Last August, I visited Svalbard for the second time to photograph Arctic wildlife, especially polar bears. I was invited by my close friends to be the photography guide on their expedition. It was a fantastic opportunity and I got to make a number of new friends, but dang is Svalbard a long way from Kauai. The highlight of our trip was definitely the days we spent motoring around at 82°N searching for polar bears in the pack ice. Did I mention that it was cold? Like really cold, but not winter cold. I wonder how my body body is going to keep up with my ambitions now that I live in Hawaii? Anyway, we experienced some truly wonderful encounters with over a dozen bears. This is one of my favorite images as this polar bear jumped from one ice flow to another.
I photographed this scarlet macaw in flight while visiting Costa Rica for the second time last March. I have not shared any of these images until now due to a lot of things that happened around this time that lead to my family making our decision to move to Kauai. Out of thousands of mediocre to useless images that I shot, this one clearly stood out and is my personal favorite. I visited the Lookout Inn on the remote Osa Peninsula specifically to spend 3 days photographing scarlet macaws. These flying macaws were one of the most difficult subjects that I have ever photographed, mostly due to the intense heat and humidity. Each day, I spent from sunrise to sunset sitting on the deck attached to my room on top of the lodge waiting. This was the best vantage for being at treetop level for when the macaws would suddenly fly past and land on the top branches. I spent hours each day using my room as a blind while sweating to death. When I heard their distant call, I would grab my camera sitting next to me and spring into action. The whole moment only lasted a few seconds during which I tracked the birds with my long lens while furiously firing away.
If anyone has flown on Alaska Airlines this month, you might have seen my polar bear mother and cub image and read my tips for creating better photos in the current issue of Alaska Beyond. The article features several of the Northwest’s top photographers offering advice about photography, so I was honored to be included. I have heard from a several people who have already read it, but I think that no one was more surprised and pleased than my parents when they saw it on their flight to Florida last week. You can read more about this photo here, in case you missed it.
Last week, I returned from my annual pilgrimage to Maui to photograph humpback whales. I spent 10 days chartering a boat with my good friends Robin & Stuart Westmorland and our buddy Ken Howard. We have been photographing whales together for over a decade from Hawaii to California up to Canada and Alaska. We call ourselves the F***ing Whale Crew. Anyone who has ever spent time around whales can probably appreciate how often we curse them for being uncooperative and unpredictable, thus the name of our small fellowship. Anyway, the wind and the whales were working against us most of this trip, however, we were rewarded with this impressive breach close to the boat on our last day. My buddy Patrick Kelley flew over from Kauai to join us that morning. It was his very first visit to Maui. He had basically been on Maui for about 2 hours before joining us to go out for our final day. After departing the Kihei boat ramp, we encountered a group of whales within 20 minutes. I have been fooled enough times over the years by whales who suddenly breach without my camera being ready, so I advised everyone to get their cameras out. I am pretty fast when I need to be, so my camera was out in a flash, but I am pretty sure that I heard Patrick’s lens click onto his camera body about 1/2 second before this whale suddenly flung itself out of the water. Talk about beginner’s luck. You are welcome PK! Once we calmed down from hooting and hollering at what we had just experienced, we realized how fortunate that we all were able to photograph this breathtaking moment.
During my November visit to Costa Rica, I began my trip with several days of birding in the San Gerardo de Dota. While my main goal was to photograph a resplendant quetzal, I also spent time photographing hummingbirds by the lodge’s feeders. There were often dozens of hummingbirds darting back and forth, sometimes sharing the feeders, but other times heatedly pursuing each other over some imperceptible slight. This is one of my favorite photos of a green violetear hummingbird ruffling its tail feathers. I especially love the detail and iridescent colors in the feathers.
Two thing that I have always loved about photography and pride myself on is pushing myself to shoot new subjects and learn new techniques. Before I traveled to Costa Rica, I had never photographed frogs and had very limited experience using a flash. My flash knowledge was mostly limited to underwater photography using strobes. This gave me a good starting point as I read my manuals and worked out how to use my flash as a wireless slave with one of my camera bodies before a night-time jungle trek. I proceeded to apply this new found skill to photographing this tiny granular glass frog that I located with the assistance of my guide. The abdominal skin of some glass frogs is translucent with the internal organs sometimes visible, thus their name. I had never even heard of a glass frog until we started finding them, but I was immediately smitten with their cuteness.
Almost a decade ago, I first considered visiting Costa Rica specifically to photograph the incredibly rare resplendent quetzal. This amazing bird was considered divine by Aztec and Mayan civilizations. The male of the species is especially beautiful with its long, iridescent green tail feathers. I did not end up going on that trip, so my research languished on my computer until I finally visited Costa Rica this past November. The first stop on my trip was the San Gerardo de Dota in order to photograph a quetzal. On my first day, I hired a birding guide who showed me an ideal location to observe them as they foraged for wild avocados in the early morning. I visited this same location three mornings in a row during which I observed several females and males feeding. They were very difficult to photograph, because they were mostly obscured by branches as they perched in the tree. Fortunately, they sat perfectly still while digesting the tree’s fruit for upwards of 20 minutes. This allowed me enough time to move around and position my camera in order to photograph an unobstructed portrait of this brilliant male.
This is my favorite underwater walrus image from my Svalbard sailing expedition last summer with my co-leader Tony Wu. Early in our trip, we encountered walrus resting on iceflows with ideal blue sky conditions that allowed for great underwater visibility. As both the trip leader and inflatable boat driver, I cautiously motored towards a group of walrus to allow my clients to photograph them without disturbing them. Eventually, I delicately approached them and got close enough to extend my underwater polecam out to shoot the most curious animal. I love how he is looking right at the camera and the detail in this image is truly amazing.
I encountered this curious female polar bear during my June 2015 Svalbard expedition. This image was featured on the first page of my article about Arctic wildlife in the January 2016 issue of Popular Photography. During this once-in-a-lifetime encounter, I leaned over the sailboat’s railing and lowered my polecam down to her level on the ice. She repeatedly checked it at point-blank range which allowed me to photograph this incredibly close-up and intimate portrait.
Last June, Tony Wu and I lead our first expedition to Norway’s Arctic Svalbard archipelago. We departed Longyearbyen for 14 days of exploration with our incredible captain Heinrich and three of the best clients that a photo tour leader could ever wish for. Like any truly worthwhile adventure, we experienced a lot of down time while sailing and due to bad weather. Our primary goal was to photograph walrus, but of course we were also hoping to encounter polar bears during our voyage.
I tend to stay up all “night” during the Arctic summer and sleep from 6am to noon, or so. Imagine my delight when I woke up one afternoon to discover that we were anchored to some solid fjord ice and had a bear in view, albeit over a mile away. Looking through a pair of binoculars for several minutes, I observed a female bear and her small cub before resigning myself to patiently waiting to see if they would eventually approach us. I went back down below to prepare myself some food, but in no time at all one of my clients alerted me that the bears were already walking towards us! I hurriedly finished my meal and got dressed in anticipation of our encounter.
I was hoping to get some nice images of the bears on the ice using my medium telephoto lens, but the momma bear walked right up to our boat, stood up on her hind legs, and proceeded to check us out. This was way too close for anything but a wide-angle lens. Our captain assured me that she was just curious and that he had the situation under control, so I grabbed my underwater polecam and set to work. I began photographing her by cautiously leaning over the railing of the sailboat while gently lowering my camera down to the ice. Early in our encounter she stuck her nose against my dome port which left snot all over it. It took me a few minutes to clean off and from that time forward I did not allow her to touch my camera again. She walked back and forth along the ice edge for over an hour, but her cub mostly stayed by our anchor. Towards the end of our encounter, the cub finally decided to join her close to the boat. I could not see what I was photographing, but realized that the cub was beneath her and quickly repositioned my camera in order to capture this incredible moment.