Category

General

A Look Back at the Natural History Photography Blog

General

1000 blog posts and 9 blog years and 17 website years later…

I am a natural history photographer with a bias towards the ocean and marine-related subjects. I have one marketing channel: my own hand-coded, self-designed web site. In 1997 it was one of the first entirely database-driven, keyword-searchable stock photography sites on the web. I started licensing my images through my own web site in 1997 and eventually decided to start blogging in 2005. I wasn’t sure where the blogging experiment would lead but at the time it seemed like blogging might be a good way to bring attention to certain images and subjects in my stock photo library. Indeed it was: subjects about which I have blogged often become strong sellers. Today marks 1000 blog posts, and nearly 9 years, of blogging about my photography; it is a good time to look back at blog posts that track the significant themes that my photography has had over the last twenty years. Cheers and thank you very much for looking!

ANNUAL “BEST OF” COLLECTIONS

Since 2007, I have published an annual look back at my favorite images of the year. There are some good photos in this collection, and together these images give a sense of what I find exciting and what motivates me to shoot photographs. Click the photo of “Morning Barrel off Moonlight Beach” below to see more…

Breaking wave, Moonllght Beach, Encinitas, morning, barrel shaped surf, California
WILDLIFE

Over 200 blog posts have involved wildlife, some terrestrial, some avian and some underwater. I love photographing all wildlife, but life is short so when there is a choice I try to focus on certain animal subjects that: 1) breath air but live underwater, 2) can kill me, or 3) live in a place so harsh in which I would not survive for long. I’ve had many great days photographing wildlife, but perhaps the one that takes the cake was the day we managed to shoot underwater photos of three of the great whales species in a single day — I probably won’t experience that ever again! Click on the humorless brown bear to see more, but be warned that pages and pages of wildlife blog posts will follow…

Full grown, mature male coastal brown bear boar (grizzly bear) in sedge grass meadows, Ursus arctos, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Someday I will be a pilot and have the ability to shoot aerials on my own schedule. Until then, I am fortunate to get up in the air once in a while with a friend or by chartering an aircraft and shoot photographs from a bird’s eye view. There is nothing so exciting as seeing the world from above. Click on the aerial photo of San Diego Bay to see aerial photography blog posts.

San Diego Coronado Bridge, known locally as the Coronado Bridge, links San Diego with Coronado, California.  The bridge was completed in 1969 and was a toll bridge until 2002.  It is 2.1 miles long and reaches a height of 200 feet above San Diego Bay.  Coronado Island is to the left, and downtown San Diego is to the right in this view looking north
SAN DIEGO

I grew up in Newport Beach but, since 1982, I’ve made the San Diego area my home. Tracy and I are lucky to work, play and raise our family in such a beautiful place, one where many would be content to visit occasionally for vacation. It really is America’s finest city. I have tried to tap the wealth of San Diego’s photographic beauty, and have managed to license a steady stream of images of San Diego over the years. Click the photo to see San Diego blog posts.

San Diego city skyline, dusk, clearing storm clouds
BLUE WHALES

Blue whales are the most incredible creatures ever to inhabit Earth. I have seen many, well over a hundred underwater I think, over the 20 years I have been watching them, but have only come away with a handful of top images. A blue whale is incredibly difficult to photograph; its size makes it almost impossible to see in its entirety in the limited visibility the ocean affords. Twenty years of roaming far offshore have provided many frustrating days of fruitless or weak photography, lots of near misses, and a couple days of mind blowing encounters. It has been the costliest and yet most rewarding photographic pursuit of my life. Click the mug shot to see more blue whale blog posts.

Blue whale underwater closeup photo.  This picture of a blue whale, the largest animal ever to inhabit earth, shows it swimming through the open ocean, a rare underwater view.  Since the whale was approximately 80-90' long and just a few feet from the camera, an extremely wide lens was used to photograph the entire enormous whale, Balaenoptera musculus
NATIONAL PARKS OF THE AMERICAN WEST

National Parks are indeed “America’s Greatest Idea”. I photograph the icons as much as anyone and probably more than most, for good reason and unapologetically. Many of my national park posts of the last few years include night photography since I have combined the two pursuits for a while. Yosemite has a special places among national parks for us: my in-laws have a home just outside the south entrance to the park so we spend a lot of time there, and I have been hiking the high country around Yosemite since I was a kid and hope to continue until the day I cannot hike any more. Click the image of Unicorn Peak to see over 150 National Park blog posts.

Unicorn Peak at sunset, seen from Tuolumne Meadows.  Cockscomb Peak rises in the distance, Yosemite National Park, California
WAVES AND SURF

I am not a board surfer. The closest I will ever get is shooting these images. I love that brief moment when I am engulfed, the sun winks out and all I know is the hollow roaring sound of a big barrel closing around me.

Breaking wave, Ponto, South Carlsbad
UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY

I started as an “underwater photographer”. It was the first type of photography I pursued in earnest. It is so core to my photography that I don’t even have an underwater photography blog category — I guess I should start one or re-categorize some of my posts as “underwater photography”. I am just a photographer who happens to shoot some of my images under water. Having slacked off for about 10 years now, I will probably strap on a tank and resume serious diving and underwater photography efforts once both of my kids are grown and gone in five years or so.

Hawaiian spinner dolphin, resting herd swimming along reef, Stenella longirostris, Lanai
LANDSCAPE ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY

Shooting wide landscape photos at night — landscape astrophotography — is a lot of fun, and something I have pursued with increasing interest for the past ten years. Advances in cameras and optics, along with the fact that digital photography is now nearly idiot-proof, have made shooting fine images at night possible for everyone. I shoot a lot of variations of a given night scene, trying different things, and hope later that one will work when I review them on the computer screen (a strategy also known as “even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut”). The solitude and peacefulness of shooting at night is unmatched and much easier to attain than during the day, particularly at popular places. But with the number of tour groups now focusing on night photography, particularly in national parks, it may be necessary to range further afield in the coming years to recapture that feeling of solitude and distance that originally drew me to the pursuit.

Milky Way and Shooting Star over Delicate Arch, as stars cover the night sky, Arches National Park, Utah

A Note To Visitors

General

Please link to this website!

Do you like these photos? I hope so! I’ve gone to a lot of effort to not only take these photos but put them on the web for you and others to enjoy. If you like them, please consider linking to my web site. That’s right, make a link to my site (OceanLight.com) from your Facebook page, MySpace page, your Twitter account, your favorite internet community or from your school’s website. Linking to my site is a cost-free and effective way to support my photography efforts since your link will raise the visibility of my website and, hopefully, lead photo buyers to use my images in their publications. If you do link to my site, drop me a line and let me know. I’ll do my best to respond personally and say “thanks”.

If you want to link to my site, here is some HTML you can use. Just put your cursor in the box below, hit Control-A (“select all”), then Control-C (“copy”), and then paste it. Thanks!

Student Questions About My Photographs and Requests to Use My Images

Since this site was first published on the web in 1996, I have received many questions from students worldwide regarding my photos and the animal subjects I photograph. Regrettably, constraints on my time do not permit me to respond personally to all questions these days.

I also receive numerous requests from students and well-meaning organizations to use my images in school reports and on school or personal web sites. Please know that these images are costly to produce and I cannot give them away in high resolution form without a fee. However, you may use a printed copy of one of my images in your printed report, see below.

Printed Reports:

Students may use the images appearing on my site (OceanLight.com), in printed reports only for use in an elementary school, middle school or high school setting, provided that all three of the following conditions are met:

  • The image is not altered in any way. This means that the watermark credit embedded in the image (if there is one) remains intact. I hope you understand, the watermark embedded in the image really needs to be there. The reality of the internet is that if I don’t put my name in the image, people will use it without even mentioning me or the fact that I worked hard to produce the image.
  • The image is reproduced in printed form only. It may not be copied to another web site, emailed to others or stored on a computer server.
  • A link to my website (Oceanlight.com) is created on your Facebook or MySpace page, Twitter account or your school’s website, and a written acknowledgement is included in the report, with a statement like “Blue whale image copyright Phillip Colla / Oceanlight.com.” See above for how to make a link to my website.

If you are really curious about the copyright, you can see my Full Copyright Statement.

The Evolution of Oceanlight.com

General

Oceanlight.com is a natural history stock photography website that first appeared in 1998 as an exercise to learn what the world wide web and websites were, learn to write the HTML to bring a site into being, get it hosted and see if the world thought anything of it. Considerable thanks is owed to Mike Johnson, a good friend and skilled photographer with sublime images of pelagic animals and blue whales, who offered much early advice about the entire process. For the first few years, the only photos on Oceanlight.com that were worth looking at were blue whales (and even the descriptive “worth” is questionable). The pages were static and created either by hand or with primitive tools such as NetObjects Fusion.

As inbound links to Oceanlight.com began to accumulate and the resultant traffic (mostly from AltaVista and later Google) built, more images were added to the site and publishers began to contact me to license them, usually for use in editorial books, magazines and news publications. I realized that Oceanlight.com had become a defacto stock photography enterprise, and was actually one of the first of its kind for marine and natural history photographs on the web. I was represented by a couple small agencies but had to learn how to field requests and license images properly on my own. Sometime around the turn of the century, armed with about 1000 images and a need to search by keywords (open vocabulary) and hierarchical relationship (closed vocabulary), I decided to learn PHP and MySql in an effort to create what has now become a powerful, well-indexed and comprehensive online image search program. The result is so effective, in fact, that many of the subjects of which I have coverage now appear quite high in Google rankings. For example, Google “kelp forest photo“, “Guadalupe Island“, “blue whale photos” or “Carcharodon carcharias photos“; as of January 2005 (and October 2007, and June 2009), these all show up in the top 3 or 4 Google results, some of them via Gygis.com, a companion site of mine that is driven by the same self-authored PHP/MySql/search code. Alas, it is inevitable that as better photographers than I shoot these same subjects, my pages are bound to lose traction in the Google ranks. But at the same time my setup allows new subjects to quickly gain traction and show up in Google, e.g., Mobius Arch, The Wedge, Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. While there are exceptions, in general most of the animal and plant subjects for which I have coverage will appear on the first page of Google results when searched by their latin/scientific names, e.g., Zalophus photos, Corynactis photos, and often by their common names as well.

The last 6 years or so have seen an acceleration in the process of making photos, getting them on the web and in front of photo researchers and publishers, and licensing them. I am adding about 4000 new images to the library each year, using Canon digital cameras (Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III & II) with lenses like the 500 f/4, 400 f/5.6, 300 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, 16-35 f/2.8 II and 15mm fisheye (all killer lenses).

The image search, keywording and categorization aspects of the Oceanlight.com photo library are now highly automated and need little further work, so that as new images are added to the stock files they appear online with rich metadata in a few days, and are eventually indexed and have the potential to appear in Google search results rapidly. The addition of textual (non-image) content naturally requires more time. Some photographers hand-build individual pages for their subjects. I just don’t have the patience for this, so instead I use weblogging software to add new text content to the website. Currently, I use WordPress that I have customized in a number of ways. There are 650+ posts so far, as of June 2009.

At present, Oceanlight.com has a Google rank of 6 (update: looks like it just changed to 5, huh?) and receives about 5000 unique visitors (omitting robots and crawlers) each day. Sure, there are other measures of a web site’s traffic and relevance. However, I think Google’s opinion of my website is more important than anyone else’s, and counting the unique visitors to a site is a no brainer. These numbers are quite good for an individual photographer’s web site, and I think they are attributable primarily to smart use of metadata, longevity, inbound links from people who have found my site worthy, and simple HTML design. Note that I have never placed any advertising on my site, and probably never will. All the traffic is organic; I have never resorted to link exchanges or any of those get-ranked-quick gimmicks. By the way, I found a tool that can help one fine tune a website for SEO and web presence, and described it in a post entitled Post Up … Shoot … Score.

What?

General

Oceanlight.com is a natural history stock photography website that first appeared in 1998 as an exercise to learn what the world wide web and websites were, learn to write the HTML to bring a site into being, get it hosted and see if the world thought anything of it. Considerable thanks is owed to Mike Johnson, a good friend and skilled photographer with sublime images of pelagic animals and blue whales, who offered much early advice about the entire process. For the first few years, the only photos on Oceanlight.com that were worth looking at were blue whales (and even that is questionable). The pages were static and created either by hand or with primitive tools such as NetObjects Fusion.

As inbound links to Oceanlight.com began to accumulate and the resultant traffic (mostly from AltaVista and later Google) built, more images were added to the site and publishers began to contact me to license them, usually for use in editorial books, magazines and news publications. I realized that Oceanlight.com had become a defacto stock photography enterprise, and was actually one of the first of its kind for marine and natural history photographs on the web. I was represented by a couple small agencies but had to learn how to field requests and license images properly on my own. In mid-2002, armed with about 1000 images and a need to search by keywords (open vocabulary) and hierarchical relationship (closed vocabulary), I decided to learn PHP and MySql in an effort to create what has now become a powerful, well-indexed and comprehensive online image search feature. So powerful, in fact, that many of the subjects of which I have coverage now appear quite high in the Google rankings by virtue of the PHP/MySql code I wrote. For example, Google “kelp forest photo“, “Guadalupe Island“, “blue whale photos” or “Carcharodon carcharias photos“; as of January 2005 (and October 2007, and June 2009), these all show up in the top 3 or 4 Google results, some of them via Gygis.com, a companion site of mine that is driven by the same self-authored PHP/MySql/search code. Alas, it is inevitable that as better photographers than I shoot these same subjects, my pages are bound to lose traction in the Google ranks. But at the same time my setup allows new subjects to quickly gain traction and show up in Google, e.g., Mobius Arch, The Wedge, Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. While there are exceptions, in general most of the animal and plant subjects for which I have coverage will appear on the first page of Google results when searched by their latin/scientific names, e.g., Zalophus photos and often by their common names as well.

The last 6 years or so have seen an acceleration in the process of making photos, getting them on the web and in front of photo researchers and publishers, and licensing them. I am adding about 4000 new images to the library each year, using Canon digital cameras (Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III & II) with lenses like the 500 f/4, 400 f/5.6, 300 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, 16-35 f/2.8 II and 15mm fisheye (all killer lenses).

The image search, keywording and categorization aspects of the Oceanlight.com photo library are now highly automated and need little further work, so that as new images are added to the stock files they appear online with rich metadata in a few days, and are eventually indexed and have the potential to appear in Google search results rapidly. The addition of textual (non-image) content naturally requires more time. Some photographers hand-build individual pages for their subjects. I just don’t have the patience for this, so instead I use weblogging software to add new text content to the website. Currently, I use WordPress that I have customized in a number of ways. There are 650+ posts so far, as of June 2009.

At present, Oceanlight.com has a Google rank of 6 and receives about 5000 unique visitors (omitting robots and crawlers) each day. Sure, there are other measures of a web site’s traffic and relevance. However, I think Google’s opinion of my website is more important than anyone else’s, and counting the unique visitors to a site is a no brainer. These numbers are quite good for an individual photographer’s web site, and I think they are attributable primarily to smart use of metadata, longevity and simple HTML design.

Who?

General

Phillip Colla bio: I am a natural history photographer and writer. I focus on wild marine mammals, the California kelp forest, inhabitants of remote eastern Pacific islands, National Parks of the American West and, most recently, waves. I am fortunate to have visited many spectacular terrestrial and underwater settings as well as to have encountered a variety of threatened and endangered animal species on and in the ocean. My natural history photography has appeared in the pages of BBC Wildlife, National Wildlife, National Geographic Magazine, Ocean Realm, New York Times, Ranger Rick, Reader’s Digest and Skin Diver as well as many others, has been used in various advertising and publicity campaigns, is on display in aquaria and museums, and is occasionally recognized in photographic competitions. My underwater videography has been broadcast in various productions in the United States and abroad. My current plan is to shoot it all. Here are some “self portraits” I’ve shot out and about.

Click here for a list of my publication and broadcast credits.

The Milky Way galaxy arches over Arch Rock on a clear evening in Joshua Tree National Park

The Milky Way galaxy arches over Arch Rock on a clear evening in Joshua Tree National Park.
Image ID: 26792
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Delicate Arch and Milky Way, lit by quarter moon, hiker's flashlight and the fading blue sky one hour after sunset.  Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch and Milky Way, lit by quarter moon, hiker’s flashlight and the fading blue sky one hour after sunset. Arches National Park, Utah.
Image ID: 27855
Location: Arches National Park, Utah, USA

Photographer in the Virgin River Narrows, with flowing water, autumn cottonwood trees and towering red sandstone cliffs, Zion National Park, Utah

Photographer in the Virgin River Narrows, with flowing water, autumn cottonwood trees and towering red sandstone cliffs.
Image ID: 26130
Location: Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Bubble ring

Bubble ring.
Image ID: 06998

Bored photographer takes own picture, Tabletop, Cardiff by the Sea, California

Bored photographer takes own picture
Image ID: 18973
Location: Tabletop, Cardiff by the Sea, California, USA

The long shadow of a hiker lies on Mobius Arch, a natural stone arch in the Alabama Hills, Alabama Hills Recreational Area

The long shadow of a hiker lies on Mobius Arch, a natural stone arch in the Alabama Hills.
Image ID: 21733
Location: Alabama Hills Recreational Area, California, USA

Phillip and Tracy Colla

Phillip and Tracy Colla.
Image ID: 03469
Location: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Mesa Arch, Utah.  An exuberant hiker greets the dawning sun from atop Mesa Arch. Yup, that's me, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Utah. An exuberant hiker greets the dawning sun from atop Mesa Arch. Yup, that’s me.
Image ID: 18036
Location: Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA