Monthly Archives

April 2009

Underwater Bubbles Rise to the Surface, Abstract Photo

Abstract, Galapagos Diaries

Today’s abstract photo, this time from the distant island of Darwin (aka, Culpepper) in the Galapagos.

A safety stop after a good dive in Galapagos is sort of like the aftermath of good sex: one drifts along lazily, quite relaxed, tuned out and somewhat befuddled, thinking “whoa, that was pretty good!” and wondering how long until one can do it again. On these safety stops I have at times nearly fallen asleep, in the zone watching a school of fish flit about in the water column picking particles of food, while the bubbles of the divers below me float idly upward and past me. One day the bubbles caught my eye. They form mushrooms, expanding as they rise due to changes in pressure, impossibly smooth on top and with a mirror-sheen, only to grow large enough that they become unstable and burst apart. Soon each of the broken pieces assumes its own mushroom shape and the cycle begins anew until the bubbles finally hit the surface. I shot some photos of these bubbles, including some with my friends and me reflected in the bubble-mirrors, but this is the one I found most appealing. Abstract #4 in a series of 15:

Bubbles rise from the depths of the ocean.  Black and white / grainy

Bubbles rise from the depths of the ocean. Black and white / grainy.
Image ID: 16445
Location: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Surf Grass and Underwater Motion, Abstract Photo

Abstract

Today’s abstract photo was photographed at San Clemente Island. Early one overcast, dark morning at the south end of the island, I found myself drifting along the reef about 30′ deep, over a huge expanse of surf grass. Given the dim light the exposures were long and blurry, so I was looking for subjects that lend themselves to blur. The surf grass was swaying back and forth as swells passed overhead — why not shoot the grass? I had just started shooting digital underwater and had an epiphany (which are few and far between in these parts): if I just look at the photo after I’ve taken it, I can make adjustments and take it again, better. So I did just that, using the histogram and the little LCD display of the image I had just taken to adjust things until the exposure was dialed in, trying for the longest exposure the light would allow (probably about 1/2 second). I sprayed a few hundred shots around the surf grass bed. Upon returning to the boat I found I had a few keepers. Abstract #3 in a series of 15:

Surf grass on the rocky reef -- appearing blurred in this time exposure -- is tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above.  San Clemente Island, Phyllospadix

Surf grass on the rocky reef — appearing blurred in this time exposure — is tossed back and forth by powerful ocean waves passing by above. San Clemente Island.
Image ID: 10237
Species: Surfgrass, Phyllospadix
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Sunlight in the Ocean, Abstract Photo

Abstract

Another abstract photo, sunlight piercing the ocean surface. I used to shoot a lot of this stuff when I was diving in the 90’s, killing time decompressing at the end of a dive. Note how elegantly the rays of the sun break apart and blend into the water. That is simply not attainable (yet) with digital cameras, which instead just blow the sun out into a ball with perhaps a few rough rays extending from the ball. This flaw, which I hope will be overcome in the next few generations of digital cameras, is one of the few weaknesses of digital cameras in underwater photography. Abstract #2 in a series of 15:

Water patterns

Water patterns.
Image ID: 03181

Infrared Joshua Tree National Park

Infrared, Joshua Tree, National Parks, Photography

I shot these this morning during a quick trip to Joshua Tree National Park. I was totally uninspired for “regular” photography this morning, and the light was not that great anyway due to high winds and dust from the night before. But the little pocket infrared camera made some interesting “alternative” images. Here are two that I kept:

Joshua tree, sunrise, infrared, Yucca brevifolia, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua tree, sunrise, infrared.
Image ID: 22888
Species: Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Unidentified yucca or agave, sunrise, infrared, Yucca brevifolia, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Unidentified yucca or agave, sunrise, infrared.
Image ID: 22889
Species: Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Abstract Photo of the Ocean Surface

Abstract

I have had good luck selling abstract photos the last few years. I just had another last week. Which got me pondering and ruminating (not a sight for the faint of heart). So without further ado, today begins a series of posts highlighting some of my favorite abstract images. Abstract #1 in a series of 15:

Abstract colors and water patterns on the ocean surface

Abstract colors and water patterns on the ocean surface.
Image ID: 20343

This was taken in La Jolla, before sunrise, with a 500mm lens, panning while keeping the shutter open.

Great White Shark Photo on National Geographic’s NG Channel

Great White Shark, Sharks, Wildlife

The National Geographic Channel recently produced the television documentary “Great White Odyssey”, and choose one of my great white shark photos (Carcharodon carcharias) to use as the main background to the web page publicizing the program. Here is a link to NG Channel’s page for the Great White Odyssey. The original image was made in September 2008 at Guadalupe Island, Mexico aboard my favorite dive and adventure boat, the Horizon out of San Diego.

I was fortunate to have another credit for the National Geographic Society (in the magazine) recently.

Background image by Phillip Colla, great white shark at Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Background image by Phillip Colla, great white shark at Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Great White Shark Photos

Great White Shark, Guadalupe Island, Icons, Mexico, Sharks, Wildlife

This great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) was photographed at Guadalupe Island, Mexico. I think I have made about 15 trips to the island, a mix of open-water diving trips and shark cage photography trips. I am hoping to get down there again for scuba diving, freediving and just plain exploration (no sharking or cages) with Skip in Summer 2010. More details about Skip’s return trip to the island will be sent out soon to those who have accompanied Skip and me on past trips to Guadalupe and elsewhere. See some past blog posts about Guadalupe Island if you are interested in the island.

A great white shark swims through the clear waters of Isla Guadalupe, far offshore of the Pacific Coast of Mexico's Baja California. Guadalupe Island is host to a concentration of large great white sharks, which visit the island to feed on pinnipeds and use it as a staging area before journeying farther into the Pacific ocean, Carcharodon carcharias, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

A great white shark swims through the clear waters of Isla Guadalupe, far offshore of the Pacific Coast of Mexico’s Baja California. Guadalupe Island is host to a concentration of large great white sharks, which visit the island to feed on pinnipeds and use it as a staging area before journeying farther into the Pacific ocean.
Image ID: 19465
Species: Great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico

More photos of great white sharks, Guadalupe Island photos.

Bald Eagle Catches a Fish, Alaska

Alaska, Bald Eagle

A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) pulls a fish from the water on the fly, leaving a splash in its wake. The fish can be seen in the eagle’s talons.

Bald eagle makes a splash while in flight as it takes a fish out of the water, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Bald eagle makes a splash while in flight as it takes a fish out of the water.
Image ID: 22584
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, USA

Curious how this photo was made? I used to wonder how photographers captured amazing images of predators taking prey. Naive, I know. As I gained experience and spoke with other photographers I learned that food is the key to photos like these. Naturally, most wildlife behavior involves the subject’s search for or acquisition of food. What viewers often don’t realize is that surprisingly many wildlife images are made when people provide food, or some suggestion of food, in order to attract the subject near enough for a photograph or to entice the animal to carry out some behavior. Some photographers and filmmakers have made their careers this way. In the case of bird photography, food is used in a high proportion of images since, in general, birds have no inate interest in being near people. I have heard comments suggesting that 90% of the bald eagle photographs appearing in print in recent years were made in Homer in winter, and after visiting Homer and seeing how photography works there I don’t doubt that statistic. Fundamentally, eagle photography in Homer is based on the fact that food is regularly provided to the birds, attracting them in great numbers and with surprising proximity. From what I understand, recorded bird calls are often used to attract certain bird species that are otherwise difficult to approach, although I have not seen or heard them used as far as I know. Spectacular photos of snowy owls and other raptors taken in snow are often created by photographers who place store-bought mice on the snow and photograph the birds as they swoop to take the mice. Analogous situation exist underwater as well, most notably with shark photography. Typically, sharks want nothing to do with people. However, judicious use of bait makes good shark photography possible. For instance, virtually all photographs of great white sharks involve some use of bait and/or chum, mine included.

Most members of the photography and natural history publishing community are aware of how bait is used in the production of photographs, and there are ethical conversations going on continually in the online photography forums about it. Some photographers are quite open about their use of bait to bring subjects close, sometimes publishing their secrets or teaching others in workshops, while other photographers keep quiet about it either out of embarassment or to maintain a competitive edge. Most pros and stock agencies indicate somewhere in the metadata that accompanies an image whether food was introduced in its making. Photo editors generally know as soon as they view an image whether there was baiting involved, but typically this information is not included with the photo when it appears in print. Some of the top publishers in the natural history world simply rule out from consideration any photos that involve manipulation or captivity of the animals pictured.

In the interest of disclosure, I note that the fish that the above-pictured eagle was pulling from the water was put their by us. We would toss frozen herring from our boat and watch as eagles descended from the trees along the water’s edge to swoop and scoop the fish.

Here is a short list of some other wildlife photography scenarios where the introduction of food is crucial to even having a subject to shoot.

You will note that I am really not offering much opinion about the practice of baiting, rather I am relating something about wildlife photography about which you may be unaware. It is good I have comments turned off in my blog because I might get a few zingers from photographers who don’t like the practice of baiting among photographers to be mentioned.

If you liked this image, see more bald eagle photos.

Photo of a Bald Eagle in Flight, Homer, Alaska

Alaska, Bald Eagle, Wildlife

See the new bald eagle photos.

This photo of a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is quite simply composed but was not quite so simple to execute. The wind was blowing steadily parallel to the sun angle which led to the eagles banking and circling in front of me. But often the underside of the wings were not fully illuminated, or worse, the bird’s gaze was directed a bit too far out of the frame. I’m happy I got one shot where the light, bird and focus all lined up nicely. And room for text as well. 🙂

Bald eagle in flight, wing spread, soaring, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle in flight, wing spread, soaring.
Image ID: 22604
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

A few more photos of bald eagles will be posted in coming days then onto something else!

Photo of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

California, Landscape, National Parks, Sierra Nevada, Yosemite

Half Dome is the one feature most closely associated with Yosemite National Park. A vast lobe of Mesozoic-era granodiorite magma cooled to rock, Half Dome was gradually uplifted to its present altitude of 8842 ft. As the rock was exposed, weathering and exfoliation of shell-like outer layers of the rock shaped the dome portion of the rock to its current shape. The summit is easily attainable as a day hike in the summer, if you have the stamina to undertake a 17-mile roundtrip hike with 5000 feet of elevation gain from the valley floor. To say that the view from the summit is worth the effort is an understatement. If you like this, please see more of my photos of Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome and storm clouds at sunset, viewed from Sentinel Bridge, Yosemite National Park, California

Half Dome and storm clouds at sunset, viewed from Sentinel Bridge.
Image ID: 22744
Location: Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

More stock photos of Yosemite National Park.