Monday, August 30, 2010

Patience, Luck...and Crawling

Harbor Seal, Svalbard

As I came ashore on a remote beach in Leifdefjorden, a single harbor seal was resting on an offshore rock. I was convinced that he would abandon his spot as soon as I started towards him, so I took a half dozen shots from 100 yards away. As other people came ashore, I was convinced that he wouldn't stand for all the disturbance, and moved on.  But to my astonishment, he stayed where he was, periodically lifting his head to check on the intrusion, but refusing to budge. A little while later, I carefully tried to get closer (not wanting to be the guy that scared him off).  He never moved. I got a few more shots, better ones. Then I started off exploring the tundra, while others took their turn.

Half an hour later I was back at the shore again, and the seal was still there! Only now the tide had risen, and the rock he was lying on had disappeared: it looked as though he was resting on the surface of the water.  This time, I crawled closer until I was lying right at the water's edge, my camera resting on a rock only a couple of inches above the ground. (I was so low, in fact, that I had to compose while looking sideways through the viewfinder...try that sometime..!)  The seal lifted its head for just a moment - and I got this image. Satisfied, I backed away.

There is no joy in pressing an animal for a picture until it leaves in fear or annoyance. As a wildlife photographer, I consider it a success when I can leave my subject right where I first saw it, undisturbed. As I returned to the ship, the seal was still there...albeit a bit wetter.

Nikon D300, 300mm f2.8 lens

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lofoten Dawn

Sunrise on Lofoten Islands, Reine, Arctic Norway

OK, I'll admit it.  I'm on a black and white kick. But since color is so sparse at these latitudes - where the world is largely one of rock, water and sky - many of my images looked frankly better in B&W than they did in color. The beauty is that you can have it both ways, by shooting in color and then comparing the results to a desaturated version.  
In this instance, there was literally no color in the stark granite crags of the islands, and precious little color in the sky. This is still far north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours. This means no sunsets or sunrises, and none of the saturated color effects that gladden the hearts of photographers. Black and white, on the other hand, reduces the landscape to its essentials.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens, Polarizer

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rediscovering my B&W roots

Waterfall, Tromso, Norway
As a former assistant to Galen Rowell, I have spent a career chasing
the light – staying up late and getting up early for untold sunrises
and sunsets. (As photographers, we seem to have an obsession with
the color red, as in sunsets and slickrock) So it is a bit of a revelation
to suddenly fall back in love with black and white – it’s sculptural
forms and visual grace. And now, with digital, it is all so much easier
than the days of Tri-X and Agfa paper, fixer and stop bath. I applaud
those photographers still working with these classic media, but I am
re-discovering my roots through the new media.
I shot this small waterfall this morning in arctic Norway, drawn by
the counterpoint of rock and water.  I shot it in color, of course, but
 have now made a habit of looking at nearly every image with the
saturation dialed back to zero. Many are not improved (icebergs,
I have discovered, are still a rapturous blue – not a color  you really
 want to discard). But some pictures simply beg for black-and-white.
This was one of them…
Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Heading South again

Female Walrus and Calf, Svalbard

I have never had an opportunity to photograph wild walrus in the water like this, and it was challenging: the boat was bobbing around in the surf, and the walruses popped their heads up unpredictably - and briefly. This was the only shot out of many that made eye contact, was sharp - and had a level horizon!  Walrus were exterminated from Svalbard a century ago, but are returning now in ever-greater numbers thanks to legal protection and strict visitor guidelines.  Seeing them like this was a treat.

We are now sailing south towards Norway - and the darkness. It has been one continuous sunlit day for nearly three weeks now. The change will be a relief.

Nikon D300 with 300 f2.8 lens and 1.4x teleconverter

Sunday, August 15, 2010

From the Far North

Polar Bear on Ice, ca. 81 degrees North, Svalbard

I am mid-way through a trip through Arctic Svalbard, and this is the only chance I’ve had to log on at this latitude.  Fascinating trip – and shocking. The sea ice that normally cloaks this archipelago is at the lowest extent for August that I have seen in 25 years, an ominous sign for polar bears like the one we encountered yesterday (above). Most bears here now have been forced ashore by the retreating ice, onto land that offers them nothing in terms of nourishment.  I will write more when I get a chance.

Nikon D3, 300mm f2.8 lens and TC1.4

Friday, August 6, 2010

Heading North

I leave tomorrow for three weeks in Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic, 
serving as lecturer aboard the National Geographic Explorer.  Word has 
it that they have been seeing large numbers of polar bears on the ice 
this year, despite the dramatic reduction of icepack throughout the 
Arctic ecosystem. It will be great to see bears again, and to better 
understand how they are adapting to changing conditions.
I will try and post pictures and comments from the field, but – 
surprise, surprise –  internet access is apparently pretty challenging 
at 80 degrees north. (Maybe that’s a good thing…)  In any case, 
I will certainly post whenever I can, or else I will save my comments 
until I reach more hospitable latitudes. Stay cool.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Back to the Elwha

Goblin's Gate, Elwha River

I spent the day today on the Elwha River, hiking in to this spectacular gorge, which lies less than a mile upstream from one of the two lakes - and dams - slated for removal next year, restoring the river to something like its natural state.  Dam removal will take three years to complete - and untold years to evolve after that.  I hope I live to see the river reborn - and salmon once again moving upstream for the first time in 100 years.

In the meantime, I'm off tomorrow for the high Arctic and will likely not be able to post anything for up to three weeks. Hopefully, I'll have a few pictures to share when I get home, however...

Nikon D3, 17-35mm lens

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chasing Jaguars

Jaguar female resting. Pantanal, Brazil

Five years ago, I took a gamble and went to Brazil's Pantanal to try and photograph wild jaguars. I had only seen one once, in Peru, over a decade before - but that time had not managed to get a picture. Suffice it to say, therefore, that in the intervening years this had become a bit of an obsession with me. This time, I chartered a small boat, hired a local guide, and spent nine days in the sweltering heat following small jungle rivers in search of these secretive cats. By the end of the 9 days, I had seen nine different jaguars - including an astonishing five in one day. I got a handful of OK photos, like the one above;  at the time, one of very few shots of wild jaguars ever taken.  
Now, of course, the location has been discovered,  and photographers like Tom Mangelsen and Steve Winter have spent weeks there. Some amazing pictures have emerged already, and I'm sure there are more on the way, helped by a full-time tourism operation on the site run by legendary biologist Charlie Munn.
I will probably not be back, preferring to find other, less-well-known subjects, but for anyone with a love of big cats, rarely seen or photographed anywhere else - this is a great opportunity.  Have a look at :

Also, look at the Pantanal trip offered by Terra Incognita Tours here.