings in the tourists, and the rides are for the kids. Anyway, so I did the helicopter thing and it blew me away. It's a hydraulic simulator, probably capable of six-axis motion and it's BIG. People sit twelve across and I didn't count the rows, it's about square so maybe 8 rows. You are strapped in and electronic sensors detect if someone is not strapped in and the thing won't move until everyone is strapped in. Not only that, it is interlocked so you cannot let yourself go in the middle of the ride. Anyway, you have a big screen at the front and it is synchronized to the motion as if you were in the arctic in a jet helicopter and it can even go underwater. The ride part is thankfully short; it is very smooth, not jerky but the motion is substantial and two more minutes of it would have made me really sick. It was great!

But as I say, that's the sugar to get you inside. Once inside, then you are free to wander through the exhibit, which is that of extreme northern arctic climate. Much of it is a reproduction of the inside of the sailing ship Erebus which was on expedition searching for the Northwest Passage, got stuck in ice for more than a year, crushed by ice and the crew abandoned the ship and were never rescued. You will see a beautiful white Beluga whale swimming in what looks like an icy lagoon; it'll give you shivers even on a hot day. They have a polar bear and walrus; and windows allow you to see these things from above and from below the water. They also have rooms outfitted like an arctic research station that you walk through. You can explore the tunnels of a polar bear den.

The shark aquarium is quite impressive, too. You walk through a darkened theater with large ponds containing sharks, and wind blows across the surface to make it ripple. It also hides that under the water is a transparent tunnel and you go under the shark pool on a moving walkway (keeps people moving) under this pool. Very spectacular.

There's a 4-D show (3-D plus motion) but it is a splashy thing so I didn't do that, even though I love 3-D (stereo) photography.

Several times a day human performers give shows, and they are quite excellent.

Photographers' special considerations: The whale action is fast and unpredictable. I suggest you arrange to see the daytime show twice; once to get the photos you are able to get without prediction, then again to get the photos you missed because you didn't know what was going to happen. The night show is different than the day show and worth seeing. Photographing it is not very easy; a digital camera excels if you can dial up the sensitivity (I usually shoot at ISO 50, but for the night show I set it to 200).

Viewpoints: Good reasons exist to go to all five points of the compass on the semi-circle. The center of the stadium is an obvious choice although exact center is perhaps not optimum. The idea is to get a good slightly oblique photo of the whales on the submerged platform where they pose for a photo. If you are to the right a bit as you face the water, in the afternoon the light comes from the left and you'll get excellent shadows and contrasts, but the whale is already very contrasty so beware your exposure (suggest a -0.3 or -0.7 compensation) or the white parts of the whale will be obliterated by whiteness and you'll still not have detail in the black. If you are a bit to the left, then you'll have more even illumination on the whale; less dramatic but more informative. Do the show more than once and try it both ways.

At about 45 degree angles on the left and right sides you'll be straight-on for some flips, splashes and other interesting things. Straight-on is not always that interesting but it does look dramatic if the whale is spitting a gush of water toward you.

Then the most right and most left edges of the stadium are probably best for the flip-the-trainer-in-the-air act. What you are hoping to achieve is a clear view of a high-flying man or woman without clutter in the background and that is not very easy to do. You'll need to be low, possibly in the splash zone, even with the surface of the water perhaps. I haven't succeeded but if you "google" images of Shamu you'll see what I'm talking about. At least when I was there, the whales seemed to prefer to be facing south when jumping; either they were avoiding the sunlight in their eyes (which at the time was northwest) or that's always the way they do it.

Lighting: Not much you can do about lighting except choose the time of day and where you sit, and that's not easy to do because the exact show times are not published on the web and a phone call didn't produce answers either. Examination of the official Shamu website shows the showtimes that have been taking place and you can figure out the pattern. When I went, showtimes were 1130, 1430 and 1700; with a night show at 2115 I think it was.

Moving around to get angle and lighting works if you have seen the show a few times and know what is going to happen (or at least, you think you know what the whales are going to do, which is not always the case). It would be bad if very many people do this; if you are sporting an obviously expensive camera you will be more tolerated. On the halfway level where you can walk back and forth a blue line is painted. Stand back of the line away from the water; then you are not blocking people's view but if you stand forward (toward the water) of the blue line then you are blocking someone's view and an employee of Sea World will politely ask you to step back.

The first time you see the show; you might as well be a tourist, park it somewhere (just off the centerline to the right as you face the platform is a good choice) watch the show and get what photos you can.

Anyway, the lower angle of the afternoon show is more dramatic for photography, but beware, just how dramatic do you think a black and white glossy soaking wet whale needs to be and still make a good photograph? The answer is to go more than once and get some semi-backlit shots, very dramatic on the platform with the whale's mouth open full of teeth, and some front or oblique front illumination just so you can get some detail in the black parts. The 1130 show is probably best for the high-flying stuff, the late afternoon show is best for the swimming, splashing and show-off acts; you'll have richer color and better texture assuming you get any texture at all.

Digital Camera Shutter Lag and automatic repeat. I used the "continuous low" setting for the first session. This allows a brief view of each shot as you take them and is good for tracking. However, I found it way too slow to capture the fast action at the show, and I mean FAST. So the second session I used the "continuous high" setting and that can take five photos in about 2 seconds and you see none of it until its done with all five. That means if you are panning with the whale, keep panning even though you have very little idea what you are getting. On the second session I obtained some superb sequences; four or five shots of just one jump out of the water. It showed that the whale was spinning very fast on one straight up shot; the whale turned himself in the air almost 360 degrees before going back down in the water, and that ensures that everyone in the audience gets a good view of the whale no matter where you are sitting. It is amazing to me that the trainer also turns with the whale; he is balanced on the tip of the whale's nose.

Zoom: Be brave, zoom it in. Do a couple of wider shots to make sure you get the whale at all, but that's sort of an amateur way of doing it -- guarantee that the whale is in the photo, but it will also be a point-and-shoot kind of photo. So you need to zoom it in, reduce the clutter, but it is a LOT harder to get the focus right and framing right. Hint: prefocus on an object (pool edge) that is at a similar distance to what you expect to happen (and hope you get it right). Hold the shutter down halfway, then point to where you think something is going to happen. In that mode, which you can hold only for 15 seconds or so I think, the shutter lag will be almost nonexistent. Hint: Set color balance to "daylight" or pre-measure the color balance. Don't let the camera try to color balance everything; it is too blue mostly and you'll get some strange colors.

Clue for Nikon: Need a sports finder for the Coolpix 8700, 5700. The inner rectangle should represent maximum zoom, the outer rectangle the widest zoom. It would be slick if it could track the zoom but I don't expect that to happen any time soon.

The following pages constitute a slide show and photo selector.

The slide show itself is intended for sequential viewing of a collection of photographs.

Each page includes in its title bar, and underneath, the file name of the photo. This is useful when corresponding to someone about the photo.

To advance to the next photo: Clicking on the photo advances you to the next photo unless you are on a thumbnail or zoomed photo, in which case clicking it takes you to the 'normal' size.

Below each photo is a set of links (buttons) to advance, return, or exit the slide show.

To download an image: Right click the image and choose "save image as."

Each photo includes a button to ZOOM to a larger size. This size is intended to fill the screen for closer inspection, or for saving as a computer 'wallpaper', or for download to your disk for use in newsletters and other medium-resolution needs.

Each photo includes a button to zoom HUGE to the largest size. The largest size is typically 2,580 pixels wide (5 megapixel camera) or 3,200 pixels wide (8 megapixel camera). These sizes are suitable for full page printed advertising.

A thumbnail gallery is available for visually selecting photos. If you choose this option, clicking a thumbnail puts you into the slide show at the photo chosen; from there the slide show proceeds with the remainder of the show.