One of my dear friends and photography idols is Tony Wu. He is a pleasant individual who is sometimes fun to be around. We have done a number of trips together over the past decade, most of which he works hard to forget. Anyway, years ago I saw some of his brilliant images of the red snapper spawning aggregation in Palau which inspired my own desire to photograph schools of fish having sex during my 2019 visit. The spawning only takes place a few days each month in the early morning hours the few days before the full moon. I planned my trip to coincide with these dates. Because the diving was going to happen before sunrise, I knew that it was going to be quite dark underwater. I was going to need my bulky underwater strobes and get as close as possible to the action. As I dove into the dark water and descended to the bottom, there were probably 8000 fish balled up together. I knew my air supply was going to get used up fast based on the depth I was diving to and my need to swim as fast as possible whenever they rocketed back to the surface to spawn. Needless to say, I did not have a very long dive, but was fortunate to come away with this fantastic image of an inspiring wildlife spectacle.
For many years, one of my dreams was to snorkel with the stingless golden jellyfish in Palau‘s famous Jellyfish Lake. In December 2019, I was able to experience this unbelievable underwater photography destination during my visit to this tiny island nation. Jellyfish Lake is connected to the ocean through fissures and tunnels in the limestone, but the jellyfish have been isolated for so long that they have lost their stinging tentacles compared to their ocean cousins. Millions of jellies migrate around the lake each day chasing the sunlight so that the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues can produce nutrition to sustain them.
Most tourists only visit the lake for an hour during a day-long boating tour. I knew this would be an inadequate amount of time for me to create an image that I would be proud of. In order to optimize my photographic opportunities, my buddy and I camped for 4 nights on a tiny island that was only 2 miles from the lake so that we could kayak back and forth at our leisure. I spent up to 4 hours at a time blissfully swimming among the jellies and learned where they liked to congregate at certain times of day based on the position of the sun. One of their favorite hangout spots was in the late afternoon as some trees on the side of the cliff began to cast long shadows into the water. They treated the shade like a fence by bunching up against the darker water on the sunny side. I also found the shade created a mysterious background to my photos as they all clumped together. This is one of my favorite images. I especially like how their bells are backlit and the closest ones are pulsating in the same direction.
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.
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.
I created this image on my last whale watching trip to Maui with my photography friends in February 2020. It is actually one of my closest photo encounters that I have ever had with a humpback whale. All I did was lean over the engine and dip my underwater housing in the ocean as this whale swam right up to the stern of the boat. Perhaps I wasted a lot of time over the past 2 decades trying to swim with whales and never previously getting this close? Since I was shooting “blind” with a fisheye lens, I was fortunate that I did not clip this animal’s tail in at least one of my images in this burst series at 10fps. There is so much detail in this image and especially the whale’s eye, that I am currently featuring a higher-resolution version on my website’s homepage slideshow. Please check it out and let me know what you think?
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.
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.