Are You a Dragon Photographer? I am

Story and Photography by Cathy & Gordon Illg

© Cathy & Gordon Illg

© Cathy & Gordon Illg

In our early days of nature photography, long before I had any right to be that way, I was very competitive. I wanted the awards and accolades. If someone took a good shot of something, I wanted a better photo of the same subject. Most of the time I didn’t succeed in capturing one, but I certainly tried. Continue reading

A Thanksgiving Get Together

Story and Photos by Gordon & Cathy Illg

© Gordon & Cathy Illg

© Gordon & Cathy Illg

The day before Thanksgiving we took a short drive hoping to see some bighorn sheep. Maybe it was because we were already in holiday mode, maybe it was just nice to lie in bed on a cold morning. Whatever the reason, we ended up sleeping in and eating a leisurely breakfast. By the time we made it to the Waterton Canyon trailhead it was already 11 a.m., and we had a couple of miles to walk—not exactly the behavior we endorse in our wildlife photography lectures. Do as we say, not as we do. Continue reading

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Story and Photography by Gordon & Cathy Illg

© Gordon and Cathy Illg

© Gordon and Cathy Illg

A seemingly endless supply of uncontrollable factors. Will the weather cooperate with our group of photographers? Are we going to have an aurora? Is a spirit bear going to show up? Will the filling in my right, rear molar last until my next visit to the dentist? The list goes on and on. Why do we worry so much about a future we cannot control? Why is it so hard to simply prepare as best we can, leave the future in the hands of the fates, and sleep as if we had no cares in the world? Sometimes having a big brain is not all it’s cracked up to be.

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WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, by Cathy and Gordon Illg

The plant is communicating with the flies, calling them to pollinate its blossoms. © Gordon and Cathy Illg

The plant is communicating with the flies, calling them to pollinate its blossoms. © Gordon and Cathy Illg

There’s always something new under the sun. There are always surprises waiting for us in the most unlikely places. Recent studies are showing plants may be far more than the yard decorations and colorful picture elements we’ve taken them for. These beings that we’ve always considered to be merely ground cover are capable of movement, communication–yes, they can talk to their neighbors–and even arithmetic–some species need to know the hours of darkness and calculate if they have enough starch to survive the night. Charles Darwin recognized intelligent, purposeful movement in plants, and he even wrote a book on it. The scientific community ignored his findings for more than 120 years. Continue reading

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!”

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Let the Games Begin! by Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider in dew-covered web, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider in dew-covered web, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Text and Images by Gordon and Cathy Illg

I’ve known photographers who were totally oblivious of this fact, and I’ve lost sight of it myself from time to time: nature photography is not a contest. This can be a difficult thing to keep in mind, and it was another photographer–thank you Valerie Millett–who recently reminded me. Nature photography is not a game in which the person who visits the most locations or the most exotic sites wins.

I have fleeting moments when I think it might be nice if it was a game, at least for a little while, but those thoughts are generated by a desire for financial security. Speaking as a photo tour leader, it would be great if everyone was in a competition to see all the places we want to take them. However, for good or bad, it is not a contest, and it makes no difference if you’re photographing in Alaska or your own backyard, as long as you’re out there shooting.

The miracle that compels us to push the shutter button is not something that is only present in far away climes. The beauty and the life and death struggles that we want so desperately to capture happen in our own gardens, just as they do in the rainforest. This orb weaver spider laid her trap right beside our front door, and the fact that we didn’t need to travel to the far corners of the globe did not detract from the engineering marvel that was her web. From our house, we observed the evolutionary miracle that her stronger-than-steel gossamer strands represents and we witnessed the deadliness of her attack.

Orb weaver spider with prey, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider with prey, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

The poetic naturalist, Annie Dillard, once wrote, “Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly; insects, it seems, gotta do one horrible thing after another. I never ask why of a vulture or a shark, but I ask why of almost every insect I see.” And the same applies to spiders. You see, spiders do not simply eat their victims. They inject a witch’s brew of poison and enzymes that paralyzes the prey and reduces its muscles and organs to a protein shake. Then it can be sucked out. Don’t you get hungry just thinking about it?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to photograph exotic locations or to search for the Shangri-Las of nature photography. There, you can find magnificent scenery, charismatic megafauna, and colorful birds. Our business depends upon some of these destinations, and even though Cathy and I have been lucky enough to visit a good number of these places, there are many more that are still on our list. This desire to see new places often has little to do with the quality of the photos we come home with, and a photo of an iceberg or a grizzly bear or a lion cub is not inherently better than one of a flower, a bug or a squirrel. When we judge photography competitions, we’ve found that the most ordinary and pedestrian images are often the ones with the most exciting subjects. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking the image is exciting just because the subject is. Some of the most extraordinary images are composed of ordinary subjects. I’m not sure if the ones I’ve included with this blog illustrate this fact adequately, but you get the idea.

Personally, I think that nature photography is a contest, the winner is the one who gets to spend the most time immersed in the mystery and majesty that we are a part of.

You can see more images by Gordon and Cathy Illg and learn about their photo tours at http://www.advenphoto.com

Image by © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Image by © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Dance of the Spirits by Gordon and Cathy Illg

North America, USA, Alaska, Chena Hot Springs, aurora borealis and stars. © Cathy & Gordon Illg

North America, USA, Alaska, Chena Hot Springs, aurora borealis and stars. © Cathy & Gordon Illg

Images and Text by Gordon and Cathy Illg

It’s not that one or two things or even a hundred things are beautiful – every single aspect of the natural world is beautiful, even the very air around us. Using high-energy particles from the sun as brushes and electrons orbiting atoms in our upper atmosphere as a canvas, impossible abstracts are painted across the night sky in neon colors. Of all the astral phenomena that draw our eyes to the heavens, the aurora is the most spectacular. And, it requires no special equipment to view it, only a willingness to stay out when most people are asleep (and to endure some cold temperatures).

The Cree called it the “Dance of the Spirits,” and in the Middle Ages it was regarded as a sign from God. Today we call it aurora borealis after the Roman goddess of the dawn and the Greek name for the north wind. Its most basic form is a static green band, usually stretching across the northern horizon. As it becomes more active, pink, red and even violet are added to the palette. These colors can fall down in curtains or dance across the heavens in twisting waves, as if responding to music we cannot hear. A photographer could point a lens at the same spot all night, taking one photo after another, and never repeat an image. Continue reading

Nature and Travel Photography App by Two NANPA Members

New App by Images for Conservation Fund and Bill Gozansky

New App by Images for Conservation Fund and Bill Gozansky

News from NANPA Members John Martin and Bill Gozansky: 

John Martin, chairman of Images for Conservation Fund (ICF), announces the release of the new ICF Photo Guide to Nature & Travel Photography app for the iPad and Android tablets. The Photo Guide app illustrates professional photographic techniques for nature and travel photography. It is an intuitive, user-friendly field guide with rich photographic content, technical image data, and descriptive field notes designed to help users discover new photographic techniques and composition ideas. The app also has a “My Gallery” feature that allows the user to upload their images and personalized field notes to create their own interactive photography journal within the app.  Continue reading