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.
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.
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.
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.