The Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska

The Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska

Bucket List

The Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska

I just finished up a fantastic photo tour in Alaska’s gorgeous Lake Clark National Park and Preserve last week. With the incomparable Silver Salmon Creek Lodge as our gracious hosts, we all found the access to the majestic coastal brown bears to be unequaled anywhere in the world. We had a variety of weather – sun, rain, and fog – and an unending variety of world-class wildlife opportunities with enormous bears. Bears fishing, playing, foraging, and lots of interaction between sows and cubs. And rarely did we ever need a lens longer than 400mm!

Here are just a few of the many hundreds of photos from the trip. All photos were captured with a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X Lens. Enjoy!

Coastal brown bears stalk the shores of Cook Inlet, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska

This brown bear sow took a unique, laid back approach to fishing. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Two young cubs follow their mom through a sedge meadow, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Foggy coastal weather helped create this ethereal wildlife image, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

This alert sow stands guard over cubs, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Brown bear cub, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

A tender moment between a mom and her cub, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

A coastal brown bear munches on some tasty grass, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

For the best wildlife photography techniques, be sure to check out my new book available on Amazon, Wildlife Photography: From First Principles to Professional Results.

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 1.2 million followers across social media platforms. He leads photography tours and workshops all over the world and is a high-demand keynote speaker. For more great information on new images, book projects, public appearances, photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Richard's Email Newsletter.

Travel Photography: It’s About The Destination

Travel Photography: It’s About The Destination

Short Essays

Travel Photography: It’s About The Destination

As a photographer, chances are you’ve thought about doing some traveling, if you haven’t done so already. The journey might start out as a simple weekend getaway after a few rough days at the office or an extended road trip through several states and time zones, car packed with camera and lenses, the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, nothing but freedom and the open road stretching out to the horizon. Over time this journey could involve airplanes, travel agents, passports, guides, and epic expeditions planned to the other side of the planet. Photographers are particularly susceptible to the lure of the exotic.

You might live within eyesight of a premier national park with hundreds of square miles of mountain wilderness, waterfalls, charismatic wildlife, pristine beaches, wildflowers in the spring, blazing foliage in the fall – this is the cosmic photo destination we’re talking about – and you would still feel as if you were missing out on something somewhere else. It would be far too easy to dismiss this urge as a naive grass-is-always-greener human impulse. After all, the grass might really be greener on the other side of that proverbial fence. Maybe that other grass isn’t even green at all, but some other color you’ve never seen or even considered. Or maybe the other grass is wild and untamed, unlike the neatly manicured turf in your tidy neighborhood with which you’re accustomed. Then again, sticking with the working theme here, maybe it’s not really about the grass at all but the journey in getting there.

I said, maybe it’s about the journey. You see, I personally consider the “it’s the journey not the destination” sentiment as just another feel-good, pop-culture pseudo-profundity that’s too easily taken at face value. For the experienced traveler, the journey – despite the cheery saccharin and romanticism it conjures in the imagination – actually sucks. If I could close my eyes, snap my fingers, and magically teleport myself to my destination instantaneously while skipping the whole journey charade, I’d be happy as a clam. I’m guessing whoever penned this particular piece of bumper sticker philosophy never had their precious little journey take them through a major 21st century airport on a Friday afternoon. And yes I do realize the phrase is a derivative of Emerson’s and a well-intentioned metaphor for life. Yet all too often it’s used literally as a marketing tool by slick travel brochures and cruise operators. I, for one, am weary of hearing all about the so-called virtues of the journey.

I do find it ironic that the most heavenly photogenic destinations in the world require you to first travel through hell on Earth to get there: over-crowded airports, cancelled and delayed flights, missed connections, lost luggage, fees for checked bags, long lines at the check-in counter, security, passport control and customs, rude and surly customer service representatives, invasive TSA agents, full-body x-rays, pat downs, no liquids or gels, removed shoes, cramped airplanes with no leg room, and truly tasteless airline food are just some of the indignities to be endured in order to reach our desired destination. And I’ve not even mentioned the repulsive edifices themselves. The English writer and humorist, Douglas Adams mused that there is no language that has ever produced the phrase as pretty as an airport.

But all the agony and pulverizing boredom of travel itself soon fade from memory once the destination is finally reached. So why do we bother to travel anyway? I suppose everyone has their own personal reasons: capturing and seeing something new, exploration, adventure, enlightenment, different cultures and food, or running from the law, just to name a few. And while all of the preceding could apply to me as well – aside from the running from the law part – I should mention that it also happens to be my job. I haven’t quite mastered the delicate art of keeping a straight face as I explain to friends and loved ones that I’m “going to work” as I pack my bags for some far-flung, exotic photography excursion but I should deserve at least some credit for not employing the smug rejoinder, “but somebody’s gotta do it” or something to that effect.

And while I understand “getting away from it all” as one justification for travel, it’s one that’s never quite resonated with me. I just don’t see my life or my work as anything from which I need, or want, to escape. But travel does take me away from everything that’s easy and familiar while razing the personal comfort zone to which I – and all of us – desperately try to cling. I like that. Sometimes I absolutely need that. Travel writer, Freyda Stark wrote, “to awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world” and I could not agree more. When applied to photography, these strange new places and experiences act as powerful catalysts to help get my creative juices going and force me to think and see differently. After all, if I’ve never seen something before, what other choice do I have?

Then there are the places and experiences that are simply too beautiful for words, which is fortunate enough since photographers are paid to create photos where mere words alone are inadequate. The first time I laid eyes on the southern Andes of Patagonia or the aurora borealis in Greenland or a herd of mammoth elephants marching ceremoniously across the African plains, my sympathetic nervous system pulsed into overdrive and delivered a dose of goose bumps over my arms and shoulders, making the hair stand straight up on the back of my neck. The very best part of this sensation was that in each instance, I never saw it coming. Each and every time was like a thunderbolt from the blue. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I travel.

And If I don’t screw things up too badly, I might even create something beautiful or meaningful that invites the viewer of the image to participate in this new experience with me, through the prism of my personal emotional response and the photographic decisions I make. I am interpreting the experience emotionally and artistically and it’s still my experience but the viewer has traveled with me vicariously, without the burdens of modern day travel I described earlier.

Or I could forget to remove the lens cap and everyone will just have to take my word for it. At any rate, if I don’t make the journey in order to witness it myself, it will have never happened for any of us. So, the journey is necessary after all, if not a necessary evil. With the right attitude – and good set of noise-cancelling headphones – the journey itself might not be so intolerable after all. Just don’t let anyone tell you it’s not about the destination.

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 1.2 million followers across social media platforms. He leads photography tours and workshops all over the world and is a high-demand keynote speaker. For more great information on new images, book projects, public appearances, photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Richard's Email Newsletter.

Sri Lanka Belongs On Every Photographer’s Bucket List

Sri Lanka Belongs On Every Photographer’s Bucket List

Bucket List

Sri Lanka Belongs On Every Photographer’s Bucket List

The Island Marco Polo believed to be the “Most Beautiful Island in the World” is a true Tropical Paradise.

At the tender age of 24, Marco Polo was dispatched by Kublai Khan, Emporer of China, to the island now known as Sri Lanka, to receive the tooth of the Buddha, one of the holiest relics in Buddhism. That quest was ultimately unsuccessful but he did leave with a newfound respect and admiration for the tropical island. Marco, no slouch in the travel department, declared Sri Lanka as “Undoubtedly, the finest island of its size in all the world.”

Sri Lanka offers some of the best historic and cultural photography (the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Kandy, and Polonnaruwa boast of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites), wildlife safaris that rival many itineraries in eastern Africa, and some of the most stunning tropical beaches in the world for the landscape shooters. There are tea plantations in the misty mountain highlands (a train ride through the tea country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience), colorful fishing villages and open markets, and much more. Many of these vastly different photography opportunities can be experienced within the same day. After a closer look, it’s easy to see why Sri Lanka should rank high on any travel photographer’s bucket list.

Wildlife and Nature

The wildlife of Sri Lanka is as varied as the general photographic opportunities. 12 percent of the country’s land is protected as wildlife and conservation sanctuaries so that many generations to come can enjoy encounters with nature and wildlife on the island. More than 400 species of birds live here as well as leopards, elephants, deer, monkeys, and prolific marine life such as whales and sea turtles, Yala and Minneriya National Parks are two highlights for wildlife and nature photographers.

Sri Lanka is also home to inland mountains with dozens of photogenic waterfalls and some of the most picture-perfect tropical beaches in the world. The seaside village of Tangalle in the southern part of the island is one of my favorite places for sunrises over the Indian Ocean and photographing sea turtles.

Sri Lanka and the Cultural Triangle

In 1972, the people discarded the country’s old name of Ceylon and officially introduced the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the world. In Sinhala, the language spoken by the majority of the people, Sri means “blessed” while Lanka is the name of the island. In Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle located in the country’s mid-section, there sits a host of ancient monuments, Buddhist temples, and historical royal cities that once served as the center of early Sinhalese people and civilization. The points of this geographic triangle are comprised of the hill capital of Kandy, Anuradhapura – a rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders, and Polonnaruwa. This rich cultural area also contains the spectacular rock fortress of Sigiriya and the cave monastery of Dambulla (my favorite cultural location for photography).

 

People

A trip to Sri Lanka focuses not only on the cultural, historical, and the natural attributes of this stunning country, but also the beautiful people who live and work here. In all my travels, I have rarely met as many open, friendly, and cooperative photography subjects (on two feet anyway). On a train ride through the high-country tea plantations I met and photographed dozens of outgoing, friendly people in small villages, working the tea fields in the mist shrouded mountains.

Gray langur monkeys (Semnopithecus entellus) in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. In addition to the prolific monkeys, Polonnaruwa is home to ruins of a ancient city and was claimed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Sunrise over the Indian Ocean, in Tangalle, southern Sri Lanka. Tangalle is just one of the many world-class tropical beaches in Sri Lanka  that affords some amazing sunrises and sunsets.

Hunnasgiriya waterfall (Hunnas Falls) in Sri Lanka’s lush and beautiful mountain highlands.

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 1.2 million followers across social media platforms. He leads photography tours and workshops all over the world and is a high-demand keynote speaker. For more great information on new images, book projects, public appearances, photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Richard's Email Newsletter.

How To Sleep On A Plane

How To Sleep On A Plane

Travel

How To Sleep On A Plane

I make a dozen or more overnight flights each year during my frenzied schedule as a travel photographer and I’ve learned a few tricks on how to get the proper rest to maintain the highest physical, mental, and creative energy levels possible. Sleeping at night while traveling can be difficult for a lot of people. Different beds than you’re accustomed to, jet lag, and disruptions to your body’s circadian rhythm are just a few reasons. My advice when traveling internationally is to get your sleep whenever and wherever you can. That includes on the bus, in the car (as long as you’re not driving) and on planes, especially during overnight flights.

The worst way to begin an overseas adventure is tired, fatigued, and with zero energy after a 14-hour flight. Here are some tips on how to avoid that by getting some good sleep on the plane.

My Three Favorite Accessories for Travel Sleep

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow I’ve tried pillows of every variety in order to perfect the cosmic airplane sleep. The airline pillows are crap. I even never understood the neck pillows that seem uber popular with travelers. They were never comfortable at all to me. The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow (medium size) is about twice as big as the standard airline pillow, has 3 times the loft, and compresses down to a manageable size for putting in your carry on bags.

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones Bose products are simply the best. I prefer the noise-cancelling ear buds over the bulky headphones that makes it difficult to get comfortable for sleep. Use these for soft music or use the noise-cancelling feature alone just to cut down on ambient plane noise.

Earth Therapeutics Dream Zone Sleep Mask I’ve tried a half dozen eye shades until I found these. These are silky, soft and so comfortable to wear. When I lay by head back to rest, I don’t even realize I am wearing anything over my eyes.

Preparation 

I don’t try to sleep immediately after takeoff. I’ve learned the routine of the on-board staff so I choose the optimal time to pull down the eye shades and get some shut eye. When the plane climbs to 10,000 feet, there are usually a barrage of announcements and crass commercial promotions you have to endure. Then within the first hour, dinner is usually served. I take a pass on the airline food but I might order a glass of wine at this point to help continue the process of winding down. Some of you might be tempted to drink more than just one glass of wine to help with sleep. This is a bad idea. Drinking excessive alcohol will lead to more bathroom visits and dehydration. As I said, it’s just a bad idea. Don’t do it.

As soon as the dinner service is completed and the lights in the main cabin are turned down, I’ll use the restroom one last time, throw on a sweater to stay warm, grab my pillow, turn on the noise-canceling headphones, and drop the eye shades. My next conscious moment should come about eight hours later with the breakfast service announcement.

The Window Seat

I think we can all agree that the middle seat is the least desirable seat option. But the window is far superior to the aisle seat if you plan on catching some sleep on your long flight. There are several good reasons for this. First, you won’t have passengers or flight attendants bumping into you while strolling down the aisle during the night. Second, you don’t have to worry about fellow passengers in your row waking you to get up to use the restroom. Third, the window seat offers the side of the plane and/or window to rest your head and pillow up against. Window seat. Very important.

Get Comfortable

If you’re using one of the blankets provided to you by the airline, make sure your seatbelt is clearly visible. Otherwise, if the plane encounters turbulence, an airline attendant might wake you to be sure you’re buckled in. That goes for any heavy coats or sweaters as well. It might be difficult to fall asleep again after the interruption.

To Recline Or Not To Recline?

There is a surprisingly heated debate among “travel experts” on whether it’s appropriate to recline your seat on a plane. Many say it’s rude and it should absolutely never be done. But then again, that big round button on the side of the armrest is there for a reason. The closer your body can gain the horizontal, the easier sleep will be. If there is no one sitting in the seat behind me, I will definitely recline. If the person behind me has reclined, I will also recline with no issues. If the passenger in front of me has reclined and there is someone sitting behind me, I will always politely ask if it’s ok before pushing my seat back. No one has ever refused the request.

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 1.2 million followers across social media platforms. He leads photography tours and workshops all over the world and is a high-demand keynote speaker. For more great information on new images, book projects, public appearances, photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Richard's Email Newsletter.

Photo Equipment: What’s In The Bag?

Photo Equipment: What’s In The Bag?

Gear Reviews

Photo Equipment: What’s In The Bag?

It’s the most frequently-asked question and perhaps the least important. “What’s in the bag?”

I say it’s the least important since it’s usually the first (and easiest) avenue beginning photographers take to try and improve their photography work. They believe that better and more expensive gear will create a better photographer but more often than not, it only leads to disappointment. A better investment would be in time – time spent practicing their technique and honing their personal vision. Still, photo equipment is not unimportant either. if you’re not convinced, just try doing photography without it!

So with that said, let’s have a look into my photo bag (all links to Amazon):

Photo Equipment

Camera Bag: One of several MindShift Gear bags, depending on the trip or assignment. Moose Peterson MP-1 V2.0, FirstLight 40L, or BackLight 36L.

In addition to the actual bag that I choose for a particular trip, the contents in the bag also depend on where I am going, what I will be shooting, how remote the area, and how much hiking there will be. Here is some of my basic photo equipment:

Canon 1DX Mark II
Canon 5D Mark IV

I’ll carry (2) 5D Mark IV bodies on my landscape or travel photography trips and (1) 1DX Mark II and (1) 5D Mark IV for wildlife excursions.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM (when weight is an issue or for bird-in-flight images)
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
Irix 11mm f/4 Blackstone (when I want to travel light and the Canon 11-24 is too heavy and bulky).
Canon Extender EF 1.4X III
Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Flash (2)
MagMod 2 Basic Flash Modifier Kit
Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote
Lee Filter Holder with polarizing filter, 3-stop ND, 6-stop ND (Little Stopper) and 10-stop ND (Big Stopper)
Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Tripod
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Tripod
Really Right Stuff BH40 ball head (2)
Really Right Stuff BH35 ball head

Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Head II
Lexar digital media
Mac Book Pro 15.4″ Computer with Retina Display, Touch Bar, 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 Quad Core…
LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C 4TB Portable Hard Drive

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 1.2 million followers across social media platforms. He leads photography tours and workshops all over the world and is a high-demand keynote speaker. For more great information on new images, book projects, public appearances, photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Richard's Email Newsletter.

My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

Bucket List

America’s National Parks: My Favorites for Photography

My recent travels have taken me to some amazing places around the world (Iceland, Patagonia, Myanmar, Tanzania, and others) but many of my all-time favorite photography locations are the National Parks of the United States. Most of these parks are beyond beautiful, easily accessible for recreational activities, and are preserved as sanctuaries for pristine mountains, deserts, forests, seashores, tundra, and the wild creatures that inhabit them.

The writer, historian, and environmentalist Wallace Stegner is credited with coined the phrase America’s Best Idea when referring to the National Park System. Here’s what he said in 1983: “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

At the time of this writing, there are 59 National Parks in the United States. By my last count, I have photographed in 32 of them. Here – in no particular order – are my 5 favorite parks, with a few honorable mentions as well. If you have a favorite that American National Park that didn’t make my list, let me know which is your favorite in the comment section, including why.

Yosemite National Park

No other place in the world inspires photographers quite like Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Iconic landmarks such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls are burned into the psyche of landscape photographers in both name and visage. Spring, particularly the month of May when the waterfalls have the highest flows and the dogwoods along the Merced River are in bloom, is the most popular season for photographers. The summer months, with bumper-to-bumper traffic in Yosemite Valley, should probably be avoided but any season will produce fantastic images, including winter. Regardless of the month, Yosemite is always a good idea!

(Top) The Yosemite Valley floor and Bridalveil Falls with ground fog. (Bottom Left) A stand of Giant sequoia trees in the snow. (Bottom Right) Last light on Half Dome.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It’s the most visited of all the national parks in the United States as well as one of the most ecologically diverse. Often dubbed “Wildflower National Park” because of the profuse blooms each spring (mid to late April is best) the Smokies have so much more to offer than flowers. There is spectacular autumn colors in late October, stacked mountain ridges, and wildlife too, including the highest density of black bears in the world. The Smoky Mountains National Park is also my “home park” and the place where I honed my photography skills many years ago.

(Top) Rolling clouds through the mountains from Clingmans Dome. (Bottom Left) Splendid autumn colors on the ridge lines. (Bottom Right) Trillium wildflowers in bloom near a spring cascade.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the few places in the US where you can capture both deciduous autumn color (second to third week in October) and dramatic seascapes in the same frame. Favorite photography locations within the first national park east of the Mississippi River include Jordan Pond, Jordan Stream, Otter Cliffs, Monument Cove, Cadillac Mountain, Duck Brook, and Hunter Beach Cove. Nearby Bass Head Lighthouse can be crowded with other photographers at sunrise or sunset but it’s certainly worth a visit anyway.

(Top) A vivid sunset at Hunters Beach Cove. (Bottom Left) Autumn reflections and lily pads in The Tarn. (Bottom Right) Twilight at Jordon Pond and The Bubbles.

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is the most famous landmark in Arches National Park (it’s featured on Utah’s license plate) but it’s certainly not the only shooting location. All in all, there are more than 2000 sandstone arches in the park as well as many other geological formations, windows and fins that make superb photo subjects. With Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park nearby, the town of Moab, Utah makes a great location for a week or two of landscape photography and you still won’t scratch the surface of the available locations.

(Top Left) Rainbow and Balanced Rock. (Top Right) A sunstar peaks through Delicate Arch. (Bottom Left) Shadow and light on the sandstone wall at Skyline Arch. (Bottom Right) Light painting and star trails at Double Arch.

Yellowstone National Park

As America’s first national park established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is best known by photographers for its wildlife and the many geothermal features found within its 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2). I’ve been traveling to Yellowstone for wildlife for more than 20 years and it never disappoints for the wildlife opportunities or the geysers, mud pots and fumaroles. Lamar Valley is often referred to as “America’s Serengeti” because of the sheer abundance of wild animals and is one of those places no wildlife photographer should miss during their lifetime. My favorite seasons for visiting for photography are spring, autumn, and winter while summer is a bit too crowded for my personal taste.

(Top) Fountain Geyser with dramatic evening light. (Bottom Left) Bison in harsh winter weather at Midway Geyser Basin. (Bottom Right) Pine tree skeletons on a foggy morning.

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 1.2 million followers across social media platforms. He leads photography tours and workshops all over the world and is a high-demand keynote speaker. For more great information on new images, book projects, public appearances, photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Richard's Email Newsletter.