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.
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.
While helping my friends in Leilani Estates on the Big Island, I experienced physical and emotional stress. Still, my own discomfort was insignificant compared to what the residents of Puna have to deal with as this tragedy unfolds. As the land is rendered uninhabitable, homes are being destroyed and lives are being upended. Only Pele knows what she wants to accomplish. Until seen from above, the scale of the destruction is impossible to fully comprehend. So, on my third and final afternoon, I hired a small plane to fly over the eruption. As we approached, I asked my pilot to concentrate on the most active lava fissures. I believe the USGS is currently naming these fissures 8 and 24. As we coordinated lining up this image, I had to pop open my window, ask my pilot to dip the aircraft’s wing, point my telephoto lens, and hope that what I photographed was in focus. Oh, and we both agreed that we would refrain from ever getting caught in the thermal updraft again.
I am not sure where to begin. This past week, I flew to the Big Island to help out some friends, and also to photograph the eruption in Leilani Estates. Pele’s display is an unfolding tragedy for the people of Puna. As such, I did not want to get in their way. However, once I was invited to join my Kona friends CJ Kale and Doug Perrine, I decided to go. Our plan was to get into the evacuation zone and assist Shane Turpin (who owns the lava boat) evacuate his homes and shop on Pohoiki Road. We spent 3 days packing and removing his stuff, all while lava slowly crept towards us like a slow motion train wreck. On our first night, we visited several lava fissures. These were erupting like fountains less than 1/2 mile away at the end of the road. I photographed this beautiful scene in the midst of the disaster. Sadly, the lava engulfed his properties the day after I left.
During my recent trip to Lord Howe Island, I flew my quadcopter from a dive boat in order to photograph Ball’s Pyramid. It is an erosional remnant of a shield volcano that formed about 6.4 million years ago and the tallest sea stack in the world at 1,844ft (562m). It lies 12 miles (20km) southeast of Lord Howe Island, thus requiring a boat or airplane in order to visit it. While planning my adventure, I had contacted Pro Dive Lord Howe Island and arranged to join their scuba diving trip whenever the weather allowed. Unfortunately, the day that we set out was terribly cloudy and overcast. I did not even bring my dive gear, since I preferred to photograph from the air rather than underwater. I was resigned to not creating a photo and living with the mental image of at least seeing this immense and forbidding monolith. However, Aaron from Pro Dive wanted me to get my shot and went way out of his way to generously offer to take me back on a private trip the next afternoon. Let’s do it! After our 2pm departure and long boat ride in heavy seas, I did not have a lot of time left to fly. Still, I was able to fly one long and one short flight before we had to turn around and hightail it back to Lord Howe before dark. This is my favorite image with the clear blue sky above and beautiful late afternoon light illuminating Ball’s Pyramid. Wow, just wow.