In the entire history of human life on Earth, we have never faced two more broad-based and existential environmental threats than those posed by climate change and biodiversity loss. Right now—every day—the world is adding more atmospheric pollution, more destruction of habitat, and more threats to species, creating a metaphorical (and sometimes literal) enveloping shroud that may eventually doom our own species. On a geologic time scale, we are accelerating these processes at warp speed. A 2014 study in Science magazine reported that species were dying off at a rate 1,000 times faster than normal because of human activities. So, what’s the solution? I have some ideas but first it’s necessary to acknowledge and understand the problems, their urgency, and why nature photographers should care.
Texas-based nature and conservation photographer Sean Fitzgerald will be awarded the 2021 NANPA Mission Award during the Nature Photography Virtual Summit April 29-30. Sean is a vocal champion of nature photographers’ intellectual property rights, a cornerstone of NANPA’s advocacy work on behalf of members. His work with both the Copyright Alliance and Coalition of Visual Artists has directly influenced policies, procedures, and legislation for copyright registration and protection in the modern digital world.
There is power in photography that is easy to see but hard to develop. I never wanted to just create pretty photos. I wanted to move people with my images. It took me many years to find the keys to evocative imagery. Peace, beauty, depth and mood is what I seek – both in life and in my photographs. Kiss on the Horizon contains all of these elements!
If photography has taught me one thing, it is to seize the moment. When all of the elements converged here, I was simply inspired. This photograph reminds me to pay attention – to look out for those fleeting moments when the world gives you unexpected visions.
How I got the shot
On this occasion, I could perfectly predict what was about to unfold as I saw a rain cloud moving left to right across the horizon in the late afternoon light.
As a photographer, I’ve learned to recognize certain light patterns over the years, but it’s rare for me to foresee an approaching light so completely. I captured a few frames of the rainbow as it formed in the perfect spot. It was like the rainbow knew its mark – I didn’t even need to re-compose!
What I used
I used a Fujifilm GFX 50S and 32-64mm lens at 32mm. The exposure was f/11 at 30 seconds and ISO 125. I used a 3-stop Soft Grad to help balance out the exposure, and a Neutral Density filter. The exposure on this image was only 30 seconds, which is short for my style but I wanted the rainbow to remain sharp and vivid. I love how its colors punch through the soft neutrals in the rest of the frame – drawing your eyes to the horizon and delivering feelings of hope and optimism.
I am a full-time professional fine art landscape photographer based in Maui, Hawaii.
My photographic journey
Early on my photographic path, I had the opportunity to meet Steve McCurry.
As he spoke, he said, “A still photograph is something which you put it on your wall and look at again and again. It becomes ingrained into your mind. A powerful photograph becomes iconic of a time and place.”
This really stood out to me. I realized that ,when I listened to my heart, the type of photographs I wanted to make were landscapes that people would want to hang on their walls and enjoy for a long time.
NANPA and me
I have been a member of NANPA for numerous years and have been lucky enough to have been recognized in previous Showcases.
Great grey owls are elusive, majestic birds that are on many photographers’ bucket lists. Even with a great subject, however, it takes more than an average photo to grab viewers’ attention and evoke a response. Ann Kramer’s image of a great grey owl in Yellowstone sparked nearly a thousand reactions, 85 comments, and 48 shares from members of the NANPA Facebook Group. So, what is it about this photo that connected with so many people, so strongly? What drove social media engagement? Not long ago, Kramer shared some of her thoughts with us.
A friend of mine once showed me a movie trailer on YouTube for a foreign-made film called “B-14.” It’s about rival drug gangs, featuring an assassin with superhuman powers. To say that the special effects are ridiculously over-the-top would be an extreme understatement! This movie wasn’t meant to be funny, but I laughed more during this 1-minute trailer than I have during some 2-hour actual comedies. It seemed as though the producers just discovered special effects the night before and were determined to use all of them in this film – no matter how poorly executed, or whether the scene called for them or not. But what about special effects in photos of nature?
My main objective with photography is to share the wonders of nature that might not be easy for others to witness firsthand. With bird photography, I love being able to freeze nature in motion and capture details that the naked eye cannot see. I also try to pre-establish a vision of what I want to achieve on a specific trip. During the workshop where I got the great kiskadee shot, my focus was on action shots that would help the viewer appreciate the speed, dexterity and beauty of the species. With wildlife photography, I spend a significant amount of time learning the behavior of my subjects, and being able to predict this great kiskadee’s consistent flight pattern was key to achieving this shot. I loved how the action of this beautiful bird was captured.
How I got the shot
This shot of a great kiskadee attracted to pyracantha berries was captured in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The shot was a challenge due to overcast skies, thus requiring a high ISO due to the depth of field and high shutter speed required for the desired outcome. The overcast skies were also a blessing, as they reduced shadows and gave me better flexibility with sun angle. I pre-focused in manual mode to where the birds were consistently eating berries. Then using my handheld shutter release fired away. It was very gratifying when preparation and vision all came together for this photo.
Nature photography is a powerful medium. Transporting us from expansive celestial heavens to secretive microscopic worlds only inches away, nature photography has the power to drop jaws, warm hearts, foster curiosity, and inspire action by giving the viewer a front row seat to our natural world. While the bulk of nature photography has captured life on the surface of our planet and its interface with the skies, more recently photographers have been discovering what lies beneath.
In these days of COVID-19, very little seems normal. Our daily routines have been drastically altered. That certainly includes travel and photography. Had this been a normal year, I would have traveled to both Switzerland and Argentine Patagonia. Under the circumstances neither country was about to allow entry to foreign tourists. After tolerating cabin fever for just so long, I had to at least get in the car and go someplace where I could photograph some natural beauty.
The national park and, by far, greatest nature preserve closest to my home is Everglades at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. Since I hadn’t been there in several years (as a species, we frequently seem to avoid the easiest options), it seemed like the obvious choice. So, in early December I packed up and headed south. Once finding a convenient and presumably sanitized motel in nearby Florida City, I began cruising through this very familiar more than one million-acre wilderness of avian and reptile life, swampy prairie, and slow moving river of grass.
NANPA member Ken Conger lives in Virginia, but you might find him anywhere from the mid-Atlantic to the Arctic, camera in hand, in search for the next great nature photo or teaching classes in nature photography. In our series exploring what drives social media engagement, we have looked at popular images that were the result of repeated visits to a location and pure serendipity. Conger’s photo is the result of careful planning, experience and an intimate knowledge of his subjects. The result? Spectacular! This photo garnered more than 1,000 likes, 195 comments and 58 shares in the NANPA Facebook Group.