Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nighttime Diversion

Waterfall Frog in Spray
In the tropics, the sun doesn't linger at the horizon at the end of the day : it plunges down as if in a hurry for tomorrow. It's dark by 7, and inside the forest, much earlier than that. So what is a wildlife photographer to do for the next 12 hours until dawn?  Well, last night I went in search of a mythical, and endangered, frog - the Waterfall Frog.  OK, the official name is the Torrent Treefrog (Litoria nannotis) but that seems to suggest that this frog has something to do with trees.  No, this little fellow lives only in waterfalls in small streams and only in Northern Queensland Australia.  Happily there was a location just a few miles from where I am, so I thought it might make a pleasant way to spend an evening.

When I say these guys live in waterfalls, I mean that quite literally; they're not in the rocks and riffles along the way - they live in cracks alongside, behind and in actual falling water. Oh yeah, and they're only active at night.

In the end, we found them, right where they were supposed to be, and with waist-deep water, leeches, rain, spray and a very active frog - let me just say it was not dull.  I'll let you know if it was worth it when - and if - I can dry out my camera, strobes etc.

Nikon D300 with 60mm Macro lens

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Unexpected Gifts

Emerald Dove  
When I am in the field, I typically have a mental list of pictures that I hope to get -- but on any given day I rarely get what I expect. Nature is unpredictable that way, and that is an essential part of its gift, the ability to offer surprises.

I spent a lot of time waiting today while the tropical rain came down in buckets.  In fact, I spent a full 10 hours waiting for the Cassowaries to return after an early morning visit. But I wasn't idle : I amused myself with shooting pictures of other birds that were feeding around the camp. This little Emerald Dove, the size of a chubby robin, was feeding on the forest floor and I found that if I held quite still, he would come close. Because it was so dark under the clouds and canopy, I had to use a flash. But every time I did, the little dove would be startled enough to put his wings out as if to fly away. The amazing thing was that his reaction time was so fast that he reacted to the flash before the shutter opened - and I got a picture of his wings already extended. Talk about fast reflexes!

Then, at the end of the day, I was photographing a Cassowary feeding on the road - when a car came around the corner and into my picture. My first reaction was annoyance - but then I realized that this was also a gift: neatly illustrating the fact that Cassowaries are killed every year on roads like this. This was a shot on my list, but one I figured would be hard to get. In the end, it just happened... Sometimes it just works like that. 

And finally, just a nice shot of a common bird, the Australian Brush Turkey.  Not bad for a soggy day in the forest. And I have NO idea what I'll find tomorrow.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm (top and bottom) and 24-70 (middle)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Heading West...and Down Under

Temperate Rainforest, Australia

Since my Antarctica trip has suddenly been cancelled, and I have been given a clean bill of health, I have radically changed my plans. I leave Friday for Australia - a trip that I had thought to do later in the year, but suddenly have time to do now.  My specific goal is a bit hush-hush, but I am continuing work with several endangered species and have heard about a rare opportunity I can't pass up.  Is that tantalizing enough?

For the past few years, I have been concentrating on little-known, or rarely-photographed endangered animals, hoping to tell their stories and make a difference in their survival.  As it turns out, this requires a great deal of research, time spent digging around the internet trying to find animals of interest that have been largely ignored by photographers. However, I have a couple of essential sources:

ARKIVE:  I have probably mentioned this website before, but it aims to be a digital encyclopedia of life on earth, with particular emphasis on endangered plants and animals. For me, this searchable website is a godsend : providing information on conservation status, locations and with references to scientists working in the field. Because I applaud what they are doing, I have - from the very start - contributed pictures to their archive at no cost. (I have to be somewhat sparing with my gifts of photography: I have to stay in business to be able to continue doing what I do, and am bombarded with requests for free images every day.  But Arkive is different : I give them anything they want...)

IUCN Redlist:  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature maintains the "Red List," a carefully researched database of endangered species.  Want information on an obscure fish?  Chances are you'll find it here - or on Arkive.  Both websites are invaluable to me.  And together they produce a special "Species of the Day" page, featuring details on a different animal (or plant) every day of the year.  Check it out - and learn about an animal you never knew existed.

Anyhow, I hope to come back from Australia in early December with some new additions for the Arkive collection - and hopefully, a story worth telling.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Best Laid Plans...

Not flying south THIS year...
Well, so much for my Polar Plans for this year...  The night before I was supposed to leave for Antarctica, I ended up in the hospital ER with terrible chest pains. After two days of nonstop tests - and canceling my trip on doctor's orders - I was given a clean bill of health and sent home, with no idea what caused my symptoms. Weird - and disappointing. But better to be home than having heart problems on a ship in the far reaches of the Southern Ocean.

There are plenty of things I'm sorry to be missing on this trip, not the least of which was the chance to do a penguin blog for my grand-daughter's first grade class. The kids were full of questions and enthusiasm ; I really hate to be letting them down.

So now I have to look at my schedule and decide how best to use this sudden change. Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ice in Black and White

Iceberg and Cliffs, Antarctica
As I mentioned in my last post, I am leaving tomorrow for 3 weeks in Antarctica. One reason I am excited about the trip - and there are many - is the opportunity to shoot landscapes in black and white. My last trip to the Antarctic Peninsula was eight years ago when digital was relatively new. At the time, I made the bone-headed decision to use the trip to "learn about" my first digital camera. My advice?
Never do this...

What it meant in practice was that I didn't really understand about digital exposure or histograms...and here I was, plunked into a world where exposure was both complicated and critical. On the upside, I also discovered digital black-and-white conversions on that trip - and loved their ease and power. When the light was anything less than optimal for color: I was free to shoot in black and white in an environment that was more than willing to meet me halfway!  I was delighted from the results of that trip and now look forward to shooting much more, and on a much better camera -- and with much better skills.

I will try to blog during the trip, so stay tuned.

Nikon D100, 80-200mm lens