Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dolphins in the Trees

Amazon River Dolphin, or Boto - Rio Negro, Brazil
I spent a delightful few hours recently speaking with KUOW producer Sarah Waller, talking about my National Geographic story on the Amazon River Dolphin: about the highs, the lows, the challenge of story-telling - and the scary things that swim in the water. As a photographer, I find it unsettling not to have pictures available when I talk, so we will have to see how it translates to radio.  Have a listen at:   

Monday, May 7, 2012


Sunset and Shadows, Carrizo Plain NM, California

I have sorely neglected this blog recently, in favor of my
daily posts on Facebook - come along for the ride:
I will try and continue posting here, but there is
only so much time in the day...

Meanwhile, the story behind the picture:

I was waiting, unsuccessfully, for some kit foxes to emerge
from their den at sunset. They never showed, so there I was,
stuck with a 500mm lens on my tripod and a lot 
of time on my hands. It was a glorious sunset, throwing
shadows on the ridges of the Temblor Range (home
of the San Andreas Fault).
Normally, I would look for a classic “Sierra Club Calendar
Composition” with a wide-angle foreground leading to the
distant hills.But here the foreground was 
dull and already in shadow. So instead, I used what I had,
and looked for compositions through my 500mm lens.
The extreme focal length forced me to look at the landscape
as a collection of compressed patterns and light, 
almost an abstract: simply said, a picture that I could not
have taken with any other lens. The lesson: experiment
with the dramatic change in perspective that telephoto lenses
can offer – even when that’s not what you were after in the 
first place…
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 500mm F4 lens

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unexpected Gifts

I took my camera down to the beach this morning to get some shots of some Brant Geese I had seen feeding at low tide. I have been lucky with Brant recently, but I thought there might be some other possible opportunities.  What I hadn't counted on was this fellow - a Glaucous-winged Gull - that managed to tear a young seastar off of its rock. For the next half hour he tried to swallow it, mostly managing to look ridiculous. In the end, he got it down, but with the writhing bulge in his neck, he didn't look altogether happy with his choice...

Nikon D800, 500mm f4 lens

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chinstrap "Happy Dance"

Chinstrap "Taking Off"  
OK, he's probably only having a stretch (you get kinda stiff sitting on a nest that's buried under 2 feet of snow).  But this is just one of a host of penguin images that might make it into my new (old) book Penguin Planet. I have just signed a contract to produce a revised edition this year, with loads of new pictures, and the latest information on how penguins are affected by global warming etc.  Should be a fun project. No plans to head south and get new material, though, until after the book is out. I'll be back in Antarctica in early 2013 - details on that later.

The other news is that I have just taken ownership of the new 36 MP Nikon D800. Really, I couldn't resist a camera that shoots the equivalent of medium-format resolution, as well as HD video... Yes, I'm weak...

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens

Foxes in Motion

Young Kit Foxes at Play
Motion-sensor activated camera traps are great tools - they sit patiently all night waiting for activity, and then spring into action, capturing behavior that the photographer never saw. There are hitches, of course: when the wind blows every blade of waving grass can trip the sensor so that you get hundreds of pictures of grass - in a variety of poses.

Here, I set up a trap at the entrance to an active fox burrow, hoping to get glimpses of young pups. Boy, did I ever... They burst out of the burrow and, like all kids, ran around like mad for the next hour. Composition? Forget it?  Nice, graceful, "feng shui" arrangement? Nada. Of the nearly two hundred shots I got that night, almost all were unusable and, as you can see, this was deftly cropped to create a composition out of a madcap romp of pups headed in every direction. (That's Mom or Dad in the background, keeping an eye on things)

Low productivity, but good fun.

Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens, Camera trap

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back from the Wilderness

Dad Stands Guard at the Den Entrance
Just came out after 12 days in a very remote part of California, time spent following wild kit foxes. I saw them easily, emerging from their dens in the late afternoon, but photographing them was quite a different matter.  They are easily spooked, and retreat quickly to the safety of their dens.  Last year when I was here, I was able to get a few long-distance shots, but this time I wanted something more intimate. That called for camera traps. These are terrific tools, that have revealed the secret world of many hard-to-find animals. But they also have their limitations - the chief being you don't often have the pleasure of seeing your subject (or controlling the composition) of your photograph.

I figured out quickly that this den was active, and set out a camera trap at mid-day hoping, not only to get shots the following night, but also daytime shots, since these animals often come out and hang around before dark.  That worked perfectly here, as dad Kit Fox stood vigil, for 20 minutes, at the opening of his burrow. This was my favorite of a series of shots, a little fill-flash balancing well with the late-afternoon daylight.

Sometimes, happy mistakes were made. I thought I had found a new fox den, and set up my research motion-sensor camera nearby to see who was living there. This is a basic rig which gets a  simple b&w image, e.g. god for ID, but producing nothing publishable. In this case it revealed an enormous surprise - a badger!  I didn't have time to set up a high-quality camera, but maybe next time...:)  I never saw this handsome fellow, but was pleased to know he was there.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Camera Traps...gotta love 'em

Endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox...
You have to love camera traps. These tools allow the wildlife photographer to extend their reach into the world of rare and nocturnal animals, creatures that are almost impossible to photograph in the daytime.  No surprise that I have been employing them for my coverage of Kit Foxes in southern California.  It has taken me several days to locate the foxes, and determine which dens were active, and to get my cameras set.  Already I've had some near-misses, and some complete misses, in my search for pictures.  Witness this shot of a wild fox, passing by the camera and proving, once again, that these tools are not flawless and require A LOT of exposures to get one that works...

But the funniest (sort of) of the shots I got involved a the very strong winds that blew in from the Pacific over the last few days. I had set the camera up at what I knew was a busy fox den, looking forward to getting shots of them coming and going. As it happened, however, a powerful storm hit overnight - and the gale-force winds plastered a big tumbleweed right up against my camera trap.  With my motion sensor activated, every time the tumbleweed jiggled in the wind, I got another frame... In the end, I came away with 134 close-ups of tumbleweeds, and no foxes... Gotta love it...

Tumbleweed study #93
Still, hope springs eternal. I'll try again tonight...