Today, I was supposed to be flying to Australia for the first time to visit Lord Howe Island. Unfortunately, I broke my left little toe last Friday and can barely walk. So, instead I now find myself at home for a few extra weeks with plenty of neglected work to get caught up on.
One of my humpback whale images from Alaska is published in the current issue of Ranger Rick. My image is the smaller inset in the bottom right. I was delighted to see that my friend and photography tour partner Tony Wu‘s underwater image was the main double page spread. Congrats, Tony! It is admirable that in this current age of everyone being a photographer and the competitive nature of the business that the two of us have worked together so effectively for almost a decade. I look forward to our next 10 years of adventures and friendship.
I recently returned home to the island of Kauai after spending the last month visiting family and friends on “the mainland”. While vacationing with my wife’s family on the East Coast, I spent a few days photographing sharks from Rhode Island. It was a fantastic experience and I might even go so far as to claim that it was my favorite shark trip that I have ever done. Brian was a fantastic host and guide, and though the boat ride left me a little green in the gills each day, I would highly encourage any aspiring shark photographer to book a trip with Pelagic Expeditions.
I had hoped to photograph a mako shark during my 3 days on the water, but only saw one a few fleeting times. Dang, it was fast and my photos unremarkable. Fortunately, there were a lot of curious blue sharks that stayed around the boat and provided me with plenty of photo opportunities. This is one of my favorite images of a blue shark passing incredibly close to my dome port. I need to point out that I was not in a cage, but simply floating on the surface while having the hull of the boat against my back for safety. There were usually 2 or 3 blue sharks swimming around, so it was easy to keep track of them, but by my last dive there were at least a half dozen sharks taking turns at bumping into my camera. I spent about 30 minutes in the water solo before deciding that I had enough of sharks bumping into me.
I have not photographed a lot of people over the years. It is not that I do not know how, it is just that I have only done it for my family and friends since I focus on landscape and wildlife photography. However, during my recent travels to Vanuatu, I had several opportunities to photograph the beautiful people of Tanna Island. I created this slow shutter image on a day when I was invited to attend a traditional ceremony of three tribes gathering to celebrate their young boys entering manhood. It was a beautiful but hot afternoon filled with singing and dancing. I was honored that I was even allowed to celebrate with them, let alone be able to take photos.
Recently, I had an old friend from Alaska come out to visit me on Kauai. She had not been actively shooting for a several years, so she hired me to teach her a private photography course in order to help her refresh her skills. It was a lot of fun and I am happy that I had the opportunity to work with her. While I have been traveling quite a bit this year, I continue to photograph Kauai as much as possible. Still, it is difficult to get up super early all the time, so her visit gave me the incentive to photograph sunrise every morning for a week. Since I moved here one year ago, I have seen a lot of rainbows, but not had a lot of success photographing them in a dramatic landscape setting. Fortunately, this spectacular rainbow appeared during one of our early morning shoots and persisted for 15 minutes. The lighting situation was ideal with me in the shade and the sunlight and rain across the valley so that my camera gear did not get hosed. Keeping my lens and filters dry during a downpour is the difference between creating an image and missing the shot. Aloha.
I have to admit that it was wonderful to get back in the water scuba diving during my recent South Pacific adventure. All the transitions and disruptions in my life the last few years simply did not leave me with any time to be able to dive. The last time I really dove was 4 years ago when I first visited Fiji. Fortunately, my recent trip to Vanuatu required me to fly through Fiji, so I planned a week of diving on the Rainbow Reef in the Somosomo Straits. This was an area that I had not visited during my previous trip, but had always heard fantastic things about. I flew up to Taveuni and stayed at a wonderful resort for 10 days. I ended up diving with another resort than where I was staying, but it all worked out. Over the course of 9 days of diving, I got to know a few sites exceptionally well and planned my subsequent dives around the ideal currents. The current was totally ripping when I created this image, so it was challenging to say the least. This is one of my favorite bommies which was covered in soft corals while being enveloped in clouds of colorful anthias.
I recently returned from an adventure that I had been dreaming about and attempting to do for over a decade. Years ago when I first started photographing lava, I learned about the Yasur Volcano located on remote Tanna Island in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. It is not the easiest place to get to and the amenities won’t meet most people’s requirements, but it is an incredibly accessible and rewarding location to shoot. I spent a week working with a local chief which allowed me and my frequent travel partner Steve Levi special access to the volcano.
The first time we approached the crater rim via the relatively short but steep hike from the parking area, the deafening explosions and sulfur filled air overwhelmed my already excited senses. When I finally observed my first strombolian eruption, I began to question my sanity. I had heard stories about lava flying through the air and impacting way too close for comfort. Of course, one of the two times this happened to me was during my very first visit to the caldera. It was one of the most brief and horrifying moments of my life, but fortunately the lava landed safely to my left. At least I had gotten that experience out of the way.
Over the course of my week long exploration, I visited the volcano 9 times. Sometimes it was cloudy, sometimes it was clear. There were even a few times where it was raining so hard, that there was no point in even trying. I had a lot of 4am and 4pm starts with all of my best images created during the 30 minutes before the sun rose or after the sun set during the beautiful twilight light. The volcano exploded about every 5 minutes on average. I can not adequately describe the incredible experience of glimpsing and then being blasted with the shock wave while standing in this location with my camera set up on my tripod. I pushed my camera’s shutter button on every explosion, but it was the extraordinary large ones like this that allowed me to create my best images.
Last July, I lead two back-to-back expeditions in Southeast Alaska in search of humpback whales bubble feeding. I co-lead these trips with my good friend and regular partner Tony Wu. I have been photographing the whales doing this exciting and dramatic behavior since 2007. Man, it really was a decade ago that I purchased my little C-Dory and set off for Alaska without a clue. After my initial struggles, I became very good at finding and photographing the whales while they are bubble feeding. Still, it is never easy to do. I often have to spend several days searching for them by covering hundreds of miles of shoreline combined with the nearly constant bad weather, but when I find them it is incredible! I am looking forward to returning to Alaska with Tony in July 2018. Who wants to join us?
Since moving to Kauai last year, I have been trying to allocate my time by doing only things that I like doing while spending time with people I enjoy being around. Seems pretty simple, right? So, when your oldest photo buddy starts pumping you for information about photographing wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert State Park after a very wet winter, why not jump on a plane back to the mainland and join him? That is exactly what I did 2 weeks ago. I had been aware that California had a very wet winter and started reading about the predicted super bloom. Apparently, so did every one else, because even though we were only there for 3 days in the middle of the week, Borrego Springs was totally crazy packed with visitors. Fortunately, most other photographers aspire for the “best” light around noon time, which meant that the parking before sunrise was not a problem for us. I photographed this beautiful display of wildflowers near the visitor center on the one morning there were clouds in the sky.
Last August, I visited Svalbard for the second time to photograph Arctic wildlife, especially polar bears. I was invited by my close friends to be the photography guide on their expedition. It was a fantastic opportunity and I got to make a number of new friends, but dang is Svalbard a long way from Kauai. The highlight of our trip was definitely the days we spent motoring around at 82°N searching for polar bears in the pack ice. Did I mention that it was cold? Like really cold, but not winter cold. I wonder how my body body is going to keep up with my ambitions now that I live in Hawaii? Anyway, we experienced some truly wonderful encounters with over a dozen bears. This is one of my favorite images as this polar bear jumped from one ice flow to another.
This past January, I visited the Big Island of Hawaii in order to photograph lava from the ongoing eruption of Kilauea Volcano. I had intended to fly over there since I moved to Kauai last summer, but settling into my new island life kept getting in the way. Fortunately, I waited until until the right time and was rewarded with several days of incredible viewing of the dramatic “firehose” at the Kamokuna ocean entry. I hiked out to the main lava viewing area with some fellow photographers several days in a row, but on my final day decided to try the famous lava boat and shoot from the water. I had always poo-pooed the boat with its 50 passengers, but am glad that my buddy insisted that we try it. This is one of my favorite images because the lava can clearly be seen dramatically pouring out of the cliff while the steam cloud glows orange in the pre-dawn light. It was the experience of a lifetime.