Today is “Monarch Butterfly Day” according to whatever mystical powers-that-be control the hashtags! I’ve had the pleasure of photographing Monarchs over the years at many of Mexico’s renowned preserves that harbor millions of butterflies as they migrate.
It’s with a heavy heart, then, that I make this post – one that should be about the beauty of this creature and the symbolism and joy it brings world-wide. However, tragic events that have befallen a pair of conservation heroes in Mexico should be taking center stage right now until answers are found.
As you may have heard, activists and outspoken critics of the illegal logging activities in preserved areas of Mexico, Homero Gómez González and Raúl Hernández Romero were recently found deceased, both under mysterious and possibly malicious circumstances.
González was an agricultural engineer and the manager of the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve. Growing up in a logging family, he was a skeptic of conservation efforts and their possible impact on contributing to poverty in the region. His background and education gave strength to his voice when, in the early 2000’s, he became an advocate for curbing the deforestation he was seeing first hand.
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.
This past week I set out on an adventure with good friends to the Sea of Cortez and we were not disappointed. Aboard a boat with an excellent crew, we were treated to a variety of creatures quite literally great and small – pilot whales, dolphins, a variety of rays, and much more. A blue whale made an appearance, it’s massive size not quite apparent until we had a drone in the air.
Among the other revelations gleaned from having the ‘eye in the sky’ came when a leaping ray caught our eye. We sent the drone over to capture it from above, only to find it was just one particularly active member of a large fever of rays – a pleasant and unexpected surprise!
Enjoy the slide show, and stay tuned for more photos from several upcoming trips. My schedule is filling up, but it’s nice to be back out there!
Before I headed out for a few weeks of traveling, my friend Bill and I made it up to San Juan Island here in Washington to photograph the plentiful foxes in the area. I was exceptionally happy with the variety of color in their coats, and the playful show they put on for us! Remember – be the fox, not the bunny!
Award-winning author and photographer David FitzSimmons has a unique approach to animal portraiture, and he loves sharing it with kids. Instead of seeking rare animals in exotic locations, David photographs common animals—many found in your own backyard—against plain, white backgrounds, producing detailed close-up images that motivate children and their families to appreciate and explore nature. The striking images are the visual foundation of his Curious Critters children’s picture book series. Volume one (2011) won five national book awards and sold over 100,000 copies. Curious Critters Volume Two, featuring amazing animals from across North America, will be released in February.
David FitzSimmons is an award-winning freelance photographer and writer. His first book in the Curious Critters series won the coveted IBPA Bill Fisher Award for best first book (children’s/young adult). A Sigma Pro photographer, David has exhibited works at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, the National Center for Nature Photography, and the Telluride Photo Festival. He is a life-long educator, teaching students from kindergarten to college. Currently David is an Associate Professor at Ashland University. He has appeared on ABC, CBS, and NBC-TV. You can see more of David’s photography at www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com.
FitzSimmons’ unconventional approach to wildlife photography allows animals’ colors, textures, shapes, and seeming “personalities” to shine through. “Kids focus on the animals. That’s when the learning begins,” David explains. “They focus on and notice clues about animals’ behaviors, diets, life cycles, and habitats.” The first image in Curious Critters Volume Two is a monarch butterfly preparing for its 2,000 mile flight from Milkweed, Minnesota, to Oyamel Fir Forest, Mexico.
In writing the Curious Critters children’s picture books, David imagined that each critter talked to him during its portrait session and that he just wrote down what was said. The audiobooks for Curious Critters Volumes One and Two capture the sometimes calm, other times excited, and occasionally irascible personalities David envisioned. For the audiobook version of the conversation among four recently-born Eastern cottontail rabbits, David cast his two oldest daughters and two nieces for the voiceovers.
Besides the extraordinary photography, each of the twenty animals in Curious Critters Volume Two gets a chance to tell its story. The indigo bunting talks about calls in his “song neighborhood.” The indigo bunting reports that some “songbirds complain because I repeat myself, but I enjoy saying things twice, sometimes in very long songs. Sweet! Sweet! Chew! Chew! Where? Where? Here! Here! Sweeter! Sweeter! Chew! Chew! What! What! Sweet! Sweet!”
Curious Critters Volume Two is not only entertaining but also educational. Before David began composing the short vignettes accompanying the photos, he reviewed national science education standards. Curious Critters Volume Two meets all the life science standards for grades K-4, making the nonfiction picture book appeal to teachers, librarians, and education-minded parents. In the narrative alongside the green frog, the powerful male boasts about his healthy diet, including eating his own shed skin. “Hey! if it’s nutritious, I eat it.”
Adding to children’s enjoyment of the Curious Critters series, David partnered with nature-folksinger Foster Brown, who sings the predaceous diving beetle’s song, “Row, Row, Row Your Legs.” Beginning and ending both audiobooks is Foster’s catchy Curious Critters theme song, rich with the bluegrass sounds of guitar, banjo, mandolin, and upright bass.
David hopes that his Curious Critters picture books—featuring captivating animals like the vivid Northern Cardinal—will inspire children and adults to conserve nature. “To protect our natural world, we first have to care about it. I hope that my animal pictures allow people to see common animals—from frogs and fish to beetles and birds—in a whole new and meaningful way. It’s my goal that the close-up photography and playful prose in Curious Critters will captivate readers’ imaginations and motivate them to get outside and interact with nature.”
Curious Critters Volume Two (Wild Iris Publishing, hardback, 32 pp., ISBN 978-1-936607-70-9, $19.95) is available in bookstores, nature centers, museum stores, and other specialty shops, as well as online retailers Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Copies bought directly from Wild Iris Publishing are signed by and, if desired, dedicated by David FitzSimmons.
Check out other Curious Critters media, as well as games, parent and educator materials, sample flipping book pages, and other fun stuff at www.curious-critters.com. You can like Curious Critters on Facebook. To hear samples from the Curious Critters audiobooks, including tracks from Curious Critters Volume One, or to purchase MP3s or CDs of the audiobooks, visit the Audiobooks page on www.wildirispublishing.com.
What’s up next for David?
David can’t wait to share a variety of sea creatures with children and families. Coming soon is Curious Critters: Marine. Meet fish, birds, crustaceans and other animals from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Hear what the black sea bass, candy stripe shrimp, pencil urchin, crested puffin, California sea slug, horseshoe crab, roseate spoonbill, blue lobster, and other salty Curious Critters have to say! Available Fall 2014.
For the last couple weeks I have been traveling in India with some very good friends. As a last minute change in our itinerary, we decided to head off to Kanha, where we enjoyed seeing the abundant wildlife and the adjacent villages. Then we headed off to Mumbai and the Dhobi Ghat (the world’s largest laundry), which couldn’t be any more different than the bucolic countryside.
Click the play button to see all the photos, or click HERE
Though I am on my way to Thailand, I am able to share some photos from Sri Lanka before take off. While staying in the beautiful Southern Province I fell ill with a terrible head cold. A few days out capturing the beauty- the rest of my days were spent close to the hotel. As you can see- it wasn’t such a horrible sick chamber! (Click the play button below the photo to see them all.)
Locations: New York City; Amazonas, Brazil; British Columbia, Canada; Katmai National Park, Alaska; Astoria, Oregon; Vava’u, Tonga; Auckland, New Zealand; Southern Africa: Namibia, Botswana and South Africa
Namibia is the photographic gift that keeps on giving. While I have been to the Sossus dunes many times, the Serra Cafema and Ongava Reserve were new to me. The wildlife is tremendous and the dusty atmosphere is magical.