Tag Archives: Peru

A Passion Driven Life: Inspiration for Would-Be Photographers

You cannot change what you are, only what you do. – Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

In a commencement address to the graduating students of Stanford University, Steve Jobs recalled a quote he first read when he was 17.

“If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

He went on to say that the quote stuck with him though most of his adult life and that he would look himself in the mirror each morning and ask himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

If the answer was “no” for too many consecutive days, he knew it was time for a change.

“Llama Land” Machu Picchu, Peru. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 f/4 @ 28mm, 1/125 second @ f/11, ISO 100

So after waking up too many mornings with a resounding “no” reverberating through my own groggy and tired head, I drove down to the office and promptly terminated a successful corporate career. My own. It was January 14, 2003 – eleven years ago to this very day – which also happened to be my birthday.

Photography was a serious hobby with occasional financial rewards, but not nearly rewarding enough to pay for my lifestyle at the time – not even close. Photography and travel were excellent ways to spend money, not make it (That’s still almost entirely true, by the way). Still, I was determined to give it a go, even if I really had no idea how to get there. The only thing I knew for certain was that my talent and energy were being atrophied as I counted down the days to each bimonthly paycheck.

This was new to me. I was a rationally thinking organism with an economics degree who always made decisions with cold, hard logic and yet there was nothing rational about this line of thought. In return for a six-figure salary, benefits, and financial security, I was getting what exactly? No salary, no plan for getting any income in the near future, no benefits, no financial security? On its face, it was a no-brainer, yet my intuition and heart told me otherwise.

Wilderness and wild places were my passions in life. Capturing and sharing my experiences in these places were what inspired me to get up each morning, not my 9-to-5. It was the first thing I thought about each morning and the last thing each night before drifting off to sleep. If I were going to preach that you had to do what you love to truly be successful in life – as was my mantra to my employees – I would have to buy into it myself and not look back. I was only willing to accept excellence in myself and I could only achieve excellence by doing what I loved and was truly passionate about.

“Wall Street” Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 17-40mm f/4 @ 21mm, 2.5 seconds @ f/16, ISO 400

Throughout the transition, I received a tremendous amount of emotional support from family and close friends. I’ll always be grateful for that. Some were genuinely concerned and that was certainly understandable. Others thought it was only a phase I was going through – a mid-life crisis, perhaps – that I would eventually outgrow before crawling back to the real world again. At least no one told me to grow up, get a haircut, and buy a weed wacker.

“But taking pictures isn’t real work,” some would say. “You’re just running off to pretty places and having fun.”

“Right,” I would answer. “So what exactly is your point?”

You see, I never considered being nature photographer as an occupation. The word occupation is derived from the same Latin word that spawned the word occupy, essentially meaning, “to take up space.” That little phrase should paint a vivid enough word picture to illustrate precisely what I’m trying to convey here.

Vocation, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word, vocare or “a calling.” If throwing away a “successful” career and financial security – not to mention rationality – in order to chase down one’s dream and passion in life isn’t a calling, then I’m not sure what is. Being a nature photographer is my vocation. It’s not what I do; it’s what I am. There aren’t very many people who can say the same about their occupation.

So after eleven years of traveling the world, chasing down magical light, and capturing as many unrepeatable moments in the wild on film and digital media as possible, I’d like to think that I’ve achieved a modest amount of success as a professional photographer. But what is a “success” anyway? By one yardstick, I already was a success ten years ago.

But if living an inspired, passion driven life doing exactly what I feel I was meant to do – while managing to live financially comfortable as well – is another yardstick with which to measure success, well then I guess I’ve achieved something after all. It’s also the greatest birthday gift I could have ever given myself.

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A Beautiful Relationship

Capybara and Cowbird, Tambopata River, Peru. Canon EOS 7D, Canon 600mm f/4, 1/1600 second @ f4.5, ISO 400

This is a beautiful, mutually-beneficial relationship between the capybara and the cowbird, or what science would refer to as symbiosis or mutualism. The poor capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is unmercifully pestered by biting insects. Just have a look at all the bloody bite marks on its outrageously bulbous nose. The opportunistic cowbird stays perched upon the capybara’s head or back and just feasts away on a seemingly infinite source of food while the capybara gets some temporary relief from the constant torture from above. The patient look of near bliss on the capybara’s face almost tells the whole story in one single image frame.

Capybara, Tambopata River, Peru. Canon EOS 7D, Canon 600mm f/4, 1/1200 second @ f4.5, ISO 400

I could not find a single image frame without biting insects on its nose or flying in the vicinity of its head. The Capybara is native to South American rain forests and has an average height of 20 to 25 inches and can weigh between 75 to 150 pounds.

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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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Gitzo and I: A Coda

The Lost City, Machu Picchu, Peru

When I last left you nearly two weeks ago, I was expressing my extreme displeasure with Gitzo for the lack of a response in addressing my broken tripod. This wasn’t merely an isolated incident with the “Industry Standard for Excellence” but instead it was the proverbial last straw for me. One commenter wholeheartedly agreed and thanked me for pointing out that the emperor, indeed, had no clothes. The folks at Gitzo, on the other hand, “thanked” me for – in their words, “ripping them a new one.”

Other readers believed I was being a bit unfair. After all, how about my beloved Righteous Set of Sticks? OK, fair enough. The Righteous Set of Sticks, however, is now officially semi-retired and it only managed to
attain a long life by cannibalizing parts and pieces from my other crippled Gitzo tripods.

After reaching out to a contact I had in Gitzo’s upper management, I did eventually get the parts I had been requesting for the past month. I am grateful for the help, but it’s too little too late, I’m afraid. It should never have gotten as far as it did.

In the meantime, I’ve accepted a sponsorship offer from Really Right Stuff. When I return from Iceland in a few weeks, I’ll be using their products – including tripods – exclusively. Really Right Stuff makes the best camera support products in the business. Their tripods, ballheads, and camera and lens plates aren’t cheap, but when did I ever complain about the price of Gitzo tripods? Well, that would be never. I’m only interested in equipment that works, so I don’t have to think about it. I only want to focus on creating great images.

And when something does go wrong and breaks – and let’s face it, all photo equipment will have problems eventually – I want someone on the other end of the line who is going to help me get it fixed ASAP. I’m pretty tough on my equipment due to the amount of time and the way it’s used. Really Right Stuff, because of the quality of their products and their commitment to customer service, is the best partner for my business at this time.

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Red Howlers

Red Howler Monkeys, Tambopata National Reserve, Peru. Canon EOS 7D, Canon 600mm with TC 1.4x extender, 1/100 second at f5.6, ISO 320

As many of you already know from my two previous posts to Earth and Light, I have just returned from Peru where I had the opportunity to sample much of what the country has to offer in terms of natural beauty. One of these places is Tambopata National Reserve, one of the most biologically diverse areas within the Amazonian basin.

I spent a week in Tambopata – in the same set of clothes – while leading a photo tour and workshop with my friend, Ian Plant. Each and every morning the dawn was greeted by the roar of red howler monkeys, one of the loudest animals on the planet. Their howls could be heard from several miles away and are at the same time both awesome and haunting.

Photographing them was usually difficult. Red howlers live high in the tree canopy and rarely come down to the ground – except during times of extreme drought, which is rare in a rainforest. Everything they need is up in the trees – food, water (trapped in the leaves), shelter, and other red howlers. Trying to photography up high into the canopy is as difficult as it sounds. Mixed lighting, bright overcast skies as a backdrop, and awkward body positions behind the camera were all part of a perpetual challenge.

This group of howlers was different. They were hanging out – literally – right in front of our lodge at the Tambopata Reseach Center. Soft, late evening light brought out the bold orange and maroon hues of their fur and the sky behind them was a lazy blue.

We are possibly leading another trip to Peru next year and will offer it as a workshop and tour once again. Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley could be added to Tambopata for an unforgettable Peru experience. Stay tuned for details.

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