Monthly Archives

April 2011

Surfing Penguins

Falklands, Penguin, Southern Ocean

Last year I got to cross off one of my bucket list items: surfing penguins. I was fortunate to see surfing gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) on New Island in the Falkland Islands. After hiking around some of New Island for most of the afternoon, visiting a couple of penguin and cormorant rookeries, I found myself at sunset on a gorgeous, long flat sand beach. The light was warm and gold, there was no wind and it was warm enough to wear just a light sweatshirt. All the others on the M/V Polar Star had left to return to the ship and I had the beach to myself, with penguins coming ashore from their foraging excursions in small groups. The gentoo penguins would ride the waves in at top speed, skizzing** across the shallow water and quickly flipping upright to land on their feet. Quickly they would shuffle across the beach and walk up onto the adjacent hills to find their nests and settle in for the evening.

Gentoo penguin coming ashore, after foraging at sea, walking through ocean water as it wades onto a sand beach.  Adult gentoo penguins grow to be 30" and 19lb in size.  They feed on fish and crustaceans.  Gentoo penguins reside in colonies well inland from the ocean, often formed of a circular collection of stones gathered by the penguins, Pygoscelis papua, New Island

Gentoo penguin coming ashore, after foraging at sea, walking through ocean water as it wades onto a sand beach. Adult gentoo penguins grow to be 30″ and 19lb in size. They feed on fish and crustaceans. Gentoo penguins reside in colonies well inland from the ocean, often formed of a circular collection of stones gathered by the penguins.
Image ID: 23830
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: New Island, Falkland Islands, United Kingdom

**another invented word, my third this year. Skizzing is like “skimming” only much better.

Tortured Landscape, White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Arizona, White Pocket

White Pocket was the highight of our recent banzai trip to northern Arizona and southern Utah. A remote and spectacular setting in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument that includes such well-known landscapes as the Wave, North Coyote Buttes and Buckskin Gulch (thank you Bill Clinton!), White Pocket lies not far from the South Coyote Buttes management area in northern Arizona. Getting to White Pocket was half the fun, requiring several hours of offroading on very sandy dirt roads. Charly Moore of Overland Canyon Tours took us there. We had a great time, were well taken care of by Charly, and were even treated to some great light in the last hour before sunset which was a bonus since the most of the day had been overcast and drab. White Pocket is a tortured landscape, full of bent and twisted sandstone forms. Once ancient sand dunes that were buried over time, the sandstone was slowly compressed under great pressure. After millenia underground the rock has re-emerged in its present wonderful and varied form. It comprises some of the most interesting and beautiful scenery I have ever scene, and I look forward to returning to camp and spend a few days there in the future.

White Pocket, sandstone forms and colors are amazing, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

White Pocket, sandstone forms and colors are amazing.
Image ID: 26605
Location: White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona, USA

More White Pocket Arizona landscape photographs.

Horseshoe Bend and Colorado River

Arizona

Horseshoe Bend is a stunning 180° bend in the Colorado River which has eroded a dramatic, 1100-foot gorge below the surrounding mesa. It lies near Page, Arizona, Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell and is a short, easy hike from the highway to the precipice. Thankfully the personal injury attorneys have not yet made their mark on the place, for there are no ugly fences or intrusive signs reminding us of the obvious.

Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River makes a 180-degree turn at Horseshoe Bend. Here the river has eroded the Navajo sandstone for eons, digging a canyon 1100-feet deep, Page, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River makes a 180-degree turn at Horseshoe Bend. Here the river has eroded the Navajo sandstone for eons, digging a canyon 1100-feet deep.
Image ID: 26618
Location: Horseshoe Bend, Page, Arizona, USA

Horseshoe Bend photos.

Giant Kelpfish, Master of Camouflage

California, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

One of my favorite California fishes is the giant kelpfish (Heterostichus rostratus). Giant kelpfish are camouflage masters, blending into the brown and green kelp blades perfectly. Many times I have found myself hovering over a clump of kelp for a few minutes, not aware of a giant kelpfish only a foot or two away from me until it began to swim. As long as they remain stationary in the kelp, swaying back and forth with the kelp, they are nearly invisible. Cool fish!

A giant kelpfish swims over Southern sea palms and a kelp-covered reef, mimicing the color and pattern of the kelp leaves perfectly, camoflage, Heterostichus rostratus, San Clemente Island

A giant kelpfish swims over Southern sea palms and a kelp-covered reef, mimicing the color and pattern of the kelp leaves perfectly, camoflage.
Image ID: 25414
Species: Giant kelpfish, Southern Sea Palm, Heterostichus rostratus
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Giant kelpfish in kelp, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Giant kelpfish in kelp.
Image ID: 05142
Species: Giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Giant kelpfish in kelp, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Giant kelpfish in kelp.
Image ID: 05140
Species: Giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Standing Around Looking Cool

Antarctica, Penguin, Southern Ocean

These Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) in Antarctica seem unable to make up their minds which way to go. In fact, they are on a mission, walking from their nests on Paulet Island to the edge of the water, to swim out to sea and forage. I had earlier laid my camera down on the snow alongside the path there were following, and when the penguins strolled up I triggered the camera a few times from 50′ away with a $10 radio trigger I bought on Ebay. The seemed curious about the clicking sound coming from the strange and shiny black box laying on the snow, and stood around looking at it for a while. I made a few fun photos that way, including this one.

A group of Adelie penguins, on packed snow, Pygoscelis adeliae, Paulet Island

A group of Adelie penguins, on packed snow.
Image ID: 25021
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

California Sea Lion at Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Guadalupe Island, Sea Lion

I’ve been photographing California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) for about 20 years and still do not have the perfect image of one. They are a lot of fun to dive with, but are notoriously fickle about staying put and posing for the camera. In addition, the fur of a seal lion can at once absorb all the light my strobes put out and yet can reflect sunlight and produce hot spots in the image. So, I’ll just have to continue diving with them and trying to make more sea lion photographs. This photo is one of my favorites. It was taken at Isla Afuera at the south end of Guadalupe Island in the mid-90s on one of our 10-day exploratory diving trips. We dove all around the island, finding new underwater sites that had probably never been seen before except by fish, turtles and sharks. This was some years before the shark diving that has made the island so popular now. California sea lions and Guadalupe fur seals were our nearly-constant companions on these dives. Here, an inquisitive juvenile lines up alongside Lorna McMurray. This image was used as the frontispiece for the excellent National Geographic book “Wild Ocean” by Dr. Sylvia Earle and Henry Wolcott.

California sea lion and diver consider each other, underwater in the clear ocean water of Guadalupe Island, Zalophus californianus, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

California sea lion and diver consider each other, underwater in the clear ocean water of Guadalupe Island.
Image ID: 02251
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico

Milky Way Rising Over Hoodoos

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Utah

The first morning of my recent roadtrip around northern Arizona and southern Utah with a few old diving buddies found us at the Toadstool Hoodoos a few hours before dawn. Garry McCarthy is always thinking of ways to creatively photograph the night sky, and on this trip he suggested photographing the Milky Way above these hoodoos. Garry led us stumbling up the sandy wash that leads to these sandstone spires in pitch darkness. The trail is quite short and is physically easy, but I was half asleep and had no idea where I was relative to, well, anything, so I was grumbling a bit along the way. As it happens, we were just within the southern edge of Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, a place I had wanted to visit for years. Eventually Garry and Don, who had both been to the Toadstool Hoodoos before, announced “we’re here.” Huh? I was baffled, standing in the dark able to see only the dirt at my feet. After a while my eyes adjusted so that I could discern large forms jutting into the night sky. We used our tiny hiking headlamps to illuminate the surrounding sandstone relief. I then understood what Garry had envisioned and planned for: a sublime scene in which the Milky Way was arching over a family of sandstone spires, one taller than the rest. Wow! We spent 45 minutes photographing the view, experimenting with compositions and lighting before the approaching sunrise overwhelmed the pale light of our galaxy. The air was quite still and cold and the only sound to be heard was us fumbling around in the dark with our cameras and blinding one another with our lamps. Naturally, the occasional swear word was said but gradually we figured out what worked as far as exposure settings and lighting. When we first arrived at the hoodoos I had no sense of what the larger surrounding area was like but the location — a variety of hoodoos and tortuously eroded sandstone formations situated below the line of Rimrock Cliffs looking down on us from the north — was gradually revealed to us over the next 90 minutes as starlight gave way to clear skies and one of those keen, brilliant sunrises that one gets in the desert southwest. It was a great beginning to a productive and fun trip. If you like this image, please see my website devoted to my full collection of Landscape Astrophotography images.

The Milky Way rises in the sky above the Toadstool Hoodoos near the Paria Rimrocks.  Rimrock Hoodoos, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, Utah

The Milky Way rises in the sky above the Toadstool Hoodoos near the Paria Rimrocks. Rimrock Hoodoos.
Image ID: 26616
Location: Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA

As I used to do in the film days, I bracketed exposures as much as possible since it was difficult to judge the accuracy of such an extreme exposure with just the histograms on our cameras. Out of the many exposures I took I found two that I was happy with, including this one.

iPhone Panorama Photos

iPhone

Making Panoramic Photographs with the Apple iPhone 4

First, a Bit of Background…

I recently shared a fun roadtrip with some buddies for a bit of fresh air and landscape photography at a handful of iconic American Southwest locations. Each of us had the iPhone 4 so naturally we spent a fair bit of time monkeying around with the iPhone camera, photographing one another in mock-extreme action photography situations involving cliffs, canyons, and other dangers. We got to talking about how photography has changed over the last 25 years, both the gear and the industry. Now, if you have been a photographer for a while you’ve observed many stock photographers take on new roles as tour guides, travel agents, website designers and software instructors — a trend motivated in large part by severely declining licensing fees and an explosion of photographers who need help with their photographic pursuits. And you have also seen continuing development of both complex high end dSLR and exceedingly simple consumer gear — all capable of rending high quality imagery. So we figured we would try to concoct a little humor and formulate an April Fool’s announcement for the world’s first “iPhone Outdoor Adventure Photography Tour and Workshop”, brought to you by the “Institute for iPhone Photography”. We would, of course, be the workshop leaders and highly reknowned “Master iPhone Photographers.”

The notion was to offer a workshop specifically tailored for iPhone photographers, at some of the most amazing locales on Earth. Sunrise and sunset shoots would be coupled with insightful and informative — and incredibly brief — lectures. Steve Jobs would offer 30 seconds of technical guidance and encouragement on “How to Press the Button on Your iPhone’s Camera App.” A two-minute presentation “How to Build Your Brand and Market Your Photography Using Social Media on the Internet” would be given by Mark Zuckerberg, walking us through the iPhone’s Facebook App. Adobe would conduct an “Photoshop for the iPhone” technical session using the Photoshop Express App (3 minutes). A 45-second lecture on panoramic photography with the Autostitch App would be followed by a 60-second panel on timelapse photography using the Timelapse App. A discussion on geocoding your photographs on the iPhone was considered but canceled because there is nothing to do (its all done automagically by the iPhone as soon as the photo is taken).

The first problem with our feeble plan is that the iPhone’s photos are too darn good. Seriously. We cannot make a joke out of them. When used properly, the camera in the iPhone 4 produces publication-quality images in many situations. Have you seen DeWitt Jones’ iPhone photos on Facebook? If not, you should follow him because the images are great. It is a constant amazement that such fine images can be made with such a tiny and simple device. Plus, if you love Hawaii like I do, you will find DeWitt Jones’ images a real joy. Check them out.

Our second problem: we learned that there is at least one fellow offering iPhone Photography Workshops, teaching people to use simple iPhone apps to take snapshots and turn them into amazing photographs. Clearly, we are behind the power curve on this one.

Cut to the Chase…

So, no April Fools Day joke this year. (2009’s joke is still online, although I removed the comments so that the poor folks that fell for it remain anonymous.) So, what is the point of this post? It is simply to share with you a few iPhone panoramas that I’ve made recently, in the hope that the potential this phone offers is motivation for those of you who own one to get out there and use it. These panoramas were all shot with my iPhone 4 and were stitched in the iPhone with the $2.99 Autostitch Panorama app. The result is, in some cases, images that are sharp enough and have sufficient resolution that they can be printed quite large without uprezzing the image to get there. (I consider 20″x30″ “pretty big” for an image that originates from a phone.) Each of these thumbnails links through to a 2500 pixel version so that you can judge for yourself how this app stitches the separate frames together. (Also, keep in mind that if Autostitch produces artifacts or stitching errors, you can always restitch in Photoshop CS 5 “Photo Merge” with usually excellent results.) Autostitch does offer in-phone cropping, but in some instances I show the uncropped version so you can see how well the Autostitch app handles a series of handheld images that are poorly aligned due to photographer dizziness. It is an amazing app that, for $2.99, seems a real bargain. Combine it with the free Photoshop Express app, which allows you to fiddle with exposure, contrast, hue and saturation and a few other things, and the iPhone photographer has the ability to produce great photos “in-phone” and then share them with the world in seconds, all without using a dSLR or computer. Granted, you can probably find some flaws in all of these images if you pixel-peep closely enough. The point is, consider the potential this camera and these apps offer to produce reasonably large prints. It’s there, now.