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.
I’ve been behind on my photo editing, blog posting, and social media-ing, so hopefully in the next few weeks I will get back on top of it. To start it off, I want to share my walrus image that graced the January 2016 cover of Popular Photography. I photographed this behemoth last June while co-leading a small sailboat expedition around Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago with Tony Wu. I cautiously waded into the shallow water with my polecam outstretched and quickly shot some images before he let me know that my presence was unwelcome.
I want to start sharing some of my incredible new images from my spectacular Svalbard expedition that I co-lead with Tony Wu this past June. I have been hesitant to publish what I consider to be some of my best work ever given the fact that publishing photos is not what it used to be, not to mention that a lot of my work gets used without compensation by copyright infringers. However, I can not be afraid of holding back my new photos forever.
This is an underwater walrus image that I created while standing in the Arctic Ocean, holding my polecam, and waiting for a walrus from the nearby colony to swim up to me. Eventually, this very curious walrus took interest and swam directly at me as I nervously stood my ground with my polecam held under the surface in front of me. I blindly fired away as this extraordinary encounter unfolded. After the walrus grew tired of staring at its reflection on my dome port, it gently settled into the shallow water in front of me and proceeded to scratch itself for what seemed like an eternity. It was truly an unimaginable experience as both of us were just relaxed and hanging out at the beach while enjoying each other’s company.
One of my false clown anemonefish images was published on the October cover of Sport Diver! I photographed this clownfish while visiting the Misool Ecoresort located in Raja Ampat, Indonesia in March 2011. (Man, was that trip really almost 5 years ago?) I had always wanted to photograph these charismatic fish ever since watching Finding Nemo a thousand times with my older daughter when she was little. When I returned from the trip, I recall one of my good dive buddies telling me that clownfish images were a dime-a-dozen and I would never publish them. Surprisingly, I have proven him wrong and published them widely.
As I mentioned in my previous post, this was my third visit to Iceland, but Tony Wu’s first. As part of his pre-trip incentive to live out of a van with me for two weeks, I had promised him that I would take him to see Atlantic puffins. The bird cliff at Látrabjarg is among the best locations in the world to photograph them, but in order to get there it requires a long drive along some awful roads.
Our goal was to spend two days and nights photographing puffins, during which we were rewarded with ideal conditions. We kept an Arctic summer schedule by sleeping during the day while most of the puffins were out at sea fishing, anyway. By the time the light starting getting good in the early evening, the puffins had returned. The sun barely dipped below the northern horizon after midnight, so we simply stayed up and prepared for another round of fantastic light. I enjoyed photographing the puffins and observing their comical expressions, but I told Tony that I do not think I ever need to drive all the way out to Látrabjarg again.
Because I have photographed so many humpback whales breaching during my career, I have become very specific about the type of photograph that I am searching for. First off, I prefer to be very close to the surface of the ocean so that the cetacean emerges well above the horizon line. This is only possible while working from small boats. Secondly, the animal needs to breach pretty close by, because I use a medium telephoto lens. Thirdly, since I use such a short focal length, I like to line up the whale with a dramatic backdrop in order to give a better sense of place. In this case, I used the dramatic sidelight illuminating the north shore of Lanai with dark clouds in the sky above as my background. Finally, the direction and rotation of the breach are very important, and the further the leviathan comes out of the water the better. I love how in this photo the enormous whale is momentarily suspended above the waves with its back perfectly arched and its pectoral fin out to the side as water is being thrown off in all directions. Awesome!