Hi, I’m Ross Long an ocean, adventure and lifestyle photographer based in Byron Bay Australia. I grew up in the South West of England in a small coastal town called Sennen Cove, Cornwall. The ocean has had a big hold on me throughout my life. I didn’t know how deep this hold was until I moved from Cornwall to London to pursue a corporate career in finance. After 6 years in the rat race, I felt disconnected and the pull of the ocean drew me back, but this time it was not to the Atlantic Ocean but to the Pacific Ocean. I moved to Australia in 2016 and over that duration I have gone from full-time accountant to full-time photographer and ocean conservationist.
This image ‘ Following the Tracks of an Elder’ was captured on Wilson Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. I was on assignment with Queensland Tourism capturing images for a tourism campaign that would encourage people to visit the island. This campaign took place in January which is right in the middle of the green turtle hatchling and nesting season. Green turtles will make their way up the beach during the night when it is high tide. On this particular morning, high tide was quite late in the night so the chances of finding adult green turtles nesting in the morning was quite high because the nesting process takes a couple of hours.
To nest as a green sea turtle is quite the ordeal. They drag their heavy bodies over dead coral as they make their way up the beach towards the sand dunes. Once they reach a suitable location, they will look for an ideal nesting ground and then use their flippers to dig a body pit and a chamber to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, space is limited on the island and there is high demand. This means that one adult green turtle’s nest is another green turtle’s graveyard. The turtles will often dig up other turtles’ nests as they lay their own. This will either result in damaging the eggs or digging them up where predators will then take them. In some lucky instances a nest will have had long enough to incubate and the disruption by a nesting adult will cause them to leave the nest and make their way to the ocean. This is what I believe happened here.
This particular adult green turtle had finished laying her nest and was making her way to the ocean when a single green turtle hatchling emerged from its nest and made its way down the beach. I could see that the hatchling was heading in the same direction as the adult green turtle and I quickly adjusted my settings and waited in the perfect position for the hatchling to pass. When the hatchling caught up with the adult, I carefully waited for the right moment and made sure my focus was locked on to the hatchling and then fired off a burst of shots. What I love about this image is that it embodies nature’s beauty and the triumph of life’s journey. It is one of a kind. I love the juxtaposition between the sizes of the hatching and the adult. It demonstrates the long journey that awaits the hatchling to reach maturity and also the growth it will experience over its journey. It is a testament of resilience and the 1 in 1000 chance of making it from hatchling to adult.
I never imagined that this shot was a possibility. I had thought once before what are the odds of something like this happening, but generally hatchlings appear from their nest in the evenings and during the night as the sand cools down and adults often come to shore to nest during the night and return back to the ocean at dawn, therefore it is not a common instance to have an adult and hatchling together.
I captured this image using the Sony A7RIII and my Sony f4 70-200mm lens. I had two cameras with me that morning. This and the Sony A7iii with a Sony f2.8 24-70mm. I chose to use the A7RIII because I knew that with the higher megapixels, it would allow me to crop the image if I needed too. That was not the case as fortunately I had the f4 70-200mm attached which had enough reach to really focus on the hatching. The 70-200 f4 was also the perfect choice of lens because I could not go any lower than f4 and that ensured that the adult turtle was blurred only slightly so you can still make out its details but your eyes are not fully drawn to it. If I had my f2.8 70-200mm GM attached, I would have lowered my aperture rather than increased my ISO and I do not think that the adult turtle would be as detailed as it is.
I used the following settings to capture the image: ISO 800 – 130mm f7.1 – 1/500 sec The most important element of this photo was nailing the focus and making sure that it was on the hatchling and not the adult turtle or the sand in the foreground. I used the Flexible Spot: L focus area and lock on auto-focus so that it wouldn’t lose focus as the hatchling was moving. Turtle hatchlings are very small, the size of the palm of your hand and move very quickly. It was important to keep focus on the hatchling as it is moving at speed. In addition to focus, the shutter speed was also a crucial setting and needed to be fast enough to freeze the hatchlings’ flippers. It was also important for me to get down low so as to give the perspective of how small the turtle hatchling was against the adult.
I edited this photo in Adobe Lightroom. I wanted to maintain a documentary style image so I was very light on the editing. Capturing the story was the most important aspect of this image so editing was not an essential part of the process. I made sure to capture the picture as perfectly in camera as possible so that I would not need to do too much editing in post. I made basic corrections to the levels and minor colour corrections to reduce the yellow hues and bring out the brightness of the image. I wanted the sand brighter as a way to show hope for the hatchling as this image reflects a moment of hope and its 1/1000 chance of survival.