Amateur Photographer Captures Video of Whale Swimming Under Surfers

Between apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram we are constantly being flooded with images and news stories.  For many photographers they hope and pray that one of the images they capture will go viral on some social media platform, launching their career.  For one young photographer that dream may have just come true.  18 year old Payton Landaas, a senior at San Juan Hills High School in Southern California posted an amazing video he captured with his drone earlier this month.  The video shows a massive whale calmly swimming through a group of surfers.  

Payton posted the video on a Facebook page called Capo Cares, a page that serves as a public forum for residents of the Capistrano Beach area of California.  On this page you will find information about community events, local weather and beach conditions, and pictures posted by community members highlighting their coastal life.  Since Payton posted his video it has gained tens of thousands of views and been highlighted by many news outlets.  Payton noticed the whale from some cliffs near his home.  He was looking out to check on the wave conditions when he saw the unmistakable poof from a whale spout.  As soon as he saw that he said, “I ran and got my drone and flew it out there.  Then it ventured out to Doheny, it was just cruising. I lost it a couple times, it dove down pretty deep.”

When the whale reached Doheny Beach it headed straight towards a group of surfers watching the horizon for the next set of waves.  The 20 or so surfers in the water were mostly unaware of the calm giant cruising below them.  A few of them noticed the whale when it released a small poof of air from it’s blow hole.  One surfer even quickly paddled out of the way as the whale came right below the surfer’s board.  But for the most part, it seemed as if the whale didn’t want to be seen, that it was simply satisfying it’s curiosity as to what these creatures floating on top of the water’s surface were doing.  Just as the whale reaches the last of the surfers and starts to descend into deeper water the video ends.

The battery on Payton’s drone was dying, so he had to quickly fly it back home so it wouldn’t crash, a very common obstacle for all photographers using drones.  The type of drone Payton used to capture this video was a DJI Mavic Pro, a favorite among drone enthusiast.  The Mavic Pro is one of the best selling drones on the market for several reasons.  It is easy to fly, is compatible with a wide range of accessories, takes unparalleled videos and photographs, and is portable.  With prices starting at around $800 it is by no means an inexpensive gadget, but compared to other drones comparable in quality it is very affordable. 

The whale that Payton filmed with his drone was a juvenile gray whale.  A full grown gray whale could reach up to 39ft long and weigh around 60,000lbs.  It is mostly the juveniles that come in close to humans out of curiosity.  It is the beginning of the migration season for gray whales in California, so their sightings should increase.  Other photographers have been lucky like Payton to capture whales closer to the shore.  In 2017 Mark Girardeau, a wildlife photographer, captured a whale cruising just off the shoreline with his drone.   While this past August drone photographer Matt Larmand posted a frightening video he captured with his drone of some hydrofoilers enjoying the day while a great white shark was within reach of them.  Mark’s video quickly had over 2 million views, while Matt’s racked up close to 500,000.

Payton Landaas still has several months before he graduates high school and chooses to either venture out into the real world or go to college.  He hopes to one day become a professional photographer, specializing in aerial drone photography.  He already has a website, StealthPhotos, featuring some of the photos he has taken with his drone.  Now that the video he took with his drone this month has gone social media viral, he just might be on his way to a career in professional photography.

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