Tag Archives: Alaska

Five Unconventional Pro Wildlife Photography Tips

A significant portion of the work I did during my recent trip to Namibia was wildlife photography, a favorite genre of mine. While doing some research on the wildlife of Africa, and Namibia in particular, I was struck by how boring most of images really were – apathetic, dumb-looking animal staring blankly into the camera, bird on a stick, etc.  As a result, I strived to come up with unique interpretations of these species we’ve all seen so many times and know so well. I came up with five unconventional tips – some less conventional than others but still concepts to keep my images from being boring like the others. Now I’m sharing them with you.

The examples here are not all African wildlife, obviously. I’m still trying to wrap up some writing and administrative duties before I can really begin processing most of the images from that trip. In the meantime, enjoy.

Coastal Brown Bear, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska, USA

1. Use Back and Side lighting

Most wildlife shooters and photography instructors opt for front lighting when encountering wildlife. “Point your shadow at the subject” is their mantra since they can be sure that in this way, the bird or animal will be evenly illuminated. In other words, it’s easy. I’m not saying that shooting with the sun at your back is a bad thing; I do it all the time. But limiting yourself to only this option certainly is a bad habit.

Side lighting can reveal texture and add depth to an image while backlighting is incredibly dramatic, if not conventional.

Snow Geese, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina, USA

2. Long Exposures

Animals on the move and birds in flight present great opportunities for slow shutter speeds and camera panning. Freezing action shots with fast shutter speeds has its place, but sometimes its better to just go with the flow! Start with 1/15 second and experiment from there.

Elephants in Etosha National Park, Namibia

3. Go wide. Show the environment

When shooting wildlife, the photographer’s initial impulse is to use the longest lens in the bag and go in as tight on the subject as possible. Resist this urge and try a wider perspective instead. Show some of the animal’s environment and surroundings, which helps tell more of a story about the place and species you’re photographing.

Coastal Brown Bear and Sockeye Salmon, Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA

4. Show behavior and interaction

Too many wildlife images show a static image of an animal or bird looking directly into the camera. Boring, boring, boring. Showing how these animals interact with one another, play, mate, or hunt for food is much more interesting. That instant is akin to Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment. Don’t be content with a boring wildlife portrait. Wait for something special to happen and then be ready!

Zebras in Etosha National Park, Namibia

5. Use elements of visual design

Employ the same compositional tools for wildlife as you do for other genres of photography. Wildlife photography is sometimes fast-paced and you don’t have time to think things through completely but still try to think abstractly about shapes, lines, balance, and flow and let go of the literal. Your wildlife images will have a much greater visual impact as a result.

Next week I’ll begin sharing many other images from Namibia so stay tuned.

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12 for ’12: The Year’s Best

It’s that time of year, once again, when we look back at the year that was and weigh our accomplishments. Well, you always hope that there are accomplishments worthy of looking back on. If nothing else, there’s always weighing the regrets.

Anyway, last year I posted my favorite images from 2011 – Eleven for ’11. Naturally, this year it’s 12 for ’12. They are all favorites of mine for a reason, although the reasons may not be so obvious to everyone else. Nonetheless, I’ll try to give some insight. So here they are listed in chronological order, starting this past January.

“Paradise Found”
Harrismith Beach, Barbados
January 21, 2012

Just another brutal day in paradise, I posted earlier in the year. I think what I liked best about this image is that it was completely secluded. I didn’t have to clone out a single human.


“Ahwahnee Dream”
Yosemite National Park, California, USA
February 15, 2012

One of my favorite things about this image is that it was taken from a very popular vantage point in Yosemite National Park. Still I was able to come away with something unique and original, thanks to the thickening fog in the valley.


“Red Patagonia Dawn”
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
April 6, 2012

The location, the light, and the effort to get there (I led three of my clients who opted for the backcountry extension to the Patagonia workshop up this steep, ice-covered trail to be here by sunrise) were all factors in this image making the cut.


“Crowning Glory”
Arches National Park, Utah, USA
May 18, 2012

The low-angled light sweeping over the textured sandstone, the dynamic leading lines, the cloud movement during this 30-second exposure make this a clear favorite of mine. I don’t practice many black and white conversions but I was surprised to find two in my favorites for 2012.


“Light Room”
Arches National Park, Utah, USA
May 21, 2012

I love night photography and Arches National Park is one of my favorite places to “do it in the dark.” Ok, shameless plug here: Night photography, Arches National Park, November 6-9, 2013. Thanks for listening.


“River of Light”
The Seine, Paris, France
June 24, 2012

Amazing sunset. Paris, France. What else is there to say?


“Chasing Magic”
Kirkjufellsfoss, Iceland
July 25, 2012

Persistance. I waited four nights in order to get light that I was looking for at this location. I was prepared for a 5th, if necessary.


“Blood Sport”
Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA
August 23, 2012

The Decisive Moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson might describe this image. This is only one image frame in an entire sequence I posted back in September: Life and Death in Katmai.


“The Spine of Time”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA
October 23, 2012

If I had a “home” national park, the Smokies would be it. This image captures the essence of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park perhaps better than any other I have taken in the past dozen years or so.


“The Lost City”
Machu Picchu, Peru
November 16, 2012

Rain, rain, and more rain with some impenetrable fog and gloomy skies – but for a brief 40-seconds of optimism. And I was ready.


“Winter’s Blush”
Horgardalur Valley, Iceland
December 9, 2012

This is as much sun and light as you will get in northern Iceland in December. But oh what lovely light it is…


“Midnight’s Children”
Trollaskagi Peninsula, Iceland
December 12, 2012

I had never seen the northern lights before, despite two previous summer trips to Iceland and two summer trips to Alaska. The aurora is what brought me to Iceland in the depths of winter and I was not disappointed.

Thanks for sharing 2012 with me.

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Cheer Up, It’s Friday

Dejected Bear – Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska

TOP TEN SONGS ABOUT FRIDAY (Feel free to add to the list in the comments section)

1) Friday Im in Love – The Cure

2) Black Friday – Steely Dan

3) Friday on my Mind – David Bowie

4) Friday – Phish

5) Get ‘Em Out by Friday – Genesis

6) It’s Finally Friday – George Jones

7) Good Mourning/Black Friday – Megadeath

8) One February Friday – Frankie Goes to Hollywood

9) Friday Night Fever – George Straight

10) Freaky Friday – Aqua

I began this as a little game and I was shocked at the lack of quality songs about this most celebrated day of the week. I could recall so few, in fact, that I had to Mister Google many of the songs you see listed. I thought country music would make a much better showing with the whole take this job and shove it – weekend’s here – honkey tonk theme that so many songs of this genre espouse. Jimmy Buffet is conspicuously absent as well, unless I’m missing something obvious.

It’s curious that there are many more quality songs about Monday than Friday. I can think of 4 or 5 good tunes right off the top of my head, without even too much thought. It could explain why good art and music often express the artist’s sadness, sorrow, depression, the blues, heartbreak, etc. better than their happy times. We’re a strange mammal indeed.

Happy Friday, everyone!

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Image Roundup from Katmai, Alaska

Well, it’s been just over a week since I’ve arrived home from Alaska and I’ve finally sorted out and edited most of my brown bear images from Katmai National Park and Preserve. Bears are some of my favorite creatures on Earth and I love spending time and photographing them whenever possible. It was a magical five days in Katmai and I certainly need to thank some of those responsible for making it a great success.

First, Katmai Adventure Lodge was a great host and lodge. Please do check them out if you ever plan on visiting the area for bear viewing, photography, or fishing. Second, Chris Omer was a first rate, professional bear guide. We really couldn’t have lucked out any better with KAL assigning Chris to our group. Third, thanks to my students for making this a most enjoyable trip to the Alaskan wilderness. Fourth, a big thanks goes out to LensRentals for the complimentary use of some awesome telephoto lenses, including the new Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM.

Now, on to the photos! In case you missed it, I posted a sequence called Life and Death in Katmai last week. Check it out if you haven’t already seen it. The following are not necessarily the best images from the trip, but they are a good sample of what we experienced in Katmai.

On the last morning of our photography tour, I had our group experiment with longer shutter speeds while panning the camera.

Here is an impressive stare down by a very large, very wet Katmai brown bear. It’s one of my favorites, not only because of the eye-to-eye glare, but the streaming water droplets as he/she just emerges from the river.

At nearly every stop we made, there was a gracious welcoming party. This is the greeting we received after landing near the mouth of Margot Creek.

A challenge? No, probably just trying to get a better look at the group of strange creatures on the opposite side of the river. Despite having a reputation for bad eyesite, a bear’s vision is actually equivalent to that of humans.

These bears possess an impressive array of skills: speed, power, agility, coordination, and dexterity. Catching a wild salmon in a river or stream of any size and depth is much more difficult than it looks. I know. I tried it!

The role that tremendous salmon runs have on Katmai’s entire ecosystem cannot be overstated. Nearly everything, directly or indirectly, depends on their arrival from the sea – and their death – every summer.

As I said earlier, this is harder than it looks. It doesn’t always come off as graceful, but more often than not, they emerge from the water victorious.

Moraine Creek, deep in Katmai’s wilderness, is bear heaven. At one point, I could count 14 bears along the river, at one time, while standing in this very spot.

This is one of biggest bears I saw all week. Despite its immense size and power, his fishing techniques were effortless and carried out with surgical precision. Between shooting the occasional image, I just watched with awe as he caught and ate one salmon after another for hours.

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Life and Death in Katmai

This chase, among many others like it, was an honor to witness and a tremendous thrill to photograph and share with others. That’s Katmai, the very best bear viewing in the world. Enjoy.

This series of images was taken on Moraine Creek, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Canon EOS 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM with tripod.

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