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    Filming A Giant

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    Attracted by high concentrations of plankton, large numbers of whale sharks congregate each summer in the waters off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. In turn, large numbers of underwater photographers are attracted by the opportunity to get close to the world's largest fish.

    Canon EOS 5D, EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM at 20 mm, 1/100 sec at f/11, ISO 400

    I captured the above photograph last summer on a trip specifically targeting whale sharks in the seas off the Yucatan Peninsula. The free-diving videographer in the image is Cristian Dimitrius, an award-winning nature photographer and filmmaker from Brazil.

    He and I had both been working with this very cooperative shark for many minutes, but Cristian didn’t know he was included in my shot when I framed this photograph. His photogenic pose is, in fact, a completely candid moment. However, after countless hours in the water with his camera, Cristian typically looks poised and fluid while diving, making him an outstanding (if unsuspecting) model.

    To see more whale shark images from the trip, click on this link: Whale Shark Gallery.

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    A lion stands over a kill in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, as more than a dozen spotted hyenas plan their next move to take it from him.

    Canon EOS-1DS, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS at 190mm, 1/30 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1250

    Today I share this photo, taken ages ago, in Honor of World Lion Day, because to me it symbolizes the indomitable spirit of the African lion. The year was 2004 and Alison and I were on safari in Kenya with our friends Stacy and Greg. Dusk was approaching and we were just about to head back to camp, but when we noticed hyenas moving rapidly, purposefully, across the savannah, we knew we had to follow them to see where they were headed.

    Read the entire post…

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    High-Spirited

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    A young male giraffe struts his stuff in Etosha National Park in Nambia.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 239 mm, 1/3200 sec at f/4.5, ISO 400

    In late spring of this year, Alison and I spent nearly two weeks in Etosha National Park in Namibia with a group organized by our friends Gary and JudyLynn Malloch. We spent many hours parked near various waterholes and observed plenty of interesting animal behavior, but one our favorite things to witness were the giraffes when then would get rambunctious. Since there was no predator nearby at the time, and because none of the other giraffes present in the vicinity appeared agitated, it is impossible to know why this particular animal was so riled up. But it was pure joy to watch the strangeness that is a giraffe exuberantly kicking and bucking, reminding us in a way of an elongated rodeo bronco in slow motion.

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    The silhouetted branches of a long-dead tree and a distant sand dune near Dead Vlei combine to create an engaging abstract composition.

    Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 200 mm, 1/100 sec at f/10, ISO 200

    I created this post’s featured image on my second of two mornings at Dead Vlei, in Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park. Having tried my hand at some iconic Dead Vlei photos the first morning, I felt I had a chance to experiment a bit on the second.

    The contrast between the Vlei’s shaded dead trees and the sunlit dune west of the Vlei was extreme. Therefore, properly exposing for the bright sand would render the trees nearly black — in silhouette, that is. I just needed to find the right tree and to position the camera so that the jagged outlines of the branches formed a pleasing abstract composition. This picture is one of my favorite attempts at doing just that.

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    Dead Vlei

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    Though these trees at Dead Vlei are belived to have died at least 500 years ago, they remain upright today, resisting decay in the hyper-dry climate of Namibia's Namib-Naukluft National Park.

    Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 180 mm, 1/125 sec at f/11, ISO 200

    Namib-Naukluft National Park is the largest conservation area in Africa, and for many visitors its main attraction is an area commonly known as “Sossusvlei” famous for its plethora of towering, reddish sand dunes. Within Sossusvlei is a magical spot called Dead Vlei, which is nestled between the giant dunes and is characterized by a flat, white, clay pan and a forest of dark tree “skeletons”. According to Wikipedia, Deadvlei means “dead marsh” (from English dead, and Afrikaans vlei, a lake or marsh in a valley between the dunes).

    Standing in the middle of a bone-dry desert, the last thing Dead Vlei reminded me of was a marsh! Yet centuries ago flood waters from the Tsauchab river left behind sediments that created the pan, and provided sufficient water for many camel thorn trees to grow. Since then, changes to the climate, perhaps in conjunction with the build up of the sand dunes, severely curtailed the amount of water reaching the vlei and caused the trees to die. While the die-off is estimated to have occurred 500-600 years ago, the rate of decay in this arid desert is so slow that the trees remain standing to this day.

    Dead Vlei’s combination of white clay, red sand, blue sky, and dark ghostly trees has created a photographers’ paradise. With the angle of the sunlight changing throughout the day (and to a lesser degree throughout the year), and wide range of possible compositions, the photographic possibilities at Dead Vlei are nearly limitless. So, while I cherished my two mornings at Dead Vlei, I hope to have the opportunity to return someday and pick up where I left off. The image in this post is one that I feel conveys the essence — and the beauty — of the place.

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    Dune 40

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    One of Namib-Naukluft National Park's massive sand dunes rises above the valley floor bathed in warm late-afternoon sunlight.

    Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 165 mm, 1/80 sec at f/10, ISO 200

    It was our first afternoon among the giant dunes of Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, and Alison and I were focused on finding the best spot to capture the beauty of the place. With their ochre hues and sinuous profiles, all of the dunes along the 35 miles stretch of road we had before us were begging to be photographed, and we were fighting the irrational desire to clone ourselves and be at many locations at once. And because the photograph I was seeking would be obtained in the last 30 minutes before the sun set, when shadows are long and the light shines in warm tones, we were under time pressure.

    The dunes in the National Park are among the tallest in the world and certain ones in particular are famous for their size and beauty. One of the landmark dunes is called Dune 45, due to the fact that it lies relatively close to the road near the 45 kilometer mileage marker. We had been told that it was the best place to go for sunset and so we went to see for ourselves. While Dune 45 is indeed beautiful, it has a parking area right at its base, and on the afternoon we were there, several tourists were climbing up the dunes spine towards its peak. I wanted to avoid any signs of man in my photograph, so we left Dune 45 in search of a more pristine subject.

    A few miles back up the road we had noticed a stunning dune that I thought had great promise, but the sun was now quite low in the sky and there was little time left to reposition. Alison drove hastily back to our “plan B” dune, which just happened to be located at the 40 kilometer marker, and I immediately jumped out of our truck with camera and tripod in hand. I had just enough time to set up my equipment, compose the photograph, and depress the shutter before “Dune 40”, as we decided to call it, began to descend into shadow. In fact, you can see a slight darkening at the foot of the dune in the above photograph, but I think that lends a bit of intrigue to the image, and it is a happy reminder of our victory in a race against the sun.

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    Klipspringers!

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    A pair of klipspringers pause momentarily to investigate the human intruders passing through their remote Namibian neighborhood.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 400 mm, 1/800 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400



    “Did you see those?”, Alison exclaimed, and I snapped my gaze to the rocky area where she was pointing. Somehow, while steering our 4-by-4 vehicle over a rugged gravel road in the middle of a vast, desolate — yet starkly beautiful — Namibian landscape, Alison managed to spy some klipspringers amongst the rocky terrain flying past our windows. She asked me if I wanted to try to photograph them and I excitedly replied, “Definitely. But I’ll need to find my camera first.” Because the roads we were driving between Windhoek (Namibia’s capital city) and Namib-Naukluft National Park (our destination) were so punishing that I feared my cameras would soon be bounced onto the truck’s floor, and because the areas we were traversing were so seemingly lifeless, I had packed every last bit of my photo gear inside my camera bag now locked in the pick-up’s covered bed.

    The klipspringer (which literally means “rock jumper” in Afrikaans) is one of the smallest antelope species in the world, and in my experience they are accordingly secretive and shy. Therefore, I was not optimistic we would see those klipspringers again after bringing the vehicle to a halt, retrieving my camera bag, attaching lens to camera, u-turning the vehicle and driving the few hundred yards back to the location of the sighting. Boy, was I wrong. There they were, standing on the same rock and being extremely cooperative as Alison positioned the 4-by-4 in the optimal spot. At first, they stared at us, then the buck apparently had other things on his mind and he began intently sniffing the doe’s hind end while she continued staring at our truck. Then, as if he realized that it was not the time for romance, the buck joined the doe in locking his investigative gaze on us.

    A few moments later, perhaps thinking that they tolerated our presence long enough, both klipspringers took off in a flash, zipping away through the rocky terrain at a velocity that seemed impossibly fast. Even though the encounter lasted only a few minutes from start to finish, it was totally unexpected and I feel fortunate to have had the chance to photograph this usually elusive antelope species. And to Alison a hearty, “Well spotted!”

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    These separator tanks, found at the abandoned whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia Island, were once used in the whale oil purification process.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 182 mm, 1/200 sec at f/14, ISO 200

    My recent visit to the Southern Ocean included a landing at Grytviken on South Georgia Island, the site of a whaling station that was in operation from 1904 until 1962. During that time more than 50,000 whales were butchered at Grytviken where their body parts were processed to extract oil and to produce fertilizer and fodder. As a devoted animal lover, and given Grytviken’s brutal history, I cannot say that I was looking forward to this landing. Nevertheless, I went ashore with my fellow passengers, raised a glass in honor of explorer Ernest Shackleton at his gravesite, and looked around the fine museum documenting Grytviken’s past. So ambivalent was I about the landing, I did the unthinkable: I went ashore without my camera.

    Grytviken, an abandoned whaling station on South Georgia Island, sits on the shore of King Edward Cove below rugged cliffs.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM +1.4x at 98 mm, 1/800 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

    After exiting the museum, my eyes were drawn to the boilers set amongst the rusting ruins of the whaling station’s buildings and machinery. The sinuous curves and the repeating patterns were crying out to be photographed and I could not resist. If I were able to convince one of the zodiac drivers to ferry me back to the ship to grab my camera, I’d have about an hour to spend photographing the decaying machinery before our time for the landing would run out.

    A close-up look at a section of a boiler assembly at the Grytviken whaling station on South Georgia Island reveals serpentine countours in ochre hues.

    EOS-1D Mk IV, 70-200mm f/2.8L II at 90 mm, 1/80 sec at f/14, ISO 200

    About fifteen minutes later, camera in hand, I thanked Elise for the shuttle service, stepped off the zodiac, and began photographing furiously. It seemed that wherever I placed my gaze, I saw another image just dying to be created. I have not worked much with subjects in this genre, but in that hour I was completely lost in the creative possibilities. Wonderful colors, strong repeating visual elements, and oxidized old-fashioned machinery all vied for my attention. Caught up in the moment I wished for more time, but in hindsight, it might not have been such a memorable experience if I’d been able to linger.

    Grytviken may have a past that is hard to stomach, but what remains of that horrible whaling operation is a present-day treat for photographers.

    Pressure cookers and a bucket-conveyer, once used to boil whale blubber, now stand rusting in the harsh weather of Grytviken, South Georgia Island.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 123 mm, 1/100 sec at f/14, ISO 200

    At Grytviken, whale oil storage tanks create a colorful palette as paint gives way to rust.

    EOS-1D Mk IV, 70-200mm f/2.8L II at 90 mm, 1/10 sec at f/14, ISO 200

    Do you have a favorite? I’d love to hear your feedback.

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    Ice Ice Baby

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    On my recent trip to the Antarctic Peninsula the wildlife (including seven species of penguins) were captivating, but the ice, in its endless variety, made a strong bid to steal the show. From smallish deep-blue icebergs in a sea of white, to miles-long tabular icebergs, the ice was more than just mesmerizing, it was downright otherworldly. The following images are but a small sample of the icy scenery I was privileged to observe and photograph.

    Remember, you may click on any of the images to see a high resolution version of it.

    A large iceberg with a delicate arch towers over the water near Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula.

    Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM at 70 mm, 1/500 sec at f/10, ISO 200



    The ice found along the Antarctica Peninsula, with its near-infinite range of textures, shapes, and aqua hues, provides ample opportunities for abstract photographs.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 168 mm, 1/2000 sec at f/4, ISO 200



    A large iceberg having run aground, reveals shapes that would do a modern sculptor proud.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 200 mm, 1/2500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400



    A deep blue iceberg surrounded by sea ice resembles a giant-sized jewel.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 165 mm, 1/500 sec at f/9, ISO 400

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    Juvenile and adult king penguins mingle in a large breeding colony below a backdrop of tussock grass and a hanging glacier at Gold Harbour on South Georgia Island.

    Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM at 200 mm, 1/30 sec at f/16, ISO 200
    Click photo to see high resolution version.

    The image featured in this post is one of my favorites from a landing on South Georgia Island last December. I used a telephoto lens to compress the dominant elements of the landscape into layers of varying color and texture. When standing on the shore at Gold Harbour, I could not help being struck by the awesome sight of glacial ice hanging from sheer rocky cliffs, while rivers of penguins flowed between hills covered in bright-green tussock grass. With this image, I hoped to capture the essence of the place in a semi-abstract composition of those dominant elements.

    If you’d like to read more about the effects of perspective compression, or telephoto distortion, check out this wikipedia page.

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