Category Archives: Images

5 Reasons to Love Iceland in Winter

Iceland is a four-season photographic destination. As I wrote in a 2013 Popular Photography feature article, the country has often been mistakenly characterized in the past as cold, barren, and probably hostile to visitors. And with a name like Iceland, one can be forgiven for thinking of this small, northern Atlantic island country in this way. But with tourism on the rise, the perception is changing. It would be harder to find a more comfortable, less barren, and more welcoming country than Iceland anywhere on the planet. It’s also beautiful beyond words, which happens to be a boon to those of us who make a living creating images instead.

But even to those who know and love Iceland dearly, the idea of visiting in winter is too much. But Icelandic winters, for the most part, are no colder than those in New York, London, or Paris. In fact, there are some pretty compelling reasons to visit and photograph Iceland in winter – on purpose.

1. Fewer Tourists and Photographers

Iceland is becoming more and more popular with every passing year and people are discovering that winter is a great time to see and experience Iceland. But there are still much fewer tourists and photographers during this “off season” than there are during the summer months.

Skogafoss is a popular location for tourists and photographers. Bus after bus arriving from Reykjavik unloads dozens of people who make getting a clear photograph of the spectacular waterfall almost impossible. Could I have taken the above selfie during any season other than winter? I don’t think so.

2. The Aurora Borealis

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see and photograph the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights in the northern hemisphere. Iceland falls at exactly the right latitude in the aurora belt (yes it is possible to go too far north to see the northern lights) so as long as the sky is dark and clear, there’s a high probability that you will see it.

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During the most popular times to visit Iceland, May through August, the sky never gets dark enough at night to see the aurora. Winter nights in Iceland are long and dark, perfect for aurora photography and watching.

3. Surreal Snowy Landscapes

If you like minimalist landscape and nature images, Iceland in the winter is a target rich environment, particularly after a fresh snowfall. White-on-white scenes (with the ubiquitoius pewter winter skies) can be the perfect canvas for creating some stunning winter landscapes.

No color or epic sunrise and sunset lighting needed here. Just throw in some iconic Icelandic horses and you have winter’s understated beauty at its best.

4. Ice Caves

Ice caves are created by rivers and streams carving tunnels under the glaciers during the warm summer months. There are very few experiences as surreal and magical as exploring these sapphire blue caves with a camera and an experienced guide.

During the winter season – from approximately November through March – the water freezes and the caves become safe to enter. This is one bucket list experience you do not want to miss.

5. Changing Light

The light in Iceland is phenomenal. In the winter, the sun never rises very high above the horizon so the low-angled light is always soft and warm – the type of light photographers dream about.

But even when the weather is bad (and yes, it can be bad) it never seems to last very long. There’s always a break in the clouds somewhere which gives the intrepid photographer hope of something good on the way. Of course, it also makes you appreciate the good weather when you have it. As I said, it’s changeable and highly changebale light is what gives landscape photographers those truly magical moments.

You can experience Iceland in winter with me January 22 – 31, 2017 with Epic Destinations.

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Vignettes: Galápagos 2016

Here are just a few images from last month’s photography trip to the incomparable Galápagos Islands. I am currently on my way to Iceland so I won’t expand beyond the basic captions below each photo. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this amazing place, don’t put it off or pass it by. It truly is one of nature’s greatest bucket list destinations.

In case you missed it, see the 20 Days of the Galapagos on my Instagram account.

Galápagos flycatcher (Myiarchus magnirostris), Floreana Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) at Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

Ecuador Volcano in warm evening light, Isabela Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), Punta Moreno, Isabela Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

Blue Footed Boobies (Sula nebouxii), Floreana Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

Galápagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) on Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias), Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia), Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

Male great frigatebird (Fregata minor) in mating display, North Seymour Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador

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2015 in Retrospect

It’s that time of year again to reflect on the year that was as a photographer: the lucky breaks, the missed opportunities, the long stretches of pulverizing boredom, the fleeting moments of ephemeral magic. That’s 2015, which is a pretty standard example of most years as a wildlife, travel, and nature photographer.

Looking over the choices of my personal favorites, I was somewhat surprised to see no verticals. I hope that’s not a trend and maybe it’s something to conciously consider as the calendar turns over to 2016. Aside from that, there are some very pleasant memories represented in these images. Good times. Good year. Enjoy.

 

Caption

“Cosmic Number 9” February 17, 2015. Inyo National Forest, California USA.

14 degrees Fahrenheit on a cold, still February night in the Eastern Sierra mountain range of California. The 4.5-hour exposure was almost worth being sick the following 3 days. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF16-35 f/2.8L II USM @ 28mm, about 4 1/2 hours (15,861 seconds) @ f/3.2, ISO 100. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Giraffes reflected in sunset light, Etosha National Park, Namibia

“Mirage” May 25, 2015. Giraffes reflected in sunset light, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

The group of giraffes approached the water hole with great deliberation and caution – as they usually do – but this time with perfect sunset light reflected in the water. The symmetry, balance, and separation between each of the animals is what elevated this frame over the others, especially the giraffe on the right with its head and neck arched in the opposite direction from the group. I then flipped the image upside-down to give viewer a bit of a visual puzzle to work out. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 64mm, 1/800 second @ f/4, ISO 2000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Polar bears, Barter Island, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA

“Faraway Eyes” October 8, 2015. Polar bears on Barter Island, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA.

I knew that one of my polar bear images would make the favorites list for 2015, I just didn’t know which it would be. I suppose I eventually picked this one over the others because of the cub’s quizzical head posture and expression as our boat slowly backed away from the shoreline. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 371mm, 1/800 second @ f/4, ISO 1000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Gondolas parked for the night, Venice, Italy

“Venice Blues” July 26, 2015. Gondolas parked for the night, Venice, Italy.

Piazza San Marco in Venice is usually a raucous, crowded, noisy place. In the morning’s pre-dawn stillness, the only sound to be heard was the gentle rocking of the idle gondolas to the waves, which is captured as soft blurs in the long exposure. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF EF16-35 f/4L USM @ 30mm, 13 seconds @ f/14, ISO 100. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Light Break

“Light Break” June 14, 2015. A lone oryx crests the ridge of a dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

This image is all about fortuitous timing and LIGHT! Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM w/1.4x extender @ 448mm, 1/160 second @ f/6.3, ISO 500. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Sea stacks along Iceland's southern coast.

“Njord’s Temple” September 25, 2014. Sea stacks along Iceland’s southern coast.

Iceland’s Reynisdranger basalt sea stacks are formidable and impressive from almost any angle you view them, but from the side – the angle you see here – they appear other-worldly if not dangerous. Still, without the rim light on the foreground rocks, I would have never even bothered to lift the camera to the tripod. This is one of those rare images where I knew it would be a black and white interpretation at the time I captured it. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 55mm, 1/80 second @ f/16, ISO 500. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Last Stand

“Last Stand” November 14, 2015. Arches National Park, Utah USA.

The warm light on the dead juniper tree was so visually striking, especially against the shadow which was cast along the wall of Skyline Arch. I simply used the shadow’s edge as a frame to the tree while leaving out any of the sky, which is just out of the image frame along the top. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 70mm, 1/80 second @ f/11, ISO 500. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

A family of African elephants takes a drink at the water hole is late afternoon. Etosha National Park, Namibia

“Generations” May 25, 2015. A family of African elephants takes a drink at the water hole is late afternoon. Etosha National Park, Namibia.

The title I gave this image, Generations, refers to the relative size and position of each elephant in the frame. Of course these elephants may not represent distinct “generations” but it’s a nice thought anyway. The light comes from a soft glow on the western horizon just after sunset. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 316mm, 1/500 second @ f/4, ISO 800. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

A shapely tree and spring reflections in the Little River, Great Smoky Mountians National Park, Tennessee USA

“Sang-froid” April 21, 2015. A shapely tree and spring reflections in the Little River, Great Smoky Mountians National Park, Tennessee USA.

While the tree was shaded by the mountain behind me, the river was getting some beautiful reflections from the illuminated forest on the other bank, giving the background a soft, lemony color wash. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF70-200mm f/4L USM @ 126mm, 2 seconds @ f/20, ISO 100. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

The surreal landscape of Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia

“Dry Bones” June 14, 2015. The alien landscape of Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

A stark and surreal landscape, Deadvlei never fails to inspire with an amazing array of compositional options. The best time is just after the pan falls to shadow and the surrounding dunes are lit from the low-angled sun. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF70-200mm f/4L USM @ 168mm, 1/8 second @ f/18, ISO 250. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

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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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