Japan in winter is one of the most majestic locations you could ever imagine. A slight dusting of snow turns the regularly bustling streets into a proverbial winter wonderland. The colder temperatures also tend to cut down on the amount of crowds, which makes photographing the iconic sites much more appealing.
We will embark on an eleven-day intensive photography workshop covering the most photographic sites, from buzzing cities to the calm atmospheric landscapes, stretching the length of Japan. First we’ll visit the snow macaques that live in the mountains about two hours west of Tokyo. Here in an isolated steep cut valley with an amazing mountain lodge are three extended families of macaques, numbering around 50. Because they are the most northern primate on earth, they have the longest, luxuriant fur of any primates, particularly in the winter months. They come down from the pine and oak forests and for a couple of hours a day they hang around a natural hot spring. They have been habituated to people visiting them there, so you can photograph from within inches without interrupting their behavior, which is very animated and fun. It is a photographic bonanza.
After visiting the macaques, we will travel to the northern island of Hokkaido. Hokkaido reminds me a bit of Alaska, full of forests of birch, pine and fir with a back drop of beautiful volcanic mountains. There are also large lakes and wild running rivers, and hosts three species of bird wildlife that are extraordinary to photograph. The Japanese Crane has been symbolized in Japanese culture for thousands of years due to its grace and beauty. Giant whooper swans come in the winter months from nesting in Siberia. They have been fed by locals for years, helping them sustain thru the winter, as well as creating an easy and wonderful photographic opportunity for us! And often Steller’s sea eagles will swoop around the same area. They are massive black and white raptors that winter over on the icy shores of Hokkaido.
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!
Sebastian Kennerknecht photographing on coast, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom
Conservation photographer and iLCP Associate Fellow Sebastian Kennerknecht will receive NANPA’s 2019 Emerging Photographer Award at the 2019 Nature Photography Summit and Trade Show, February 21-23 in Las Vegas, NV. This award (formerly the NANPA Vision Award) is “given to an emerging photographer in “recognition of excellence and serves to encourage continuation of vision and inspiration to others in nature photography, conservation, and education.”
Among the criteria for this award are “a commitment to achieving a positive impact upon nature photography, and the conservation and protection of the natural world; plus the education of the general public about conservation and nature issues.” The awards committee noted that Kennerknecht is “emerging as an important wildlife photographer, especially in the area of wild cats, and species that have not been widely documented. His focus on ethical field practices and species conservation is a model that many other photographers should follow. His frequent and smart use of social media to share his imagery and message are constantly growing in popularity, ensuring that he is truly advocating for the power and need of high quality nature photography.”
Kennerknecht’s work in photographing and documenting wild cats, both well- and little-known species, and his work with scientists, conservationists and social media to educate the public, make him an ideal recipient for this award. We were fortunate to ask Sebastian a few questions in between his travels.
Screen shot of The Times (UK) article about a film crew intervening in nature.
If you saw an animal in the wild that appeared to be in distress, would you try to help? Would you report it to the authorities? Would you leave it alone, since it’s just nature being nature? As nature photographers, we are interested in conservation and generally love the animals we photograph. Is it our responsibility to let nature take its course, even if an animal dies? Is it our responsibility to save the animal? Or, does it depend on the specific situation?
Can only two male lions take down an adult male giraffe?
Male lions average over 400 lbs. Giraffes, over six times that much, with well over a ton of power behind their kicks. Just their height alone is intimidating. However, in April 2016, I saw two male lions take down an adult male giraffe in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. So, the answer is yes, with a caveat I’ll mention a bit later.
How do you live safely around bears? Ask the Black Bear Project.
Something interesting is happening in the wooded hills of northern Georgia. Thanks to the Black Bear Project, people and bears are learning to peacefully live together and avoid dangerous situations. NANPA member Mary Jo Cox has been involved in this project and gave us the story.
Volunteers are the life blood of membership organizations. At NANPA and the NANPA Foundation, volunteers serve on committees, help plan conferences, present webinars, judge competitions and evaluate grant applications. Volunteers serve on the Board of Directors and play other key roles in keeping NANPA vibrant, relevant and growing.
This is the second of an occasional series of volunteer profiles, saluting those whose hard work, ideas, passion and commitment benefit NANPA and its members.
NANPA recently had the opportunity to ask NANPA volunteer Dawn Wilson a few questions about her volunteer experiences.
The National Wildlife Refuges were created to manage, conserve and restore fish, wildlife and plants and the ecosystems that sustain them.
Story and photographs by Jeff Parker
The National Parks have famously been called “America’s best idea”. I have visited many of our National Parks and they ARE awesome. However, I tend to think that our National Wildlife Refuges are “America’s Better Idea”.
New England Cable News report on a moose that drowned because it was frightened by excited tourists. (Screenshot)
Earlier in September, a moose drowned in Lake Champlain, Vermont, because of tourists. Not directly: people didn’t go up and kill it. Rather, it died as a result of what people did, or didn’t do. After swimming from the New York shore to Grand Isle, in the middle of the lake, the moose came ashore. Unfortunately, it came onto the island near a road and tourists, excited at the sight of a moose so close, got out of their cars and started snapping photos with their phones. Sadly, the commotion frightened the moose back in to the lake. Tired from its swim over from New York, the moose didn’t have enough energy left to cope with wind and waves and drowned shortly thereafter.