Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dolphins in the Trees

Amazon River Dolphin, or Boto - Rio Negro, Brazil
I spent a delightful few hours recently speaking with KUOW producer Sarah Waller, talking about my National Geographic story on the Amazon River Dolphin: about the highs, the lows, the challenge of story-telling - and the scary things that swim in the water. As a photographer, I find it unsettling not to have pictures available when I talk, so we will have to see how it translates to radio.  Have a listen at:   

Monday, May 7, 2012


Sunset and Shadows, Carrizo Plain NM, California

I have sorely neglected this blog recently, in favor of my
daily posts on Facebook - come along for the ride:
I will try and continue posting here, but there is
only so much time in the day...

Meanwhile, the story behind the picture:

I was waiting, unsuccessfully, for some kit foxes to emerge
from their den at sunset. They never showed, so there I was,
stuck with a 500mm lens on my tripod and a lot 
of time on my hands. It was a glorious sunset, throwing
shadows on the ridges of the Temblor Range (home
of the San Andreas Fault).
Normally, I would look for a classic “Sierra Club Calendar
Composition” with a wide-angle foreground leading to the
distant hills.But here the foreground was 
dull and already in shadow. So instead, I used what I had,
and looked for compositions through my 500mm lens.
The extreme focal length forced me to look at the landscape
as a collection of compressed patterns and light, 
almost an abstract: simply said, a picture that I could not
have taken with any other lens. The lesson: experiment
with the dramatic change in perspective that telephoto lenses
can offer – even when that’s not what you were after in the 
first place…
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 500mm F4 lens

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unexpected Gifts

I took my camera down to the beach this morning to get some shots of some Brant Geese I had seen feeding at low tide. I have been lucky with Brant recently, but I thought there might be some other possible opportunities.  What I hadn't counted on was this fellow - a Glaucous-winged Gull - that managed to tear a young seastar off of its rock. For the next half hour he tried to swallow it, mostly managing to look ridiculous. In the end, he got it down, but with the writhing bulge in his neck, he didn't look altogether happy with his choice...

Nikon D800, 500mm f4 lens

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chinstrap "Happy Dance"

Chinstrap "Taking Off"  
OK, he's probably only having a stretch (you get kinda stiff sitting on a nest that's buried under 2 feet of snow).  But this is just one of a host of penguin images that might make it into my new (old) book Penguin Planet. I have just signed a contract to produce a revised edition this year, with loads of new pictures, and the latest information on how penguins are affected by global warming etc.  Should be a fun project. No plans to head south and get new material, though, until after the book is out. I'll be back in Antarctica in early 2013 - details on that later.

The other news is that I have just taken ownership of the new 36 MP Nikon D800. Really, I couldn't resist a camera that shoots the equivalent of medium-format resolution, as well as HD video... Yes, I'm weak...

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens

Foxes in Motion

Young Kit Foxes at Play
Motion-sensor activated camera traps are great tools - they sit patiently all night waiting for activity, and then spring into action, capturing behavior that the photographer never saw. There are hitches, of course: when the wind blows every blade of waving grass can trip the sensor so that you get hundreds of pictures of grass - in a variety of poses.

Here, I set up a trap at the entrance to an active fox burrow, hoping to get glimpses of young pups. Boy, did I ever... They burst out of the burrow and, like all kids, ran around like mad for the next hour. Composition? Forget it?  Nice, graceful, "feng shui" arrangement? Nada. Of the nearly two hundred shots I got that night, almost all were unusable and, as you can see, this was deftly cropped to create a composition out of a madcap romp of pups headed in every direction. (That's Mom or Dad in the background, keeping an eye on things)

Low productivity, but good fun.

Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens, Camera trap

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back from the Wilderness

Dad Stands Guard at the Den Entrance
Just came out after 12 days in a very remote part of California, time spent following wild kit foxes. I saw them easily, emerging from their dens in the late afternoon, but photographing them was quite a different matter.  They are easily spooked, and retreat quickly to the safety of their dens.  Last year when I was here, I was able to get a few long-distance shots, but this time I wanted something more intimate. That called for camera traps. These are terrific tools, that have revealed the secret world of many hard-to-find animals. But they also have their limitations - the chief being you don't often have the pleasure of seeing your subject (or controlling the composition) of your photograph.

I figured out quickly that this den was active, and set out a camera trap at mid-day hoping, not only to get shots the following night, but also daytime shots, since these animals often come out and hang around before dark.  That worked perfectly here, as dad Kit Fox stood vigil, for 20 minutes, at the opening of his burrow. This was my favorite of a series of shots, a little fill-flash balancing well with the late-afternoon daylight.

Sometimes, happy mistakes were made. I thought I had found a new fox den, and set up my research motion-sensor camera nearby to see who was living there. This is a basic rig which gets a  simple b&w image, e.g. god for ID, but producing nothing publishable. In this case it revealed an enormous surprise - a badger!  I didn't have time to set up a high-quality camera, but maybe next time...:)  I never saw this handsome fellow, but was pleased to know he was there.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Camera Traps...gotta love 'em

Endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox...
You have to love camera traps. These tools allow the wildlife photographer to extend their reach into the world of rare and nocturnal animals, creatures that are almost impossible to photograph in the daytime.  No surprise that I have been employing them for my coverage of Kit Foxes in southern California.  It has taken me several days to locate the foxes, and determine which dens were active, and to get my cameras set.  Already I've had some near-misses, and some complete misses, in my search for pictures.  Witness this shot of a wild fox, passing by the camera and proving, once again, that these tools are not flawless and require A LOT of exposures to get one that works...

But the funniest (sort of) of the shots I got involved a the very strong winds that blew in from the Pacific over the last few days. I had set the camera up at what I knew was a busy fox den, looking forward to getting shots of them coming and going. As it happened, however, a powerful storm hit overnight - and the gale-force winds plastered a big tumbleweed right up against my camera trap.  With my motion sensor activated, every time the tumbleweed jiggled in the wind, I got another frame... In the end, I came away with 134 close-ups of tumbleweeds, and no foxes... Gotta love it...

Tumbleweed study #93
Still, hope springs eternal. I'll try again tonight...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Short Commute

Brant Goose on migration
Yes, I normally post pictures of animals taken in exotic locations worldwide. When I am home, I am normally behind a computer, editing or planning my next expedition. But every now and then I am lured into action by animals closer to home: in this case about a hundred yards from my house. As I went out this morning, I noticed a flock of Brant geese feeding along the edge of the beach and ran to grab my camera.
These small birds - like miniature Canada geese - pass by here every year en route to their breeding grounds in SW Alaska. They stop and rest and feed on eelgrass (their favorite food) along the shore.  Although hunted in the refuges where they breed (the name "refuge" being something of a misnomer), they are quite accustomed to people and cars along Alki Beach below our house, and are MUCH easier to approach here than they are in Alaska. I set up my tripod and my 500mm lens and started shooting, inching closer with every few shots, thinking I was in a good spot to capture some interesting behavior.
In the end I only got 4-5 minutes before the entire flock of 30-40 birds took off en masse. No, it wasn't me, but a pair of Bald Eagles passing overhead. These B-52's of the bird world were enough to send these little geese up: they never returned. This simple shot of one calling along the shore was the best I got; I just hope they come back tomorrow.

Nikon D300 with 500mm f4 lens

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Onto FACEBOOK...finally

Female Cassowary, Queensland, Australia
OK, I have made several false starts on Facebook before, but now have decided to step firmly out of the Dark Ages and embrace the inevitable. The enormous, global reach of the site is hard to ignore : I am hearing from people in India, South America and my own backyard - people who might never stumble onto this humble blog.

So I am pleased to announce that I will now be posting on Facebook as "Kevin Schafer Photography" - come visit anytime!  I will, meanwhile, keep this blog going whenever I can.

Meanwhile, this is a portrait of an adult wild Cassowary in northern Queensland. I was shooting from a raised platform, which explains the unexpected angle. To be honest, these birds were being unexpectedly aggressive during my last visit - so I was playing it safe...

Nikon D3 with Nikkor 17-35mm

Monday, February 20, 2012

In the Mangroves

Red Mangroves, Los Haitises National Park, Dominican Republic
Los Haitises is the Dominican Republic's largest national park, an almost inaccessible wilderness of steep karst pinnacles, dense rainforest, and the largest collection of coastal mangroves in the Caribbean.  It is also just over an hour from Santo Domingo, the nation's capital, but so little known or understood that a plan to build a vast cement plant at the edge of the park was seriously considered - until public opposition stopped it.

I spent only a few hours here, mostly photographing some of the thousands of caves - some of them decorated by ancient Taino art - and the tangled mangrove stands. These red mangroves caught my eye and I stood in the bow of a small boat photographing the wonderful patterns of stilt roots. When I got home, I decided that the image lacked color, and looked better in black and white, so I made the conversion. The result?  A riot of lines and curves - good fun.

Nikon D3 with 17-35mm lens

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chasing Rare Lizards

Hispaniolan or Ricordi's Ground Iguana (Cyclura ricordi), Dominican Republic
This handsome fellow is one of the last of his species, and finding him was one of my primary goals for my ten-day trip to the Dominican Republic.  Although critically endangered, they were surprisingly easy to find. Their last refuge, and the only place to have any hope of seeing them, is on Isla Cabritos in Lago Enriquillo National Park.

We went across the lake to the island at dawn, hoping for good light - and to avoid the brutal heat. This saline lake in the southern part of the DR is actually 40 meters below sea level and is the hottest spot in the country.  Reptiles like these only come of their burrows when the temperatures allow, so we had to wait for a short time until this one emerged, and move slowly to avoid driving him back underground.

In the end, I found only 2 of these rare lizards, but I was most pleased with the simple portrait, the morning light subtly highlighting his striking red eye. However, I was also happy to get at least one shot of the other animal - a female - feeding on cactus fruit.

By eleven o'clock, the light was long gone, and the heat unbearable, so we retreated. I'm guessing the iguanas couldn't have been happier on both counts.

Nikon D3, 70-200 Nikkor lens

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Playing Hooky in Hawaii

Nene Goose stretching, Kauai

Just returned from a welcome family vacation in Hawaii – a nice break
 from the recent cold snap in Seattle. To make it a true vacation, I took
 only one camera body and one lens (albeit the handy Nikon 
18-200mm) rather than the usual 50-60 lbs of gear I normally haul 
around.  This is a great lens for snapping the grandkids surfing, and 
(with the benefit of a sturdy plastic bag) shots of them underwater in 
the resort pool.
But since I don’t get to Hawaii all that often, I took a few hours off from 
the pleasures of grandparent-hood and went looking for Nenes – the 
endangered Hawaiian Geese. Although threatened by habitat loss, 
they are not hard to find in a few locations on Kaua’i, most notably 
at Kokee State Park and all along the north shore.
I was lucky on this occasion to 1) find them easily, 2) have bright
overcast light (full sun can be a picture-killer) and 3) to find adults
without the ubiquitous numbered leg bands. These bands help
scientists ID and track birds, but look a little jarring in a picture.

These particular Nenes seemed to like hanging around parking and 
picnic areas – apparently hoping to cash in on human discards. This 
made for some pretty unnatural backgrounds: car tires, yellow lines 
on asphalt, and garbage. In the end, however, I managed to find birds 
in more wild settings, including a pair with a young chick. 
Photographing that chick, however, proved a challenge: like most 
parents, the adult Nenes were forever blocking my view to protect 
their little one.  Patience, and persistence, eventually afforded me 
a few quick glimpses, nothing more.
After an hour or so, the sun came out, the birds left, and my 
grandkids needed my attention. Would I have loved a little more 
time with the Nenes? Sure… But hey, this was a vacation and 
time with the grandkids is almost as rare as these birds.

Nikon D300 with 18-200mm lens

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Best Laid Plans

Female Cassowary Drinking

Well, I had the best intentions.  I have just returned from my trip to Australia where I spent ten days following wild cassowaries through the Queensland rainforest - a project that I fully intended to document on this blog. That is, until the logic board on my laptop failed, rendering the computer unusable. Since I use this to store and edit pictures - and to post to blogs etc. - I was silenced. I picked up the repaired laptop on my way to the airport - on the way home...

Tech discussion as follows:

Me : "What makes the logic board go bad?"

Tech-guy: "No idea."

Me: "Sounds illogical to me."

Anyhow, I will try to reconstruct some of the events of the trip in the next week or so as I get the pictures edited.

This image is of an adult female - the only one I saw during my stay, drinking water out of a rainforest pool. Cassowaries cannot lap up water like a cat, but must scoop it up with their bills, then tilt their head back to let it run down their throat. I was pleased to be able to show this.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Shameless Promotion Dept.

Photo : Amazon River Dolphins, Brazil
Seriously, I think I used this title for my blog before...  In any case, I wanted everyone to know about my show, in lively Canton, MA  (pop. 21,000) opening later this month. The show is a collection of about 70 of my images of endangered species worldwide.  If you live in the area, please come by and have a look.  Better yet, come to my lecture on February 25, when I will introduce the show, sign books - and talk about my career, including my work with National Geographic.  It would be a pleasure to meet any and all.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cassie Diary

Bashing Through the Forest
Last month, I got the call - a message from friends in Queensland, Australia that the male Cassowary that I have been following for several years had just emerged with five young chicks. Unfortunately, I was just leaving for Antarctica and couldn't leave immediately, as much as I would have liked to.

With that trip done, and other responsibilities out of the way, however, I am headed back to Australia next week. In the meantime, sadly, three of the young chicks have vanished, presumably taken by a feral cat seen in the area.

While I am there, I hope to post daily (or nearly) posts to this blog - a Cassie Diary - with pictures and stories from the Queensland rainforest.  Stay tuned.

Nikon D3 and 24-70mm lens