Thursday, April 29, 2010


Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Columbia River
Not a stunning flower year in the Columbia Gorge.  So when you can't shoot endless carpets of wildflowers, you have to settle for getting up close to the few flowers you can find...
Meanwhile, the May issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine in the UK features a terrific story by Mark Carwardine discussing honesty and ethics in wildlife photography.  I am trying to get a PDF of it to post here.  We need to continue, and expand, the discussion of digital manipulation and the use of rental animals; Mark's hard-hitting story does just that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Illegal logging in Madagascar

Marojejy National Park, Madagascar

Carte Blanche, a news program in South Africa (similar to our 60 Minutes) has produced a program highlighting Silky Sifakas and the illegal logging crisis.  You can view both segments at the links below:

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Own Backyard

Spring-fed Waterfall, Cascade Mountains

I live in a lovely part of the world, but often despair that I spend most of my time getting on airplanes bound for distant places - and never any time close to home.  Yet it was the mountains around Seattle that spawned my love of the outdoors, and informed my commitment to conservation.  So it's nice when I get a rare chance to poke around my own backyard a bit, and no time of year here is more spectacular than Spring when this green world really comes alive.  This weekend Marty and I just wandered - no other word for it - in a part of the state we'd never seen.
Say what you will about the rain in the Pacific Northwest, but its greatest gifts are the lush, inviting forests that cloak these hills and mountains, and the untold numbers of waterfalls.  This is one I found today:  a hidden gem.   I won't tell you its name, but this soggy part of the country has thousands of them.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, a day to reflect on the progress we've made in the past four decades, and the distance we have still to travel.  Both are enormous:  on the upside, the discussion of environmental issues has become mainstream, while organic food and electric cars are finally taking hold.  On the downside, world population continues to grow, and development seems out of control.  On balance, I think the discussion has moved significantly forward, which gives me hope...

Meanwhile, to celebrate Earth Day, the ILCP (Int'l League of Conservation Photographers) has created an exhibit of images they call the Top 40 Nature Photos of All Time.  See the pictures here.

It is an impressive collection - including (full disclosure) some that I voted for.  In my view, of course, a few of the pictures chosen don't rise anywhere near the level of "Top 40"... but that speaks only to the irrational nature of judging art: what could be more subjective?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pictures Have Value

Laysan Albatross, Midway Atoll

Almost daily, I am asked to provide pictures for free to non-profits and other groups.  Over the years, I have often obliged these requests, although they take time and effort, because I want my images to help save the animals and landscapes I photograph. Recently, however, the volume of these requests has increased dramatically and I have been forced to rethink this.  I now send out the following letter in response to such requests.  Harsh, perhaps, but the letter makes the necessary points:

As you may imagine, as a provider of high-quality imagery of rarely-photographed subjects worldwide, I am often asked to donate pictures at no cost to conservation groups and non-profits.  The truth is, I get FAR more requests for this type of use than from paying clients.  This is unsustainable.
 Although I often donate images for worthy causes and projects, and have throughout my career, I feel it is important that anyone that requests free pictures know several key points:

  - 90% of my work is self-financed.
2.     - I assume that 99% of those asking for images are on salary.
3.     - After working in this field for 25 years, being offered simply a credit line in lieu of payment is insulting.

 For these reasons, I must insist on a $100 service fee for ANY unpaid picture request.  This barely covers our time and overhead for scanning, delivering, and tracking images. Simply said, if your budget can’t absorb even this nominal charge, then you need to re-think your budget.  Pictures have value.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Saving the Silky Sifaka

I'm pleased to announce the new website about Silky Sifakas, or Simponas, with information on both their natural history and the issues that confront their survival.  Please visit the site and learn more about this remarkable animal : one of the Top 25 Most Endangered Primates on Earth. You will also learn about the largely uncontrolled logging that threatens this lemur's vital last refuge.

The site is:  Silky Sifaka

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dangerous Liaisons

I am often asked what is the most dangerous thing that has ever happened to me in nature, as if what I do is inherently risky or life-threatening. I never like to disappoint people, but my stock answer is this:  "driving to the airport."  The fact is that although there are real dangers in the wild world, I am vastly more afraid of humans than of animals.
Having said that,  in India last month I had one of those exhilarating experiences that reminds me simultaneously of why I enjoy what I do, and that...well, stuff happens.
I was following primates in a remote reserve in Assam, when my Indian guide turned towards me with wide eyes and whispered forcefully: "hati, hati!"  Hati is Assamese for elephant, and when one is coming towards you in the forest, it pays to go elsewhere.
I have seen loads of elephants before, but always from the relative safety of a vehicle.  By contrast, seeing an elephant while on foot is a sure-fire reminder of how puny we truly are.  I managed to get a couple quick shots of this approaching female and then happily retreated.  It is imperfect, perhaps, but to me carries all the heart-pounding excitement of that moment.  Driving to the airport may be more dangerous, but it is never this exciting...

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Gharial, Chambal National Sanctuary, India

I got home from India three weeks ago, and have spent almost the entire time since then catching up on editing.... much of it backlogged since before Christmas.  Nothing like being glued to a computer day after day!  I find the process unbelievably tiring, but I still can't farm it out to anyone else and insist on doing it all myself.  With a 8 frames-per-second motor drive, there are a LOT of pictures to go through.

Some days I have the same sense of excitement I had when I opened a yellow box of slides, finding a treasure I didn't remember taking - but most of the time, it is just hard bloody work getting the pictures to look consistent, bright and true.  (It doesn't help when my Photoshop decides to pack it in for a few days...)

The picture is one of those hidden treasures : an endangered gharial at dusk on an Indian riverbank.  The gold cliffs behind gave the water the most astonishing (and accurate) color.  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stories of the Obscure

You may not have heard, but 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity.  That's why I am making a special effort this year to support the work of Arkive -  a group in the UK that is creating an online educational database of endangered species.  For several years, I have provided them pictures - at no charge -  of many rare and endangered species from my collection.  They are still looking hard to find pictures of many species that are not big and sexy enough - unlike, say,  tigers and polar bears - to attract photographers.  
To find out more, go to ARKIVE.
 Photographers have a significant role to play in the conservation of vanishing species, especially animals whose stories are rarely, if ever, told.  Case in point : this little shrimp -- confined to a single tidepool, on a single island in the mid-Atlantic -- had never been photographed before, and gave conservationists a vital tool in trying to protect it.   A simple picture but an important one, which gives me considerable satisfaction.  
This is a big subject , one that I will return to in future.  I simply want to encourage photographers to go beyond shooting the same handful of popular well-known animals - and start looking for animals whose stories are still untold.  There is almost certainly an endangered species in your neighborhood;  if you can get the best pictures ever taken of that animal - obscure or familiar - you could make a real impact in ensuring its survival.  That is photography's special power. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

BBC "Life" Series

OK, a quick rant.  Is anyone watching the fine BBC series "LIFE" on the Discovery Channel?  I don't have cable so I am not, but I have seen clips, and was horrified to see that the US version has replaced the UK narration by David Attenborough with...Oprah Winfrey. 
Now I like Oprah as much as the next guy, but although she is a fine actress, here she always seems to be reading a script, not talking about something for which she has passion - or knowledge.  Does Discovery think we can't understand a refined British accent like Attenborough's?  Few narrators have his sense of timing, or enthusiasm, but Oprah doesn't even come close. 
( By the way, they did the same thing with "PLANET EARTH" a few years ago, replacing Attenborough with Sigourney Weaver.  Great in Alien, but dull as dishwater as a narrator.)
Anyhow, I managed to find a copy of the British version of Planet Earth on DVD, and will wait for the British version of LIFE as well.  
OK, rant over.  

Saving Madagascar's Forests

You may have seen my recent cover story in April's Smithsonian magazine on the Silky Sifakas of Madagascar.  As few as 100 of these endangered primates cling to a small area of highland rainforest in northeastern Madagascar.  

After a coup that left this poor nation in political chaos, loggers took advantage of the turmoil to move into national parks and extract valuable timber - especially the precious Rosewood tree. 

I spent a week following endangered primates in this remote area, and came across this illegal logging camp where rosewood trees had been cut down -   inside the boundaries of Marojejy National Park, one of the last refuges for the Silky Sifaka.  

Read about the latest here:      
Rosewood Logging Update

I am currently helping to set up a non-profit to support Silky Sifaka conservation in Madagascar : stay tuned for more developments.

Friday, April 2, 2010

OK, This time I mean it...

Hi all,  

I started this blog with the best of intentions several months ago... just before heading overseas for three months of continuous, largely internet-less travel.  Now I am home, and hoping to make this a regular part of my day: a chance to talk about pictures, projects and issues.  Wish me luck.

The trick will be making this different from my Picture of the Month feature:

There I usually tell a story behind a recent photo.  I hope you'll still go look there now every month : I will make note of when that picture changes here.

Other news?  I have dedicated the next two weeks to catching up on editing many months of unedited digital files.  This is all too easy to put off when the schedule gets busy, but now is the perfect time...

Finally, because every photography related blog has to have a photograph, let me add one here :  

I was delighted to have my Darwin's Fox appear in the March National Geographic.  I have been concentrating for some time on little-known endangered species, and few are more deserving of the name that this fox -- of which there may be less than 250 left on Earth.  Shot in the wild in southern Chile in early 2009.