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. Continue reading
Most 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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
It’s that time of the year when nature photographers are either embarking on a summer season filled with photo adventures, or they are making the final preparations to do so. They have their tripods, lenses and cameras all cleaned, inspected and primed, ready to go into action. Watch out nature, here we come!
Often, we forget to bring along the little things—the whatchyamacallits and thingamajigs—that can save us from those minor and major inconveniences we encounter in the field. During my workshops, I have a show-and-tell session to disclose to my students some of the lesser known items I keep in my camera bag or vest—very handy and inexpensive stuff that can make a difference in having a good photo shoot or a bad one.
Here are just a few items you might consider adding to your photographic toolbox:
Portable Powerbank Charger: Can’t get around it, everyone has in their possession a cellphone and/or a tablet these days. They are indispensable and can certainly have apps that help us in our quest for photographic perfection. Of course, the issue is power. To maintain a full charge while in the field, I keep a portable powerbank charger with me. These units are compact and designed for easy storage. The ones I use even have a handy built-in flashlight. Just remember to charge the charger before you go into the field.
The Ring of Fire—a string of volcanoes, earthquakes and sites of seismic activity that encircles the Pacific Ocean—is the result of plate tectonics. Tectonic plates are slabs of the Earth’s crust, which fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The plates constantly move atop a layer of solid and molten rock called the mantle. Some volcanoes are actually vents with direct pipelines to the molten core of our little planet.
One of these presently dormant volcanoes is massive glacier-covered Mt. Rainier. Long called “Tahoma” by Native Americans, Rainier is about 80 miles south and east of Seattle, Washington, and is plainly visible from that city’s airport despite the distance. At 14,410 feet, this imposing peak is the tallest in the Cascade Range and one of the highest mountains in the 48 contiguous states.
Mary Ann and Joe McDonald are professional wildlife photographers who, together, lead photography tours around the world and teach photo workshops at their home, Hoot Hollow, in central Pennsylvania. Their images appear in many national and international nature magazines, calendars and books. Mary Ann is the author of 29 natural history children’s books. She has gone to many elementary schools as a visiting author and has written a coffee table book on the Amish. Joe is the author of six how-to photography books. He is co-author of a book on digital nature photography with Mary Ann and fellow photographer Rick Holt, and he and Mary Ann have written a book and produced a video for Photographing on Safari. Joe has written several coffee table books on jaguars and tigers and is currently writing books on Indian wildlife, creatures of the night, world’s deadliest creatures and camouflage in nature. Mary Ann’s photography awards include two first-place awards and several other awards in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, first place in the Nature’s Best Photography competition and first place in the old AGFA competition in South Africa. Joe has won first place in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition as well as several second and third places. This will be Mary Ann and Joe’s 28th year leading photo safaris to East Africa, and next year they will celebrate 100 treks to Rwanda to photograph the mountain gorillas. Joe became a NANPA Fellow in 2002 and Mary Ann in 2010. (Note: The following questions were answered by Mary Ann.)
Do you have a “day” job? What do you do?
We are full-time professional wildlife and nature photographers who have been doing this together for 28 years now. We teach photo workshops at our house, Hoot Hollow, in central Pennsylvania. We lead photo tours around the world. We sell images both through photo stock agencies and out of our office. We give evening lectures to different organizations as well as public lectures on wildlife photography, ecotourism and conservation issues, such as saving biodiversity. We write magazine articles as well as photography how-to books, coffee table books and natural history books for children. As you can see, wildlife and nature photography is our passion, our life, our career and just about everything for us.
How have you been involved in NANPA?
Joe is a founding member of NANPA and we are both NANPA Fellows. Joe has been on the Board of Directors and has taught workshops at some of the Summits. We were keynote speakers at one Summit, and I was the Master of Ceremonies at several. I’ve hosted both a live auction and a silent auction at the Summits, and I’ve had the privilege to auction off Jane Kinne’s favorite jacket. Both Joe and I helped to mentor the high school students by spending a day with them at several different Summits. We also worked with the college students by volunteering to look over their portfolios at a Summit. I helped to research and draft a proposal for NANPA way back when the airlines were changing their checked luggage policies. We both helped with a regional event in San Diego a few years back.
What were your greatest accomplishments or the highlights thus far of what you have done for NANPA?
Even though we were never on a committee (due to our hectic travel schedule), we’ve helped with projects throughout the years on a more unofficial level. Working with the high school kids was a highlight for us. We both love teaching, so we felt that working with the students was one of the most rewarding things we have ever volunteered to do with NANPA. Their talent was unbelievable and their ideas were so refreshing, so real and so passionate. It was fun to teach them different photography techniques and watch the light bulb go off and then for them to take the concept, the new technique, and take off with it to make it their own by creating some unique images. We usually worked with them in regards to flash photography. It was challenging but very rewarding as well.
Give me a stage and I am happy! It was fun emceeing the Summits and getting to meet some of my photography idols and then to introduce them to the crowd. I loved getting crazy and doing whatever it took for the cause. I played Marilyn Monroe at the silent auction, and for $100 I sang Happy Birthday to the highest bidder just like Marilyn did to JFK. I wore 22 or so items of clothing for the live auction and for every $500 we made, I took off an item. Luckily I didn’t have to go down to my bathing suit, but it was close. And of course there was the time I channeled some of Lucille Ball’s best comedic moments for my introduction.
Another of Joe’s accomplishments was serving on the Board of Directors.
How long have you been a NANPA member?
Joe is a founding member and I joined either in year two or three.
Do you have a goal as it pertains to NANPA?
As I said, we love to teach and want to continue to share our knowledge. Joe and I hope to be able to help with more regional events. We would like do a workshop at the next Summit or, wishful thinking, another keynote speech. We are hoping to have the time to do a webinar for the NANPA membership. And yes, I would love to emcee again sometime. It’s so much fun to get everybody revved up for a great Summit and to keep that energy going throughout. Who knows, maybe someday one of us will serve on the board again.
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
Vacations are a great way to get away and de-stress. However, I often find myself stressing even more. While I try to be mindful of the fact that I’m on vacation and not on assignment, I can’t seem to leave home without my camera gear.
With only a limited amount of time, I worry about getting the shot. Where are the best locations? When and where does the sun set and/or rise? How can I best secure my equipment in the hotel room?
On a recent trip to Antigua, West Indies, I was focusing on a bevy of tropical treats that don’t normally grace my lens. It’s easy to get sloppy and fall into the “tourist trap.” You want to shoot everything, but end up shooting not much of anything worthwhile at all. Slowing down and actually seeing your subjects, as opposed to simply looking at them, can make all the difference in the world.
If you look at a satellite photo taken at night of the United States, you’ll see a recognizable shape. The coastlines are outlined in light. Major cities are clearly defined. Yet, out in far West Texas, there is a dark area void of major manmade lighting.
This huge dark area is being preserved thanks to a major dark sky preservation movement by local entities.
I tend to get stuck in my ways for photographing landscapes: sharp and focused. But I’ve started experimenting with another technique that I refer to as ambient light painting.
Ambient light painting may not be what you think. It is not using artificial light sources at night to paint light on a tree, old barn or other subject. Instead, ambient light painting uses both natural light and slow camera movements to create abstract compositions. The results can be something resembling a Monet painting.
When I discovered how much my students embraced this technique, I decided to include it in my workshop resources to help them develop their own vision of nature. Turns out, ambient light painting is fun for them, and that fits right in with my goal to get folks to love nature through their photography.