Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Quick trip

Un-named waterfall, Cascades

After several straight days in front of the computer, I rebelled today... and headed for the mountains. Bright  overcast and no rain combined to make a perfect day for shooting in the forest, so I followed a trail in the North Cascades, just over an hour from home, and stumbled onto this small, un-named waterfall with its swirling foam. It took over an hour, and a lot of wasted pixels, to get this shot. I'm still not entirely satisfied, but...it works for me.

Nikon D700, 17-35mm lens. 4 second exposure

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Most Wanted

Black-footed Albatross family, Midway Atoll

The July issue of Outdoor Photographer has a story by Kim Castleberry about my work with endangered species worldwide :

I provided a number of images for them to choose from but was surprised - and pleased - when they chose this shot of nesting albatrosses on Hawaii's Midway Atoll for the opening spread.  It is a picture that I took nearly 15 years ago and have always liked for its intimate low angle. The truth is, wildlife pictures are nearly always more effective if you are shorter than your subject (or in this case, laying down..)

Although Black-footeds are often seen in migration off the California coast, they nest primarily on the remote leeward islands of Hawaii. One of the smallest Albatrosses (even with a seven-foot wingspan) this species is endangered by marine pollution and the continuing slaughter wreaked by long-line fishing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wild Ladyslippers

Cypripedium montanum, Methow Valley, Washington
I spent many years trying to find these rare orchids in the wild. They are nowhere common and are often stolen by plant-collectors who value their delicate elegance and, ironically... their rarity. It may take 8 years for a young orchid to bear flowers for the first time, so these are finicky plants, to say the least. 
Today I looked in a place where I had seen them before, but found very few orchids. Then, just at the end of the trail, I stumbled onto this sensational cluster. As is often the case, finding them was just the beginning.
The challenge, at that point, was two-fold: first, how to deal with the sun that was shining brightly overhead, and second - how to deal with the gusty summer wind. The first problem was easily solved by simply waiting for a cloud: I didn't have a diffuser big enough for the setting, so I used the next best thing. (Anyone who has photographed forest interiors knows that sun is a picture-killer. Bright mid-day overcast is the best, and often only, condition for getting pictures beneath a forest canopy.) 
The wind proved more problematic, however, largely because the quickly moving clouds that provided my cloud/diffuser were being hustled along by some pretty strong mountain winds.  We tried various makeshift barriers: jackets, camera bags, our bodies - anything we could find to block the wind (Note to self: a portable nylon wind-break would be a handy tool. Next time.). Finally the wind backed off for a few moments - and I got this shot and a few others before the cloud vanished and the wind whipped up again.

Nikon D700, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 lens

I also shot the same scene wide (14-24mm). Which do you prefer?

Important Book, Discussion

Today, I want to put in a plug for an important book I’m reading right now: “Shooting In the Wild” by Chris Palmer. It is about wildlife film-making, its history, and its impact on conservation. But its most valuable contribution, in my view, is the book’s discussion of ethical behavior. Palmer, who has been involved in the wildlife film industry for 25 years, discusses some crucial issues – working with wild animal subjects, the use of captive animals and simple honesty in the presentation of images. Yes, he is talking about film-making, but these are all issues that also bear directly on what we, as still photographers, do.

Frankly, there are far too few voices like Palmer’s, that reflect on the implications of our own behavior – what is acceptable, or not, and how what we do in the pursuit of images squares with the love of nature and wildlife that informs our work. It is a discussion well worth having, and I, for one, am grateful for this ground-breaking book. 
I recommend it highly.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Flower Arranging

Pacific Dogwood, Gifford Pinchot National Forest

There were dazzling numbers of dogwood flowers in the forest this past week, at times filling the understory with white. However, as always, they are difficult to photograph well. The flowers are either too high or too old, the wind too strong...or else I simply cannot find a composition that works. 
This little roadside cluster was both accessible and in remarkably good condition. I tried a variety of perspectives, lenses, and vantage points, but could only really make it work as a straight-on grouping.  As it is, I am annoyed by the blurred flower in the background. In a world without principles, I would have snipped it off or retouched it in Photoshop. Instead I have to rely on the notion that nature is always slightly imperfect, just like the photographer.

Speaking of Photoshop, I got my CS5 today - only to discover that it will only work with an Intel chip, and I run all my photo workflow through an antique (as it turns out) PowerPC G5.  It is always this way - you buy new software, and then have to buy a new computer to run it.