Tag Archives: bears

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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Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Review

This super telephoto lens is the long-awaited replacement to the circa 1999 Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM classic. Canon, quite frankly, was due for an upgrade on this one and I can happily say that it was well worth the wait. I’ve always believed that the 500mm f/4 telephoto is the perfect compromise between lighter weight (compared to the 600mm f/4) and the reach needed to safely and ethically photograph wildlife and most species of birds.

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM

I recently tested Canon’s new 500mm f/4 lens during a two-week photo trip and workshop I was leading in Katmai National Park in Alaska. The lens was provided to me courtesy of lensrentals.com and my aim was to capture the brown bears of The Last Frontier with this new and improved classic piece of glass.

Lifting it from its box, the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM is cool, smooth, and deceptively light – it’s 1.5 pounds lighter then the previous version (7.03 vs 8.53). This lighter weight makes for much easier handling, but for anyone not accustomed to working with a super telephoto lens, it can still feel like a beast. Still, Canon managed to significantly reduce the weight of this lens without making much smaller in size.

For all the technical specifications for the Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS II USM, visit the lens specifications page on the Canon USA website.

Workshop client, Dan Mead, with the Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS II USM at Margot Creek in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve

Now, on to my subjective observations on the performance of the lens. I was using a Canon EOS 7D camera body and found the lens to focus very fast and effortlessly. When comparing the new version to the previous one, I can say that it’s noticeably faster to grab focus, especially when working with moving subjects, as I was much of the time. The IS is more powerful as well. Even before referencing Canon’s lens specs, I picked up on a noticeable difference in IS performance right off. Canon claims there is a 4-stop advantage from IS-ON to IS-OFF, which is twice as much IS assistance over the older version. There are three IS modes on this lens: 1 is for shooting stationary subjects, 2 is for panning in one direction with one axis of stabilization, and 3 is best for tracking moving subjects. I didn’t experiment with the three IS modes and only used Mode 1. I simply didn’t have the foresight – nor the dexterity to change modes on the fly – in knowing when a stationary bear would suddenly start moving and vice versa.

The older version of the Canon 500mm f/4 was known to be famously sharp so I wasn’t sure there could be much of a difference in this department. Well, if it was possible to improve on an already great thing, it appears they’ve done it. Canon claims the lens has “completely redesigned Fluorite optics that deliver sharper images with less chromatic aberration.” I admittedly know nothing about Fluorite but I can report that it’s one of the sharpest, if not THE sharpest lens, with which I have ever photographed.

Canon EOS 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM, 1/800 second at f4, ISO 200

The image above demonstrates how sharp this lens is, even with a moving subject. Below is a 100 percent crop of the image above.

100% crop unsharpened

For more lens samples from this trip, see Life and Death in Katmai and Image Roundup from Katmai, Alaska.

There was never any need to stop down from f/4 to get sharper results, as is usually the case with telephoto lenses. I could honestly see no improvement at all with my initial test images by stopping down, so I used the lens wide open almost the entire time, unless I needed additional depth of field. The lens appears to have no distortion and no chromatic aberration (must be that Fluorite again). There were several instances while reviewing images when I expected to see some color fringing, like edges of dark trees against a bright sky, where there was done to be found. The nine-blade aperture produced a smooth, pleasant bokeh in the out-of-focus background areas, which is exactly what you want with a super telephoto.

All in all, I liked everything about the lens. It was lighter, faster, and even sharper than the old 500mm f/4 version in addition to a 4-stop IS assist. Wow! The downside? The price tag, of course. As of this writing, the retail price on this lens was in the neighborhood of $10,500 USD. I’d have to sell a boatload of wildlife images to make this a smart business investment. But if wildlife is your thing, and you don’t think of a photography equipment purchase as an “investment,” then this lens has all the traits of a new classic in the making.

Buy this lens at B&H Photo: Canon 500mm f/4L EF IS II USM Lens or rent it from lensrentals.com.

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