This past September, I was interviewed by the publication Desert Leaf. They are located in Tucson, AZ where I lived in the early 1990s while studying mechanical engineering at the University of Arizona. They were running a feature about wildlife photography and interviewed me about my experiences. They also published my image of a Japanese macaque on the cover. I took this photo while leading a photo workshop in Japan in 2013. I have always liked this primate’s crazy hair, direct eye contact, and reflection on the surface of the hotspring.
This past July, I lead my only photo tour of the last 2 years. It was a pleasure to be able to spend time searching for humpback whales with my friends Tony Wu, Steve Levi, and Doug Perrine. Unfortunately, we had to search longer and farther for whales than anytime since I first started visiting Southeast Alaska over a decade ago. Eventually, we located a group that was cooperatively bubble-net feeding in Frederick Sound. During the evening that I photographed this scene, the ocean was calm and the sunset light was prolonged. I love the dark clouds and tree covered hills in the background as the golden light illuminated this whale’s breath. If you look closely, there is also a faint rainbow visible near the base of the blow. It took luck and skill built up during my years of experience in order to compose this image while also piloting the skiff and shooting at the same time.
I have been fortunate to visit Indonesia 4 times over the past 18 years. It is one of my favorite destinations, I just wish that it wasn’t so far away from where I live. I guess that is what makes it exotic and exciting. When my daughter and I visited Komodo to go scuba diving this past June, I wanted to maximize my opportunity to photograph the famous dragons so I hired a private boat and guide for a day. With so little time, I was not optimistic that I would be successful, but am pleased with what I accomplished. These two massive beasts were lounging near the ranger station on Rinca Island. Just as the golden sunlight shined through the trees, they stood up and posed for me. Interestingly, I learned that Komodo actually means dragon, so when we say Komodo dragon we are redundantly saying dragon dragon. I thought that was kinda funny.
I have been intending to share this exciting news for a while. My photo of the Na Pali Coast at sunset is featured on the cover of the 2019 Sierra Club Wilderness calendar! This is the second time in 9 years that one of my images was chosen for the cover. I photographed this dramatic sunset during the first winter after I moved to Kauai. I have been photographing this location for almost 20 years and it is one of my favorites on the island. Unfortunately, due to the extraordinary rain and floods this past April, it is currently impossible for visitors to experience this stunning view until the road is repaired. I hope that when it eventually reopens that there will be some significant changes to the parking situation and limits on the number of daily visitors.
How is this for a wildlife photo? While visiting Tonga in September, I encountered this curious humpback whale mother and calf underwater. They were initially swimming from my right to left. My guide and friend, Ken Howard, were also in the water just to my left. Suddenly, the whales turned and swam directly towards us. It all happened so fast that I could only point my camera in their general direction and push the shutter release without looking. If I had got any closer using a fisheye lens I would have gotten run over. Oh, wait. That did happen.
One of the highlights of my adventure-filled life was being able to take my younger daughter, Chloe, scuba diving in Indonesia this past June. We had an amazing time and she got to see what a healthy coral reef looked like. It was not really an underwater photography trip, but I still brought along my Ikelite housing to take a few photos when the opportunities presented themselves. This is my favorite image from a dive site in Komodo National Park called Batu Bolong. I became enamored with this coral and sponge covered rock and love how the sun filtered through the water column while the reef fishes swirled above me.
My most recent trip was returning to Seattle in early October. The purpose of this visit was that one of my Kauai friends wanted to go to a Seattle Seahawks football game for his birthday, plus my dad was also turning 80 the following weekend and I wanted to celebrate it with him. It had been several years since I had experienced fall, so I also planned on visiting the North Cascades. I drove up to the Methow Valley with my buddy Tom and we spent 2 nights in a friend’s beautiful cabin near Mazama. The weather was ideal with clear blue skies and crisp autumn air. One afternoon, I decided to revisit a location where I had photographed one of my favorite abstract images almost 20 years ago. I found this fallen leaf tranquilly marooned along the river’s shore and maneuvered my camera into position to include the contrasting yellow-orange trees and blue sky reflection. I especially like the water ripples in the reflection that add another dimension to this beautiful composition.
I spent most of September visiting the Kingdom of Tonga. This was my second trip to this exotic South Pacific island nation. My first was in 2012 as part of a photo tour that I co-lead with Tony Wu. My primary purpose was to join a private whale watching expedition with 2 of my closest photography friends, Doug Perrine and Ken Howard. However, since I have been focused on documenting the South Pacific the past few years, I decided to devote an additional week before my friends arrived to landscape photography. While planning this adventure, I did some online photo reconnaissance and decided to attempt to photograph the numerous blowholes along the south shore of the main island of Tonga’tapu. The winter weather ended up being incredibly rainy most of that week, but my persistence eventually paid off. This image was created after too many early morning drives to Keleti Beach which featured captivating terraces and unusual structures like this blowhole pedestal. As the incoming waves crashed into the shoreline, the force of the water would erupt several seconds later. I experimented with different shutter speeds, but eventually preferred a fast shutter to freeze the action. I was fortunate that the early morning light was exquisite and the wind blew the geyser away from my precarious camera placement.
This summer, I also visited Seattle after flying back and forth to Juneau. I enjoy being back in my old stomping grounds during the increasingly warm summers. Unfortunately, the downside to that nice weather is dry conditions in the Cascades that lead to forest fires and lots of smoke. I eventually pulled myself away from my prolonged SeaFair boating lifestyle to visit Mount Rainier National Park. Stephen Matera invited me to join him on a day trip and we decided to hike up to Spray Park to photograph wildflowers. Neither of us had been up there to shoot for who knows how long, so we thought it would be a great location to revisit. As we hiked up into the alpine meadows, we grew increasingly concerned that something was off. In places where we would normally anticipate seeing lush fields of wildflowers, we saw only brown, dried up plants. We scouted a number of locations and still could not find any significant displays to photograph. We discussed how this time of year should be the peak bloom, but only saw the odd signs of lupine, asters, and paintbrush hiding in the shade of trees. One particular meadow that in previous years had been remarkably productive for photos was just a tangle of nothing. I was resigned to not even take my camera out of my backpack, but kept scrambling around searching for anything to photograph. Eventually, I found this small display of avalanche lilies that made a strong foreground as the sunset illuminated Rainier’s icy summit. I had always wanted to create an image with these typically early season wildflowers and was lucky that there was almost no wind to move them around during my longish exposure.
This past July, I returned to Alaska to lead my semi-annual humpback whale photography tour with Tony Wu. I have been photographing in Alaska for over 15 years and specifically humpback whales in Southeast Alaska for 11 years. When I first started, I never imagined that I would witness such a calamitous decline in their population, but that is exactly what I observed this summer. One of the research papers that I have reviewed clearly showed that the population increased from 2006 to 2014, but that the number of sightings has dropped since 2015. That also coincided with the “blob” of warm water off the West Coast during the same time period. How has this impacted the whales, let alone the plankton and small fish? All I can share is that I normally expect to see dozens of whales each day. This summer, I had to spend most of my time searching for any whale. Over 3 weeks, we eventually counted a total of 35 whales which was quite sobering. Still, I eventually had luck at finding some groups of humpbacks that were cooperatively bubble-net feeding for my guests. This image was from the morning of one of my scouting missions when Tony & I had set out in the fast skiff to locate the bubble-netters north of Kupreanof Island. We came across this adult that was repetitively breaching and were able to capture a few images of this exhilarating behavior. The overcast light might not have been the most dramatic, but I like this image because of the angle of the whale with the small island in the background.