What’s become an annual trip to Namibia was particularly great this year, with different views of Sossusvlei, great wildlife views in Etosha National Park, and fun with abstracts at an old diamond-mining ghost town slowly being inundated with sand. The quiver tree forest was spectacular too, though the moon was full when we were there which somewhat inhibited photographing the Milky Way at night. I also came away with some great new elephant shots for the upcoming book project. Enjoy!
I am leading another Namibia tour in August 2020. You can get on the preregistration list now to be the first notified when trip details are posted. This trip will sell out, don’t miss out!
I had an amazing session with Elephants a few days ago in Botswana! I spent hours in a stuffy, sunken blind, but was rewarded late in the afternoon when several elephant herds began to show up for a drink and a splash. It was about ninety degrees here, and they played in the cooling waters just five feet in front of us. The elephants were very aware of us and we were splashed intentionally many times – we had a major cleaning session afterwards since the churned water had turned to liquid mud.
This lasted for over an hour and I shot thousands of frames; the results are full of the personality and affection these amazing animals possess.
The task of editing has been daunting to say the least. I am working on a book with fellow UW alum & biologist Sam Wasser, who has been instrumental in using DNA to track endangered species, especially orcas and elephants, and now Dr. Wasser is trying to use DNA to track illegal shipments of ivory and shut down major poaching cartels. It makes my work look easy by comparison, and those of us who work with and care for the well being of these animals and their place in the world are so very grateful for his work.
September finds me spending the month in Africa with good friends and plenty of subjects. We’re currently in the midst of our Namibia photo journey after having spent some time in various locations around the southern regions of the continent. We began our travels in Kenya, where we were able to capture much of the region’s wildlife over the course of several days spent at Maasai Mara National Reserve; lions, zebra, cheetah – and much, much more. This location also provided several shots that will look great in the book on elephants I’m currently working on! Giraffes and several species of birds were on display as well. Derived from the Maasai language, the term “Mara” describes the flora and fauna spotted nature of the wide open spaces, and wildebeest mingled with the other wildlife in the area to dapple the landscape.
Enjoy the new photos, and check back on the block soon for more photos from Namibia!
This coming February, I’m proud to present the Japan Photo Journey – an intensive photography workshop and journey to one of the great places to visit in the winter time for truly unique photo opportunities. Both myself and Gavriel Jecan will be with you and 9 other participants over the course of an 11-day workshop that begins in Tokyo before heading to the mountains to photograph the snow monkeys enjoying their hot springs.
Once the monkeys have had their fill of our small group, we will head to Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido. In the winter here, the days are short – but the stunning sunrises and sunsets can be lengthy, making this an ideal shooting location with expanded periods of time to shoot in ideal lighting conditions. The rich forests and mountains here provide the perfect backdrop to photograph the many bird species that congregate here, here including the symbolic Japanese Crane, whooper swans, and the very large Steller’s sea eagle.
The days may be a bit shorter, but they will be full of adventures and opportunities. By the time the sun goes down there will be plenty of time for everyone to enjoy a nice warm bath before we have a meal together, after which we will engage in lectures, critiques, and of course cheerful banter. Though our day shooting may be over, teaching is my passion and it’s in these moments where we regroup and discuss the day where perhaps the most knowledge is gained and shared.
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.
July 2014: Rufous Hummingbird and Chick, Seattle, Washington, USA Canon EOS-1D X, EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT lens +1.4x, ƒ/20 for 1/125 sec., ISO 4000
The nature of the photo: All hummingbirds are remarkable birds for their amazing flight abilities. However, the rufous hummingbird, a bird about three-inches long and weighing about a tenth of an ounce, has the longest migration of any U.S. bird its size. It may go the distance from Alaska to well into Mexico, and some scientists think it may go as far as Panama.
I have spent 30 years developing and cultivating a Japanese-inspired garden around my house in Seattle. It has filled in nicely, creating a wild space by my home. I planted some black pines in my garden early on to provide year-round structure and color, besides refuge for birds and other wildlife. I have steadily shaped and pruned them bonsai style to help them fit into the space of my garden.
In 2014 as I was working on my trees, I found a bird staring me in the face. As I looked down past the bird, there was the nest. A rufous female hummingbird had chosen to nest in my beloved black pines! That sort of discovery still excites me after so many years connecting with nature.
A hummingbird nest is so tiny, no more than 2 inches across. The bird covers her nest with lichen, so it is easy to miss in the lichen-covered black pine. But luck had been with me, so I quickly descended from my stepladder and forgot about pruning the trees that day.
I wanted to photograph the mother as it raised its young, so I set up my camera about 10 feet away from the nest. Even that close, hummingbirds are really small, so I needed to use a 200-400mm lens at 400mm plus a 1.4x converter. I could then take pictures from the lawn chair without being so close to the nest as to disturb the mother. I had a field day for the next two weeks as this hummingbird raised its young.
Photo tip: Wildlife photography is rarely about just capturing the animal in a photograph. Timing can be critical to getting the remarkable, striking shot. You have to keep shooting, always paying attention, to be sure you do get that shot. Shooting your camera continuously will not necessarily get the shot, though, because the key moment may be between frames.
Simply put, black bears are very challenging to photograph. Their inky fur absorbs light, and if you try to get the correct reading off it, everything else gets overexposed. Whenever possible I try to shoot a variety of perspectives of the same subject. Even with the advances in digital technology, there is still no substitute for getting the correct exposure the first time out. In the days of film, we bracketed in the hope that one frame would nail it. Now we can happily get immediate results, but too much time spent fooling around with your camera settings may result in losing the shot as the bear (or whatever wildlife you are photographing) shambles away.
In this recent shoot in British Columbia, the light conditions were overcast, not from fog, but from smoke from forest fires burning from California to Canada. This actually helped me get the correct exposure much more easily than I would have had the sky been clear and sunny, adding even more contrast to difficult lighting evaluations. The end result – black bears doing some coastal fishing, with some success! I was photographing these bears with both an EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM and an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT lens in an attempt to get the subject at different depths in this colorful and unique environment.
It’s been a busy summer, but there is no slowing down for me! I wanted to take this opportunity to share an updated list of my upcoming workshop opportunities with you. Some return trips to familiar locations are here, and I love to share the knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years of visiting these great places. We also have exotic and new locales to visit as well. My team is hard at work doing our research, working with the best local support available.
Many of these new destinations come from the feedback we received from surveying those of you who subscribe to my newsletter. If you don’t receive those, get signed up here to be notified and kept up-to-date on what I have planned!
Particular locations and workshops will sell it well in advance. Don’t hesitate to get your name on the list! As always if you have any questions about an upcoming worshop, contact my staff – they would be happy to answer any questions you may have about a particular workshop.
I’m heading to Mt. Rainier tomorrow to kick off our summer workshop, and prior to doing so Gavriel Jecan and I went to do some quick scouting. We will do this as often as possible before workshops, especially those happening up here near home. Usually there isn’t much photography involved – just as assessment of conditions and opportunities. This time however, we encountered a few adorable critters to share – Pika, and a long tailed weasel, most notably. Unfortunately the former is a common snack for the later! We also happened upon a golden-mantled ground-squirrel. Hopefully we can find these and more when we return with our group!
Just a few shots here for not, but stay tuned for a much more in depth collection of photos from Mt. Rainier next week! The fall workshop at Rainier has sold out, but if you’re interested in jumping on one of my other pacific northwest offerings, there is some space left in the Lake Quinault Photogrpahy Retreat in October; there’s no place like the Olympic forest in the fall and we will be adding some printing into the mix!
New photos from this year’s Katmai Bear-stravaganza! This trip posed some new challenges to navigate, but this is why we work with the best in the business as far as our on-location support is concerned – and I think in the end it also inspired some new and unique images from a location I have made a point to visit every summer for the past 5-6 years.
The most notable thought that comes to mind in reflecting on these consecutive years visiting Katmai National Park is the familiarity I now have when I see individual bears as well as their families. I can recognize particular bears from previous visits both by their physical traits as well as the varied techniques they employ to hunt for fish. Some bears might even have a unique lumber to their walk or a discernible demeanor in how they react towards other bears as well as humans.
I’m starting to recognize physical traits in the young bears and can associate them with their mothers and other family members. One thing is for certain – these bears are reproducing, and there is a healthy population to be found here. This (with caution) bodes well for both their success as a species and our opportunities to photograph them in this remote, beautiful location.
I’ll be leading two more workshops in July and August of next year, and my associate Gavriel Jecan will also be heading up his own tour next summer – sign up now, as the multiple trips indicate – they sell out fast!
Before heading to Katmai for workshops for the next couple weeks, I visited the Canadian Arctic. We had a great time with beluga whales, caribou, and polar bears. Most of the underwater shots were taken using the camera in a Nauticam housing (thank you, Backscatter Underwater Photo & Video!) suspended from an interesting contraption made from broom handles, bolts and rope, which enabled us to shoot without getting into the water. This was far more effective than when we struggled in the water to get close enough, which the belugas didn’t seem the like at all. Once we lowered the contraption into the water the whales became so curious that we had trouble keeping them from getting too close. The milky waters were so filled with sediment that sharpness became an issue. Despite the fact that the whales are largely in focus, they appear otherwise. With the polar bears I took the perspective of tiny bear in the big environment. The caribou, photographed with a 50MP Canon EOS 5DS, was a happy bonus.
I hope you enjoy checking out what I was able to capture here, and I can’t wait to see what Katmai holds for us this year!