Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Cradle of Life
“Cradle of Life” Lone giraffe on the Serengeti Plains under dramatic evening skies. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Canon EOS 1DX Mark II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens @ 70mm, 1/250 second @ f/13, ISO 100.

Cradle of Life

This captivating image of a giraffe on the Serengeti Plains almost never saw the light of day. Captured in June of 2017, it has languished in my image files (perhaps it was published somewhere on social media at some point) as a rather pedestrian sentimental wildlife image with a contrived, rule-of-thirds composition. There’s the fantastic, early evening light with crepuscular rays that added a dramatic flair, that’s all it had going for it to be honest.

I should say that it wasn’t exactly the same photo as the one you see above but it was the same capture. The original color version just didn’t inspire me very much, but I revisited this image during the coronavirus lockdown and decided to see how it felt in black and white. It was only then that the image came alive: the Serengeti grasses pulsed with the blowing wind; the light flooded the frame as the rays beamed from the sky; and the dark storm clouds loomed ominously over the wide expanse of the plains.

All of that was missing in the color version. My image portfolio is made up of 95 percent color images because color is such a big part of my experiences but every once in a while, a black and white interpretation better expresses how a scene felt to me than color. Cradle of Life is one of those exceptions.

The key to creating powerful and compelling black and white images is contrast. If your original raw file doesn’t contain much contrast, make it. Darken the darks, lighten the lights, create contrast by selectively adjusting tonal values of each corresponding color. And unlike color photos where there’s an implied threshold of believability that shouldn’t be crossed (photography is the only form of art where people expect the image to represent something real) that isn’t the case with black and white. Push the blacks to the limit if you like. The black and white medium doesn’t represent what we see because we don’t see the world that way. You have more creative latitude as a photographer to create mood with monochrome even if there isn’t any.

Cradle of Life was captured with a Canon EOS 1DX Mark II camera body and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens. The image was processed in Adobe Lightroom and Skylum Luminar 4.

Cradle of Life can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

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Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Take Me Home

“Take Me Home” Sparks Lane in Cades Cove on a foggy spring morning, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens @ 93mm, 1 second @ f/16, ISO 200.

Take Me Home

Please tell me, dear reader. Can anything in the world be more inviting than a lonely country road?

Folk songs, pastoral poems, inspirational quotes, and pop culture pseudo profundities are awash with both visions and words expressing the quaint charm of the country road. Many of these roads are entirely mythical or just a state of mind. More than one over-worked and frazzled old soul has fantasized about ditching the computer, cell phone, and the lousy desk job to follow one of these rustic byways to a simpler way of life. Going native, as they say.

Other country roads, however, are every bit as real, but more dangerous and less inviting than the sentimental John Denver folk song might suggest. The road might indeed lead to an idyllic log cabin by the river with smoke billowing from the chimney, a front yard tire swing in the big oak tree, and a friendly dog to welcome you home after long days of travel. It might also lead to a clutch of wild-eyed mountain men operating a makeshift meth lab from a single wide. Try fashioning a set of song lyrics around that word picture.

Where an old road like this could ultimately lead probably lies somewhere between those two extremes: a pleasant picnic spot perhaps, the cosmic swimming hole, or just a dead end at a parking area where a trailhead for hikers leads deeper into the wilderness. Maybe, as the bumper sticker suggests, it’s not about the destination of that country road at all, but the journey that matters most. I doubt it.

This particular old road really goes nowhere in particular but simply connects two opposite sides of the one-way-only Cades Cove Loop Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Sparks Lane, along with its twin, Hyatt Lane, are gravel roads that allow visitors to Cades Cove to shortcut the continuous 11-mile paved loop that circles the broad, picturesque valley.

Photographically speaking, the magic of Sparks Lane is not fully revealed and appreciated until you arrive the morning after a cool, still evening when a layer of heavy fog forms in the cove. On the morning this image was captured, these were precisely the conditions. The fog bank settled down along the river and migrated from right to left from the direction I was standing. The fog would slowly intensify and build before suddenly dissipating and starting the cycle all over again. This gave me several different versions of the scene from this vantage point. The fog helps simplify the composition as it hides and obfuscates the trees in the background. As a result, the foreground trees stand out stronger and more prominently because of the clean and simple background when the fog was in place.

The road and fence posts help pull the viewer into the image and through the small tunnel of trees with multiple leading lines and a sense of diminishing scale. The mid-telephoto perspective crops out any bright sky from the very top and minimizes the amount of road and immediate foreground down at the bottom of the frame.

Take Me Home can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

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By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 


Behind The Lens: Paulet the Penguin

Behind The Lens: Paulet the Penguin

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Paulet the Penguin

“Paulet” An Adélie penguin welcomes visitors to Paulet Island, located on the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens @ 35mm, 1/2000 second @ f/13, ISO 640.

The Eyes Have It

As a wildlife photographer, the importance of having your subject’s eye or eyes visible cannot be overstated. It’s almost essential. You always want your viewers to connect with your photo’s subject and there is no better way to help make that connection than through the eyes. As I state in my recently-published wildlife book, the eye is the wildlife portrait’s focal point and must be clearly visible and in sharp focus. There are some exceptions to this rule but those are few and far between.

Paulet the Penguin

For larger creatures, getting a clear and open look at its eyes is relatively easy. For smaller species, however, you need to get low to their level. In the case of Paulet the Penguin, I needed to lay down flat in the snow, rocks, and penguin poop with my wide-angle lens to get this eye-to-eye perspective. Paulet appears to be welcoming me with a warm hug – or an invitation to fight, I suppose. Everyone sees something a little different with Paulet’s body language here.

Paulet was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens.

Paulet can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 


Behind The Lens: Yellowstone in Winter

Behind The Lens: Yellowstone in Winter

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Yellowstone in Winter

“Unforgiving” Two bison in less than ideal winter weather conditions, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens @ 280mm, 1/800 second @ f/9, ISO 250.

Yellowstone in Winter

Yellowstone in winter can see some brutally cold, brutally bad weather. But bad weather conditions often result in the best photos. Let me repeat that for the sake of emphasis: Bad weather often results in the best photos. And so it is with Yellowstone in winter. Oh sure, heavy snow-laden trees and a cobalt blue sky make for some pretty impressive imagery too, but when I wake to find stormy skies with wind and snow blowing across the landscape, I become extra excited. Bad weather creates drama and helps tell a story.

The biggest obstacle is overcoming is your self reluctance. And inertia. That is, a body at rest and in bed will tend to remain at rest and in bed unless there’s some additional force applied to it, such as the possibility of the most dramatic photos you will ever create in your life. And if you happen to be in a popular national park such as Yellowstone in winter, you’ll enjoy the added benefit of most likely being the only other photographer with the guts to be out there.

I particularly liked this symmetry created by the two inward-facing bison and the jagged edge between the geyser basin steam and the distant snow hills. This image, titled Unforgiving, has been sold as a print hundreds of times and published dozens. Thank the heavens for bad, stormy weather.

Unforgiving can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 


Behind The Lens: Cathedral Gorge

Behind The Lens: Cathedral Gorge

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Cathedral Gorge

“Castles in the Sky”  Rock formations in an alien landscape, Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens @ 11mm, 1/125 second @ f/11, ISO 100. Converted to B&W in Adobe Lightroom.

Cathedral Gorge

Tucked into the southeastern corner of Nevada sits Cathedral Gorge State Park, a narrow, deeply-eroded valley exquisitely carved into the surface of the high desert. At first glance, Cathedral Gorge looks like a first-rate destination for creative landscape photographers, yet I found creating compelling compositions much more difficult than expected. I needed to work long and hard for a solid week in order to come away with just a handful of images that did justice to both the location and my own personal vision. A handful of images, in this case, could be considered a success.

One of those images is the one you see above, Castles in the Sky. It’s a rather pedestrian scene, to be honest, if not for the wonderful, streaming clouds overhead. The use of my Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at its widest focal length (11mm on a full-frame DSLR!) distorted the clouds, curving their direction mostly in a dramatic sweeping gesture from left to the upper right.

At the bottom of the image frame, there are a few random rock fragments that trail off to the lower left of the image frame. This creates the perfect counterbalance to the opposite effect in the top of the image, creating visual motion in the form of a subtle “S” curve,

Visual Motion

Visual motion is the illusion of actual movement in the image or the movement the viewer’s eye takes when exploring visual elements within the image frame. When a viewer first looks at a photograph or piece of visual art, their eyes will move throughout the image from element to element on a particular path. Those with the heaviest visual weight will command the most immediate attention followed by less significant elements, as lines, shapes, and patterns help guide the visual motion from one area to another. This is key to creating dynamic compositions as well as controlling and manipulating the viewer’s experience. Establishing visual motion in Castles in the Sky – with the abstract “S” curve – saved at least one image for me during my visit to Cathedral Gorge.

Castles in the Sky was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR and Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Castles in the Sky can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer is the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.


Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

“Mirage” Giraffe reflections in watering hole at sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 64mm, 1/800 second @ f/4, ISO 2500.

“The Job Of The Artist Is Always To Deepen The Mystery”– Francis Bacon

It is not the job of the photographer to make things as clear as possible for the viewing audience – or to present the photograph as to be fully comprehended or understood – it’s to deepen the mystery. The photographer’s job should be creating a sense of wonder, curiosity, bewilderment, even confusion. It should be about making things somewhat murky and not-so-obvious to the audience while obscuring vital information and clues so that each individual viewer is transformed from a mere passive observer to an active participant as they seek to figure things out.

One of the reasons the image above has been so successful is its element of mystery, particularly with regard to the blocked-up shadows where the giraffes ought to be. The temptation for many photographers would be to open up the shadows as much as possible during processing to reveal all the details. But to deepen the mystery with my audience, I’ve purposely obscured a vital part of the image (the subjects) by allowing the shadows go to black and inviting the viewer to explore and solve the visual mystery. And like a good songwriter who refuses to explain the meaning of his or her lyrics, I’ll say no more about it.

Mysteries are incredibly compelling. The job of the photographer is to preserve them. “Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” – Rene Magritte.

Mirage was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR and Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens  and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Mirage can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe.