Early morning, when the roads were still frosted over and there were more deer than people awake, I rolled out my warm hotel on the eastern coast of Hokkaido to visit a place I had never been. This is par for the course with me, but this was a bit of a different situation as I was heading for a relatively unheard of location that a new friend told me about. She had promised there would be Steller’s sea eagles and White-tailed eagles feeding on the leftover fish guts that ice fishermen discard on a frozen lake. Too good a potential photography opportunity for me to pass up, so I made the hour-long drive along the coast on a cold, wintery morning. It could not have been a better choice!
White-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) seen through bars, dangles from the door frame of his enclosure evoking a sense of frustration, boredom, loneliness at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Story & photo by Haley R. Pope
Most of what makes a wildlife photograph great is the photographer’s ability to get inside the head of the animal and show the world through their eyes. What are they thinking? How do they see their environment? How do they see us? What is their story? In other words, a photographer needs to create an emotional connection to the subject or elicit an emotional response in the viewer. Emotion creates a layer of dimensionality that help us suspend judgments and see honestly.
The rest of what makes a great photograph is the photographer’s ability to correctly, and technically, control the camera so as to represent the scene as one saw and felt it. How am I going to tell the story? What landscape elements should I include? Do I need a shallow or wide depth of field? Should I over or underexpose the shot? How fast should I set my shutter speed? Do I have enough lighting? Where should I physically be positioned? These questions should be in your mind as you think about how to communicate your message and how to set yourself up to create your photo.
The two questions I ask myself before and during every photo shoot is: 1) what story do I want to tell and 2) how am I going to craft my image so the story is clear to viewers?
A Day at the Zoo
I have never been a fan of zoos, but on a warm day in June I decided to go. After I arrived, it wasn’t difficult to decide what story to tell. I wanted to tell the story of what it’s like to be locked up against one’s will. I wanted us to put ourselves in the animal’s shoes, so to speak, so I needed the emotional connection to be strong and our similarities to be obvious. I wanted us to consider what role we should play in other animals’ lives and whether or not there is even a need for animal exhibits like zoos.
As I passed through each exhibit and looked at the faces and body language of the animals inside, I was overcome with emotions of loneliness, sadness, boredom, and frustration; emotions I felt emanating from the animals themselves. Emerging from the kangaroo exhibit, I crossed the paved walkway and entered the primate center. No animal that day seemed to express the story so noticeably or poignantly than the white-cheeked gibbon. I knew this is where I would find my shot.
I watched the male gibbon for several minutes without picking up my camera and took note of his environment and behavior. I noticed whether the gibbon made eye contact with me and how he moved around the space. Then I circled the enclosure while thinking about how I’d like to compose the shot. What elements will help drive home my message and how I should represent the being inside?
I decided to include the metal bars of the enclosure as a frame for my subject since that’s exactly what they are. I also wanted to include both man-made and natural elements to provide context and juxtaposition. Focusing on the gibbon’s body language would illustrate both how similar our bodies are and how misplaced his own seems in contrast to the surrounding concrete and metal.
At one point, the gibbon stood up from where he sat and walked towards the interior door. With his back to me, he dangled from the door by its hinges and swayed back in forth in the characteristic way of under-stimulated animals. This was it. I raised my camera and snapped the shot. But I felt guilty as I turned and left him, embarrassed that I could just walk away while he stayed there, hanging and swaying.
Nature photographers don’t typically strive to capture disturbing situations. We want to show how beautiful the natural world is, in its raw form, and how we are all connected. But that is only half the story. If we never represent the other side of reality, we can become passive and complacent. I wanted to capture the other side of reality during my zoo visit. Because all animals are part of nature and zoos are not filled with happy carefree animals. They are filled with captives.
Haley R. Pope is a zoologist and conservationist with a passion for photography and writing. She uses those mediums to explore wildlife conservation topics and share biological knowledge in a visual story-like format to inspire awe of our planet’s inherent beauty and encourage the responsible treatment of nature. As the president and owner of TerraLens Photography LLC, she offers freelance photography, writing, and photo archiving services to other companies.
Haley is also a trip leader for Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program, which operates in more than 40 countries and builds houses for those in need. In the future, she’d like to lead ecological and photography focused trips. Connect with her below!
Sunrise behind “The Wheel” on Steel Pier, Atlantic City Beach, Atlantic City, NJ
Story and photos by F. M. Kearney
Webster defines serendipity as “the faculty of making providential discoveries by accident.” In photography, it’s more like capturing that once in a lifetime shot that could not be recreated again in a million years. The internet is full of these types of images, usually classified as “Photos Taken at the Perfect Moment,” or “Things You Have to See to Believe.” Of course, almost anything you see on the internet should be viewed with a certain degree of skepticism, and even more so when it comes to photos and videos. The old saying, “The Camera Never Lies,” has never been less true than in the digital age in which we live. However, assuming that even if a fraction of these photos are, in fact, real, they truly are serendipitous moments caught on camera.
I recently spent several days in Atlantic City, NJ shooting ocean views. Most of my visits in the past have been day trips lasting only a few hours – just enough time to grab a quick lunch, lose all my money and head back home. On this occasion, I had the luxury of time on my side – time to see the real beauty of this town, beyond the bells and buzzers, and the glitzy flashing lights within its casinos’ walls.
One morning, I took a walk along the beach to The Steel Pier – a 1,000-foot-long amusement park built on a pier of the boardwalk. Its latest attraction is a 227-foot tall Ferris wheel, known as The Wheel, which began operating in 2017. I arrived just as the sun was rising behind it. My main objective was to get the surf in the perfect position – far enough into frame to be a dominant foreground element, but not so far in that it covered up the sun’s reflection on the wet sand. I also wanted to get the rising sun directly between the spokes of The Wheel. The sun’s position changes quite rapidly when it’s this low on the horizon. I took several shots and the photo above was the only one where the sun and the surf lined up in the perfect positions. This was the result of careful timing (and a little bit of luck). However, the serendipitous aspects were the inclusion of the seagull and the woman – things I had absolutely no control over. I saw when the seagull walked into the reflection during the shoot, but I didn’t even notice the woman in the background until I was reviewing the images back home on my computer. She had walked into one of the openings of the pier directly beneath The Wheel at precisely the right moment.
Another serendipitous moment was the inclusion of the honeybees in the daylily image below. I was all set to shoot the flowers when I suddenly found myself surrounded by a small group of bees. Like little helicopters on a mission, they methodically visited each flower in the area – hovered for a few seconds, then landed to pollinate. Since I already had my camera locked down on a tripod and focused on one particular bloom, I decided to wait and see if they would pay it a visit. Eventually, two bees flew into the shot and hovered close enough for my flash to cast a catch-light in their eyes. When they landed, they went down too deep into the flower to be seen, so I was lucky to get this photo of their approach.
Honeybees “photo-bombing” daylily image.
Serendipitous moments in photography are unplanned and often referred to as “lucky shots.” But you can increase your luck if you’re prepared, have a little patience and are aware of specific patterns of behavior – as in the case of the honeybees. Sometimes, however, you just get a pleasant surprise. Careful planning made the image of The Wheel a good shot. Serendipity made it one-of-a-kind.
Danae Wolfe shows how you can do “Macro on a Budget” in an upcoming NANPA webinar.
Have you made your resolutions for 2019? What will you be doing to grow as a photographer and improve the quality of your work?
We all can find ourselves in a rut. Maybe you’re shooting the same subjects, in the same way, at the same places. Maybe your inspiration or creativity feels tapped out. Maybe you’ve hit a plateau and your photography isn’t improving like it used to.
January is a purely arbitrary time to reassess your photography, but it’s something we should all do every so often. So, why not a set of New Year’s resolutions?
Grand view of ancient Machu Picchu, last refuge of the vanished Inca civilization in the Andes Mountains, Peru.
Story and Photos by Jerry Ginsberg
Peru is perhaps the most fascinating country in all of South America. Considering the many wonderful sights, both natural and cultural, to be found on this vast continent, that’s saying a whole lot. You will find a great deal of diversity here. From the arid lands of its long Pacific Coastal area to the snow-capped summits of the sharply carved Andes, there is something here for everyone.
They had all gathered in the same spot – practically standing shoulder-to-shoulder. When new members joined the group, they were careful in setting up so as not to bang into the legs of the other tripods already planted in their perfectly chosen spots. All the cameras were pointed in the same direction waiting for that special moment.
In my many columns for NANPA, I have never repeated a particular location. Until now. As a result of events described below, it seems fitting to add a new insight on a familiar location.
Being a National Park Artist in Residence
Last year, I had the privilege of being chosen by Badlands National Park in South Dakota as their Artist in Residence for the fall season. Many units of the National Park Service offer these opportunities, which appear on https://www.nps.gov/subjects/arts/air.htm. In addition to National Parks, many other units (National Monuments, Scenic Trails, Historical Parks, Battlefields and more) in the system offer such opportunities. The process is very competitive with many artists across a wide spectrum of disciplines—visual, writing, performance, etc.—submitting applications. And the actual judging criteria remains unknowable.
Dewdrops quivered under my breath as I knelt down, my face but a couple inches away. Like sapphires, emeralds, and canary diamond they glistened, reflecting the vibrant organisms beneath. Like tiny, round mirrors, or tiny magnifying glasses, each micro detail was brought to prominence. Upon closer inspection, even my face, upside down, reflected back at me in as many copies as there were dewdrops. They jiggled and jostled, yet resisted the force of my breath and persisted in perfect cupola-shapes held together by cohesion.
As mesmerizing as the water drops were, I was here to photograph what lay beneath the transparent molecules. I drew a breath and blew. The water bubbles rolled away and revealed my intended subject. Tortuous as brain tissue, crusty as a scab, yet as significant as any other organism: lichen.
Fantastic lunar landscape of the Wave, in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, located in both Utah and Arizona.
Story & Photography by Jerry Ginsberg
Exploring the Southwest
Although the four states that comprise the great Southwest (New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah) contain a combined total of thirteen national parks, this vast area has so much spectacular natural beauty that all of it could not possibly be contained within these parks.
Learn about ethical nature photography practices in this month’s Town Hall Meeting.
There’s still time to register for NANPA’s next online Town Hall on Wednesday, October 24th, at 5 PM EDT. Jennifer Leigh Warner, NANPA’s Ethics Committee chair, will help you learn how you can have a more ethical approach to photographing wildlife and how to better label your images so you can maintain public trust in the credibility of your images. Join us for this webinar where we will discuss some basic tips to approaching wildlife and how to properly label your images. We will also discuss what the NANPA Ethics Committee has been up to this year.