Friday, May 28, 2010

Hawaiian Princess...

There is no such thing as time off for a nature photographer...even when spending time with our grand-daughter Maya.  A dreary, rain-soaked day on the Oregon Coast was brightened considerably by this young hula dancer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Icons of My Own

Punchbowl Falls, Columbia Gorge

After railing in previous posts about the futility of chasing icons, I chased one of my own today. Few waterfalls in the US are more well-known or widely-photographed than Punchbowl Falls on Oregon's spectacular Eagle Creek. But since my companion Steve had never been there, I was all too pleased to introduce him to one of my favorite corners of the Northwest. We were lucky enough to get there just between two downpours. 
The rainfall from the last few days had swollen the creek somewhat, but the handsome shape of the falls was still evident. Either way, we had to wade out into the middle of stream to get this view. Eagle Creek flows from the snowy slopes of Mt. Hood, and we spent a good hour standing in the bone-chilling water. Painful, but worth it.
I last photographed this falls - on Fuji Velvia! - almost twenty years ago. Seeing it again today was like visiting one old friend, in the company of another. All in all, a good day.  

Nikon D3, 24-70mm f2.8 lens

Monday, May 24, 2010

Change in Plans...As Usual

We had planned to photograph the coast...but persistent rain and clouds made that largely a waste of precious time. So, instead, we headed inland to look for waterfalls, at a time of year when they are at their most spectacular. In a remote canyon in southern Oregon, we found this beauty - 150 feet tall, yet surprisingly graceful. You may notice that the top of the falls is cropped off - that's because the sky was gray and lifeless, and only subtracted from the image. (There may be purists who hate pictures that cut off the top of people's heads - and the tops of waterfalls - but who cares?) 
Finally a technical note. I had huge problems with sharpness today: a combination of an unstable tripod collar, a smudged polarizer and, most likely, an impatient photographer. This should serve as a reminder that photography is not just about color and design but also about reducing variables. There are any number of technical issues that can subvert even your most artistic efforts, and solving those can make the difference between a fine image - and a lost opportunity.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens, Polarizer

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dodging Downpours

Vine Maple, Redwood National Park

We came for the rhododendrons. But we either came too late...or too early...or whatever...but there were simply no rhododendrons blooming. And to make matters worse, the normally stable May weather on the Redwood Coast was replaced by what felt like a winter storm: temperatures in the 40s and soaking rains.  Miserable.  Undaunted, Steve Shuey and I spent the day trying to find pictures in the stunning but chaotic redwood forest.  The most appealing subjects were vine and bigleaf maples, all covered with luscious new foliage.
Yes, I have been shooting a LOT of green lately.  It may be time for another color...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Seat-of-the-Pants Sunset

Sunset, Crescent City, California

It was a classic photographer's dilemma; the sun dropping toward the horizon and we were in a new town with no idea of a good place for sunset. A quick check of the maps, and a chat with a local or two, produced a couple of ideas -- but none panned out.  So instead, we went on instinct and raced towards a cluster of distant seastacks.  Just in time: we found a spot just moments before the sun disappeared behind an unexpected cloud. Not a prizewinner, but not bad for a last-minute save.  Now it was time to see if the Mexican restaurant was still open.

(Photo note: a quick Photomerge panorama)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Orderly Chaos

Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

Another image from my recent trip. One of the greatest challenges of shooting in this Northwest environment is the utter chaos of the forest. There are branches at all angles, crazy shadows and highlights: frankly, it's a mess. But sometimes, out of all that chaos, a design emerges - a completely unexpected sense of order. That's how I think of this shot. Maybe not as simple and bold as the ones I showed before, but one I keep coming back to. I am beginning to think that while some pictures jump out at you, others mess with your head, demanding more work from both the photographer and the viewer. This is a picture you can get lost in - and maybe that's a good thing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chasing Clouds and Dodging Trucks

As I predicted, the forecast storm never arrived this morning, so I bagged returning to the Hoh Rainforest and headed back to Lake Crescent where I played with more mossy trees and lake water.  Pretty stuff, pure design and color.  I don't know why I've never bothered to shoot this area before: probably because it's a place I'm always driving past on my way to somewhere I think I want to be...
On the way home in the afternoon, the rain finally arrived - too late to drive back to the Hoh - so instead I took a short detour to see if the wild rhododendrons were blooming on Mt. Walker. This is the best place in the state for rhodies, and they didn't disappoint.  But lest you think this is a tranquil scene of remote wilderness, I should tell you that these flowers (actually both these shots) were taken from the shoulder of a very busy Highway 101. To be honest, my biggest photographic challenge was the gusts of wind caused by the endless line of passing logging trucks - a sobering reminder of the fact that on the Olympic Peninsula, if it isn't protected, it's gone.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Paradise in Green

Moss-covered Maple, Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

This is prime time in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest, the brief window when everything is bursting with spring green. It is an amazing time of year, and I always try to make time for it, even if it means going back to places I've been many times before, like the Hoh Rainforest on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula.  That was my goal today, but as often happens, I got waylaid....this time along the shore of lovely Lake Crescent. This is the only place I know with mossy trees and a luscious blue-green background, and conditions were perfect.  The light was soft overcast, the water still, and there was not a hint of wind. (Trust me, this never least not to me.) In the end, I happily burned up an hour or two here - so by the time I finally got to the Hoh, the sun was out, the wind had come up, and I got nothing.  So it goes.  I may try the Hoh again tomorrow, but then again, I may find something unexpected on the way to something familiar.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Good, Bad & Ugly

In the past, I have been accused of having taken this beluga picture in an aquarium (too close, too perfect) instead of - as it was - freezing my head off, hanging upside down, in an icy river in Manitoba.

I mention this as an introduction to the idea that our audience (the public) is growing ever-more jaded by the prevalence of unethical behavior on the part of nature photographers - taking short-cuts, passing something off as real that isn't.  (See my previous post today for only the most recent, but outrageous, example.) Simply said, digital manipulation and the use of captive animals continue to undermine the impact and value of photography as a true record of the world around us.  Soon, no one will believe anything anymore.

 As promised last week, I have created a link to a timely article on this subject from BBC Wildlife magazine, written by my friend Mark Carwardine.  In it, Mark talks bluntly about ethical behavior, and the value of integrity, in a piece that is very refreshing. Since many people in the US will not see the story, I suggest having a look at it here.

Ridiculous...and obscene

"Incredible" Cat Pictures  - LINK

My friend Mark Carwardine in the UK sent me this link today to a photo story that is circulating through newspapers in the UK, showing a series of "incredible" pictures of lions, tigers and leopards -- all
shot, by the way, in Montana.  (Tigers in Montana?  Oh my...)
The pictures are the usual trite stuff of snarling animals, meant to suggest they are about to attack the photographer.  But the worst part of the whole thing is the text in which the photographer "risked his life" to get these pictures of "wild beasts." "It could attack at any moment," he is quoted as saying.
I don't know where to begin in my comments:  This is so dishonest at every level  that it would be laughable... if it weren't reaching millions of people who may actually believe this crap.  The animals are nothing more than cats-for-hire intentionally harassed to elicit a "threatening" response.  I find this kind of photography truly obscene.
 The photographer (Jonathan Griffiths) should be ashamed of himself, but even more so should be the "news agency", (Solent ) for passing this off as "wild."  It does all photographers, journalists - and the public - an enormous disservice.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Save the Forest Now

Trillium flower, Whidbey Island, WA
Land development is typically a one-way proposition; once habitat disappears under pavement or into private ownership, it vanishes forever. It is rare, therefore, that a chance comes around to protect a significant area of forest habitat close to urban areas from the inexorable spread of development. But that's the great opportunity of the "Save the Forest Now" campaign, whose goal is to buy and protect a 664-acre parcel of forested land - the Trillium Property - on Whidbey Island, Washington, just north of my home. Opportunities like this just don't come along very often. They must raise 4.2 million dollars by June 10.  I am pledging money towards this effort, and I encourage you to do the same.

Monday, May 10, 2010

High-Impact Photography

WWF "Tarzan" 
This picture reflects a theme I talk about a lot, e.g. the power of photography to promote conservation.  In fact, I am scheduled to give a lecture on this subject next week at the Seattle Zoo and had been looking for images to make my point... That's how I stumbled onto this one.
Typically,  I talk about the use of beautiful images of landscapes and endangered wildlife to show what is at stake.  But the World Wildlife Fund often takes a quite different approach - commissioning commercial photographers to take (or make on the computer) images that tell a compelling story, or simply turn heads.  This image, for example, was produced by an ad agency in Denmark in 2007 to illustrate the loss of tropical forests - from a unique point of view.  Whimsical, even a little silly, but arresting and thought-provoking. And arguably more effective than a conventional shot of a rainforest tree, or a resting jaguar. The fact is that we are so inundated with images of pristine nature that their ability to startle us -- or change our minds -- is frankly limited. 
Credits for this ad are below - however, I don't see a photographer listed...?

Creative Director: Per Pedersen
Copywriter: Michael Paterson
Art Director: Jesper Hansen  

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sunny Day Diversion

Haida Totem Poles, Victoria BC

You simply cannot photograph forest interiors when the sun is out. And my plans to photograph old-growth forests on Vancouver Island ended up coinciding with unexpectedly clear, sunny weather.  While most people find the sunshine cheery, it put me in a foul mood since it made photographing the trees next to impossible. (Photographers are a notoriously perverse bunch) 
So, instead, I did the next best thing - I photographed the stunning collection of totem poles in Victoria at dawn.  My favorites are of these in the Haida style, easily the most refined and elegant of the Northwest Coast native art traditions.  
If I am lucky, meanwhile, the weather will turn cloudy again next week (this is the Northwest after all) and I will try again to head into the forest.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Carmanah Valley

Old Growth Forest, Carmanah Valley, BC
Thirty years ago, the chainsaws were ready to cut down the pristine, old-growth forests of Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island, just as they have nearly everywhere else in the area. But a grassroots effort was launched to save what may be the finest stand of giant Sitka Spruces anywhere in Canada.  In the end, the trees were saved and the area designated a Provincial Park.  Just in time. 
On a pilgrimage to this important site this week, we passed through massive clearcuts and dodged an endless stream of loaded log trucks.   The lesson?  The last remnants of old-growth forest are more important than ever : once these forests are gone, they are gone forever.  The dense stands of monoculture that replace them do not deserve the name "forests." 

Trees as crops, Cowichan Valley

No, clearcuts are never pretty....but as long as we use wood we will have them.  But there is simply no excuse for a single acre of old-growth forest to be cut any longer. It should be flatly illegal across the board: no exceptions.  These ancient trees are just too rare, and too precious.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Big Maya

Ok, today's photo is not mine. It was taken yesterday by my 8-year old grandson Theo of his younger sister Maya - sliding in to home plate.  It was better than anything I got of the game, so he gets his picture on the Blog for today...  Meanwhile, I think he has fallen in love with my motor drive.