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.
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.
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.
Please forgive my online absence over the past 5 months. I have been traveling extensively and only recently been home long enough to begin photo editing. Sitting in the dark at my computer is not my favorite activity, but I am excited to begin sharing my new images from my adventures to Indonesia, Southeast Alaska, Washington, and Tonga. Hopefully, they are worth the wait.
This past June, my younger daughter and I traveled to Indonesia to visit Bali and Komodo. Our primary purpose was to go on a live-aboard scuba diving trip in Komodo National Park. Since we were already there, I intended to spend at least one day dedicated to photographing the famous dragons. I had arranged to hire a private guide with a speed boat and we departed early our first morning to visit Komodo Island and Rinca Island. Upon arriving first at Komodo, my guide explained to the ranger what I was hoping to do with my “dragon pole”. He pondered the implications of what I was asking of him and then decided to take me to the largest lizard in the immediate area, a living dinosaur. Needless to say, I would not advise anyone to attempt what I was trying to do over that first 30 minutes and it ended up being photographically unproductive. Getting a wide-angle close-up image was going to be much harder than I had anticipated.
Next, we visited Rinca Island where I hoped to photograph more dragons. When we arrived, it was in the heat of the afternoon and several were laying around in the shade of the park’s buildings. It was not what I considered to be the most authentic natural history setting. Our guide soon located her father who also just happened to be the head park ranger. He took us on a short hike searching for dragons and we eventually came across this one working on its sun tan. I assembled my “dragon pole” and began to photograph it. I had zero desire to disturb it, but eventually realized that it was not going anywhere and grew comfortable getting my camera super close. I used my iPhone to wirelessly compose and control my Sony A7R2 camera while waiting for it to “do something”. Suddenly, the late afternoon sunlight shined below the clouds on the horizon and this dragon stuck out its long tongue to “smell” my camera.
I photographed this scene while visiting exotic Bora Bora in French Polynesia‘s Society Islands this past December. I have never experienced water that was as turquoise as this. I created this image by flying my new DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian drone over the atoll’s outer reef and waiting for the perfect balance of direct sunlight and clouds. The reason that I was visiting Bora Bora was that I had chartered a sailboat with some friends and my father. I grew up sailing with my family on the Great Lakes, so it was special that my dad was able to join me. I especially like the dappled sunlight below the ocean’s surface and the gentle waves washing over the top of the reef. Ahh, paradise.
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 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.
Last July, I lead two back-to-back expeditions in Southeast Alaska in search of humpback whales bubble net 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?