Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Water-Striders | sredirtS-retaW

I recently spent an entire morning photographing, and finding myself mesmerized by, a group of water striders in a nearby creek. I hadn't intended to photograph these gravity-defying members of the 'true bug' family but as I peered through my lens, I discovered a scene that reminded me something out of the movie 'Tron'–minus the black lights.

Major battles were waged between rival males that included surprise attacks and retreats, mating pairs chasing away other pairs and placid moments where couples would stand still on the mirror-like surface of the water. Who knew that a group of bugs that I had mostly taken for granted all of my life were living so vigorously? The lesson that I was once again reminded of was that great beauty and action worth photographing, and more importantly protecting, literally exists all around us. I look forward to filling up more memory cards on this species in the near future.

Technical Note: I used a 300 mm lens with a 27.5mm extension tube to get me as close to the scene as possible without frightening the insects.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Faith in Vision

One of my goals for 2009 is to scan in all of my best slide-based images. Over the past several days, I've been digging through my files and have been pleasantly surprised by some of the images that I've found that I've never submitted to editors or presented before. In several cases, this was due to the fact that I simply didn't have the confidence in myself to put images out into the public eye; mostly because they defied the rules of so-called 'good and acceptable' nature photography.

A particular favorite is of a group of common grackles feeding in my backyard. I do remember making the image and actually went to great lengths to set-up the scene in anticipation of the large flock of birds that had been appearing over the proceeding days. Originally, when I first laid this slide onto the light table, I immediately became really excited about what I had seen. The piercing eyes of the birds, which contrasted so dynamically with the rich, iridescent hues of their feathers were very intriguing. However, I kept going back to the fact that the birds simply weren't sharp. At this stage I had always read that no matter what, always keep the eyes sharp. So, disappointed, I put the image into the sleeve and forgot all about it until just this week. I am thankful that I didn't have the guts to actually throw it away!

Now, after shooting and continuing to develop my photographic vision (and confidence) over several years, I have fallen back in love with this photo. Its dreamlike quality is exactly the kind of thing that I'm into these days and often intentionally pursue– often with less success, I might add. When I look at the work of some of my photographic heroes such as Frans Lanting, it is readily apparent that a strong conceptual nature photographer such as himself is able to blend subject -matter and technique together, to create a final product that evokes much more of the spirit of the moment than One may who always plays by the rules. In my humble opinion, it is here that art is born; a merging of the subject, the moment and the photographer's interpretation of that moment coming together to form something that didn't quite exist in the same way before. In one split-second, these three elements fuse into an inseparable, unique apparition that can speak volumes; we only need to have the faith in our vision to let the dialogue begin.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wild Wonders of Europe (and Beyond!)

Recently, I began following the Wild Wonders of Europe blog. I've really enjoyed reading past posts from field-contributors, but more importantly, I appreciate the philosophy behind the Wild Wonders of Europe project –or "The Great Quest," as it is known– which recently began in May of 2008.

According to the WWE website, the purpose of the project is:

"to show that Europe really is not about just highways and cities. But today, many seem to know more about nature in Africa or in America, than in Europe, because that is what’s on TV. The European natural wonders are still very little known to the World. We want to change that."

This is very appealing to me for several reasons but primarily because many of Europe's top nature and conservation photographers are exploring their own 'backyards', so-to-speak, in an effort to educate the European (and world) population about the many natural treasures that exist all across their great continent. With the conservation movement's accelerated growth and media coverage, I believe that it is critical that photographers do not fail to acknowledge species' and environments that may not necessarily make a great 'sound-bite', but are none-the-less incredibly important to the eco-system at large. Additionally, I believe that we often get our definition of what is beautiful and amazing from the media and put on blinders to anything else that doesn't fit the description. It is up to us as nature photographers to show the world just how much more is out there beyond 'the tube.' Too often, we become so accustomed to our own native locales that we simply lose the ability to recognize just how special every place in the world really is.

My nature, and ultimately conservation photography efforts really began after my first visit to Australia many years ago now. I have always been passionate about the natural world but after leaving childhood behind, had become visually numb to my surroundings in the Southeastern, U.S. However, after this initial Aussie experience, a fire was rekindled deep down inside of me that hadn't burned so brightly since I was about ten years old. My epiphany came as I stood looking through our kitchen window just after returning home: out of the sky flew a brilliant-red male cardinal that perched on a nearby branch. At that moment, it was as if I was back in the Karri forests of Southwestern Australia watching the crimson rosellas flitting amongst the eucalypts; the beauty was intense and every bit as breath-taking. I began to wonder what else I had been ignoring all this time.

I am very encouraged by, and grateful for, the efforts of organizations such as The International League of Conservation Photographers and the Wild Wonders team. The ILCP, in particular, is making great strides and I truly believe that the organization is destined to really make a difference in our world. Along these lines, it seems to me that many of the world's top nature photographers are moving beyond capturing beautiful images alone. More and more are now shooting for the cause and the results have been astounding.

It is my position that in order for these photographically driven conservation efforts to really be successful, all regions of the world must be recognized & documented. I believe that there will always be a necessity for the big, high profile projects, which create a buzz in the media; bringing much needed attention to the cause of saving species'. Additionally, though, I also strongly believe that more grassroots and more domestic efforts –wherever that may be– need to take place. Everyone has a role to play and I believe that it will take both of these approaches (and more) to turn this momentum towards eliminating large-scale habitat destruction and species loss around the globe. I think that it is potentially dangerous to guide too much of world's attention across the oceans while ignoring what's happening in our own cities and towns. By doing so, many of us, who have the means necessary to make great strides in our own communities may forfeit a chance to make a difference because we harbor feelings that local work isn’t as valid. If we aren't careful, we could potentially end up with a healthy population of cheetahs and chimps but no Rafineque's big-eared bats or green salamanders. I hope that it is obvious that this isn’t my way of saying that I don’t respect the hard work being done to highlight these particular species by many dedicated professionals. I am simply trying to state my belief that all species have a right to be represented, respected and protected regardless of whether or not society as a whole finds them intriguing enough to have their own show on Animal Planet.

As for my photographic efforts, I am dedicated to documenting the Southern Appalachians. Right now, I am primarily focused on the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment of Northwestern, South Carolina and Western, North Carolina. I believe that I could spend the better portion of my lifetime shooting here and imagine that I probably will. Does it matter that it only takes a 15-minute drive for me to arrive at a place that I consider to be one of the most beautiful in the world instead of a grueling 22-hour plane ride across the Indian Ocean? I don't believe so. As for the rest of the conservation community, they'll have to decide what constitutes a legitimate, conservation photography effortbut I'm very encouraged by the results that seem to be occurring so far. There is much to do and I'm happy to do it!

So, best wishes Wild Wonders of Europe! I’ll be anxiously awaiting the results of your campaign. Hopefully, the rest of the world will as well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eastatoe Trip Follow-Up

As promised, here are a few more images from my Eastatoe Gorge trip. I look forward to going back in the spring when the wildflowers will be blooming in profusion and the critters will be again.

One of my favorite finds was this fairly old poplar just riddled with sapsucker wells from years past. It was completely scarred from root to canopy on one site with pock-marks.

This trip was also all about the vines and climbers, which seemed to be clinging to every surface.

I brought along my good friend and fellow photographer Alex Garcia as a witness just in case I fell to my death down the slippery slopes of the gorge!

In the end, it was a really nice scouting trip and I can't wait to explore it more in the near future.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Down into the Eastatoe

I just returned from a trip down into the Eastatoe Gorge in Northwest South Carolina. This special place is one of the epi- centers of South Carolina's temperate rain forest and home to some amazing plant and animal life. Most notably, perhaps, is its variety of filmy ferns, which include the only North American location of the Tunbridge Fern (Hymenophyllum tunbridgense) and another species that is only found otherwise in South America. I was able to locate Taylor's Filmy Fern (Hymenophyllum tayloriae) but was unfortunately unable to locate –just yet– the more photogenic Tunbridge. I hope to make another trip down into the Gorge this spring and see if my luck improves.

The day was very pleasant with beautiful, mist-filtered light and the gorge had a very ancient ambiance. Eastatoe is the Cherokee word for the Carolina Parakeet which is now extinct and I couldn't help but imagine what the site might have been like 300 years ago when these colorful birds filled the air. I'm going to be posting more images from this outing over the next few days so stay tuned. It was a great way to start off the new year.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year and HDR

I started off my new year with a beautiful sunrise shoot of South Carolina's Table Rock Mountian and surrounding Mountain Bridge Wilderness. Yes, this is an HDR image and I must admit that I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. The muted colors and tones remind me of a vintage postcard and true to HDR, the image does have a surreal effect. Some images just don't tone-map very well in Photomatrix and, in fact, this was made from a series of five very low-key images. A few minutes after these were capture, the sunlight became much more dramatic. However, the aforementioned images didn't work nearly as well in the software. More experimentation required!

Good luck in 2009!