Hands Off by Gordon Illg

Land iguana walks through a group of photographers, South Plaza Island, Galapagos National Park, Ecuador. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg.

Land iguana walks through a group of photographers, South Plaza Island, Galapagos National Park, Ecuador. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg.

By Gordon Illg

This is a new monthly opinion column by photographer Gordon Illg about what inspires nature photographers and why nature photographers do what they do. Check back next month for the next installment! And please check out more of Gordon’s work at: http://www.advenphoto.com.


If you’re like me, you receive many, many petitions to sign. Well, one of the latest expressed the view that people should totally stay away from some sensitive parts of the planet just to better protect them. Their stance was that even ecotourism was too much pressure for some parts of the world, and they used both Antarctica and the Galapagos in their list of candidates that should remain totally people free. The petitioners felt that we would be better off reading about these places rather than experiencing them for ourselves. I did not sign that petition. In fact, my response was…how can I put this delicately? “What a crock!”

Read the rest of this entry »

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Nature to the Rescue Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

I’ve never strayed too far away from the boundaries of straight photography. It’s not that I have anything against digital manipulations; it’s just that I’m not an expert at it. I consider my Photoshop skills to be intermediate at best.

In addition to nature photography, I also shoot urban images of New York City. I submit these photos to an agency that does a terrific job of licensing them to a number of large-mural and high-end wall art manufacturers. However, after each submission, my editor would ask for more—not more images, but something more than traditional photography. He explained that the trend today is for photos with texture, and straight photography doesn’t sell as well as it once did. The texture can be any type of pattern that is combined with the main image. Read the rest of this entry »

NATURE’S VIEW: Whatchamacallits and thingamajigs (Part Two) Story and photographs by Jim Clark

It’s the little things that help in our photography

Summer Scene - Monroe County, West Virginia. © Jim Clark

Summer Scene – Monroe County, West Virginia. © Jim Clark

In Part I, I suggested a few items to consider packing before venturing into nature to take photographs. This article continues that focus with a few more helpful doodads. Read the rest of this entry »

The Captive Project, by Gaston Lacombe

Sea turtle in aquarium window

When I presented my project on rewilding at the recent San Diego NANPA Summit, it was a Lightning Talk, so I only had six minutes to address the audience. I did not have time to explain a bit more about why I started a photo project about releasing animals back into the wild. It stems in part from spending years working on another project, which deals with less fortunate animals living in captivity. After photographing animals who had lost all freedom, I felt the need to experience animals returning to nature. But still, the project I call “Captive” is a quest I feel passionate about, especially as I have seen my photos play an integral role in the current public discourse over reforming and rethinking zoos.

Burrowing Owl in cage

Since 2009, through “Captive,” I have been taking a critical look at the living conditions of animals in zoos all around the world. At the moment, I have gathered photos from about 60 zoos (I have lost count), in 11 countries, on 5 continents, and I keep adding to the collection whenever I get the chance. The main goal is to invite the viewer to reflect on what happens when we use animals as objects of display and entertainment. It’s something that we often forget when visiting zoos. We get distracted by the cuteness, the fuzziness, or the search for the elusive hidden animal, and we fail to stop and take a look at the habitat in which we keep these beings for our pleasure. Human vision is selective, so freezing a scene through photography allows the viewer to notice things in these animal enclosures that we would usually glance over.


No matter if I am visiting some of the “best” zoos in the world, or rusty old road-side attractions, and no matter if I am in the so-called developed world, or in developing countries, I always find animals living in deplorable conditions. Everywhere, cement enclosures are the norm, with little or no access to vegetation, fresh water or even daylight. Most animals never see any signs of nature unless it is through the idyllic scenes painted on the walls. Recently, many zoos have added conservation, preservation and education to their missions, which I applaud. But still, these are the rare exceptions, and quality of life is still something that eludes the vast majority of captive animals worldwide.

Tiger in zoo enclosure

I’ve been very fortunate to see this series take off and get noticed by a wide public. It has lead to 28 legitimate publications (and many more illegitimate ones), TV appearances, as well as a few exhibits. My high point up to now has been seeing one of my photos being used as a rallying call to save a highly distressed polar bear in Mendoza, Argentina. There also have been talks of creating a book from my “Captive” series, but I still need to do a bit more work before that can happen.

Polar Bear in zoo enclosure

Currently, maybe because of a slight fatigue caused by the negativism often depicted in these images, I am hoping to supplement this series with a “Beyond Captive” addendum. It’s clear to me that zoos and aquariums will always exist. There is a demand for them, they make money, and like it or not, for many people, it’s the only exposure they will ever get to animals beyond the barnyard. So what can be the 21st century solution for captive animals? What are the innovative ways to reform and rethink zoos? These are questions I am interesting in exploring, and using my camera to find answers. I feel that conservation photography at its best is not just about exposing the problems, but also seeking and documenting solutions that can better the situation.

Cotton-top Tamatin

I am currently looking for funding and support to undertake this “Beyond Captive” project. If you have ideas or suggestions, feel free to contact me at gaston@gastonlacombe.com. Thank you!


Gaston Lacombe is a photographer based in Washington, D.C., specializing in documentary and conservation projects. Most of his work deals with the relationships between humans and animals, and humans and nature.

Gaston has worked on six continents, including a residency in Antarctica. His photos and articles have appeared in numerous publications in North America and Europe, and he is the recipient of multiple international photography prizes. His photos have been shown in galleries and museums in Europe, South America and North America, including at the Smithsonian Institute. He regularly lectures on photography, and on his projects, around the world.

Gaston is also the Communications Coordinator for the International League of Conservation Photographers, where he helps coordinate conservation expeditions with some of the world’s top photographers.





Add Scale to Your Grandscapes by Kerrick James

© Kerrick James

© Kerrick James

Like many of us, my love of photography began with the wild landscape. My early years were spent emulating icons like Ansel Adams, David Muench and Eliot Porter. I followed the grand landscape dream all over the American West, and after years of chasing light and doing “pure” landscapes with no signs of humanity whatsoever, I began to feel a little boxed in, as if I was repeating my favorite lighting formulas everywhere I went, and missing something I could sense, but not see.

Eventually, I broke out of that mold by showing the friends and guides with whom I was exploring the natural world—on backpacking trips, river-rafting and kayaking adventures, climbing and every activity I could envision. Over time, these new images of landscapes with people meant far more to me, and not coincidentally, had more success in the world of magazine travel photography than the classic landscapes of my youth.
Read the rest of this entry »

MAKING A LIVING AS A NATURE PHOTOGRAPHER, Story and photographs by Jack Graham

© Michael Struble

© Michael Struble

I am often asked if it’s possible to make a living as a nature photographer. No matter whether you attempt to do it as a full-time professional or a part-timer to supplement income from an existing job, there are many things to consider. Nature photography is a tough way to make a living. However if you do it right, you can make it work.

Both full-time and part-time photographers need to remember and understand these concepts: Read the rest of this entry »

NATIONAL PARKS: Rocky Mountain National Park Story and photographs by Jerry Ginsberg

Hallett's Peak reflects in Bear Lake at dawn, winter, Rocky Mountain NP, CO.

Bear Lake with its reflection.

Before the chilly fingers of winter tighten their icy grip and close in on some of the northern national parks, consider a trip to the Rockies. Rocky Mountain National Park is just under two hours from Denver International Airport. The resort town of Estes Park, Colorado, is the perfect gateway to the park, which is known affectionately by many as “Rocky.” With a good choice of lodgings, Estes makes the perfect base for your trip. Wherever you stay, try to save an hour to stroll through the historic Stanley Hotel.

Protecting a good chunk of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, this beautiful park features shimmering lakes, rushing waterfalls, quaking aspen, bugling elk and sharply carved peaks thrusting toward the sky. While I revel in capturing any and all of these subjects photographically, expressing the reflections in the various lakes may be my favorite. Read the rest of this entry »


Juniper tree at Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park, Utah.


When reading this short essay, remember I have no plans to abandon color photography. My feelings are that both mediums have their place. Some images are better represented in color and others in monochrome. The principles of photography carry over to both methods. The only difference is in certain images, the lack of color and the power of monochrome can stand out when applied correctly. I also prefer to use the term monochrome rather than black and white. When viewing a black and white image, we are really looking at shades of gray, not just black and white.

When we think of monochrome photography we almost always think of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Minor White, Robert Frank, Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston, just to name a few. We think of powerful images delivering a story clearly transmitted to our brains. We think of monochromatic images going back to the acceptance of photography as an art. Thank you, Mr. Stieglitz!

Alabama Hills and Sierra Nevada Mountains

Alabama Hills and the Sierra Nevada.



Color film was actually developed in the mid-1800s but due to the primitive nature of the products, colors faded from the prints quickly. Just before 1900, if one had the money, one could buy the proper equipment to make color images. Only the very rich could afford to play in this process.

In 1935, Kodak brought to market Kodachrome. However because of the expense compared to black and white, color processing was not the norm until the 1970s, just 50 years ago! Interesting enough it was Polaroid who introduced the first instant color film in 1963. By 1970, color film was the norm for most “snapshots.” However, black and white film was still used by some photographers for the aesthetic nuances that it offers.

It was common for black and white photographers to do their own developing and printing. Color film was dramatically improved, but black and white photography continued to be used as a different method to tell the story, in unusual and powerful ways.

West Fjords Waterfall, Iceland.

West Fjords Waterfall, Iceland.



Today I strongly feel that deciding to eliminate color, as an option in telling our story through photography, is a choice not to be taken lightly. It is important to decide, even before the photograph is made, if this image is a possible candidate for monochrome. I have made many images where color is actually a distraction from the strength of the image itself as well as subtracting from the meaning I am trying to convey.

Form, as well as texture, can be brought out in monochrome much stronger than in color. In monochromatic photography we are using our eyes and brains to look at the form of a subject, the texture of the subject, and not confusing ourselves with trying, at the same time, to decipher and process color.

When making color images we think about brightness, hue of color and more. With monochrome images we are only dealing with shades of gray. This is one reason why monochrome images can be exceedingly more powerful than color if produced correctly. Again, the process starts before the camera comes out of the bag.

Photoshop, or any type of computerized monochrome processing that we may be working with today, parallels what Weston and Adams did in the darkroom years ago. In many ways, monochromatic photography can exceed the power of color both in emotion and how the image is viewed and interpreted.

Sea stacks at Bandon Beach, Oregon.

Sea stacks at Bandon Beach, Oregon.



When working in monochrome consider using tone, brightness, texture and contrast within your image to tell the story and communicate your feeling. Consider that complementary colors like red and green can often look the same in monochrome. If the textures in a monochrome image are identical they become hard to differentiate. Using different textures within an image in monochrome is another way to bring out the feeling from the start. I find differentiating the depth of field of a subject in monochrome photography is more important than if photographing in color. Making one part of the image sharp and the other out of focus can really accentuate the image.

Using these concepts and techniques will get you on the path to seeing in monochrome and being able to deliver images with significant value, but there is much more to learn about making quality monochromatic images. Understanding the Zone system, proper processing technique for monochrome, as well as perfecting your printing technique are all important.

interior of old barn in Palouse, Washington

Inside an old barn in the Palouse.



Guy Tal’s Guy Tal’s ebooks on Creative Processing Techniques

Ansel Adam’s “The Negative,” originally published in 1981



Jack Graham has been a Professional Photographer and Photo Workshop Leader for over 20 years. For more information, and to view his portfolio, visit www.jackgrahamphoto.com. To read additional photography articles go to www.jackgrahamsblog.com.

FIELD TECHNIQUE: The Magic Hours, Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

S_121Most nature photographers know that the best light of the day occurs during the first and last hours of sunlight—sunrise and sunset. During this time, the sun is low on the horizon, and its light travels through more of the atmosphere, creating brilliant shades of red, yellow and gold. For that reason, photographers fittingly refer to this time of day as the golden (or magic) hours.

I was recently in Atlantic City and captured “bookends” of the same day on the beach. In the morning, I shot a photo (above) of the sun rising above the Atlantic Ocean. When shooting directly into the sun, it’s best to use manual exposure. Auto modes will go haywire in this type of light. Although it’s been said many times before, some advice bears repeating: Never look directly at the sun in the viewfinder. This is especially true if you’re using a long lens, which will, of course, magnify the sun’s intensity. A spot meter, which measures a small portion of the frame, is also helpful. I spot-metered a clear area of the sky next to the sun, then locked in that exposure on manual. Read the rest of this entry »

A Tale of Two Winters by Kathy Lichtendahl

Mystic Falls © Kathy Lichtendzahl

Mystic Falls © Kathy Lichtendzahl

Although Yellowstone National Park is a photographer’s paradise any time of year, it is truly magical in the winter months. But a visit to the Park in the cold season requires a certain amount of research and planning. Many of the roads close down completely in late October and re-open to supervised over-snow travel in mid-December, remaining open until the end of February before closing once again for spring plowing. One exception is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City, Montana, through the well-known Lamar Valley. The road is Cooke City’s only automobile access to the outside world in winter and so it is kept open year round.

Options for winter visits are plentiful, depending on where you wish to stay and what you want to do. Shoulder towns such as Gardiner and West Yellowstone offer a variety of housing options or you can stay in the park itself at Mammoth or Snow Lodge at Old Faithful. Another option is to take a class through the Yellowstone Association and stay right in Lamar Valley at the Buffalo Ranch.

For years my husband and I have been making at least one trip each winter into Old Faithful Snow Lodge (so many years, in fact, that we stayed at the old lodge before it was torn down in 1998!) Six months ahead of time we make reservations, arranging for three to four nights at Old Faithful as part of the “Frosty Fun” package, which we have found to be the best deal for a winter stay. The package includes our snow coach ride in and out from Mammoth, a room for two and breakfast each morning, among other things. We also make sure to arrange for a snow coach “drop” each day we are there which allows us to get a jump start each morning by being delivered, with our skis, to a location several miles either north or south of the hotel, depending on our plans for the day.

In both 2014 and 2015 our visit to Old Faithful took place in the second week of February. The difference in temperatures between the two years was truly unprecedented, proving that you cannot rely on a specific weather pattern for any given winter visit. In 2014 the cold was severe with daily highs well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The snow was deep and traveling, even on skis, was a challenge. It was critical to have as little skin exposed as possible and keeping camera gear, especially batteries, warm, was a constant struggle. Shots of the thermal features were challenging because of the amount of steam present and many animals were selective about leaving shelter only when absolutely necessary. The images that were made featured trees covered in snow and ice and frosty faced bison desperately plowing through deep snow in search of buried blades of grass. In contrast, this year found us experiencing record high temperatures with middays in the 40 degree range! The challenges were different but still present. With daily thaws followed by nightly freezing, boardwalks and ski trails were icy and incredibly slick. Bear spray was an unexpected but necessary accessory and bison were present in large numbers as they enjoyed the ease of munching on uncovered grasses. The images to be made contained far less snow and frost but steam was less of a problem in the warmer air.

Whatever the temperature, a winter visit to Old Faithful is well worth a photographer’s time and money. Solitude, an impossible concept in summertime Yellowstone, is easily achieved in the colder months. Just the opportunity to enjoy a private viewing of the famous geyser in early morning or late evening is a special treat that few people in the world have the chance to experience, let alone photograph.

Coyote © Kathy Lichtendahl

Coyote © Kathy Lichtendahl

Castle © Kathy Lichtendahl

Castle © Kathy Lichtendahl



Kathy Lichtendahl, owner of Light in the Valley, LLC., is a nature photographer based in northwest Wyoming where she often leads photo tours and workshops in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Kathy is also a partner in Open Range Images Gallery in Cody, Wyoming. See more of her work at: http://www.kathylichtendahl.com



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