Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Belly Crawling for Conservation

A few years ago I became fixated on one simple, elegant statement in Piotr Naskrecki’s landmark book, The Smaller Majority. Simply put, the author writes that 99% of life on planet earth is smaller than a human finger with most being smaller than a fingernail. This immediately sent my head spinning. I looked out onto my backyard and began to wonder what might be out there to discover, photograph and share with the world. It didn’t take me long to realize that even in an area with a temperate climate such as where I live, this statement inevitably holds true. As a macro photographer, my obsession with insects, plants and other small creatures suddenly found a renewed sense of purpose.

Considering humankind’s obsession with discovery, it surprises me that more photographers aren’t as obsessed with macro photography as I am. What other discipline of nature photography offers so much in terms of an opportunity to make fresh new imagery, which may in fact, also represent behaviors and species completely new to science? Going a step further, these images can also make a tremendous contribution to conservation due to the well-documented fact that invertebrates and other small creatures are tremendously important to the well-being of every eco-system in the world.
The July-August 2010 issue of Audubon Magazine contained a fascinating article on the All Taxa Biological Inventory (ATBI) project currently being conducted in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to the variety of species being found and its inherit biological richness, the article compares the GSMNP to the tropics. Kevin FitzPatrick, a photographer and iLCP member who has spent the last several years working for the ATBI recently shared with me that researchers believe that they have discovered an estimated 1,000 new species in the park over the past 10 years. What else is out there waiting to be discovered is anybody’s guess but most believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

I’ll leave you with this: What if every major nature photography “star” decided to focus their cameras on their own backyards over the span of a year? Can you imagine the incredible new insights and imagery of our natural world which would result from such an experiment? All of us who have a passion for nature and photography should be out getting our knees and elbows dirty from time-to-time. There is so much to see with such little investment if we can only slow down, and change our perspective. It will change the way that you see the world.

Friday, June 4, 2010

That is Mr. Muffet to You

Little Miss Muffett doesn't have a thing on me peeps! This beautiful mother and about 100 of her little ones patiently posed for this portrait yesterday. One doesn't have to travel far to find amazing subject matter!

Sunday, May 30, 2010


As my children grow older, and their interest in nature grows as well, I've tried to find ways to get them involved with my work as much as possible. For a while now, I have thought that it would be fun to work with my oldest son Adam to document all of the species that live on and around a massive old tulip poplar in the woods behind our home. After a brief rain shower, I took a walk out to have a look at the tree only to discover the most amazing looking box turtle that I'd ever seen. Then(!) it occurred to me that I'd actually seen the old male before.
Three years ago, I photographed the same turtle with Adam, my son who will be working on the project with me. To find the old battered male –who I estimate to be around 15-16 years old– looking better than ever was a great surprise and a fantastic way to kick off our project considering our shared history!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Milestone for Meet Your Neighbours

Today, April 30th, 2010, marks a milestone for Meet Your Neighbours. Early on, it was decided that this date would mark the last day that we would be accepting photographer applications for the project. When Niall Benvie and I first launched Meet Your Neighbours back in February, we knew that it was a unique concept, but had no idea that it would take wings as quickly as it has done.

To date, we have received applications from an amazing group of photographers representing North America, South and Central America, Africa, Europe, the UK, Australia, and Japan. There is a healthy mix of professional and serious non-professional photographers; some of which you may know and others that you will get to say hello to for the very first time. Perhaps most importantly, this talented group of individuals has come forward to participate in this project because they all share a common love for their local wildlife, and have a willingness to tell their local communities why they should take notice.
We have also been fortunate to gain the support of so many members of the conservation community. Early on, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland backed the project and offered seed funding to get us up and running, and shortly thereafter, The International League of Conservation Photographers honored us by becoming Endorsing Partners. Most Recently Mark Lukes from Fine Print Imaging and Linda Helm at Art for Conservation have thrown their support behind the project, which has made a tremendous difference in regards to applicant interest, and visibility around the world.

So what now? Well, in the coming days we will be working with applicants to secure the support of their NGOs of choice. We will also be introducing applicants who have already gained support on our website, on our upcoming MYN blog, and on our rapidly growing Facebook group.

Exciting things are on the horizon for Meet Your Neighbours! Already, photographers are beginning to develop new techniques for creating the field studio images, including novel approaches to showing both the subject and environment in one image. Others are developing long range plans for sharing the images with their communities. By working together, we hope that common, overlooked species of wild plants and animals will be seen in a different light!

For photographers out there who are still interested in Meet Your Neighbours, and are able to make an arrangement with a partner NGO there still may be a place for you in the project. Please visit our website to download the MYN photographer's guide and begin building a relationship with your local conservation community. Although the April 30th deadline has been reached, we still may be able to help support you in other ways!

Finally, if you represent a NGO, business or are a person in a position to introduce Meet Your Neighbours into your own community, please contact me at clay@meetyourneighbours.org and will help to connect you with an appropriate photographer partner.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lying in the Mud

I spent the better part of this evening lying in a small bog, photographing the emerging fiddle-heads of netted chain ferns. I've photographed this small cluster of plants each year as they've emerged but this is the first time that I believe I've come close to illustrating this ancient phenomenon properly. With the aide of my now indispensable Sigma 15mm 2.8 lens, I am able to show both the plant and its relationship to its habitat –an important element missing in a lot of macro photography, I'm afraid.

I made this image just before sunset. Next week, I'm going to revisit this scene and make the same photograph around 10:00 am, when the sky is nice and blue. There is a secret here for all you wide angle macro junkies out there. Can you figure it out?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Breaking the Cubes that Bind

Spring brings many things: flowers; bird song; and my favorite t-shirt, which has been resurrected from the depths of my closet! I was so excited to show it to you, that I didn't even bother ironing.

I have spent way too much time behind the computer lately and I'm so happy to be getting back out into the woods and actually making some photos for a change. I was talking to a friend about this other day, and we were (half) laughing about how much time photographers actually have to spend staring into the vortex of a computer screen. It almost gets to the point where calling one's self a photographer becomes a bit of a stretch.

Well, for now, I intend on doing carrying on the moniker. I've got heaps to do before the winter returns and Mr. Jobs' shackles drag me back down into the abyss.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

(Become A) Versatility Virtuoso

You may have heard some photographers stressing the importance of 'making photos' rather than 'taking photos.' In order to make it as a professional (nature) photographer, one has to be able to adapt to the situation that you're faced with and come home with good, salable images. Otherwise, it is highly likely that your client will not call on you again.
Although I love the serendipity of hiking along a mountain trail and coming upon an amazing subject to photograph, more and more, I find myself shooting with an agenda in mind. This morning was no exception: I needed to make photos of trout lilies for Meet Your Neighbours, for my catalog of wide angle macro photographs for an upcoming project and for my general stock collection to boot. To make things more tricky, each direction required a different style and approach.
With a little creativity and good planning a single location can yield a wide variety of completely different images that can be delivered to different customers and markets without conflict. All of the images included in this post were photographed in a single morning.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Purest of Expressions

Most children draw and it isn't until about 10-11 years of age that they show any concern in regards to whether or not they are creating 'good or bad' art. These are the golden years of creativity, when everything that they show an interest in –or soak in from their environment- is played out on the canvas, paper, driveway, window and wall.

My six-year old son Adam is currently obsessed with penguins and he has been drawing, modeling and painting them daily. My favorite iteration to date is a scene that he created from tissue paper, which he then glued to his bedroom window. I am ashamed to say that my first reaction was to scold him, but before the words left my mouth I was suddenly struck by the detail and time that he put into it and so the scene remains there today (the image above doesn't show the snow clouds sending down colored snowflakes!). He is so proud of it, and for good reason. Sometimes I am embarrassed of my 'adult' mind-set.
I wonder what visions we, as nature photographers, might offer the world if we were willing to be a little more daring and less concerned about what our friends, editors and colleagues might think?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Meet Your Neighbours: Project Update

It has been a few weeks since Meet Your Neighbours was launched.We have received inquiries and interest from photographers and NGOs from around the world; the list includes places as diverse as Uganda, Brazil, Italy, the Ukraine, New England, Wales among others. Needless to say, I have been very encouraged by the response so far! If you believe that you would be a good candidate for this effort, please don't hesitate to send your information to clay@meetyourneighbours.org !

I also wanted to publicly thank several organizations and individuals who have stepped forward to offer support and spread the word about MYN. Sincere appreciation to all of you who have done so! And to those who are working with us behind the scenes, many thanks to you as well.

Here are a few highlights:
In the next few days, we will be posting more detailed information on how the project works and ways that applicants can partner with NGOs. In addition, Niall and I will also be sharing a "Photographer's Guide to Meet Your Neighbours" as a resource for candidates.

Once again, for those who are interested in applying, please contact me via the blog, or by e-mail at clay@meetyourneighbours.org.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Photoshelter, Let Me Count The Ways...

Personal Best - Images by Clay Bolt

For some time now I've been contemplating whether or not to migrate my portfolio website over to Photoshelter. Last month I took the leap and have been very happy with the direction that the new site is taking. When I have a bit more time, I'll design a custom homepage but the standard page isn't half bad. Photoshelter is very easy to use for the most part and it offers an incredible amount of options in terms of on-line image sales, SEO and social media integration.

I've got a LOT of images left to upload but I'm glad to have finally made the leap. Hope you like it!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Conversations with Frogs

A wonderful, early surprise presented itself this evening: The spring peepers began to truly sing for the first time this year just as I arrived home. In their excitement, the boys had convinced their mother to leave the front door open so they could hear the tinkling, amphibian music inside. Those apples didn't fall very far from the tree!

Although we still may be in for more winter weather later during the week, this briefest glimmer of spring has lifted my spirits greatly. When it is still cool at night, the first peepers start out very hesitantly but it doesn't take long for more and more to join in until the night sounds almost bowl you over with their intensity.

Occasionally I can get the whole group going myself during a quiet spell by whistling out a poor imitation of their tune. It is an awesome feeling to be the 'lead frog' in a choral swell! Although this has been a wonderful winter, I cannot help but anticipate the adventures that await me when the warmer weather returns. Now, if I can only get the Pickerel Frogs going I'll be in business!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Introducing "Meet Your Neighbours"

It is my great pleasure to announce the launch of a new project that I've developed in coordination with conservation photographer and ILCP Founding Fellow, Niall Benvie. It's called Meet Your Neighbours and its mission is to celebrate the species of plants and animals that we think we know best: those commonly found within our own neighborhoods and communities. These species are often people's first and only connection with the natural world and their importance is often unrecognized. In essence, Meet Your Neighbours is a photographically driven, environmental education program designed to nurture those connections.

There is just one catch: We need your help!

Niall and I are searching for photographers around the world to participate in this effort. We want people to sit up and take notice of these wild neighbors by presenting them as celebrities: photographed in the white field studio, in exquisite detail under beautiful lighting. If you are a photographer who has spent time working with conservation NGOs within your own region to highlight locally wild species we want to hear from you! Whether you are a seasoned pro, or an experienced recreational photographer, it matters not. What does matter is your dedication to showcase these often overlooked, and undervalued species within your own communities.
To learn more about the Meet Your Neighbours project and how you can participate, Please Read More Here.

To Sign-up for our mailing list, visit our developing website at meetyourneighbours.org or follow us on Twitter: @MYNeighbours.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Images from the Blizzard of '10

Actually, blizzard is not exactly accurate –We only received a couple of inches of snow and ice this weekend but it was beautiful anyway. I had so much fun sledding with the boys and was able to get out and shoot some winter photos, which I admittedly don't have many of in my files. Snow comes so infrequently here in South Carolina that I tend to revert (perhaps too strong of a word since it doesn't take much) to being a child again and would rather throw snowballs than make photos. But, the light was so great this morning that I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Besides, my children were inside thawing out after the old cycle of taking 2 hrs getting ready and 10 minutes to reach apparent pre-hypothermia and wanting to come back inside only to immediately want to go back out again...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Smoky Mountains Spring Workshop, April 16-18

On April 16-18, 2010, photographer and Mountain Trail Press founder Jerry Greer and I will be conducting a hands-on photography workshop in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Spring is a fantastic time to get out and spend time in the Smokies. I hope to see you there!

See below for the official release from Jerry's Website:

Springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a wondrous event! The wild mountain streams are flowing at their fullest and beautifully adorned with multitudes of native wildflowers. The diversity of plants in the Smokies is dazzling! Over 1500 species of flowering plants are found in the Park, more than in any other North American National Park. This workshop will focus on the flowers and the landscape that they thrive in. Jerry and Clay will teach professional field techniques for macro, wide angle closeup, microcosm compositions, and flowers as part of the landscape. Both Jerry and Clay work as Conservation and Environmental Photographers, they will discuss photographic opportunities in this field for todays nature photographer.

Tuition is $575. Download the Application

Friday, January 15, 2010

Remembering to be Human

Regardless of what I'm doing during any given day, I'm always thinking of ideas, concepts and ways that I might use my photographs to show others just how amazing the natural world truly is. Honestly, I find it strange that there is even a need for the service that I provide –it just seems so obvious to me– but then again, I've always been a little odd. Sometimes I'm exhausted by it all and other times I'm exhilarated. Either way, when my head is in the clouds, my feet aren't on the ground. I'm not mentally tall enough to have it both ways at once, I'm afraid.

It recently occurred to me that during the last few years, I have forgotten some of what it means to be human; to find out what it means to be in the world and live in the skin that I was given. I need to try and remember. By this I don't mean consuming more stuff or anything like that, just what it means to walk on this earth and be a part of the natural world myself without expectation or agenda beyond supplying my basic needs.

Being human isn't a bad thing as some might contend: Our species has every right to be here just as much as the next insect, plant or bird in the air. The problem arises from our amazing and (frighteningly) unique ability to deny where we've come from and the ways that we've replaced our relationship with that source for our own greed, insecurity and misinformation. The other vital issue –and perhaps the most critical one at that– is that we have tricked ourselves into believing that we can continue to live this way, imagining that a reliance on our own ingenuity will allow this path to continue on for perpetuity.

This year, I'm most definitely going to be doing my fair share of hard work, scheming, dreaming, making images and sitting in front of monitor for more time than I would prefer. However, I am also going to be diligently seeking the frame of mind where I can go out into the woods and listen to a bird singing, just being thankful for its song without an agenda but with appreciation for another moment that I've been given here on this most amazing planet that we call home.