Three Toed Sloth on Cover of Outdoors Unlimited

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This year, while I was down in Panama, I learned that a photograph of mine from a trip to Panama last year made the front cover of December’s Outdoors Unlimited.

This is a photo of a brown throated three toed sloth. Look closely at all the green fur on her back – and I do say her because this is a pregnant female. That green is actually algae. The fur of the sloth is hollow which allows it collect water and grow a hydroponic garden of a species of algae found nowhere else in the world but on the back of a sloth. Additionally, you will also find a unique species of moth than lives nowhere else but on the algae that lives nowhere else but on the back of sloths. The leafy diet that these sloths eat does not actually provide them with all of the necessities of life – namely protein. So, they actually supplement their diet by feeding off of the algae that grows on their backs. Crazy!

Posted in Travel, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

red-billed tropicbirds of Isla Pajaro

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This is the lost world. Situated a few miles off the coast of Isla Colon, Bird Island, or Isla Pajaro is nothing more than a tropical seastack in the Caribbean. Monster waves pound its cliffs, shooting water through caves, as salt water waterfalls cascade down the other side. Life here does not so much grow as it does explode from the island. This is a neotropical emerald colored gem set amongst a sea of sapphire blue. Palm trees grow from every crack in the rocks. Vines, or what are technically known as lianas literally drip hundreds of feet down from the micro rain forest perched atop this giant rock. And the birds. The thousands of birds drifting overhead, circling the island like a tornado. Red-billed tropicbirds, magnificent frigates, and brown boobies all call this oasis home. These birds are pelagic seabirds, meaning that they only come to these little islands during nesting season to lay a single solitary egg. The rest of their lives are spent over the open ocean.

I have had the opportunity to photograph the Galapagos variety of the red-billed tropic bird, but my boat trip out to Isla Pajaro was the first time I photographed the Atlantic variety. Its something that I have wanted to see and photograph for some time now and I can honestly say this little rookery did not disappoint!

Posted in Travel, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , |

Favorite Photos of 2015

Can you believe that its over already? 2015. Going, going, gone. With new photographic goals, clients, and projects and on horizon for 2016 that is already consuming 99% of my time, I want to slow down for a moment and take a look back over the course of this past year to share some of my favorite images for the last 12 months.

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Posted in Wildlife Photography

Lilliputians in the land of Giants

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When it comes to photographing this poison frogs in the Panamanian rainforest, I like to get eye to eye with my subject. This lets me enter into their world. It makes them leap out of the composition and become larger than life. From this perspective however, its easy to forget just how small and delicate these tiny frogs are and how impossibly difficult to photograph them at times in the cathedral like rainforest. Luckily I have a couple guides who are like the poison frog whisperer’s and somehow always come through with new and beautiful color morphs for me on the different islands. Natalia and Romone, if you read this – I couldn’t do this without you!

 

Posted in Projects, The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Travel, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Lovely Poison Dart Frog

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The Lovely Poison Frog – yes that is its real name! A.K.A: Phyllobates lugubris

Look closely at its back. That is a tadpole right there. The males of the species stand guard over the eggs that the females lay until they hatch into tadpoles. From here, they scoop up the tadpoles and transport them to deep puddles where they stand guard until the tadpole morphs into a frog. Other species of poison frogs have a similar life cycle and will carry their tadpoles high in the trees to deposit them into water filled bromeliads, then make the same trip each day in order to provide the tadpoles with food.

This particular species of poison frog contains a toxin that affects the ability of muscles to contract. Your heart is a muscle. It must contract in order to pump blood. Stop muscles from contracting, and you stop the heart from beating. In other words, don’t lick this frog!

I chose to photograph this guy on a light table made out of pvc pipes, opaque white plexiglass, and with two flashes (one above and one below the plexiglass). The idea behind this was to showcase not only the frog in all of its beautiful colors, but to also reveal the tadpole on its back. And no, it was not fun lugging this thing around the tropics!

Isla Popa, Panama.

Posted in Projects, Technical Skills, The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Travel, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Poison Dart Frog – Bastimentos Red

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Based out of the Boca del Toro region of Panama, I spent the last week finding and photographing poison dart frogs, sloths, tropical birds, and tropicbirds (this last one is an actual species). The islands associated with the Bocas del Toro archipelago are some of the most diverse tropical islands in the Western Hemisphere. The Smithsonian calls this place the Galapagos of the Caribbean. And for damn good reason. Basically you had a landscape once firmly connected with itself. Then the seas rose. Valleys became flooded. Tall hills and mountain tops became islands. Animals become disconnected from the rest of their tribes. One big gene pool became many little gene ponds. Genetic mutations become dominant traits. The founder affect reigns supreme. New species are created. Competition for resources becomes intense. New niches are filled. Adaptive radiation occurs. New species are created again.

This tiny little poison frog that science so awkwardly calls Oophaga pumilio is a perfect example of all this. The frog has a couple common names that you may have heard: Strawberry frog and blue jeans frog. The name blue jeans is pretty apt given that just about everywhere this little guy lives they come in red with a pair of blue legs. From Nicaragua to Costa Rica and most of Panama – so the entirety of this guys range – this what you get. But when you enter Bocas del Toro however, everything changes. Suddenly you have frogs that are all red, all orange, all yellow, and all blue. You have orange frogs with big black dots and white bellies, and red frogs with little black dots and orange bellies. You have purple frogs. Frogs that are green on their back and yellow in the legs. You have 1980s leopard print colored frogs, and 1960s acid trip tie died frogs. Some frogs I don’t really know what color they are – as if Bob Ross paused for a moment from creating happy little trees and swirled together all the colors on his pallet and then flicked his brush at the dark canvas of the tropical rainforest splattering specs of a seemingly unlimited array of different colors across this landscape. Crayola doesn’t have shit on the colors of the Oophaga pumilio in Bocas del Toro. And this is the diversity of one little species of frog on these islands. Almost every year entirely new species of poison frogs are found here.

The image is dark and foreboding for a reason. THIS IS THE RAINFOREST! Ever been? Its not bright, open, and airy where these frogs live. They like it dark and wet. So when photographing this little guy in the tea cup mushroom, I had a choice to make. Do I set up multiple flashes, pop on the softboxes, and light up the world? Or, do I try to work with the scant amount of natural light available here, and judiciously work magic with a single off camera flash to give certain elements just a kiss of light – creating a photograph that resembles the forest floor of a multistoried rainforest that swirls around in my mind and imagination?

Imagination wins everytime.

Posted in Projects, The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Travel, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Devil is in the Details

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With binoculars plastered to my face, I counted over 100 mule deer from the seat of my Land Cruiser. This is a huge population of deer that eke out a living between the cottonwood lined Gallatin River and the bench that rises up to the west. Whether it’s because much of the land in between in happens to be Ted Turner’s ranch and the deer receive little to no hunting pressure here, or the food and habitat really is THAT good, I don’t know. Honestly, its probably a combination of both. But the fact remains, with a hundred plus deer all doing their thing in freshly fallen snow, this was bound to be a good morning.

November is the peak of the deer rut. Which deer? Any deer here in the US. From whitetails to mule deer, the second week of November is the peak of the action. And this isn’t just in Montana. This holds true from Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains, to the snow covered dirt road that I was now competing with the deer for first tracks.

I was able to identify 12 buck. None of them had a lot of size to them, at least not compared to some of the monster muleys I have seen elsewhere. But beggars can’t be choosers and this was a whopping 2 minute drive from my house – and in the snow.

The deer here are quite habituated to vehicles, but as I would quickly learn – not so much to pedestrians carrying a big lens and tripod. So this meant that all of my photography would primarily take place from the seat of my vehicle today. This of course is not that bad of thing given that it was 20 degrees out and dumping heavy wet snow still. What was a problem with this is that it meant I had to write off about half the deer. One side of the road dropped down to a field. The other side rose up to a steep hillside with junipers scattered about. If I’m confined to my vehicle, this means that I would be shooting down at many of the deer and this is just not acceptable. I want to be, at a minimum, eye level – and the lower the better.

Luckily, an old barbed wire fence stood about 20 feet up on the hillside. The addition of this one very simple element offered the situation a world of options. And given the ease at which deer bound over such fences, I knew that it would just be a matter of time before I spotted an opportunity like this.

By the time I pulled back up to my house, I had watched and photographed several nice looking bucks leap over the barbed wire fence. However, it was here, in this one particular section, where all of the compositional elements came together. This little section had a lot of character with its drooping wire and leaning wooden posts. Add to this the diagonal lines that the fence creates through the composition and I had myself something worth noting.

It’s the little details like this fence that have the potential to make or break your photograph. Had a juniper been in the scene, the composition would not have been as strong. Had there been two posts here instead of three, the visual flow would have been changed. Had the fence have rolled off out of the frame differently, I may have simply thrown this image away. The devil is in all the little tiny details.

In landscape photography, you often times have a considerable amount of time to work out your compositions – especially if you are scouting for a sunrise or sunset. With wildlife photography you typically have but seconds to get it all figured out before everything changes. With this scenario I had to identify a buck, albeit a small one, that was working his way to the fence. Then I had maybe 5 seconds to get into position and compose this fence across my viewfinder – all the while hoping the deer doesn’t turn around or decide to walk down the road first.

It is for this reason that we have to constantly work to train our eyes to pick out and see pleasing compositions and patterns in the landscape. Because when opportunity knocks, sometimes you have but just a blink of the eye to make everything come together and all of the details must be ordered and in place before the action happens.

Posted in The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Prairie Madness

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When you have a background like this, you move fast to find something, anything, to compose in front of it. Luckily, this is Yellowstone. And so finding wildlife high up in the hill country that makes up this side of the national park is pretty easy!

This large pronghorn buck was wrangling a small harem of ladies back and forth across this ridgeline. Gently navigating the random assortment of cacti that grow in this desert like grassland, we slipped into place just in time to capture this magnificent looking buck just minutes before the sun disappeared behind the mountain behind us and the world fell into shadow. Light and background. . . two elements that are more important that subject itself.

Posted in Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , |

Storybook Bear

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This was Amy’s first encounter with a grizzly bear. It was April, the snow was falling so hard you could barely see and we were risking the late season blizzard in hopes to find this sow grizzly, #610, and her cubs. I love photographing grizzlies in the snow. But then again, I love photographing all wildlife in the snow!

We found the family of bears in a small clearing in the woods up on the north side of Grand Tetons National Park. These bears were not long out of hibernation and I had been watching them nearly every day for the past week at this point. So finding them was not too difficult, given I knew their location at sunset the evening before.

My experience with grizzlies over the years did not prepare me for what I was going to witness this day. . .

Amy and I worked I way up a hillside and through the forest where we knelt down at the edge of a clearing to observe. The sow and the 3 cubs were chasing each other around in a giant circle in the snow. The sow would slow a bit, and allow her cubs to tackle her to the ground. Then, she would turn the tables and start chasing them until she knocked them down. She belly flopped into the snow and slid several feet, only for all three of her cubs to dive on top of her. They leaped into the air. They stood on hind legs and fell backwards into the snow. They played together. They had fun together. They secured their bonds as a family. And all of this while Amy and I watched from about 100 feet away in the edge of the forest.

I have never seen such social behavior in the wild except for with wolves. You cannot walk away from this moment thinking animals do not “feel.” You cannot convince yourself of the lie that animals do not have emotions. You cannot experience this, without understanding that these bears experience the world exactly like you do. They have hopes. Dreams. Intentions. and Fears. To say otherwise is to live a self centered delusional life with blinders put in place for the sole purpose of making you feel better about telling yourself you have some sort of dominion over these animals. That you are better than they are. Different they are. And therefore you have some sort of right to control them and their world.

Its moments like this that I live for. Those moments, where the connectivity between me and the natural world, the real world, is reaffirmed. Moments where distinctiveness is broken down and the only thing that is left is simply life, in all its raw beauty.

I did not know it at the time, but this would be the last time anyone would see 610 and these three cubs together. The following morning, she was gone and her cubs were alone for the first time in their lives.

This is all normal stuff. Bears raise their cubs till the age of two or three and then release them into the world on their own – having taught them everything they could about where to find food, how to avoid danger, how to survive.

For me, its an extraordinary thought to know that this mother had planned when she would kick her kids out, and had chosen to spend the day before simply playing and having fun with them.

As for the photography, it sucked. The light was so low that even at ISO 6400, the only usable photographs I was able to create were when 610 slowed things down to a walk. Don’t get me wrong. I love this photograph. It tells a story and it has a wonderful ethereal feel to it – hence the name: storybook bear. The rest of the shoot though, eh – not so hot. But I don’t really care so much. For me, the memory is there. And this is a memory that I will cherish until the day I die.

Posted in The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Wildlife Photography

VIP Summer 2015 released

For all of you who are on the VIP list, and you know who you are, the Summer 2015 VIP newsletter went out this week. This edition has an article on getting over creative plateaus in your photography called Breaking Free of the Rut! So if you didn’t get this, please check your junkmail folder. If it’s not there, shoot me an email and I will get you a direct link pronto.

For those of you who do not know what this newsletter is, its one only sent out to photographers who have attended workshops that I offer. This is quite different than the Behind the Lens newsletter that is open to anyone.

VIP-newsletter

Posted in Wildlife Photography