destinations

Just add light

Greenland. East Greenland National Park. Kong Oscar Fjord. Antarctic Sound.Greenland. Northeast Greenland National Park. Kong Oscar Fjord.

It’s easy to get caught up in taking photographs of things. After all, that’s how your brain works. You look at things. Categorize things. Evaluate things. But making photographs is about capturing light.

You want to find good light, then take pictures of the things you find in that light. Here’s an example. These images are of the same grounded iceberg in  Kong Oscar Fjord in Northeast Greenland. The top image shows the flat, steely light we had right before our shore excursion.

The bottom image was taken just afterwards when the fog descended down and the snow began to fall. That light too might have seemed bad, but one thing living in San Francisco has given me is a lot of experience shooting in heavy fog.

So you let the fog be fog. You let it be dark. You let shapes emerge from it.

And you get a good picture.

My three favorite monkey photographs

Apropos of nothing at all, except that I just remembered how much I like photographing monkeys, here are three of my favorites.

Langur Monkey, Amber Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Langur Monkey and her baby, Amber Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Not all animals are comfortable making eye contact with humans. Some, like house cats, even actively avoid it. But monkeys don’t seem to mind one little bit.

Young Rhesus monkey, Monkey Temple, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Young Rhesus monkey, Monkey Temple, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Highly social creatures, they often watch what other monkeys are doing. This one has classic catch light in his eyes. I also like how the light is catching on all his long monkey face hair. I have another shot of this one where he bears a striking resemblance to Dubya, but that’s a different story.

Myanmar. Mt Popa. Rhesus macaque resting next to a temple guardian.

Myanmar. Mt Popa. Rhesus macaque resting next to a temple guardian.

This one I just absolutely adore. She looks at me so calmly, so evenly. The macaques on Mount Popa make a game out of terrorizing tourists into dropping their water bottles and snacks on the ground so they can swoop in and grab them. This one seems to have better things to do with her time.

Easy peasy: Iceland

Iceland. Vik i Myrdal. Black sand beach.

Black sand beach at Vik i Myrdal.

 

 

Seriously: how many times do I have to tell you people to go to Iceland?!

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I wish someone had found me several years ago, shook me by the shoulders and said, “Just go! Don’t worry about it! Don’t bother with those other places right now. Iceland!”

Your doubts, banished:

It’s so far!

No, actually it isn’t. It’s way closer than Europe. From Seattle it’s only a 7 hour flight. That’s scarcely longer than it takes to fly to NYC. And you do that without complaint. Well, maybe you don’t but I do. Suck it up, it’s not that long.

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It’s so expensive!

Well, yeah. But there are always ways around that. Take a clue from how the incoming passengers at the airport get dumped directly into a duty free shop that’s basically selling just alcohol. Stock up on some bracing (local hooch) Brennivin, pick up a bottle of wine. Or a 500cl of scotch. Liquor taxes are high there so buy duty free and don’t worry. Beers in a typical bar are nearly $10 each, so you won’t be having many of them. Then, stop by a supermarket and pick up sandwich fixings. Worried about keeping things refrigerated on the road? Don’t be. Surprisingly, they sell peanut butter there (most non-Americans find it disgusting), and jam does not need to be in the fridge if you’re going to be going through it pretty quickly. Hotels serve breakfast with the price of the room, make your own picnic lunches and just worry about dinner. See? Look at all the money you’ve saved.

 

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It’s so… lonely!

It is, but in a really wonderful way. It’s lonely in a wide-open-spaces way, not a “feels like a serial killer must be stalking me” kind of way, like some other places can (I’m looking at you, Hoh Rainforest)

Iceland. South Region. Lomagnupur.

 

Don’t they have erupting volcanoes?

Sure, they got volcanoes. But so does the West Coast of the US, and you never even think about those. Granted theirs are a bit more restive than ours, but that just adds some fun to the mix. They’re also incredibly well studied, not likely to blow up without warning.

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Do people speak English?

Yeah, they do. Better than you do actually, so prepare yourself. They also have a charming accent.

 

Is driving hard?

Well it is, but probably not for the reason you’re thinking. The landscape is so incredible, the scenery so breathtaking, that you do run the risk of running off the road if you’re not paying attention. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you want to go off road, you need to get a 4WD vehicle or the rental car company will have your head, so make sure to price that out as it will add more to the cost.

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Two final things to know:

The hot water smells like sulphur. That’s cause it just came from the ground and is, in fact, full of sulphur.

Yes, they really do sell minke whale and puffin in some Reykjavik restaurants. Please don’t buy either. The locals don’t eat it, and so these days it’s only served as a touristy gimmick you don’t want to encourage.

 

African Safari Research – choosing an outfitter

These are not wild giraffes

These are not wild giraffes

So I’ve mentioned before how I have one last “big” thing to take care of travel-wise: I’ve never been to Africa. So that is one of the things on my shortlist for 2015. Now, given that I am so very into photography, I want to find a safari that specializes in doing trips for photographers. This means: fewer people on the trip, only 3 people per land rover for better photo opportunities, dedicated locations for charging up laptops and camera batteries, and most importantly: a schedule that is crafted around the animals, not people’s normal waking hours. This means we’ll be getting up before dawn, coming back for a clean up and rest in the heat of the day, and heading back out in the late afternoon to evening, all to have more opportunities to see the animals out and about doing their thing.

I’ve not been doing a huge amount of research for this trip so far, aside from perusing some travel brochures and reading up a bit about the different destinations one can visit. The preparations for my visit to the Arctic and trying to get some overdue photo editing done was taking up a lot of my time.

While I was on that trip I met people who had been to Africa several times. Everyone talks about East Africa being the place to see sheer numbers of animals, and while that’s interesting, I’m really drawn t0 two things: elephants and big big cats.

So it seems like Botswana is a great place to get both of those things. One guy on my trip had lived in Southern Africa and suggested that if you want to see elephants, Botswana is the place to do it. There are also several people running photo safaris that specialize in predators in Botswana as well:

I’m actually planning this trip with a friend that I met on my Antarctic trip, a woman who is very interested in photography and more importantly interested in photographing nature red in tooth and claw, which is awesome! I want to see nature, damnit, not a sanitized disney version.

So after much studying of websites and checking itineraries and looking at dates and locations and prices (prices for this kind of trip don’t vary too widely, but for sanity’s sake I don’t want to spend more than $10K), we’ve decided on Wildlight. Yes, you can definitely get safaris cheaper than that, but remember: this is a special photo safari — the last thing I want to do is to be in range rover with a half-dozen tourists who are hot, tired and want their dinner so we have to go back to camp just when the light starts to get good.

So incredibly excited I can hardly stand it! It’s well over a year away, but booking in advance is awfully useful sometimes, especially to lock in a good deal and to make sure you get something at the best time of year for you.

Now, comes all the planning. Another new wardrobe of khaki pants and floppy brimmed hats to add to my collection of long johns and fleeces from the polar regions. I’m gonna need a bigger closet.

Sneak Peek: Svalbard!

I’ve just returned home from my most recent adventure, to the land of the midnight sun* in arctic Norway. I’m still editing pictures, but wanted to be able to share a few images from the trip. There are many more to come. We had fantastic weather, and saw a wide variety of wildlife.

Atlantic Puffins, Fjortende Julibukta, Svalbard, Norway

Atlantic Puffins, Fjortende Julibukta, Svalbard, Norway

We saw quite a lot of birds, but everyone’s favorite is always the puffin. I’d seen them before in Iceland, but I never really knew the way they hop around on these cliffs — it’s as if they don’t quite know how to walk, so just improvise something to get some forward locomotion. It’s adorable.

 

Rich tundra at Varsolbukta, Bellsund, Svalbard, Norway.

Rich tundra at Varsolbukta, Bellsund, Svalbard, Norway.

The tundra here at Vardsolbukta was incredibly rich and varied – several species of tiny flowering plants, mosses of a half a different shades of green, various lichens and such. The ground in places was like walking on pillows, the moss was so soft. It felt really strange. Things take forever to decompose in the arctic, so there are all sorts of bones and reindeer antlers, skeins of shed reindeer fur and various feathers lying around to be studied. It’s the kind of place you want to walk around bent over at the waist so you don’t miss anything.

Polar bear on the drift ice in the Hinlopen Strait, Svalbard, Norway.

Polar bear on the pack ice in the Hinlopen Strait, Svalbard, Norway.

And of course: a polar bear! The trip would not have been complete without one…. in the end we saw seven, a very unusual number. This one was particularly photogenic in the bright sunshine and sporting a healthy sleek coat.

There really is something incredibly special about seeing a huge predator like this in the wild. There is that little chest-tightening frisson of excitement the moment you spot it: ” *gasp* BEAR!” — even more exciting if the bridge has not announced its presence yet.

There are many more images to come, including some surprises — things I never would have expected to see on a trip like this.

*A note on the “midnight sun” — I’ve never really experienced this before. What it really is could best be described as: “noon all the time” — there is essentially no modulation in the strength of the sun at any time of day. If the sun is out its at the same height in the sky all the time. Most disconcerting. Bring an eye mask. A good one.

North to Adventure!

Longyearbyen

I’m leaving today for a very exciting trip to Svalbard, Norway — north of the Arctic circle, to travel around the islands and hopefully, hopefully see a polar bear in the wild. Bonus points for walrus, beluga and NARWAL! As you can see in the image above, I will not be seeing any night.

When I land in Longyearbyen, I will be north of the Arctic circle in the same year that I’ve traveled south of the Antarctic circle. I’d be crowing about my achievement, except now I know (at least) three others doing the same! Two are working on the expedition ships, and another is a passenger like me who’s traveling to the North Pole this summer.

North and South

I will definitely be posting as much as I can to instagram so please keep an eye out for that.