Flashback Friday – Travels to the Edge Season 1: South Georgia Island

Fresh off my recent trip to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands (see my recent blog post with new photos here) It seemed appropriate to reflect back on the filming of Travels to the Edge from that location. Enjoy this excerpt from the companion book, “Travels to the Edge: A Photo Odyssey” on this #FlashbackFriday and if you’re looking for gift ideas, my staff is ready to send off DVD’s of each and every episode!

South Georgia Island, the Southern Ocean

Despite it’s cold, unwelcoming climate, South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic is one of my favorite places on earth. A remote, hundred-mile whaleback of rock, South Georgia Island resides in the Southern Ocean, more than eight hundred miles southeast of the Falkland Islands. It features glacier-clad mountains rising two vertical miles above the sea. South Georgia is as wild as it gets, hosting one of the largest concentrations of wildlife anywhere. Over four hundred thousand pairs of king penguins walk the beaches and swim in the frigid blue ocean. Seals, albatross, and even reindeer (imported for meat by long-gone Norwegian whalers) also inhabit this isolated island. I used a wide-angle lens to photograph austere landscapes, intimate plant studies, and endearing animal behavior in this wildlife oasis.

On a tiny island near the coast of South Georgia Island, a courting male albatross bonds with it’s potential lifelong mate. The wandering albatross, with an eleven-foot wingspan, is clearly king of ocean birds, but overfishing and destructive longline nets threaten it’s survival in southern oceans. Some nets stretch up to sixty miles and snare fish and birds indiscriminately.

An adolescent king penguin challenges reindeer crossing through a penguin rockery on South Georgia Island. Long gone European brought reindeer to the island as a dietary alternative to whale meat. Reindeer herds continue to roam through the remote island.

Forty-pound king penguins line the shores of South Georgia Island. They are on their way to the rockery where territorial instincts prompt numerous quarrels among the birds. The beach is a respite from the dangers of the ocean and the crabby neighbors on the nests. Although the island experiences some of the worst weather in the world, we were fortunate to shoot in the pink light of a clear sky with the sun hidden behind the horizon.

Want to know more, and see these animals in motion? This episode is featured on Season 1, Episode 4 of Travels to the Edge, available individually, as part of the entire first season, and the full series! Have a great weekend!

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“Trees” Round-up – Now Published in Italian & German!

 

First published in English, TREES Between Earth & Heaven is now available in Italian and German as well. While I always recommend that you support your local bookseller, here are online links for purchasing:

Australia | Canada | Italy | Germany | UK

USA: There are also half a dozen signed copies left at my studio in Seattle – Order today, they will be gone soon!

 

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Technique Tuesday: Scale of your Subject

The following is an excerpt from “The New Art of Photographing Nature“. Pick it up in my online store and check a gift off your list for the photographer in your life!

SCALE:  HOW LARGE SHOULD THE SUBJECT BE?

AW: In these three shots of a spotted owl, we see how the owl changes in importance according to its relative size in the frame. In my opinion, no image is stronger than the other; they simply say different things. The first composition is a shot of old-growth forest that happens to have an owl as an element (80mm lens). In the second, the owl is clearly more evident, and still enough forest shows to create a strong sense of place (200mm lens). But in the third, I’ve eliminated most of the forest and the owl is clearly the dominant element. It is a more rewarding view of the owl, and of the textures of the trees, which you can now fully appreciate. The sense of forest is definitely gone (400mm lens).

MH: In each of these images, the owl relates to his surroundings in a different way. In the first, he is hardly visible, blending in beautifully with his surroundings. It is interesting that here, the light-colored branch, rather than being a detracting element, actually leads our eye right to the owl. The forest, with its strong vertical lines, is clearly the dominant element in the frame. If I had a story to illustrate that emphasized the need to save lots of habitat to provide for one owl, I would use this version.

In the middle frame, there is much more of a balance between the bird and the forest. The owl stands on its own, without being overpowered by the trees. This would be a classic opening shot for a story on spotted owls and old-growth forests.

In the last image, you have a portrait of the bird. Now, too, the lighter limbs of the trees actually take over as the strong linear elements in the composition. The owl’s soft shape stands out against the harder lines of the tree trunks, without losing the feeling of camouflage we had in the first version. Unless I had text I wanted to drop out of the space on the left, I’d crop this to a vertical to emphasize the owl even more.

For more insights and technique tips, check out “The New Art of Photographing Nature”!

 

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“Trees: Between Earth & Heaven” Officially Published in the U.S. Today!

Today is the official publishing date in the U.S. for Trees: Between Earth and Heaven. Back home in Seattle, we’ve been sending out early signed copies for the past couple weeks – so if you may be the lucky ones to have pre-ordered from us, you either have it or it’s on it’s way! There’s no other way to put it – it’s a beautiful 11×14 nearly 300 page book that exceeds even my demanding expectations, and feedback from those whom have received their copies affirms this!

Of course, a book about trees is naturally a book about our environment. Rest assured that in coordination with Roots of Peace, two trees are planted for each tree used in the manufacturing of these books.

To get your copy, and to support a local small business and the work that makes these books possible, you can order your copy from us in my online store, or from your local bookseller. Alternatively, there’s always this option!

 

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Technique Tuesday: Making Order out of Chaos

The following is an excerpt from “The New Art of Photographing Nature”, and for more photos of the natural world, specifically magnificent trees world-wide, check out my latest recently published book “Trees: Between Earth & Heaven”!

MAKING ORDER OUT OF CHAOS

The elements that go into making a good image are basically the same for photography as for art, with one significant difference. An artist is faced with a blank piece of paper or canvas and has to construct a whole image by putting together the design elements–line, color, form, space, perspective–all of which he must create for himself. A photographer is given all these same elements in his viewfinder and basically subtracts the material he finds distracting and unessential to his statement.

Good photography is decision-making. It is not a passive process. The eye must learn to detect the essential and make it into a meaningful arrangement. Initially, nature appears random and chaotic. Our mind needs to make order out of chaos, to create relationships between things in order to understand them. When we look at something, we subconsciously focus our attention on some aspects and ignore others; we filter everything through our experience and our emotions.

The camera makes no such distinctions or evaluations. It records everything it sees. It is, therefore, the photographer’s responsibility to edit the camera’s view and select those elements to be captured. Understanding what goes into making a strong composition can improve a photographer’s personal statement. Freeman Patterson stated it beautifully when he wrote: “The camera always points both ways. In expressing the subject, you also express yourself.”

In a good composition, one has the distinct impression that nothing could be added to or subtracted from the picture. This sense of completeness–of balance–is the key. Balance does not, however, imply symmetry. Asymmetrical compositions can be balanced. We will explore these concepts as we move from chapter to chapter, discussing where to place the subject, how to make it stand out, how it relates to the other elements within the frame, and what creative options you have to work with to make a stronger photographic statement. There are some guidelines that can be followed, but none of them are so absolute they should be adhered to constantly.

Art Wolfe: “In the first image, the tree is silhouetted against a much lighter pink sky. In the second, it is against a part of the cloud closer in value to that of the tree, but the composition is still not quite there. In the third, the cloud is now in complete balance with the value of the dead tree, and I have recomposed the tree to fill out all four corners of the composition. To my eye, it is a more harmonious image.”

Martha Hill: “We are talking about very subtle distinctions here. Many people will like the first image over the third because of the luminous quality of the pink background. And it is clearly a matter of personal taste.

What makes the third photograph so appealing to me is the ethereal quality of the light. The background colors gradate very subtly from pink to lavender to blue in an even tonality, giving a sense of serene harmony and balance. The linear design of the tree branches is weighted slightly off-center, thus creating a delicate imbalance.

The spatial depth in the picture is also ethereal. As in an Asian painting, the sense of three-dimensional space is ever so subtly there, as the lighter tone of the tree brings it forward from the background. The branches reach to the edges of the frame, also bringing the tree to the frontal plane of the picture space. To me, this third version is shibui, which in Japanese describes something of an understated, highly refined elegance.”

For more insights and technique tips, check out “The New Art of Photographing Nature”!

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Join Me at Kenmore Camera’s Digital Photo Expo This Weekend!

This coming Saturday 11/3 from 10:30 AM -12:30 PM I will be signing my new book TREES: Between Earth & Heaven at Kenmore Camera’s Digital Photo Expo at the Lynnwood Convention Center.

Come for me but stay for all things photography! This is Kenmore Camera’s biggest event of the year and there is fantastic line-up of world-class photographers across many genres coming to share their knowledge and inspire you.

The industry’s leading manufacturers will show their latest gear and answer your questions. There will be plenty of deals on cameras, lenses, tripods, bags, lighting, memory and more.

See you there!

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Exclusive Pre-Order Deal Ends Soon! TREES: Between Earth & Heaven

Time is running out to receive exclusive bonuses with your purchase of TREES: Between Earth and Heaven! Pre-order before the 29th for these additons to what is a gorgeous and comprehensive book of many of the world’s great trees. Each copy sold benefits Roots of Peace, so not only will you get a beautifully printed book singed by yours truly along with an 8 x 10″ print, personally packaged with care by my staff – you’ll also be supporting the great cause of creating sustainable, vibrant flora world-wide.

 

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Flashback Friday: Denali 1988

This excerpt is from “Photographs from the Edge”, which not only details the stories behind some of my most well-known captures from across the globe and throughout my career, but is also filled with tips and tricks and equipment information.


August 1988: “Rising Mist”, Alaska Range, Denali National Park, Alaska USA
Nikon F3, Nikkor 200-400mm f/5.6 lens, f/8 for 1/250 sec., Kodachrome 64

The nature of the photo: Mountains are well known for their fast rising and falling air along their slopes. Glider pilots in mountainous areas will fly right at a mountain side when the thermals are right, then catch a fast moving ride going up with the air. They often describe this as running and jumping onto an elevator that is already moving upward.


Years ago I was working on a book entitled Alakshak, The Great Country, a Sierra Club book about Alaska. I spent a lot of time crisscrossing Alaska gathering photos for it. As part of this journey, I wanted to get some aerial shots of mountains in the Alaska Range. So I found myself in a small plane above the mountains working in the hours between 11 pm through 1 am.

In the summer, this is a key time because the light is most dramatic then. During summer solstice in Alaska, most of the day is bright sunshine and you only have a few hours of twilight with bold light and color. I was using the shortest hours of the day to capture the most radical light.

In this image, the light of the sun on the Arctic horizon illuminating a few misty cloud sweeping up a slope at around 18,000 feet. While I like this image and I have long loved photographing mountains, it is not the photo itself that brings back memories of this moment. This was shot over 25 years ago, and I remember it all these years later because of the absolute turbulence that our plane would encounter as the plane would fly long the lip of the ridge.

I fly a lot, and I have been on planes around the world in some very remote locations. However, I’m not a happy camper when the plane drops 20 feet in an instant as it was doing here. I can often circle in ever tighter circles around the subject with my mind so focused on the shooting that being scared is not part of the equation. However, when a plane is dropping and rising with the thermals like this, it is uncomfortable at best and frightening usually.

I remember spot metering the brightest part of the frame which was simply the wispy cloud. I compensated for the brightness by exposing to make that cloud bright with detail. By contrast then the surrounding mountains and distant valley remain fairly dark by comparison. This shot shows off the ephemeral nature of clouds and light. Within seconds of shooting this, the sun dropped below the horizon, and the entire moment was gone in an instant.

Photo tip:
Spot metering can be a helpful technique when the light is dramatic and you have to be sure you get the brightness values right. In this shot, spot metering determined the exposure for the bright cloud, but that would have meant the clouds were dark and the rest of the scene even darker. That exposure has to be adjusted to make the clouds bright, not dark, by adding exposure to what the meter shows.

For this and many, many more stories behind some of the most notable photographs from a lifetime of world travel, pick up Photographs From the Edge today and make a note at checkout that you’d like me to sign it!

 

 

 

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Time is Running Out on Trees: Between Earth & Heaven Pre-Order Bonuses!

On October 29th Trees: Between Earth & Heaven will be published. Thank you so much to everyone whom has already pre-ordered the book – I can’t wait to hear what you think! I have a feeling you’ll love it as much as I do – the early production copy I’ve reviewed is printed beautifully and I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s turned out.

There is still time to pre-order the book and receive the bonuses offered through my online store. If you’re looking for a thoughtful, meaningful holiday gift – look no further! Not only do I anticipate this book to bring awareness to trees world-wide, Roots of Peace will plant trees for every copy sold!

Pre-ordering Trees: Between Earth & Heaven will not only get you a signed copy of the book, but an 8×10 print as well!

 

 

 

 

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Technique Tuesday: Photographing Reflections

This excerpt is from “Photographs from the Edge”, which not only details the stories behind some of my most well-known captures from across the globe and throughout my career, but is also filled with tips and tricks and equipment information.



June 2013: Canyon Wall Reflection, Kimberley, Australia
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 24-105mm f/4 lens, f/4 for 1/1250 sec., ISO 2000

The nature of the photo: The Kimberley region of Australia sits in the far northwestern part of the continent. The area is known for its sandstone and limestone gorges and steep cliffs. The land has a maximum height of a little over 3,000 feet, but the terrain is so steep that the country is difficult to move through except by boat along the coast.


The fine art world has long been important to me, since that was what I studied in college. Many painters have influenced my own work. The image here reminds me of the work of Gustav Klimt and his homage to the pointillist painters of his time. These included a series of paintings of women with very ornate dresses.

As I traveled by boat through the inlets and canyons along the coast in the Kimberley area of northernwestern Australia, I found that the reflections of the canyon walls in the water reminded me of the color palette and design within Klimt’s dresses. In this image, you can see the ocher-colored cliffs reflected in the disrupted surface of this saltwater inlet, along with the blue sky above.

I love these moments where the abstraction takes on all sorts of forms that remind you of other things, things that become metaphors for me. You can get lost looking at the details of this image, seeing “faces” and other shapes. I find that these abstracted pieces with embedded images draw the viewer into them.

In the center of this photo, I see the eye and ears of a goat. Other people will see something entirely different. That’s how an image like this one can engage people on a very different level than simply one of recognition.

Photo tip: Water is a wonderful reflective surface in nature and offers so many opportunities for the observant photographer. Look for reflections, both on still water and on water that is disturbed and creating unique patterns and rhythms. Be careful of using a polarizing filter with reflections because it can remove key elements of those reflections on water.

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