Summer 2021 Issue
Summer 2021 Issue
Here are the articles you’ll find in the Summer 2021 issue of the
Journal of Wildlife Photography:
It’s an overcast day with a chill in the air as I walk down one of the few sandy beaches along the central Californian coastline. It’s early morning and the sun’s been up for half an hour or so, but the layer of ocean fog makes it so that the whole scene is just washed in gray with soft light. The winds persist from the last few days of storms with random gusts pushing at me and throwing sand in my face.
This particular area has a wide band of sand between the waves and the cliff line, where multimillion dollar houses sit, windows and patios open to this view. A low tide makes this beach even wider for the moment. A few people are out at this hour, getting their morning walks and jogs in before breakfast, but I know more will be out in a few short hours, and my window for photographing shorebirds will essentially close due to the activity.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot what someone could easily mistake as wave foam suddenly dart up the shore from the water to the high tide line — a small round shape, slightly bigger than a golf ball. Then I see it again, this time darting back down to the water’s edge. Foam does not do that! It appears to be a little bird…
Everyone loves a great predator image. A roaring lion, a howling wolf, a snarling bear — all different in where and how they are captured. However, all of these images have one thing in common: They are captured from a distance with some type of long lens. This is because there are rules for capturing images of land predators — and for good reason — so you do not end up getting hurt or killed by the animal. Don’t get me wrong; we all want to be as close as possible to our subjects. I know I do. We all wish we could capture images of them with a wide-angle lens, a mere few feet away — safely, of course — but sadly, we just can’t.
However, things are different in an underwater environment. There, you have no choice but to get close to everything you choose to photograph, including predatory species like sharks and orcas, and giant reptiles like anacondas and crocodiles. We need to get close to them. This is because the water creates a layer in front of our lenses that sometimes softens our images. As wildlife photographers seeking to share the best stories, we need to complement our text with crisp, colorful pictures of our subjects, and ideally ones that fill the frame.
The label “gentle giant” is almost a cliché, and much overused. But if any animal truly qualifies for that moniker, I’d have to put the mountain gorilla first in that category. An adult silverback gorilla could quite easily take your head in one hand and your neck in the other and cleanly separate the two, but that he doesn’t may give you some conception of both the power and the gentleness of this, the world’s largest primate. They do, however, routinely break bamboo stalks the thickness of 2x4s into two, and on a gorilla trek, you might watch a gorilla do so from just a few yards away.
With most large mammals, being that close wouldn’t be very wise, but on a mountain gorilla trek, you are perfectly safe while often being no more than 20-odd feet away. Some visitors might have some initial trepidation — after all, you might be treated to having a 450-pound ape brush right past you on your very first encounter (that happened to me). Those reservations soon vanish, and most everyone feels not only safe but also decidedly privileged to be in the presence of these incredible animals.
Many consider their time with the mountain gorillas to be the most profound and moving, the most humbling and exciting, wildlife encounter of their life. And, unlike some wildlife tourism or…
Each step plunges me several feet into the snow. One foot not quite in front of the other, my snowshoes accumulate great mounds of white that add to the weight of the burden. Never mind the 30 pounds of gear strapped to my back. That’s the easy part. It’s the high steps, knees to chest, hoisting an extra 10 pounds of snow on each foot above the surface of the crust that guarantee a mighty workout.
Temperatures plummeted overnight. Driving here in the dark, my vehicle’s thermometer reads -24°F (-31°C). This is cold. Bone-chilling cold. The type that makes the contents of your nose and sinus cavity freeze up. The type that made the little chip in my windshield turn into a sprawling four-foot crack while I slept.
I’ve experienced worse, though. Once in Yellowstone, while working on a PBS show, I found myself in -57°F. Nothing worked. Not my joints, not my muscles, or my camera equipment. The viewfinder went on strike, and the LCD was more like LSD at a Pink Floyd concert.
It was a pointless day that resulted in little more than stage-three frostbite that still bothers a couple of fingers on my left hand in the…
As a nature photographer, I have many approaches to a day out with the camera. Some days, I go out without a plan or intent and wander where the light brings me. Many great photographs and surprises can be found that way. Other times, I am struck with a desire to create a very specific photo. With wildlife that do as they please, this can seem an impossible task. However, by understanding their seasons and behaviors, and through careful planning, I can execute a precise vision like this.
There are few moments captured and told through photography that pull a viewer’s heartstrings more than a mother with her young. One winter, with the days growing warmer, a muse lodged in my mind of creating a photograph illustrating a mother shorebird with her chicks. A desire to escape the snow of the northeastern United States and put my feet in warm soft sand may have played a small part. In any case, the feeling stuck and I had to create it.
Browse the shelves of any well-stocked library or bookstore and you will encounter a plethora of books about photographic composition. Most of these books deal with composition as it relates to landscapes, people, or pets. This is understandable; landscapes are immobile, so it’s possible to choose vantage points and compositions prior to the arrival of the best light, and photographers can generally pose people and pets or encourage them into engaging compositions.
Wildlife, by their very nature, are wild. They are mobile, elusive, and generally not posable, and at times, wildlife are dangerous. However, composition is just as applicable to wildlife as it is to other genres. Some of the same compositional techniques used in landscape photography can also apply to wildlife photography. We will cover some of them in this article. Other compositional techniques are more applicable to wildlife than other subjects, and we will cover these, also.
Some of the composition techniques are called rules, such as the Rule of Thirds and the Rule of Space. Most of us agree there are no “true” rules of composition; however, we will use the traditional names without quibbling about the nomenclature…
As I hung my hammock near the muddy banks of the Rupununi River, I thought back across the many months of preparation that had led to this moment. For nearly two years, I had dreamed about this expedition to search for and photograph rarely seen insects in the Kanuku Mountains, one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, located deep within the South American country of Guyana.
I paused after stowing away the last of my gear and peered up into the low roof of the abandoned Wapishanan hut in which I’d slung my hammock. Within the thatch, I was just able to make out the outline of an arrow and a worn macaw feather that had been anchored there by the previous tenant. It was a surreal sensation, and in that moment, the long days of travel by plane, truck, and boat began to fade away along with the last rays of the setting sun…
High-speed sync (HSS) flash allows us to use flash with fast shutter speeds in order to fill in shadows from bright but harsh natural light. In practice, employing HSS flash couldn’t be easier. Just click a button on the flash or set a function in our camera’s menu, and we’re set to go. Understanding HSS flash is another story.
In this article, I explain the basics of HSS flash and its benefits for the
nature photographer. Nonetheless, my larger goal is for you to gain a deeper comprehension of what is really going on behind the scenes.
Couldn’t we just keep it simple and learn how and when to turn on HSS flash? Of course, but I strongly believe that nailing down the technical side of nature photography is very important — not as an end goal but rather as the vehicle to using our gear to be creative and artistic in expressing our vision. Truly understanding HSS flash and the temporal concepts behind it will allow us to expand our flash skills in the future to freeze or blur motion as we incorporate flash even more into our photography.
THE SYNC SPEED
Every camera — film, DSLR, or mirrorless — has a sync speed. For film or DSLR cameras (or even mirrorless cameras if using the mechanical shutter), the sync speed is the shortest amount of time during which the entire sensor is exposed to light without being blocked by the shutter curtains…