Over the last decade, I have focused much of my travel and photography on Alaska. However, my only trip up north this year was in early August when I lead a small group tour in search of my favorite subject, humpback whales bubble-net feeding. There were some ups and downs associated with this particular trip that I do not need to get into, but it was definitely my most productive tour photographically for bubble-net feeding. I told my clients that they should be proud of what we accomplished. The exhilaration of photographing over a dozen humpback whales cooperatively hunting and feeding on schools of herring never gets old. It does get frustrating, but never boring. This image shows a very close encounter where I had to zoom back to 70mm as the whales erupted above the surface with their mouths about to slam shut. If you look in the mouth of the whale on the right, you can even see a silver herring flying through the air about to be engulfed.
I’m pleased to be able to share that my article “Winter in Japan” has been published in the current issue of Popular Photography. In my article, I offer advice about how to visit the best wildlife locations and technical information about how to photograph these amazing animals. You can read the full article online at, www.popphoto.com/how-to/2013/12/travel-photography-winter-japan. The opening double page image of the Japanese macaques, or snow moneys, was created during my Japan photography tour last winter. I highly recommend a visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park to anyone traveling to Japan.
Aww! I photographed these two cute polar bear cubs during my Alaska Polar Bear Photography Tour last October. They are so adorable I just want to hug them, except for the fact that they would probably eat me. During our tour, we work with local Eskimo guides who take us out in their small boats to the barrier islands to photograph the polar bears. The moms and cubs are usually resting during the day, but become more active in the afternoon. They can often be photographed at the water’s edge like this. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkIII and Canon 300mm f2.8 IS II lens, and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6.
This is a photo of a tender moment being shared by a humpback whale mother and her young calf. Humpback moms spend most of their time resting beneath the surface, but their babies have to breath much more frequently. When a calf comes up to breath, it will often playfully frolic on the surface, otherwise, it stays close to mom and hides underneath her pectoral fins or tail. After this calf came up for a breath, I photographed it gently nuzzling up against its mom’s belly. Aww, cute! Check out several more stunning images of these two humpback whales underwater. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkIII and Canon 17-40mm f4 lens inside my Ikelite 5DmkIII housing with an 8″ dome port. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6, plus I applied Nik Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter.
Recently, I have been rethinking my workflow and processing techniques. I am not talking about a total overhaul of the way that I edit, but rather becoming more efficient and effective. Processing underwater images requires much more effort than above water images, particularly if I want a gray whale swimming through a blue background. For this reason, I have been holding off on editing my new underwater humpback whale images until now.
Tony Wu and I co-lead an exciting Humpback Whale Photography Tour in both Alaska and Tonga last summer. This beautiful portrait is from our first encounter with a friendly mother and calf in Tonga. Momma was resting about 20′ below the surface as the curious calf swam over to check me out and pretty much ran me over. We did not actually make contact, but if I would have extended my arm bent at the elbow I would have been able to touch it. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkIII and Canon 17-40mm f4 lens inside my Ikelite 5DmkIII housing with an 8″ dome port. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6, plus I applied Nik Color Efex 4‘s white balance filter.
I’m finally home long enough to start editing my images from the last 6 months. Dang, have I been busy and time flies. This is my favorite image that I photographed while co-leading the Alaska portion of Tony Wu and my dual hemisphere Humpback Whale Tour last summer. See how sunny and perfect the conditions were? I kept telling our clients that the weather never got this nice in Southeast. It was an ideal day to spend with a large group of humpback whales that were bubble-net feeding. As this glorious day progressed, the whales stopped feeding and did what whales do best. Absolutely nothing! However, we decided to work on our tans and patiently stay with the whales hoping that they might do something. Eventually, they all started to breach at the same time. It was insane watching all of these enormous animals launch themselves out of the water, let alone positioning the skiff so that everyone could photograph this behavior. I love how the water cascaded off of this whale, plus there is a small rainbow behind it from its blow. I’ve seen this multiple breaching behavior happen enough times to consider that it is some kind of goodbye gesture. Sure enough, after all this breaching was over, the whales swam off in separate directions. I created this image using a Canon 1DmkIV with my 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6.
I’m teaming up with renowned underwater photographer Tony Wu to offer the ULTIMATE humpback whale photography adventure in 2012. The first half of our tour will begin in Southeast Alaska, where I have spent 5 years photographing humpback whales, followed by a two week break, and then finishing in the Kingdom of Tonga, where Tony has spent over 10 years photographing humpbacks. This is a unique, immersive experience to witness and photograph a wide range of humpback whale behaviors in two hemispheres.
Starting in Juneau, Alaska, we will use our expedition yacht and inflatable boats to photograph northern hemisphere humpback whales bubble-net feeding, breaching, and other behaviors. After our short break, we will regroup in Tonga for in-water encounters with southern hemisphere humpbacks where we’ll be looking for mothers with babies, singers, heat runs, mating, and other calving-related activities. Seeing the whales with your own eyes beats watching a TV documentary!
This trip is for a small, exclusive group of 6 guests who will be able to travel to both locations with guides Jon Cornforth and Tony Wu to photograph a wide range of humpback whale behaviors. Our core idea is to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the same 6 guests in order to provide the most comprehensive humpback whale photography opportunities. If someone is interested in only one part of this combined trip, we will automatically put them on our waitlist, but we will only fill single slots after we have prioritized spaces for guests interested in both trips.
For more information, please visit my Humpback Whale Photography Tour page.
This fall, renowned wildlife photographer Steve Kazlowski and I will be leading a polar bear photography tour in Arctic Alaska. Steve has been successfully photographing polar bears in this location for the past 13 years. His images have been published by Time and National Geographic and he is the author of The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World.
We will spend 3.5 days photographing polar bears during each of our tours. We will use locally-rented trucks to photograph the bears and there will be an optional boat adventure available working with local guides. We will have a maximum of 3 guests per vehicle. Our small group size will allow us to observe the bears and remain highly mobile. Plus, Steve & I will be able to provide personal photography advice that is impossible in larger tour groups. Our goal will be to photograph classic polar bear portraits and behaviors. At night, we will continue to photograph polar bears, but there is a possibility that we will also photograph the aurora borealis. This is an exciting trip that will allow the discerning photographer an incredible opportunity to photograph polar bears in Alaska.
For more information, please visit my Polar Bear Photography Tour page.
I just returned from leading a private photography tour in Death Valley National Park. I’ve spent a lot of time in this dramatic but desolate park the last few years, so it was nice to return to a place that I know so well. It was especially nice seeing the sun while missing the lousy weather back home in Seattle. I did not take a lot of photos during this trip because the shooting conditions never got epic, plus my attention was focused on working with my clients. What is important is that they had a great time and learned a lot from me. Most of my photography tours are done on a private basis, and include as much instruction as I can cram into a trip. The cost of working with me is higher per person compared to an instructor who leads a dozen people at a time, but my clients have me all to themselves. Please consider working with me if you are interested in pushing your photography to a new level.
This image is my favorite from the trip. My regular readers and fans might wonder, “why is this not some epic-light, wide-angle shot from some far off destination like Jon typically shoots?” I occasionally photograph abstract details and patterns, but they never sell or license compared to the “bigger” images that I am know for. Even though the clouds did not light up as I had hoped for at sunset, I used the twilight glow to add some red color to this intricate mosaic pattern of mud. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkII body and Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE lens. It required minimal processing using Aperture 3.
Last weekend I lead 2 clients on an Olympic National Park Photo Tour. The conditions were challenging, but conducive to instruction. Anyone can shoot the sunset at the iconic beach locations, which we did, but my goal was to help them see the world more creatively and refine their composition skills. Four afternoons in the chaos of the rainforest followed by overcast conditions at sunset tested even my proficiency with a camera. I created this dramatic image during one of our sunrise shoots on First Beach. You can see that there was not much of a sunrise, but the ominous rain clouds on the horizon still yielded effective pictures. Whenever I photograph waves, I anticipate them crashing against the shore and then shoot an exposure of 0.5 second or longer as they recede in order to capture their turmoil in a artistically pleasing manner. This involves a lot of trial and error since I do not know how any individual image is going to result, but when reviewing them I look for the same strong lines and overall presence that I photograph in a non-dynamic scene.