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 ┬áKong 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.

Digital vs Film or How I learned to stop worrying and love the SD Card

I came late to digital photography. I recall quite clearly telling someone with all the bravado stupidity of youth that I would never, ever go digital because it could not capture the nuances of color found in nature that film could easily render. Of course, at the time that was pretty much true. Early digital cameras that were in the realm of affordability were scandalously expensive and required a photographer pretty much toss their entire kit and buy a new one, plus a raft of cards and a powerful desktop computer to boot. Making the change was a big commitment. So I waited.

One of my last film-based trips was by last trip to Myanmar (Burma) in 2005. From here out I’ll use the more familiar name Burma, because it conjures up history, culture and the weight of its time as part of the vast British Empire and I just like the way it sounds.

So in December of 2005 I went to Burma, laden with 100 rolls of Fuji Velvia and Provia and shot the lot of them, pointing my camera at any old Buddha that got in my way plus a lot more besides. I loved the country, the people and the food. I vowed to return.

Shooting slide film requires you to be on the top of your game, photographically speaking, in order to get anything good. Your hand must be steady to be shooting ASA 50 film, your eye has to be sharp to edit all the distractions from the frame before you click the shutter. And exposure? Oh, yes. That has to be right on as well. Of course with digital, all of these considerations are basically moot. Need more light? Crank up that ISO! Got a bright spot in the corner? Crop that out in LightRoom! Exposure, oh just tweak that a bit in LightRoom too. Or take 3 dozen versions. Who cares, its just more bits! They don’t weigh a thing!

Which brings me to this. The top photograph here is one I shot, probably on Velvia, in 2005 then scanned.

BURMA, Sagaing. Soon U Ponya Shin Paya, Sagaing HillAn interesting image, but that light! It’s so weird! This is clearly caused by all the light reflecting off the turquoise blue-green walls but there was not that much that could be done to fix it (unless it were printed).

The same scene today, photographed on my Nikon D7100:


Of course I’m using a wider lens which has caused some distortion, but the colors are much cleaner after a few tweaks in LightRoom and it’s much easier to render the image as almost exactly what I saw in the viewfinder… which is after all what I’m after.

So 2003 me was dead wrong, and 2015 me has no problem admitting that.


Sneak Peek: Myanmar

Balloons at sunrise over Bagan, Myanmar.

I’ve been very remiss lately in posting updates and new images. Here are a few sneak peek images from my recent trip to Myanmar (Burma), a place I first visited back in 2005. A lot has changed there over the years, but the unique culture and stunning scenery remain very much intact. As I edit my images I’ll be posting stories and some technical tips for photographing in Southeast Asia.

Buddha in a 12th century temple, Bagan, Myanmar.

Woman smoking a cheroot,  Myanmar.

Nat spirits at Mount Popa, Myanmar.

Storm at Saunders Island, the Falkland Islands.

I’ve been really busy the past couple of weeks with family visiting, work and doing a whole lot of captioning for my agent. As a result I haven’t had much time to write up anything. But while adding keywords to a bunch of images from the Falklands, I came across these images of a fierce wind and rain/sleet storm that came up out of nowhere while we were visiting Saunders Island. As the trip was just getting started, this was the first time most of us had experienced the insane changeability of the weather in the Southern Latitudes.

Out of nowhere, a giant cloud appeared and the wind strengthened considerably.

Falkland Islands. Saunders Island. Tourists walk towards a coming storm.

It began picking up the sand and whipping it against our waterproof pants.

Falkland Islands. Saunders Island. Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua)

You can see the haze here, which I think was equal parts water and sand.


Some penguins hustled up to the safety of the colony while others took one look at the wind and just went back into the ocean.


Needless to say, my camera’s sensor needed a good cleaning that night.