Category Archives: General

Chefchaouen: Morocco’s Magical Blue City

I’m often asked, in one of many variations, which location is my favorite to photograph. There is no good answer to that question because every place is so different, each with its own distinctive charm and visual beauty. Trying to fairly compare locations, no less rank them, is a ridiculously futile exercise.

Some places are more photogenic than others, however. While many good destinations require long hours of observing and stalking before the spark of inspiration is ignited and an image emerges (this is not necessarily a bad thing: hard work, agonizing over compositional options, and waiting for precisely the right light is rewarding and illuminating), others are more akin to shooting fish in a barrel as inspiration awaits you around every corner in broad daylight. Chefchaouen, an ancient city nestled in northern Morocco’s scenic Rif Mountains, belongs to the latter catagory.

The blue doors and building os Chefchaouen, Morocco

© Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Chefchaouen was established in the late 15th century, when Jewish refugees settled there after fleeing from the Reconquista of Spain. In the 1930s when Adoph Hitler began driving Jews from their homes in Nazi Germany, another wave of refugees sought safety and solidarity in Chefchaouen.

© Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

It’s during this period, and during World War II, that the city was painted its distinctive bright blue. In Judaism, the color blue represents the sky and the heavens, a daily reminder of spiritual inspiration. Houses, streets, and sidewalks were all rendered blue, not only as an inspirational reminder, but a form of solidarity as well as news of the terrible atrocities in Europe spread around the world.

© Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Today the city remains the same: blue all over. For photographers, it’s one of the most visually striking places you could ever visit, experience, and capture with the camera. There is literally a great photo opportunity around every corner. In addition, the place is clean, friendly, with comfortable lodging and great restaurants.

© Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

In May 2016, I am leading a photography tour with Epic Destinations across the country of Morocco and Chefchaouen is a featured stop where we will spend several colorful days. For more information on the Ancient Morocco tour I’ll be leading, follow this link or feel free to email me with a question.

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Ten Fascinating Facts About Polar Bears

Polar bears are among the most fascinating animals on Earth. They’re some of the biggest and baddest apex predators known to man, yet fragile and vulnerable as a species. They’re ruthless Arctic killers as well as lovable darlings of Madison Avenue. Still, there are many things about these creatures that are still a mystery to the scientists who study them. Here, however, are ten fascinating facts about polar bears we do happen to know. Enjoy.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT w/1.4x @ 420mm, 1/500 second @ f/5.6, ISO 1000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Polar bears have no fear of humans. They can take over towns and villages, raiding the garbage and dumps in search of food, with supreme confidence and a dose a swagger to boot. This makes them extremely dangerous animals.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT w/1.4x @ 560mm, 1/800 second @ f/5.6, ISO 1250. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

The scientific name for polar bear is Ursus maritimus, which literally means “marine bear.” They are very strong swimmers and are sometimes found as far as 100 miles from land.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT w/1.4x @ 560mm, 1/800 second @ f/6.3, ISO 1000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Beneath their snowy white fur – which acts as natural camouflage in their Arctic environments – polar bears have black skin. This enables the bears to better absorb the sun’s warming rays.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 400mm, 1/640 second @ f/4, ISO 1600. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Polar bears live in the circumpolar north where they can be found in the countries of Norway, Russia, Canada, Greenland, and the United States. Scientists have designated 19 populations of polar bears in the Arctic over four different sea ice regions.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 400mm, 1/1000 second @ f/4, ISO 160. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Polar bears feed mainly on ringed and bearded seals, when available. They can also scavenge on whale carcasses, walruses, narwhals, and bowhead whales if seals aren’t present. Polar bears need an average of 5 pounds of fat per day just to survive.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 335mm, 1/1000 second @ f/5.6, ISO 1000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

A polar bear’s sense of smell is its most powerful and important tool for detecting prey on land or at sea. It is believed that a polar bear can detect a seal, with its nose, from a distance of more than a half mile away (about a km.) and 3 ft. (1 meter) below snow or ice.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT w/1.4x @ 560mm, 1/1000 second @ f/5.6, ISO 2000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

The largest polar bear ever officially recorded was an old boar weighing over 2200 lbs. (1000 kg.) and measuring 12 ft. (3.7 m) long. The average male is about half the size of that behemoth and the average sow is about half that of the male. Polar bears rarely live beyond 25 years.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT w/1.4x @ 560mm, 1/1000 second @ f/5.6, ISO 1600. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Fur grows on the bottom of polar bears’ paws, which protects the feet against cold surfaces while providing a firm, solid grip on the ice.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 316mm, 1/1000 second @ f/4, ISO 200. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Female polar bears give birth during the winter, usually to twins. The cubs will stay with their mother for about two years as they learn the skills of hunting and basic survival.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT w/1.4x @ 560mm, 1/500 second @ f/5.6, ISO 2000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Polar bears are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act primarily due to the melting of Arctic sea ice.

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Want to see and photograph polar bears in the wild? Epic Destinations has a Polar Bear Photography Tour planned for Barter Island and the Arctic National Wildlife Area in 2016.

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A Cool Website for Predicting Sunsets/Sunrise: SunsetWx

There is now a website that can reasonably predict whether a sunset or sunrise will be good or not in your area. This is not an exact science, obviously, but the site does use an extensive, in-depth algorithm that considers certain meteorological factors that go into creating a good sunrise or sunset: clouds, cloud types, cloud altitude, humidity, barometric pressure changes, etc.

SunsetWx is the first site of which I know that attempts to predict the quality of a sunrise or sunset. On the main map (only available for the United States, I’m afraid), the warm colors indicate there is a good chance there will be a quality sunrise or sunset in your area. Cool colors mean you should plan on sleeping in. Landscape photographers, take a look. It’s better than guessing.

http://sunsetwx.com

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A New Perspective

The Eleventh of November, Canyonlands National Park USA

I purchased Canon’s new ultra wide-angle zoom, Canon EF11-24mm f/4L USM,  a couple of months ago but until yesterday, never had the right opportunity to use it. This is a specialty zoom lens that’s best equipped for tight places where you need an extremely wide angle of view without too much distortion (I was originally thinking slot canyons and forests). For most wide-angle landscapes, any focal length wider than 16mm diminishes the background too much for my tastes.

In this case, I wanted to include the entire tree in the image frame but I could only back up so far because of a large rock that obstructed my movement. An ultra wide angle lens was needed. Yeah! I finally found the right situation for my unused and expensive lens.

At 11mm, the image shows almost zero distortion or curved horizon. Simply Amazing! The quality and sharpness of the image, as well as resolution, are up to par with other Canon zooms lenses too.

The Eleventh of November
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF11-24mm f/4L USM @ 11mm
1/13 second @ f/16, ISO 100

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Last Chance to See Northern Lights?

2016 might be the last best chance to catch the aurora borealis in a decade.

If seeing the aurora borealis (otherwise know as the northern lights in the northern hemisphere) is on your lifetime bucket list, then next year might be your last best chance to catch the eerie celestial display for quite some time. According to scientists, the current 11-year solar cycle is quickly winding down and next year could very well be the show’s final act for nearly a decade.

The auroras (both northern and southern) occur when highly-charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elemental gasses in the earth’s atmosphere. These particles stream away from the sun at speeds of about 1 million miles per hour and follow lines of magnetic force generated by the earth’s iron core, flowing through the magnetosphere, an area of highly-charged electrical and magnetic fields. Each atmospheric gas produces a distinct color: green is oxygen up to 150 miles, red is oxygen above 150 miles, blue is nitrogen to to 60 miles, purple is nitrogen above 60 miles.

The sun is now just past peak in its current 11-year period, Solar Cycle 24, meaning the number of solar flares and the electrons they produce will begin to wane until the next cycle begins. This winter might be the last best chance to catch the lights for a while. Here’s a good article on Yahoo Travel on the disappearing aurora.

Some of the most popular places around the world to see the aurora are Alaska, northern Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.

 

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