Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 in Review

California Quail at Bruce's Ranch
2011 passed in a blur for me but one thing was crystal clear.  
Friendships, old and new, made each epic adventure more rich and rewarding.  
Death Valley Stars with Jim
Santa Cruz on an outing with Edie
From local California shoots with Bruce, Jim, Michael, Jaymi and Edie through two large expeditions, one to Svalbard with Paul and one to Africa for my Ethiopian Wolf Project with Will, none would have been as productive nor amazingly fun without my friends!  Thank you all for challenging me to be better, for your support and most of all for all the fun times!  I love you all and look forward to more adventures in the New Year!!
Midnight swim in Svalbard
Walrus basking

Paul tempting the iceberg

Underwater-eye view

Ethiopian Wolf Pup, Meggity Pack
Hunting Ethiopian Wolf

Morning in the Web Valley, Ethiopia

Check out their work via the links below. 
I promise you won't be disappointed!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Going Back to Ethiopia

For a long while I've been trying to give greater meaning and purpose to the images I create. I've donated work to organizations like the Marine Mammal Rescue & Rehabilitation Center to honor the volunteers who give so much and the SFBBO in support of avian science and research in the San Francisco bay area. While on Midway Atoll I took a photograph of garbage that washed ashore urging people to recycle which won a highly honored mention in the Natures Best Photography Competition and I've donated prints to the Marine Debris symposium. But I've wanted to do more.

Many of us cast about for our defining moments, for the perfect images to fill our portfolio, for the iconic image that defines us as a photographer or the perfect project to inspire us. I found my inspiration in Ethiopia this past spring.

A friend and volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center contacted me about the opportunity to travel to the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia with the premier canid researcher, Dr Claudio Sillero. I've always been shy of wildlife photography in Africa. The image that springs immediately to my mind is one of a pair of lions surrounded by five or more land rovers. This particular trip was something altogether different.

It was a hard trip, physically and mentally. I'd been struggling with plantar facitis for well over a year. Some days it was nearly impossible to stand but the opportunity to view such a remote and rugged land with the Dr Sillero was simply too good to pass up. So, I packed my bags an pushed through my pain. Frankly, there is no way I would have been able to complete the trek without my trusty steed Dama. The little ponies in Ethiopia are extremely strong and sure-footed and full of more than a little bit of personality.

The estimated 10k elevation turned into 14k. 3-5 miles a day turned into 13-16 miles. After some of the rides I had to cling to Damas saddle after dismounting for support until I could feel my knees again.

The sun was fierce but not as fierce as the wind. I learned the hard way why Ethiopians wear head scarves wrapped tightly around thier faces. The skin on my face dried, cracked and bled. One morning I awoke with horrible facial edema, I could barely open my eyes.

When we finally descended altitude at the end of the trip, I had the worst nose bleed of my life. My hotel room looked like a scene from a teenage slasher movie.

Oh and did I mention the deisel truck that crashed and burned in front of us on the highway back to Addis Ababa, the only route we could take back to the city?

Through all of this I never once asked myself 'what the hell am I doing here'?

Who could have guessed that I would fall completely in love with the elusive and enigmatic Ethiopian Wolf? This was a project I could throw myself behind.

Everyone knows about jackals, hyenas and the beautiful African Wild dog but when you mention wolves in Africa you often get a surprised stare... The most endangered canine in Africa and the vast majority of people don't even know it exists.

And so I am going back, a bit better prepared for the challenges of working at high altitude than I was on the scouting trip. My goal is to capture stunning images of the wolves and the conservation group working to save them from extinction that can be used to reach a wide audience and advocate for the species.

Just as the skin on my face was able to heal, given the right opportunity and support the Ethiopian Wolf can recover. The tireless dedication of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program has smoothed the way for a government approved vaccination program that will allow the wolves to resist future outbreaks of rabies and canine distemper and recover in numbers.

Due to the isolation of the region it will be hard to get updates through but I hope to be able to post to our blog and twitter feed as often as possible so you can all follow the adventure.

Twitter http://twitter.com/EWproject

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, October 31, 2011

Back from Death Valley

Crescent Moon Setting Over Badwater

I'm just home from co-hosting a photo tour in Death Valley National Park.  It was a fabulous few days despite the fact I was recovering from a cold.  I went through a bottle and a half of Purell in an attempt to keep my cold to myself - fingers crossed I was successful.

While most of my time was spent setting camp, driving guests to locations, preparing meals and offering advice on what/how to capture the scenes unfolding in front of us, I did find time to capture a few images of my own.

I photographed the crescent moon setting while I waited for guests to return from the middle of the salt flats with Jim Goldstein.  One of the guests, Tom suggested we shoot this as a timelapse so in a few days I'll get that sequence together to share!  Thanks Tom!

Another of our guests was none other than Russell Brown.  Russell is the Senior Creative Director at Adobe and boy does he know the products inside and out!  One of our main desires in visiting the remote Racetrack Playa in Death Valley was the opportunity to photograph the stars with minimal light pollution.  Russell offered up one of his amazing scripts to help us composite our star trails.  It worked like a charm (even though my intervalometer stopped working one hour into a three hour shoot).  The script creates layers from multiple exposures, sets the blending mode and even gives you masks which make it super easy to get rid of pesky air planes from the night sky.  As someone who manually performed all of those tasks for her first star trail image... it took HOURS... I can tell you this script is worth it's weight in gold!! Visit http://www.russellbrown.com/ to get your copy of Dr. Brown’s Stack-A-Matic 2.2.3.

A warm thank you to the rest of the gang: Maurice, Dave and Glenn - you made it a wonderful trip despite the frigid desert night.  I hope you've all thawed out by now!!

Friday, October 7, 2011


Last Sunday was one of the most beautiful days I have ever had on the Pacific Ocean.  The sea was calm, barely a one foot swell even when the wind picked up later in the day.  We headed out to look for the Great White Sharks which are congregating near the Farallons at this time of year as they follow their favorite food, Sea Lions and elephant seals.
Calm Seas
We got skunked on the sharks but we did see a pod of Risso Dolphin (Grampus griseus).  The lack of shark activity gave me some free time to pull out a wide angle lens and play with the clouds.  Normally I am too focused on working the long lens as I chase images of the animals that live in this amazing area.  On our way home we found a weather buoy that had broken loose form it's anchorage and was drifting into the shipping lane.  A quick call to the Coast Guard found the contact info to report the errant buoy and it should be back where it belongs by now.
Pod of Risso Dolphin in front of the Farallon Islands

Farallon Islands also called the Devil's Teeth

An errant weather buoy

The Golden Gate welcomed us home

Alcatraz Island

Recent Press

It's been a crazy busy year but some of that work is paying off in the media.  Fun!
You can click the links below to view the articles.

Planet Green: "Awesome Arachnids"

The Sun:  "Fighting for Survival: Polar Bears in the Wild"

TreeHugger: "Wolves in Ethiopia Disappearing Thanks to Domestic Dog Diseases"

The Telegraph: Picture of the Day October 6, 2011

The Daily Mail: "Leap of Faith"

The Venice Patch: "Archnophilia Crawls into G2 Gallery"

Monday, September 12, 2011

2011 Coastal Cleanup Day

It's that time of year again
Our beaches and waterways need your help for 
Coastal Cleanup Day

Saturday, Sept 17, 2011
9am to Noon

If you're looking for a spot that needs extra hands check out the websites below.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Back Lit


The one thing you can always count on in nature photography is that your subject won't care if they give you the wrong angle for the light.  We found this bear on a recent seal kill but the sun was shining from behind him but not far enough behind him to work with rim light.  We couldn't safely get on shore and move to a better angle so instead, I just choose to go in tight.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Mother’s Daughter

I am my mother’s daughter.  As I scoured the trapper’s camp for good angles on the long abandon rowboats and food cashes, I suddenly found myself drawn to the midden heap.  Ok, it was really the dump or garbage pile but midden heap sounds much more historical and less icky so I’m sticking with it.  I was reminded of walks through the woods with my mother, finding little cabins long abandon and searching for hidden treasures.  A maple syrup tap was one of our greatest finds and I can still see it held high in my mother’s triumphant hand today.  

I held up a rusted key from a tin of sardines, square nails, a rusted fork and a wine bottle with a hand carved stopper.  I can just imagine the trapper on a cold winter night, carving that stopper after his sardine meal.  Saving the last bit of wine for another night.  No Internet, no TV, no Twitter or Facebook.  Just a man and the elements.
Remains of a meal
Unlike my mother, and after hearing the sage words from Paul, “You can’t steal history”, I left my pile of treasures where I found them.  As an historic site I’m certain it will see many more visitors over the years.  You never know, there might be someone else who likes garbage as much as I do and these items will be there for them to explore.
Were these discharged at a threatening polar bear or simply to dispatch a reindeer for dinner?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Quick Field Outing

Caitlin gently lifts the new-born from the nest
Caitlin shows off the newly-born plover chick
I'll get back to Svalbard next week but wanted to share a couple of shots from a quick field outing with biologist,

The second sibling emerges
Jaymi Heimbuch, a talented writer for TreeHugger (Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch), away from her warm bed at an ungodly hour to accompany me to the plover breeding grounds near Hayward, California.  We caught up with Caitlin and headed into the restricted reserve in search of

A quick check to make certain mom is watching before putting the newly banded chick back with it's sibling. Snowy Plovers are perfectly camouflaged on the salt ponds.  Do you see the nest with the second chick beginning to hatch?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Getting the Shot in the Field

It was late in the night with a strong wind kicking up when we pulled into the tiny protected harbor.  Through the fog and rain we could just make out the trappers cabin and abandon boats on shore.  We were headed back to Longyearbyen and so we knew that if the weather broke we would have only a short while on land in this location that was rich with photographic subjects. I packed my bag that night, trading out long lenses for shorter wide-angles, a flash, my filters and other accessories.  
Historic Trapper's Site

Early that morning the weather broke and gave us some dramatic storm light on the scene so we sprang into action.  Meg, Paul, Steve and I headed to shore and split in different directions, pulled by our differing perspectives. 

Straight shot of oil drum
I found myself drawn to this old oil drum that had been cut open and apparently used to catch fresh rain water.  It was in the shade of the hut and the sky was bright, a straight shot wasn't going to cut it.  Sure, I could shoot for the middle of this scene and spend hours dodging and burning in Photoshop to "fix" it or I could shoot multiple exposures and blend them but who wants to spend all that time in front of the computer?

Same shot with flash and ND filters applied

Instead I pulled out my flash and set it up off-camera to the far left of the scene to illuminate the face of the barrel.  I then pulled out my trusty Singh-Ray filters and choose my soft edge, 2-stop graduated ND to hold back the light from the sky putting my flashed foreground in balance with the sunlit scene in the background.

We only had an hour in a location where I could have spent days, but I made the most of my time here simply because I was prepared to take advantage of the opportunities.  A few moments of planning the night before and knowing what equipment to use allowed me to capture the image I wanted in less than two minutes set-up time and saved me headache and frustration at home on the computer. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Death and Life

Remains of the fin whale viewed underwater

Two years ago a fin whale died and washed up near Holmiabukta.  It's rumored that a film crew dragged the carcass to it's final resting place inside the cove which is a favorite anchorage for small boats seeking refuge from stormy weather.

Perfect free-diving form

For the past two years this whale has attracted polar bears from far and wide.  We arrived in Holmiabukta Cove after the thaw while there was still snow on the ground.  We were treated to multiple bear cycling through, diving for the remaining tidbits of meat and blubber. It was such a treat to see so many healthy, well fed bear.  From the death of one whale comes a whole lot of good living for many polar bear.

Bear chews on a piece of flesh from the whale
The low tide exposes the fin whale vertebra and makes it easier for the bear to reach the remaining meat  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Grease Ice

Delicate patterns emerge from the formation of grease ice

The 4-stroke engine of the zodiac purrs quietly as we glide through the crystal clear waters of the protected fjord.  The temperature is dropping and I can hear the grease ice crunching against the hull, tiny chips skid away from the skiff as we cut a 3-foot wide swath.  Paul remarks “Who needs bread crumbs?!’ and indeed, the trail is very clear.  5 hours of driving the ice edge has yielded no bears even though we did find many sets of tracks.  The bearded seals are all on high alert, bolting into the water even before we get within a half-mile.  Skunked.  At least we know hot soup and cocoa are waiting for us on the boat when we return… where did we leave the boat again?

Our pathway broken through the new ice

Monday, August 1, 2011


"I must be crazy!!"
The thought passes quickly through my mind as a giant mouth closes around my camera dome port. This walrus is curious, rubbing his vibrissa against my camera as if to say ‘Let me spruce up for my close up’! Two of his friends become interested and tentatively push forward behind him.

At 1-2 tons, these sweet creatures can do some major damage so I’m glad that I’ve intrigued and not irritated these giants. I glance off to my left and see the guys are not so lucky. They’ve got a large amorous male who sees them as a threat to the female he is wooing. He charges, flashing his long white tusks and snorting and the guys head for the hills, deciding the better part of valor is to let him have his stretch of beach.

We are in survival suits, which protect against the 4 deg C water but offer little protection from a large angry walrus. I trip on a rock and quick as a wink find myself floating on my back, feet in the air, completely turtled. The suit is extremely buoyant and I fight to get my feet under me again. Advice comes from shore, ‘Just put your feet down, stand up!’ Easier said than done and revenge comes later when Paul trips and finds out for himself how well these suits float.
Revenge Shot "Just put your feet down!" Paul was a very good sport. ;0)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Back from 80 degrees North

creative commons: Mysid
I'm back from an amazing adventure in Svalbard.  22 days on a small sailboat exploring the fjords, glaciers, islands and ice floes that make this archipelago famous.  We were a crew of 6: Our fearless skipper Heinrich from Longyearbyen, the eternally sunny Pauline from Hong Kong (now living in Longyearbyen), the effervescent Meg from Australia, impish Steve from Seattle and the glue who held us all together, Paul also from Seattle.

We began in Longyearbyen, the largest of 4 settlements in the archipelago and sailed north, stopping at 79°N to visit former coal-town-turned-research-settlement, Ny-Ă…lesund.  From there we continued North along the coast until we eventually reached the northern pack ice.

The lack of trees and shrubs makes the landscape seem barren at first, nothing more than volcanic rock and shale, scoured clean by repeated glaciations from the tertiary times to present.  On closer inspection one begins to see life.  The landscape is dotted with tiny wildflowers, moss and lichen.  The sea is rich with crustaceans, mollusks and crabs.  All of which supports an incredible diverse group of birds, marine mammals and even some terrestrial mammals.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What's Meant To Be There


I love to photograph along the California coast.  There is nothing so relaxing as sitting and watching the waves break over the rocks and dance across the sand.  I can spend hours scouring the tide line and various tide pools looking for goodies like a pretty shell, a bit of seaweed or a nicely shaped bit of drift wood.  All too often I find trash which just doesn't belong. 

Beach clean up doesn't have to be limited to one day a year: California Coastal Clean Up Day
Individuals like Justin Rudd are organizing 30 minute beach clean ups once a month!  Organizations like Surfrider are getting involved as well.  Even more important to remember is you don't have to wait for an 'official' clean up day.  I try to be certain to have a bag with me every time I head out and I've noticed that people tend to pick up after themselves more often when they see someone actively cleaning the beach. 

Love our coast! Pick up some trash so we can enjoy what is meant to be there!