Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Photos in Review: Water

My 2010 was a year dominated by the power of water, from ocean waves to salt evaporation ponds, tidal zones to ice bergs and even the break down of my kitchen facet. You never really think about water until you are missing it. Today, 70.9% of the earth's surface is covered in water yet there are many areas in the world where people still struggle to find safe, clean drinking water. Would you like to help? http://www.charitywater.org/ Go ahead, visit the site & see what you can do... this blog will be here when you get back.

All done? Feels good to help out someone in need doesn't it? Well then, without further ado... My top 2010 photo picks.

Clashing Wanderers
Wandering Albatross, (Diomedea exulans)
Kaikoura, New Zealand
It might be the fault of the movie "The Rescuers" or the poem "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" but the Albatross has held a long lived fascination for me. I've been lucky enough to meet many albatross from Black-brows to Laysan, Shy to Black-footed and in January 2010 I met the king: The Wandering Albatross. With a wingspan of 8.5-12 feet, the Wanderer holds the record for largest wingspan of any living bird.

Wave Rider
Josh Loya, 3rd heat
Mavericks Surf Competition, Half Moon Bay, CA
Waves up to 50 feet feet dominated the competition. Even though my boat was outside the break zone we bobbed around like a cork which made photography challenging to say the least but worth every minute out there.

Tender Leviathan
Humpback Whale, (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Silver Bank, Dominican Republic
A safe place to raise a baby whale. I was amazed at how tender these incredible creatures were with their young. At one point I watched as a female cradled her calf in his flippers as any human might hug her child.

Badwater Sunset
Death Valley National Park, CA
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is at the lowest elevation in North America. With an average of 1.58 inches of precipitation a year you would think water doesn't play a large role in Death Valley, an you'd be wrong. Any rain that falls dissolves the salt in the lowest point of the valley. As the water evaporates, the salt crystals reform. Without this constant rebuilding, the salt flats at Badwater would eventually turn dark and weathered as they are at the Devil's Golf Course.
First Day Out
American Avocet, (Recurvirostra americana)
Palo Alto Baylands, CA
It might have been the first day out for this little guy and he explored his home in the tidal flats and pickleweed of the San Francisco Bay but really, this was my first day out with my new Nikon gear. After frustration with my Canon gear I finally made the switch to Nikon and this adorable little puff ball was the subject of my first day out.

Tufted Puffin, (Fratercula cirrhata)
St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands, Alaska
I had been hoping to get images of Puffin bringing fish to their burrow but the entire trip we saw none... until the very last day. I spent 3 hours glued to one burrow, waiting for mom & dad to bring home the bacon... errrrr fish and my patience was rewarded by a mouthful!

Beauty at the Beach
Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA
Another first for me... my first location shoot. Lucky for me I had a patient model willing to get her feet wet, a beautiful location, gorgeous weather and perhaps most importantly.... amazing assistants! I couldn't have done it without the help of Leonard Brzezinski and Jon & Victoria Bonney. Many hands make light (and a hell of a lot of fun) work! Thanks guys!

Cathedral at the End of the World
Lemaire Channel, Antarctica
The sheer grandeur of the landscape of Antarctica was overwhelming. Looking at a huge ice berg like this one and knowing that what we saw above the water was a mere 10% of what lurked below was humbling.

Out for a Stroll
Gentoo Penguin, (Pygoscelis papua ellsworthii)
I love all of the close images I was able to capture; the nests, the pebbles, the eggs, the fights, the cuddles, the thefts and the gifts but to me... this lone penguin marching across a sea of endless white snow epitomizes the isolation and starkness of this amazing continent.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

Top: Polar Bear and Tundra of the Arctic
Bottom: Antarctic Mountains and Gentoo Penguin

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Studio Time

Spent a lovely rainy day in the studio Saturday with Laura, an aspiring country singer. This was a warm up for a shoot she wants to do on the beach. Unfortunately for us we're heading right into the rainy season. Hope we get a weekend without rain soon!!

Big 'THANK YOU' to Leonard Brzezinski for helping me out with the shoot!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sometimes Repetition is Fun

Who knew that dropping water into a bowl over and over again could be so much fun?! I'm quickly becoming addicted! The only downside is the cats think I am leaving out the water for them... it's hard to get all of the little hairs off the surface of the water but even harder to clone them all out!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lighting the Bulb

With my culling project finally drawing to a close, I’ve been getting excited about starting to create new images. When my friend Mike suggested we join a photo walk put on by the “Renegades” I thought ‘Why not! Something completely different could be a lot of fun.’ And was it ever!!

The Albany Bulb was a former landfill area and is now a park with paths along the water front enjoyed by dog walkers, cyclists, artists, homeless, informal concert goers and even a production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The urban art is the biggest draw. A collection of rebar, driftwood, mural’s, graffiti, statues, paintings and other hidden treasure dot the landscape.

We arrived with plenty of time to explore and begin taking photos of the art before the sun went down. Yet… it wasn’t until the sun disappeared that the magic of the area became apparent. The vapor lights of the city gave the sky it’s orange glow and with flash lights in hand we set out to paint the area with light.

A recent lecture by Dave Black impressed upon me "If you want an image to be more interesting, only light part of it." And so after we worked the basic silhouette we started to go crazy. Pulling out color gels for our flash lights, setting our timers and running to all angles to throw light around. Most of it was trial and error with more images to trash but in the end we came away laughing with glee and a with few new and fun photos to add to our collections. I can't wait to go back and work the other statues in the area. There is way more than you can cover in just a few hours time but it sure was fun to try!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

California Coastal Cleanup Day - SATURDAY!

It's time for the 26th Annual Coastal Cleanup Day! This Saturday, September 25th from 9am - 12pm you've got the chance to participate in one of the 'largest garbage collection events in the world.' *Guinness Book of World Records 1993

Last year over 80,000 people volunteered their Saturday morning to take a walk on a beautiful beach and collect 1,300,000 pounds of debris. 14 MILLION pounds of debris have been collected since the cleanup's first day in 1985. 2009 Recap Report

There are a lot of sites that still need volunteers. You can find locations near you by clicking the links below. I'll be out on Stinson Beach in Marin if you'd like to join me! Many hands make light work so come spend a day on the beach helping out the oceans!!

California Coastal Commission
Marin County via the Bay Model
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Monday, September 20, 2010

Advice to new Photographers

The most common question I hear asked at lectures is "My son/daughter/niece/nephew/third-cousin-once-removed wants to be a photographer. Do you have any advice for how to get started?". And most times the advice is "Don't quite your day job."... Care for more advice? Read on!

1. Shoot every day. Sounds like a no-brainer but people often forget that in order to capture a great image you need to be so familiar with your equipment that control comes by second nature. The camera should be an extension of your eye, not a bunch of knobs & buttons you need to think about setting every time you see something pretty.

2. Don't jump on the band wagon and buy all the latest & greatest equipment. Find a kit you like & stick with it. Upgrade as things break rather than when the camera company launches something new & more money will stay in your pocket.

3. Study everything you can get your hands on. Books by the masters, websites, magazines, billboards, calendars, greeting cards. Make a note of what you like then deconstruct the image for composition, light and technique. Challenge yourself to think how you would shoot those images differently.

4. Get a business degree. Images don't sell themselves and anyone who thinks they are going to be able to spend all day taking photos while someone else markets them is delusional. A solid business background will give you the tools you need to succeed.

5. Don't be afraid to ask. Ask for internships, ask for critiques, ask people to shoot with you. The worst they can say is no.

6. Don't let one person's opinion get you down. Art is subjective. No one liked pointillism or the Rite of Spring when they were first introduced. Now they are both classics because people were brave enough not to let criticism get them down.

7. Cull mercilessly and do it early. Keep your portfolio tight and clean and easy to navigate. It's no fun trying to sort through 100,000 images looking for a half remembered photograph.

8. Never stop learning.

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Unending Bowl of Soup

It seems like I have an unending bowl of soup in front of me. The more progress I make with my "Great Cull of 2010", the more images I seem to discover.

To date I have eliminated 86,691 duplicate and substandard images from my image library. What is left is a healthy 10.7% of the original grouping. It's amazing how much easier it is to find the images I want, when I want them. I can't wait until I am finished... 23K left as of tonight.

And now I am off to dream of white sands and albatross, of soaring freely through blue skies to land on aqua seas far, far away from my computer screen. Tomorrow will be time enough to launch a fresh attack on this library of images.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Birds of St Paul: Tufted Puffin

Saving my favorite for last... The Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata). I'm not certain if he's my favorite because for the potential for bad hair days when the wind whips up the tufts or if it's because I've seen these guys so often off the coast of California. A quick trip under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading in the direction of the Farallon Islands will get you a nice view of these birds swimming just off Point Bonita.

Their size is comparable to a pigeon but they weigh twice as much. As with most birds in the Auk family, Tufted Puffin lay one egg and both parents are responsible for incubating the egg.

When it comes time to feed the young, Tufted Puffin excel at the task. The corner of the Puffin's bill is a fleshy membrane which allows the bird to open it's lower bill almost parallel to the top. This clamping action, combine with a series of backward pointing spines on their tongue and roof of mouth, allow the puffin to gather a great number of fish in one trip. They average 10 fish per trip but have been observed carrying up to 60!!

Tufted puffin were once hunted for food. Their tough hides were used to make parkas, the warm feathers worn toward the inside. Today they are a species of least concern with an estimated global population of 2,400,000 individuals.

Birds of St Paul: Horned Puffin

Last but not least, the real super stars of Saint Paul were the puffin: flying footballs that hurl through the air beating their wings at incredible speeds (300-400 beats per minute). Impressive in the air but they excel at flying under water.

At first glance the Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) looks much like it's Atlantic cousin (Fratercula arctica) with it's soft white face, candy corn beak and bright orange feet. Puffin are often referred to as the clowns of the sea because of their bright beaks and feet. A group of puffin is known as a "circus" or "improbability" of puffin.

On closer inspection the Horned Puffin is larger and lacks the Atlantic's distinctive band of blue on it's bill. It's named for the flashy black horn that extends upward from it's eye resembling a single eyelash. Rather than nest in burrows like the Atlantic Puffin, Horned Puffin prefer ready made rock crevices.

Atlantic Puffin
Height: 12.5 in
Weight: 13 oz
WingSpan: 21 in

Horned Puffin
Height: 15 in
Weight: 17 - 22.9 oz
Wing Span: 23 in

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Birds of St Paul: Crested Auklet

The third auklet species on St Paul and the most flamboyantly attired is the Crested Auklet (Aethia cristatella). The Crested breed on the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and prefer to spend their winters just off shore.

These auklets exhibit a behavior that is unique in birds. They rub each other with a citrus-like scent secreted in feathers on their back. This behavior is called alloanointing and while common in mammals, it has only been documents in Crested Auklets. It's thought that this behavior might help to ward off parasites.

The crested Auklet lays one egg and both parents help to incubate. They eat plankton and small crustaceans. A small pouch under the birds tongue helps them transport the plankton to their chicks.

Birds of St Paul: Parakeet Auklet

A step up in size from the Least Auklet is the Parakeet Auklet (Aethia psittacula). Pudgier and with a thicker, upturned bill, the Parakeet Auklet is no less entertaining than the Least Auklet. Unlike the Least Auklet, the Parakeet does not form large flocks either at sea or in breeding colonies.

Parakeet Auklets feed on jellyfish, krill and zooplankton. They breed on the islands in the Bering Sea but in winter they travel as far south as the California coast.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mammals of St Paul: Northern Fur Seal

The largest and perhaps the most intimidating mammal living on St. Paul (aside from humans) is the Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus). "Discovered" in the late 18th century, the Northern Fur Seal quickly became a prized catch for commercial hunters from the USA, Japan, Russia and the UK. With 300,000 hairs per square inch the seals pelts fetched a handsome price. For comparison, your average dog has approximately 60,000 hairs per square inch. Commercial hunting almost lead to the extinction of these seals by the late 19th century. Thanks to many treaties and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, these seals have rebounded to a population estimate of 1.1 million animals. This sounds like a lot until you consider the population was around 2.1 million in the 1950's. The population is now in decline even though the only legal hunting is done by native Aleut in a subsistence harvest. Between 1999-2003 the average annual harvest was 869 animals, all juvenile or sub-adult males. This number has dropped to 478 in 2007 and continues to remain low.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. The term “ harassment” means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance and they take this law very seriously on St Paul. Two viewing blinds are set up for people to observe the seals at two different rookery sites and visitors must be accompanied by officials.

The Northern Fur Seal was first named "sea-bear" which is related to their scientific name, ursinus, meaning "bear-like". As with other seal species, pups are born with black pelts earning them the nickname 'black coats'. Males grow up to 385-605 pounds and females range 66-110 pounds. Their natural predators are orca, great white shark and occasionally pups will fall victim to hungry foxes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Birds of St Paul: Least Auklet

The Least Auklet (Aethia pusilla) had me laughing almost constantly. They are tiny, twitchy, pushy, very vocal and they love to eat! In fact, they consume up to 86% of their body weight a day and never get fat. They are monogamous even though they nest in colonies. The least auklet will return to it's nesting site, remembering the exact location even if it's still covered in snow. Luck for the egg, mom and dad wait for the snow to melt before they actually lay their egg. They don't use nesting materials, any crevice will suffice so it's important for both parents to survive to keep the chick warm between feedings.

Birds of St Paul: Misc

Before I get to the stars of St. Paul, I'll mention a few of the other species our group encountered. I was so seabird crazy that I couldn't keep myself still long enough to capture good images of many of these birds, preferring instead to sit on the cliff edge with the puffin and auks. I'm glad that Alan Murphy was there to give these little guys the proper attention they deserved. Links on these birds below go to Alan's website.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)
Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus)

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
A group of researchers were marooned on St Paul with us for a few days as they were thwarted in their efforts to get to St George Island. They eventually made it after days of trying and will capture (and then release) these far-traveling birds to take blood, cloacal and choanal swabs to study for presence of avian flu.

Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) Caught somewhere between an albatross and a gull, this bird immediately captured my heart. They don't begin breeding until they are at least 8 years old and often not until they reach 10. Exceptionally long-lived, Fulmars banded in Scotland in 1951 as adults were still found to be breeding in 1990 setting their age around 50 years.

Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) Embarrassingly enough, these gulls are so large that after a week of working with tiny auklets, I mistook a gull on the beach for a large wading bird, thinking some heron had blown off course. From a distance I was certain it was the size of a black-crowned night heron. A peek through the binocs set me straight.

Birds of St Paul: Red-faced Cormorant

Cormorants have always fascinated me with their jeweled tones; the bright blue throat pouch of the Brandt's, the gleaming green eye of the Double-crested and the green-violet iridescent shimmer of the Pelagic's feathers. The family contains thirty-six species with world wide distribution.

The Red-faced cormorant (Phalacrocorax urile) is another jewel in family with his bright red face patch and beautiful feathers. Their North American range is restricted to coastal Alaska and they are far less gregarious than many of their cousins and are often shy of human approach.

We arrived too late in the season to see these beauties in full breeding plumage. I did not see any birds with white neck feathers but the eye patches on many were still strikingly red. Photographing these birds added a bit of a challenge for me personally. I'm terrified of heights and these birds love to be on high, precarious cliffs. Perched on a small shelf jutting out from the cliff face, leaning out to try and capture the portrait above was a personal challenge that I faced with grim determination. I could feel the cliff shake and move with the force of every large wave which crashed and broke on the shore below. I couldn't help but wonder how much longer the rock I was perched on would remain stuck to the wall. Lucky for me, everything held in place and I was able to beat a hasty retreat once I achieved my image.

A group of cormorants is often called a "sunning", a "gulp" or a "swim" of cormorants.

Birds of St Paul: Thick-billed Murre

The Thick-billed murre (aka Brunnich's Guillemot) is quite the diver. They can reach depths of up to 600 feet. I really hope that their diving is better than their landing skills as I witness murres slamming head first into walls on more than one occasion. Murres seem to be accomplished cliff divers. I watched in horror as one plummeted head first off a cliff, flapping his wings wildly only to complete a dive any Olympic judge would give a 9.5. He surfaced and paddled a short way before running across the surface of the ocean, flapping until he gained the air again.

A group of murres is called a "bazaar" or a "fragrance" of murres and I can attest that they certain are fragrant when they gather together.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mammals of St Paul: Reindeer

In 1911, twenty five Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) were introduced to St Paul Island in an attempt to breed an alternate food source. by 1921 the herd had swelled to 250 animals and by 1938 there were more than the island could sustain, over 2,000. Due to poor management, over grazing and harsh winters the herd was reduced to 8 individuals in the 1950. Lesson learned, 31 animals were brought back to St Paul from Nunivak Island. The herds are now managed by the USDA, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the local tribal authorities. A permit is required to hunt the reindeer and they are quite skittish as a result of the hunting. When the herd feels threatened they begin to circle just like pioneers in an old west wagon train.
Caribou meat is extremely lean and flavorful... I highly recommend giving it a try if you get a chance... just don't tell the kids you ate Rudolph or you might never be forgiven.

Birds of St Paul: Grey-crowned Rosy Finch

The bird which confounded me most was the Grey-crowned Rosy Finch. Even by the end of the trip I still couldn't get over the gigantic size of the bird. The Pribilof and Aleutian versions of this finch are nearly twice the size of their mainland cousins.

Their motto has to be "No Fear" as they would often buzz past at high speed before settling down to forage within arms reach. A true specialist in extreme living, this finch has the distinction of being the highest breeding bird in North America. When other bird have long ago sought cover or lower elevations to hide from winter storms, the Rosy finch can still be found navigating the blustery high winds and snow storms with apparent ease.