Eric J. Smith, a photographer, has a knack for being in the right location at the right moment. He’s always watching the environment with a camera in hand, looking for photo opportunities. When an opportunity arose on 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 blissfully ignorant of what’s next to them.
We had the opportunity to speak with Smith about the photograph and what it’s like to have his art circulate online. This is Smith’s second viral shot, the first of which also included whales. In the year 2015,
“I went to Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon in March of 2020, a week before the world shut down, to photograph migrating gray whales. I went there in 2017 and it really altered my life. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced to be able to have such intimate contact with those incredibly clever and friendly creatures. Tiny groups of people board pangas, or small motorboats, every morning to witness the whales,” Smith tells My Modern Met. “A mother and her kid, known as a ‘cow and calf pair,’ approached a panga with people from my camp in this photograph. The calf appeared towards the bow of the boat, drawing everyone’s attention forward.
A split second later, the mother appeared a foot behind the stern, performing a spy hop. She raised her head softly and stealthily above the water to take a look around.”
Smith, who was on another boat a few feet away, was able to take the shot before anybody else knew what was going on. And it’s a good thing he was quick, since the whale dived back below the surface just as everyone turned around. Smith felt he had something spectacular on his hands straight away.
“Happy accidents are rare,” he admits, “but I strive to place myself in situations where they are far more likely to happen.” “I also make it a point to always carry a nice camera with me because you never know when you’ll witness something incredible.” I can’t seem to stop myself from seeing the world in single frames. I’d rather be prepared to capture a memorable occasion than have it disappear from my mind.”
Smith is pleased to hear that the photograph is bringing people joy at a time 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 photograph to become viral in the last five years, and both of them include humans and whales.” I’ve been trying to figure out what this means, but these are the two that have really taken off out of the hundreds of images I shoot and share each year. I do know that when I’m out on the sea and there are whales about, I feel at ease.”
Eric J. Smith’s second “whale-centric” shot to become viral is this wonderfully timed whale watching snap.
Smith has more than 25 years of expertise as a photographer and director.