Sunday, October 31, 2010

European Visions...and Antarctica

King Penguin surrounded by Chicks, South Georgia Island
If you suspect the penguins in this photo are  probably not in Europe, you would be right. But I am...just heading home today from a meeting of the GDT, The Society of German Nature Photography, where I gave a talk on my work documenting endangered species.  As always, it was an inspiring event: I find the Europeans have - and this is admittedly a gross generalization - a refined, even poetic, photographic style.  Some of the best work I saw was also the most deceptively simple, with elegant compositions of flowers, grasses and insects.  Simply said, the "euro-style" tends to ignore our obsession with sharpness and detail in favor of light, composition and...mystery.  Yes, they tend to prefer everything blurry which, in itself, is a kind of obsession, but one that views photography as an interpretive form rather than simply a documentary one.

Anyhow, I came away inspired to broaden my own visual vocabulary, and that's a gift. I suggest you have a look at some of the work here:  GDT - they should be posting the results soon for their 2010 "European Photographer of the Year" competition.

Meanwhile, back to the penguins. This shot, of an adult penguin lost in a sea of furry chicks, is one I took on South Georgia a couple of years ago. Happily, I have a chance to go back next week, as the NatGeo lecturer on the NG Explorer. Maybe this time, I will try this shot again, only blurry!

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wild Wonders of Europe

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
I leave tomorrow for a quick trip to Germany where I will give a talk to the GDT (German Nature Photography Association...I think) on my work with endangered species. I will bring a camera, of course, but may only be shooting some cityscapes in Amsterdam, or some German beerhalls...

This visit to Europe, however,  gives me an excuse to plug the Wild Wonders of Europe project which, if you don't know about it, engaged a host of photographers to document wildlife and landscapes all across the continent - resulting in a stunning collection of images, exhibits, a book, and a greater awareness of the natural treasures of a part of the world people typically dismiss as overrun with people.  It was bold, creative, and enormously successful - and can serve as a model for "big idea" photographic projects worldwide. To learn more, go to their website:

To honor my European colleagues, I am posting this shot of columnar basalt I took last year at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wild Otters of CHILE

Endangered Marine Otters (Lontra felina) Chile

I spent 6 weeks in South America this past winter, getting the first-ever in-depth coverage of the smallest marine mammal in the world : the Marine Otter.  No larger than a housecat, this little otter is found along the cold water coasts of southern Peru and Chile, and is endangered due to a long history of fur-hunting and competition with fishermen.

This was a difficult project, to say the least. When I could even find the animals, I had to shoot them from a moving boat - which was typically getting hammered (along with the photographer) by the rough seas. In fact, I lost my primary telephoto lens (the Nikon 200-400) to a rogue wave, on the first day of the shoot.  (Happily, FEDEX was able to get me another lens within a week..)

To be honest, some key parts of the story never came together : I was unable to get pictures of these fast-moving otters underwater, and camera traps gave me only a handful of fleeting portraits.  But if I didn't get everything I wanted, I have the satisfaction of knowing I got more pictures of this little-known animal than have ever been taken - pictures that will help tell their important story.  Pictures can be powerful advocates, and I have made these pictures available to those working to save this wonderful, but threatened, animal.

Nikon D3, 500mm lens

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chasing Monkeys in the Andes

Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey, Eastern Andes, PERU

A simple picture of a desperately rare animal.  This Peruvian monkey is one of the 25 most endangered primates on Earth, found only in a few scraps of habitat in the highland forests of the Andes. I spent the last week following them through the roughest terrain I have ever encountered, struggling to get a vantage point that gave me something other than  silhouettes shot straight up against a white sky.  If this picture works, it is because I managed to scramble up the steep mountainsides to get a level shot of the animal as he scampered across a moss-covered branch.

There are very few pictures of this species taken in the wild, and perhaps I could have taken better if I had stayed another week... and gotten lucky. As it was, I really only had a day and a half in their company - not nearly enough for in-depth coverage, but sufficient time to get a handful of nice shots of a spectacular animal still clinging to its vanishing habitat.

Nikon D3, 300mm f2.8 lens and 1.4X teleconverter

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vision in Blue

Chinstrap Penguins on Blue Iceberg
It was the color of this iceberg that drew our attention from miles away. "Why not head over and take a look at that one?" I asked the captain.  With plenty of time, and a ship dedicated to photography, we did just that - changing course to put us closer to this stunning blue iceberg.

Truly blue icebergs are not the norm in Antarctica; they are typically made up of old dense ice with no layer of reflective snow.  This one had the added benefit of having rolled over several times -- the smooth contours and slightly pocked surface are sure signs of a berg that has flipped upside down, possibly more than once.

It was only when we got within a few hundred yards that we realized that there was a small group of molting Chinstraps resting on top. Every year, at the end of the breeding season, penguins must discard their old, worn feathers for a new batch. This process requires that they stay dry for a week or more until the molt is complete, their feathery insulation restored.

My question was this - how did they get onto this particular sheer-sided iceberg?  Maybe it was less steep on the backside, but...?

Nikon F100 and 80-200mm lens, Fuji Velvia  (ca. 1998!)