One of my favorite subjects to photograph underwater are clown anemonefish. I can spend an entire dive photographing them as they dart about in a comical, yet exasperated state. I encountered this red and black anemonefish while visiting Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands in 2019. While trying to create an image like this, I am dealing with multiple issues that my non-underwater photography friends are probably unaware of. I have to be aware of my surroundings, pay attention to the amount of air left in my tank, control my buoyancy, adjust my cumbersome camera equipment, and then hope that some of my images are properly exposed and in focus. Every once in a while, I get lucky and capture a moment like this. I like how the fish was off center while staring directly at me. I think it is especially amusing that it had one eye looking up and the other eye was looking down.
During my Secrets of Melanesia voyage with Heritage Expeditions in 2019, I visited a series of incredibly remote islands from the Solomon Islands on down through Vanuatu. Ambrym was the last island that I visited before ending the expedition in Port Vila. It is known as the “black” island due to its twin volcanoes which cover much of the island in volcanic ash as well as being renowned for its mysterious “black magic”. This magic is showcased by the famous Rom Dance which is restricted to only the village men. The masked dance is a ritual that stretches back centuries and recounts the age-old tale of good versus evil. It is also believed to influence harvests and is a privilege to witness. In order to view the performance, all of us had to hike along the shoreline and then up hill to the ceremonial site. Once we arrived and settled down, the village men began their enthralling dance. The ground shook and the sound reverberated off of the trees as the men drummed their feet in unison. I was trying to figure out how to best photograph this mysterious spectacle and decided to use a slow shutter speed to record the motion while zoomed in with my telephoto lens. For a brief moment, rain began to pour down adding another secretive element to my image.
One of my favorite photographers is Art Wolfe. His photography greatly influenced my own style and motivated me to travel the world. I have been fortunate over the past 20 years to be able to photograph remote landscapes and endangered wildlife, but had always desired to expand my work to include exotic people. In 2017, I dabbled at photographing people during my first visit to Vanuatu. This initial foray only fueled my desire to expand my work in this direction. When I travelled to the Solomon Islands to scuba dive in 2019, I also joined Heritage Expeditions’ Secrets of Melanesia expedition. This was my second adventure with Heritage and it was as rewarding as my first trip with them to the Subantarctic. The voyage began in Honiara and ended in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Along the way, we visited incredibly remote islands and were enthusiastically welcomed by the local villagers. The kindness and generosity I experienced was indicative of all the good that can happen when people share their culture with a visitor. This young man on Nendo Island in Santa Cruz Province was dressed in a traditional costume that warriors wear to intimidate strangers. He definitely caught me off guard as we approached his village, but graciously posed for me when I asked if I could take his picture. I look forward to sharing more of my amazing images of the welcoming people that I met during this amazing trip.
Prior to my trip the Solomon Islands, I had researched satellite views of Marovo Lagoon and knew that I had to find a way to photograph the Mindeminde Islands with my drone. This beautiful location featured mangrove covered islands surrounded by interconnected reefs and shallow water. My first logistical challenge was that I needed a boat in order to visit the islands. They were located over an hour away from the dive lodge where I was based, but closer to the airstrip where I had landed. Eventually, some new guests were arriving by plane, so I took advantage of the opportunity to use the boat before they landed. My ideal photography conditions for an aerial image like this are when the sun is directly overhead and there aren’t any clouds casting dark shadows on the vibrant landscape. When I was finally ready to fly, there was one massive cloud causing me some trouble. Fortunately, after a few flights where I explored for compositions, the cloud dissipated and I was rewarded with this brilliant image.
In October 2019, I realized one of my life-long dreams and traveled to the Solomon Islands. I have been sitting on these images for over a year, but now want to start sharing them. The Solomon Islands are infamous for the fierce fighting that took place there between the US Marines and Japanese forces during World War II. They are also a series of idyllic tropical islands surrounded by coral reefs and home to a diverse people with exotic cultures. I began my trip by scuba diving for 10 days at a tiny resort located in Marovo Lagoon. I was the only guest for all but my last few days, though to be fair, they could only host a maximum of 4 guests. I was there long enough that I was able to learn the local reefs and planned my dives around the tidal currents. This image is from my favorite wall next to the village. I was enthralled with the top of the wall covered in soft corals with the mangroves hanging above. This location was at the end of my favorite dive, so I planned accordingly to spend a lot of time there. At less than 10 feet deep, I was able to suck my scuba tank empty as I worked the wall for photos. I loved photographing this spot so much that the dive guides renamed it “Jon’s Spot” in my honor. Sadly, I recently learned that the older American women who ran the resort recently passed away. Lisa was a good friend and she will be missed.
During my expedition to the Subantarctic, my primary ambition was to photograph penguins for my ongoing South Pacific project. Still, I also created dramatic landscape images whenever the opportunities arose. I photographed this scene on remote Auckland Island during a short hike up to the site of an old WWII coast watcher’s position. I can not imagine the hardships that these young men had to endure for years at a time. Clearly, it was incredibly windy when I created this image. I like the movement of the blowing grasses in the gale force winds with the dark clouds in the background. I think that it perfectly captures the extreme isolation of this wilderness landscape.
During my December expedition to the Subantarctic, I visited Enderby Island in the isolated Auckland Islands. This archipelago is home to a variety of unique wildlife, including the endangered yellow eyed penguin. With an estimated population of less than 4000, they are the rarest penguin species. In New Zealand they are called hoiho.
My time ashore was limited, so I made the most of my opportunity to photograph the small colony near our beach landing. I used my telephoto lens to photograph them from a respectful distance, since they are much more sensitive to human disturbance than other penguins. I am especially drawn to this image, because it perfectly captures the penguin’s shy nature as it cautiously emerges from its forest home.
This past December, I continued my explorations of the South Pacific by traveling to New Zealand where I joined an expedition to the Subantarctic. The 13-day voyage allowed me to visit remote Auckland Island, Campbell Island, and Macquarie Island. During the trip, I photographed wilderness landscapes, comical penguins, friendly elephant seals, and majestic albatross. I was prepared for rough ocean crossings, especially after what I experienced sailing to South Georgia Island in 2012. However, instead of the roaring forties and furious fifties, the seas were calm and the weather unusually benign. The highlight of my trip was photographing king penguins, royal penguins, and elephant seals at Sandy Bay.
This is my favorite image of king penguins. They were totally unafraid of me sitting nearby. With the sun shining below puffy clouds, the stunning island landscape provided a perfect background. This image far exceeded what I had hoped to create, especially considering there was no guarantee that I would even be able to get ashore.
Sadly, Macquarie Island set record high temperatures prior to and during my visit. While this allowed me to create some beautiful images, it bodes poorly for wildlife that depend on cool weather.
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.
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.