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.
Story by Andy Johnson; Photos by Gerrit Vyn
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Multimedia Production team has spent the past three years producing an hour-long documentary about the iconic sagebrush steppe of the American west. On May 20th, at 8/7c, The Sagebrush Sea aired nationally on PBS, as part of the award-winning series, NATURE. Check your local PBS station for future viewing times. You can also stream the film online for free on the PBS / Nature website.
Gerrit Vyn, photographer and producer at the Cornell Lab and iLCP fellow, has spent much of the past few years documenting the sagebrush steppe for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Sagebrush Project included a magazine article in Living Bird, educational web interactives, and an hour-long documentary for PBS / Nature, The Sagebrush Sea. In today’s shifting media landscape, increasingly rooted in web and multimedia, conservation itself (in turn, rooted in communication and education) is also expanding its media toolbox.
I recently sat down with Gerrit to discuss how the intersection of conservation photography with filmmaking and web production can benefit a core message. Continue reading
Using SLR Camera Traps to Photograph the Unseen
Text and Images by Sebastian Kennerknecht
How do you photograph an animal so elusive that the biologists studying them have never even seen the species themselves? The answer is simple: SLR camera traps. Photographing wildlife with a camera trap seems easy in concept. Place a camera trap in the wilderness, let it sit there, and have it take amazing pictures while you relax at home. This isn’t quite the case. One of the hardest parts about camera trap photography is getting your set-up to work like you want it to. The camera and flashes have to be ready to take a picture at a moment’s notice, but it also needs to conserve batteries enough to last for an extended period of time. And then everything has to be safe in a serious down drench. Continue reading
This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow.
SAGE GROUSE – Happy Hour on the High Plains
Image and Story By Budd Titlow
Sometimes Mother Nature provides a perfect microcosm of human life.
Many years ago, I was invited to observe an annual ritual that had all the elements of happy hour at your favorite neighborhood bar. Totally full of themselves, the males were strutting around in tight circles with their hairless chests puffed out. As they walked, they repeatedly made burping and belching sounds while aggressively posturing toward any other males that came too close to their domains. Meanwhile, all of the females skittered demurely in, out, around, and through all of the absurdly displaying males—acting as if the showboats didn’t exist.
Rather than watching patrons in a dark, after-work bar, I was driving along a Colorado high mountain sagebrush prairie at sunrise next to a “lek,” which is, appropriately enough, the Swedish word for “play.” And the clientele I was observing were chicken-sized wild birds known as sage grouse.
The largest grouse in North America, sage grouse live on the high plains of the American West—at elevations of four thousand to nine thousand feet—including populations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, eastern California, and western Colorado.
Like many wildlife mating rituals, the “dancing” of the male sage grouse around a lek is all about influencing female choice. Leks are circular open areas in dense stands of sagebrush where sage grouse have been performing every February through April for eons. Here, male sage grouse spend their time puffing out their large colorful breast sacs and proudly displaying their sharply pointed tail feathers while aggressively defending their territories—leaping high in the air with feet and spurs fully extended and striking out at their nearest competitors for feminine attention.
While the female sage grouse pretend that they don’t notice, in the end, only the males with the showiest exhibitions—typically less than 5 percent of those trying—mate with all the females. After a few hours, the losing males skulk off to recoup their grouse-hood in hopes of faring better when the next day’s dances begin.
Because they tend to be such show-offs, sage grouse are the subject of many tales—both tall and otherwise—told far and wide in the high plateaus of their Rocky Mountain homeland. Many western riders swear that sage grouse sit hidden in their sagebrush hollows secretly plotting the precise moment to burst up with wings beating wildly askew in front of horses galloping across the open range. The result of this supposed comic plotting is of course that the horses rear up, violently tossing their hooves and manes wildly and summarily flinging their riders—derrieres first—into the nearest clumps of sagebrush.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now lists the sage grouse as a “candidate species” for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The primary reason for the decline of this species is the wholesale loss of its high plains habitat throughout much of its native range.
A Professional Wetland Scientist (Emeritus) and Wildlife Biologist, Budd Titlow is also an international/national award-winning nature photographer and a widely-published writer/author. Throughout his career, Budd has shared his love of photography and nature by presenting seminars, workshops, and field trips Nationwide. He has also authored four books: BIRD BRAINS – Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN 978-0-7627-8755-5), SEASHELLS – Jewels from the Ocean (ISBN 978-0-7603-2593-3), ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK- Beyond Trail Ridge (ISBN 0-942394-22-4), and ENVIRONMENTAL SUPERHEROES: Now Climate Change Needs A New One (In Press). Budd’s work is featured on his web site (www.buddtitlow.com).
Text and Images by Kevin FitzPatrick
A Bio Blitz is a short (usually one-day), intense team effort to discover as many different life forms as possible in one location. This often involves researchers and the general public working together to identify as many species as possible in a 24-hour period. To date, I have photographed over 45 Bio Blitzes from California to Maine and have done four with National Geographic.
For me, the Bio Blitz compasses all that I want to communicate to my audience about conservation and biodiversity and is a wonderful way to communicate with students and their parents about science! Depending on where they live, young people might get a chance to try their hand at species identification, photography, wildlife sketching, writing about nature, or the discovery of the natural history of their area. No two Bio Blitzes will be the same, as each one will be a reflection of the local environment. It is an opportunity for youth to not only enhance their appreciation of the environment through photography, art and exploration, but also to engage in true citizen science. This can be done through the iNaturalist Mobile Application, which makes use of the Encyclopedia of Life’s Species Collections, allowing participants to document species and upload their observations to a collective map that is available freely online.
Images and text by Todd Amacker
One of North America’s most biodiverse forests, the longleaf pine forest of the Southeast, is missing from 97% of its historic range. As a proud Southerner, I’ve spent a great deal of time ambling through pine forests in the Florida panhandle. Recently, I’ve made an effort to use my photography and my words to portray exactly what has disappeared along with the forests themselves.
There are a lot of treasures in longleaf pine forests that make them special, both aesthetically and scientifically. It all starts with the longleaf pine tree itself, Pinus palustris. It’s resistant to fire, and that’s important when frequent fires sweep through the understory and flames lap at the trees’ exteriors. Layers of specially evolved, crusty bark protect its delicate innards. It is actually unhindered fire that gives life to the longleaf ecosystem and contributes to its aesthetic beauty. Because of the fire, the undergrowth is burned away and you can see between trees. (This is quite refreshing for forest enthusiasts, as most forests hamper your ability to enjoy the view.) Continue reading
Text and Images By Chad Anderson
Vast stretches of azure blue waters thinly vail a dark secret. It’s been happening ever since the melting of the Wisconsin glacier some 12,000 years ago, but now occurs at a hastened pace and with a new cause. Meanwhile, Margaritaville plays, tourists stroll, and wading birds perch on mangrove shores as the slow pace of everyday life in the Florida Keys continues. Scientists, government entities, and even the public are coming to a grim reality. Change is here. It’s not abstract, distant, or easily pushed aside but prevalent, pervasive, and imminent—and the evidence is everywhere. The vast stretches of post card blue waters are a result of recently submerged lands. Even the upland forests here can hardly conceal their ancient marine past. Just millimeters below the leaf litter lies weathered coral reef. One of the oldest permanent tidal monitoring stations in the United States is located in Key West, Florida. Without hyperbole, it states the bare truth. Nearly nine inches of sea level rise has occurred since 1913. That may not sound like much, but for perspective, the average elevation is less than four feet. This effect is amplified by the fact that the slope of the shoreline is near flat, imperceptible to the human eye in most cases. For this reason, a couple inches of rise can translate to hundreds of feet of land lost. In just a few decades the changes to the ecosystems have been staggering, rapidly shifting as the mangroves march inwards. Ancient buttonwoods stand like tombstones of a once proud forest. At times, mangroves, the most halophytic of all flora, can’t keep up the pace. Continue reading
I made my first leap into multimedia storytelling after following, with considerable interest, the work of MediaStorm, a video production company founded by Brian Storm. Their videos wove together interviews, music, ambient sounds, and still photographs into artful, dynamic stories. As I watched them, I realized that hearing the ambient sounds and interviewee’s voice created a stronger emotional connection to the story—it just seemed more real than a photo slideshow with captions. I wanted to be able to produce my own multimedia video, but I was intimidated… I had never recorded audio before or used a video editing program.
In the spring of 2009, a client asked me if I would be interested in documenting a month-long undergraduate research experience in the Siberian Arctic. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, with one requirement: the chance to produce a multimedia video.
That July, I found myself in Siberia, wading through knee-deep permafrost goo, battling legions of abnormally large mosquitoes (audio recorder in one hand, DSLR in the other). At the end of that month, my hard drive brimmed with over 20,000 images and about a hundred pages of interview transcriptions. The thought of the next step nearly overwhelmed me: how to create a coherent, compelling story from this mountain of material. I decided to enlist the experts at MediaStorm for some one-on-one training.
A month later, I knocked on the brushed-aluminum door of MediaStorm’s office in New York. Storm introduced me to my mentors for the week: Bob Sacha, an award-winning photographer-turned-multimedia-producer, and Maisie Crow, a talented up-and-coming multimedia journalist. In five short days, we needed to turn my pile of photographs and interviews into a living, breathing, multimedia story.
Sacha quickly introduced me to the MediaStorm process. First, we poured over the material, starting with the interview transcripts. The edited interviews, he explained to me, would form the backbone to the story. Once the interviews were on the timeline, Sacha showed me how to choose music and integrate ambient sound recordings I had collected in the field. Lastly, we added my photographs and credit slides—it was complete!
Looking back, those five days at MediaStorm really changed my trajectory as a photographer. From a pragmatic standpoint, my new skills opened up a whole new avenue of funding opportunities, allowing me to keep photographing the stories I love. Since 2009, I have produced dozens of multimedia stories and worked as the lead cinematographer on an hour-long documentary production. Some of the videos have simply been a series of images set to music or a voiceover. Others have been more complicated, such as a series of videos on ocean robotics that involved filming interviews in front of a green screen and incorporating historical underwater footage. An unexpected benefit to my multimedia training is that my photography skills have improved as well. Now, it’s easier for me to break down a story idea into the elements I need to illustrate with my photographs. In essence, I have evolved into a better storyteller.
At the 2015 NANPA Summit, I will be co-presenting a Breakout Session with fellow photographer and filmmaker Morgan Heim on the lessons we’ve learned producing multimedia. There you can find out our most critical multimedia storytelling tips, like: whatever you do, don’t forget the…
The 2015 NANPA Summit takes place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com. Early bird registration ends on October 31st!
Chris Linder works part-time at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as an Expedition Multimedia Specialist and runs a freelance photography and filmmaking business. Chris focuses on communicating the stories of scientists working in the field. In the last ten years, he has documented over 40 scientific expeditions from Antarctica to the Congo. Chris’s images have appeared in museum exhibits, books, calendars, documentary films, and magazines worldwide. He is the author of Science on Ice: Four Polar Expeditions.
My name is Drew Fulton and I am excited to introduce myself and announce a new column here on the blog that focuses on how we as nature photographers can start to make use of the video capabilities that is part of pretty much all modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras. I have spent the last few years focusing more and more on creating moving images in addition to my still photographs and I am excited to share some of my experiences and those of others here on the blog. Each month, this column will bring you articles about how to incorporate filmmaking into your own photography and specifically how that can be used to promote conservation. I will be writing a couple of article and curating guest posts by other individuals.
As cold weather approaches in northern climes, a nature photographer’s thoughts often turn to warm destinations for a winter photo trip.
Everglades National Park stays warm year-round. It includes 1.5 million acres on the southernmost tip of the Florida peninsula. Established just after World War II, Everglades protects the last remnant of a precious primal wetland from the land-hungry development and agriculture that has gobbled up the rest of South Florida.
The major characteristics here are dictated by the primordial flooding and resulting overflow of Lake Okeechobee every summer. All of this water makes its way southwest as the venerable and slow-moving “River of Grass.” More a shallow sheet of water than a conventional river, the life-giving liquid has created vast areas of sedges, tropical grasses and countless raised hammocks. Tiny islands of loose land pop up from the swampy river and support small trees that take advantage of the increased drainage provided by their slightly increased elevation.
This fertile land is home to a variety of wild creatures. First among them are many species of birds: herons, egrets, ibises, hawks, anhingas, cormorants, coots, moorhens, gallinules, pelicans and the occasional osprey and roseate spoonbill. Many of these birds can be found and photographed nearly anywhere in the park.
In the relatively dry months of winter, water levels are low, and many birds congregate in and around the ponds along the roads. Check Mrazek and Eco ponds, Florida Bay and Snake Bight for spoonbills and the western islands and sandbars off Chokoluskee for white pelicans.
After the birds come the famous reptiles. While most folks are familiar with the alligators that populate this area, less well-known are the crocodiles. Both are near the limits of their ranges here, and the two comingle in the brackish waters—a unique combination of salt and fresh waters. A word of warning: While appearing slow and somewhat sluggish, these carnivores are capable of moving very quickly, so keep your distance!
Gators often hang out in the sloughs along the Anhinga Trail in the Royal Palm area, Nine Mile Lake, and along the tram roadway in Shark Valley. Crocodiles are seen infrequently. Your best bet is the waterways in the Flamingo area.
The fabled Florida panther with its severely dwindling numbers may or may not be present in the park. The likelihood of seeing one in the wild is virtually non-existent.
At any time of year, the best photography is available during the low-light hours of early morning and early evening. Winter is the dry season, so true storm light will likely be hard to come by. Still, these subtropical skies can be dramatic at any time. Some of the best spots for sunrise and early morning light are West Lake, Nine Mile Lake, Florida Bay and right along the road to Flamingo, the southernmost headquarters of the park. For late afternoon light, I favor Paurotis Pond and Eco Pond.
During your time in the Everglades, try taking the tram ride through Shark Valley and a boat tour from the visitor center in Everglades City. Explore Big Cypress National Preserve and less well-known (but worthwhile) Biscayne National Park, only a few minutes east of Homestead.
The close-by section of US highway 1 through Florida City and Homestead offers a good choice of lodgings and restaurants. Rent any regular passenger car in Ft. Lauderdale or Miami Airport if arriving by air. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen and insect repellent.
Note: There has been a recent infestation of deadly Burmese pythons in the Everglades, so exercise extreme care.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer and co-founder of Master Image Workshops. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of the parks of South America using medium-format cameras. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email – email@example.com.