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. 

Bernabe Answers Twitter AMA (Ask me Anything)

Bernabe Answers Twitter AMA (Ask me Anything)

Creativity

Bernabe Answers Twitter AMA (Ask me Anything)

Bernabe Twitter AMA

Go Ahead. Ask Me Anything

If you feel 2020 has been like a strangely dystopian episode from The Twilight Zone, you’re not alone. To borrow and paraphrase a colorfully descriptive lyric from the pen of musician Gordon Summer, it’s been one humiliating kick in the crotch after another for humanity. It began in January – as most years do – with Kobe’s tragic death and limped into February with the persistently hellish brushfires in Australia, where 40 percent of the koala population perished. It’s estimated that the total area of torched land there, when the fires were finally contained, was equal to the size of Portugal. March smirked, said hold my beer, and unleashed a global pandemic on the world that forced almost every human being into a self-isolating lockdown with nightly rolling death counts and frightening toilet paper shortages. April conceived a vision of what a 1930s-style Great Depression might feel like and gifted us a flying demon called the murder hornet. And if all that doesn’t Sting enough, we’re not even halfway through May.

So, at the urging of some Twitter followers, I sheepishly offered an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with the hashtag #BernabeAMA on April 28 and 29, as a modest distraction from all the above. I chose some of my favorites and gave my answers here. I’ll try to address as many of the others as I can, but most were fairly redundant so an answer to one is an answer to many. I also tried to avoid most of the technical gear questions because….well, I think gear is boring, at least for what I wanted to accomplish here. I’ll get back to you personally about your camera gear and lenses. Hey, I do have the time.

So here we go. Thanks to everyone who participated!

What was your biggest photographic challenge? @IamnotMarilyn

My good friend Rick Sammon just completed a book titled Photo Quest: Discovering Your Photographic and Artistic Voice and I was honored to be asked to write the book’s foreword, which I happily did.  With regard to “finding your voice” I attempted to make two key points. First, it’s essential that you know yourself. Know your sources of happiness, your deepest fears, who you really are and what you’re not. Be honest since this is where the voice comes from. Second, as an artist, you need create for yourself. Be selfish. Don’t create to pacify the critics or impress your peers. Don’t create for the sake of “likes” on social media and don’t create for commercial success either, otherwise it’s not your voice. It’s the voice of someone else. By being selfish, paradoxically, you ultimately achieve perfect selflessness since there’s no greater gift you can give your audience than a piece of your authentic self.

Now I hear many of you shouting into your computer screen or phone.

“That’s sounds great, Bernabe, but how can you be a professional photographer or artist and make a solid living if you’re not listening to the market and what editors, collectors, and clients want from you and your work? How can you survive financially?”

The long answer to that question would make an excellent blog post or essay for another day. The short answer directly addresses your question as to my biggest challenge.

I have always admired your photos with symmetry of animals. And this is very different from a landscape. So, what happens first: luck or patience in getting the shot right? @40GRAUSS

Luck plays a much larger role in wildlife photography than any of us would care to admit but it still runs both ways. I’ve been in situations where I’ve done everything right and prepared for every possible contingency and it didn’t work out because of something completely out of my control. Conversely, there were times when I couldn’t be more inept if I’d forgotten to remove the lens cap yet still managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. You take the good with the bad but good luck does tend to correlate positively with the amount of time invested in the field. Patience certainly helps but preparation and research are even better.

Can nature and landscape photographs be “too pretty”? @gregerts

I don’t believe you can have too much beauty in your life, particularly during these dreary times. But instead of relying solely on superficial beauty to carry your image, why not make it meaningful too? Better yet, make the images all about what’s meaningful to you and the emotional responses to your experiences. The real subjects of your photographs should be raw emotion: awe, peacefulness, power, fragility, joy, melancholy rather than the shallow, self-indulgent sentimental beauty you might find in a Thomas Kincade painting or John Denver song. Your personal vision and interpretation of nature should be the shortest distance between your heart and your audience so they can feel what you feel, not what your camera coldly captures.

Did you do formal photography study such as at school/college? Did you do an internship or work with a more skilled photographer in the beginning of your career? @MelindaAlfred

No, I’m completely self-taught which only means I have so many bad habits to overcome that I now rationalize my flaws as giving my work “character.”

I have mixed feelings about formal training for artists. On the one hand, the more you learn about anything, the better as a general matter. On the other hand, an untrained, motivated, insanely curious person with a strong personal vision might have a more intuitive feel for creative expression, but that’s just my uneducated, unlettered opinion.

How did you know your style? @fanni40877378

I’m allergic to the whole concept of style to be honest, to which anyone who has seen how I dress can attest.

When someone sends an email to say they’ve seen one of my published magazine photos while in the dentist’s waiting room, it’s a nice gesture that never goes unappreciated. But when they go on to say they knew the photo was mine because they recognize my style, I die a little on the inside. By having a style, it means I’m using the same conceptual formula time after time for each experience even if the location, subject matter, and circumstances are different. It’s muscle memory. It’s easy. It’s lazy. It’s not being creative.

I try to approach each situation with a clear and open mind, completely in the present moment, with zero influence from the previous day, week or month. Have a look at David Bowie’s body of work through the years. I respect the hell out of Bowie. He was always re-making himself and his music as something different from what he did before while still being different from everyone else. That’s why even now, Bowie’s music still sounds so fresh to me.

What is the progression of questions/attributes that you use when evaluating a scene for its photographic potential? @firthermor

My process always starts with an emotional/intuitive/right-brained series of questions regarding how the scene or subject makes me feel. I’m searching for an emotional core around which I’ll build the image. The process then transitions into conceptual/technical/left-brain thinking about how I want to execute it. This is almost always the methodology I use.

You can only use one lens for the rest of your photography days. What will you choose, and why? The format is 35mm equivalent, and it must be a real existing lens. @awilliamsny

If you’re going to put me in that predicament, I’d hold my nose and go buy a Tamron 18-400mm “ALL-IN_ONE” lens. Honestly, I didn’t even know there was such a thing until 5 minutes before writing this piece. But in the real world, I would keep my Canon EF24-105mm F4L IS II USM (Soon to be the RF Version) since 24mm is wide enough for wide-angle, near-far landscapes and 105mm would allow me to do some wildlife in a pinch, with a bit of cropping. It is, of course, the perfect “walking around” lens and ideal for street photography and general travel.

Beyond photography, music and writing are there other creative art forms that interest you? @mauramullarkey

Are you saying there’s more to life than that? I mean, beyond food and the love of friends and family, is there anything else I need? I’m a fan of any type of creative expression – movies, music, art, even poetry – that has the ability to inspire or move me to tears.

After another long hard day at the office, travelling, or shooting in the field, what’s your go to drink? @life_with_louis

With the exception of an occasional signature exotic drinking experience tied explicitly to a particular place (aguardiente in Colombia, pulque in Mexico City, absinthe in Paris, etc.), I prefer to keep my libations pretty simple: water, a double espresso, or red wine, depending how good or bad a day it was.

What is your favorite Seinfeld episode and why? @themahoneyphoto

The Boyfriend. I grew up in the shadow of New York City and I’ve been a Mets fan since I was 4 years old. Keith Hernandez, Art Vandalay, did you sneak a peak?, the magic loogie. No need to go on. But I consider the very act of asking a Seinfeld question to be openly flirting… so I see you, Jason.

What is that one elusive goal you have yet to accomplish in your career? @KristaBower411

I’ve always wanted to get arrested and spend a night in jail, but that goal has been a spectacular failure. You’d think it wouldn’t be so difficult or “elusive” but it has, mainly because of the many caveats and pre-conditions I’ve demanded. For example, it must be a real arrest, not some phony stunt. It must be a victimless crime yet not petty and pointless like shoplifting or trespassing. I’d prefer to be arrested and incarcerated in the name of some righteous cause such as a protest or sit-in while battling a social or environmental injustice. I could actually be proud of that and wave my arrest record around in public like a badge of honor. Also, one night in jail. Just one, thank you very much.

Why? Curiosity mostly. That and my environmental activist friends tell me I can’t be taken seriously until I’ve been arrested at least once. But yeah, it’s mostly curiosity.

Hey, you asked!

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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. 

Photography at Home: Staying Creative and Exploring New Perspectives

Photography at Home: Staying Creative and Exploring New Perspectives

Creativity

Photography at Home: Staying Creative and Exploring New Perspectives

There’s no denying that times are particularly tough. And while the world has screeched to a halt, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing the things you love. We know it may be challenging to continue to work on your craft while remaining indoors but why not look at it as an added layer of challenge. Doing so will help you realize that restrictions only encourage more creativity and innovation with one’s craft. But if you need a little help getting started, we’ve put together a list of tips to help you stay creative by practicing photography at home.

Commit to a Personal Project

Photography At Home

Now is a better time than ever to start on a personal project. It can be something that you’ve been meaning to do or something born out of sheer inspiration. No project is too big or too small, as long as it’s contained within the four walls of your home.

A great place to start, especially if you live with other people, is to take daily portraits of them. A great example of this is Jonas Bendiksen’s portraits of his kids that were featured on the Telegraph, and the hijinks that they’ve gotten into as they grapple with staying at home for an extended period of time. If you live alone, take this added layer of difficulty as a challenge that can push you to be more creative and find beauty in everyday items.

Revisit Old Work

Photography At Home

If inspiration hasn’t struck and you can’t find yourself starting on any new projects, then why not revisit some of your old work and see how you can tweak it to make it new. For tweaking photos, there are two main options being Photoshop and Lightroom. Now, we’re not here to tell you which one is better so just choose the one that you’re already using or the one you prefer as they’re both perfectly good for editing photos.

However, what we can give you is a practical tip to make editing easier. This guide on the ideal home office set up by HP highlights how making use of an additional screen can help you be more efficient, as it saves you time by letting you run multiple applications at once. The time saved here can make the entire process a lot less tedious so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor without feeling burnt out.

Set Up a Home Studio

Photography At Home

Lastly, you may want to consider setting up a home studio seeing as you’ll be stuck indoors for quite some time. That’ll help you with that personal project that you’re starting and it’s also great for just messing around and enjoying the process of taking photos.

We understand that everyone will have a varying amount of resources. Luckily, there are ways to do this even if you’re on a tight budget. You can actually make a DIY lightbox by cutting windows on the side of a cardboard box and covering those windows with white fabric. Remember, the bigger the box the more varied the objects you can use.

If you need a little more inspiration, check out our Favorite Images of 2019. Hopefully, the photos get your creative juices going so you can start on your next home project!

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. 

CREATIVE COMPOSITION: Image Design Masterclass

CREATIVE COMPOSITION: Image Design Masterclass

Creativity

CREATIVE COMPOSITION: Image Design Masterclass

Creative Composition

Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass

In Creative Composition, internationally renowned photographer Richard Bernabe takes you way beyond the “Rule of Thirds” and into the art and psychology of photographic composition and image design. Borrowing themes from music, art, and Gestalt Theory, Richard takes you on a journey through an image design masterclass, culminating with an extended commentary on the Creative Principle.

The 74 pages of Creative Composition, with photographs to illustrate the ideas and concepts in the book, will get your creative juices flowing again which will help power your way to greater creative expression with your camera.

CREATIVE COMPOSITION

Image Design Masterclass
by Richard Bernabe
$9.95 USD
74-page PDF E-book on photographic composition theory and practice by photographer Richard Bernabe.

Wildlife Book
*  Depending on your particular mobile device and software/apps, you might have a problem downloading this PDF directly to your phone or tablet. If that’s the case, download to a computer first and then transfer to your phone or tablet.

Sample Pages

Creative Composition
Creative Composition
Creative Composition
Creative Composition
Creative Composition
Creative Composition

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: 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.

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: 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.