Telephoto Lens Cap for Canon & Nikon Camera Lenses

Are you using flash; if not, why not?

flash photography
When I first picked up a camera, I did not even know what it meant when someone said, “the light has gone flat,” and I would not want to complicate it even more by using a flash!

When most of us started on our photographic journeys, we understood there was good light, bad light, and the “golden hour”, a very simplistic approach, yet incredibly limiting. Recently, I have been viewing through years of my work, and I cringed at how long I stayed in the space of “good light.” I yearn to go back and retake so many photographs with the light anywhere but over my shoulders!

Yes, I chat about light constantly, but light adds tone, mood, and atmosphere to an image. The direction of light, such as side lighting, gives depth to a subject, illuminates dust and smoke, and has a much more dramatic effect in a photograph. The most powerful tool a photographer can have is learning to see the light and knowing how to use it. Top professionals build an entire style around the way they use light.

A defining moment in my photography was when I purchased my first flash, slapped it on my camera, and tried to create the “WOW” factor I saw in the work of other photographers I greatly respected. I soon discovered it was not the additional light that mattered as much as the direction it was coming from, so my next purchase was triggers to take my flash off the camera. At first, I could almost faint with excitement by what I could create when working with off camera flash in tribal areas, but I found it was impossible to use when photographing wildlife. No longer satisfied with boring, over the shoulder light, I began positioning the Land Rover around the wildlife so they were illuminated by side or back light. Understanding the direction of lighting and the depth of impact it had on my images elevated me as a photographer.

Since I love to keep it simple, I soon began using these directional natural light techniques in all my images. I have now made being conscious of the light the driving force behind my photography. My approach is, if I have picked up my camera, I already find my subject fascinating; consciously thinking about the light first, gives more depth to an image than a surface impression of an exotic subject. However, natural light has its limitation, especially when shooting environmental portraits. If you are exposing correctly for the environment, the landscape, your subject is in, then your subject will go dark. No matter how good your camera is, it is impossible to capture the entire tonal range in this situation. This is where using a simple fill flash to lift the shadows can make or break your photograph. Yes, it is another piece of gear, and there is a little more technology involved, but it is simple, and it can be the difference between an incredible image or an unusable one.

Light shapes the way a viewer perceives the subject. It is the strongest tool to communicate your experience to your viewer. Being conscious of the light during the photographic process is the first step in creating more meaningful images as opposed to mindless snapshots.

Are you thinking consciously of light before clicking the shutter?

Are you using flash; if not, why not? Please share your comments below, so we may all benefit from your ideas.

Below are a couple of images, before and after, showing how significant using a little fill flash can have a huge impact on your photograph. The first set of images are of the exotic Gelada baboon found in the simians mountain. In the first image I did not use flash and the eyes are completely dark, which is the most important element for my viewer to connect with the subject. This could not have been corrected in post as the eyes are so dark there is no detail to retrieve even if you are shooting in Raw. Not only did the flash illuminate the eyes, but also revealed a hint of his, “red heart” that had been lost to the shadow cast from his long chin.

In the second set of  images I loved the way the back lighting was illuminating the head piece. By exposing correctly for the backlight my subjects face went completely dark, so I used a little fill flash. Although you can still make out some detail in the image without flash, the shadows are too dark and the image would not hold up by trying to lift them in post.

I also used fill flash in the image at the top of the page. The sky over the background of the Simiens mountains was stunning, which is what I exposed for, and used a little fill flash to light up my subject. Without flash, creating this image would have been impossible and an incredible opportunity to make a stunning photograph would have been lost!

 


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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BEHIND THE LENS – Hummingbirds at Sunset (or not)

 

I absolutely love backlight on any subject. Even hummingbirds, with their stunning colors, can make great subjects for backlit photos. Nonetheless, there are two big problems when trying to shoot tropical hummingbirds with backlight. First, they are found in the forest so the sun doesn’t really penetrate in great beams that provide that dreamy rim light we all love. And second, it’s usually cloudy, particularly right at sunset when the magic happens!

photography

green-crowned brilliants at sunset

Green-crowned Brilliants at Gesneriad flower, Costa Rica

Canon 5D, Tamron 80-200 mm zoom lens, tripod, cable release, 3 flashes, sunset background, orange gels on flashes, f/14, 1/200th, ISO 500


About 7 years ago, I decided to try to make my own sunset hummingbird shots by applying some pretty heavy variations to my standard multiple-flash hummingbird setups. Since I hadn’t been able to shoot hummingbirds this way with natural light, I tried to simulate what I thought hummingbirds would look like at sunset. The image above was the result, and I was pretty happy with it. The colors look right, and the rim light is good, though perhaps just a bit uneven.

Thought I liked the result, I was busy shooting other subjects and largely abandoned the multi-flash sunset technique until I went to Ecuador 3 years ago. I had a different sunset background but applied basically the same strategy, placing colored gels over my flashes to warm up the light. Just for fun, I decided to add a fourth flash (also with a colored gel) to give just a touch of fill to the front of the hummingbirds. Below are a few of the results from that brief session.


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Buff-tailed Coronets at native Canna flower, Ecuador

Canon 5DIII, Canon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 L IS zoom, Induro tripod and ballhead, cable release, 4 flashes, f/13, 1200th, ISO 400

booted racket-tails fight at a Canna flower in Ecuador

Booted Racket-tails at native Canna flower, Ecuador Canon 5DIII, Canon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 L IS zoom, Induro tripod and ballhead, cable release, 4 flashes, f/13, 1200th, ISO 400
Booted Racket-tails at native Canna flower, Ecuador

Canon 5DIII, Canon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 L IS zoom, Induro tripod and ballhead, cable release, 4 flashes, f/13, 1200th, ISO 400


Violet-tailed Sylph at native Canna flower, Ecuador Canon 5DIII, Canon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 L IS zoom, Induro tripod and ballhead, cable release, 4 flashes, f/13, 1200th, ISO 400


Recently, I had the chance to photograph perched hummingbirds right as the sun set in the highlands of Costa Rica. There was only about a 5 minute window to shoot with this amazing light. I set my exposure by spot-metering the background for the three shots below. I was working in manual exposure mode, so I made sure that the meter read about 2/3 stops darker than middle-tone. That would give me rich colors in the sky and would also protect highlights from blowing out if I was lucky enough to catch a shot with the birds’ wings out.

Magnificent hummingbirds as sun sets over cloud forest, Costa Rica  Canon 7DII, Sigma 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary zoom lens, handheld, f/6.3, 1/400th, ISO 400


Magnificent hummingbird as sun sets over cloud forest, Costa Rica

Canon 7DII, Sigma 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary zoom lens, handheld, f/6.3, 1/400th, ISO 400


Magnificent hummingbirds immediately before sun sets over cloud forest, Costa Rica.  Canon 1Dx, Canon 600 mm f/4 lens, tripod, f/5.6, 1/6400th, ISO 100


I was very happy with these images and was also pleased to see that my earlier sunset simulations were pretty good imitations of the real deal 🙂 I hope you’ve enjoyed this little post. Next time you see the sun setting, get out there and shoot some gorgeous backlight!
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING SUNSET HUMMINGBIRDS WITH FLASH

Use colored gels on your flashes
If using frontal flash as fill, keep the dosage low. The backlight should be stronger!
Think about lines for composition
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING SUNSET HUMMINGBIRDS WITH NATURAL LIGHT

Use a tripod (even I took 2 of the shots above handheld, a tripod would have made my life easier!)
Pre-focus on a predicted spot
Keep it simple but still look for compositional lines
Choose shutter speed to freeze or blur wings to taste
Shoot in burst mode
Use a lens hood
Be careful with your eyes!
Before sun hits the horizon, include only your subject with backlight
When the sun hits the horizon, start to include it in your picture

 


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About the author Gregory Basco

Like many nature photographers, I started my career doing something else. A political scientist by training, my research focused on the politics of the environment in Latin America. I researched environmental politics and ecotourism in Costa Rica and worked here for a number of years as a conservation professional, having first come to the country in 1992 as a Peace Corps volunteer. I now dedicate myself full-time to my own photography and my Costa Rica photo tour company. I work out of my home office in Costa Rica’s central highlands, where I live with my wife, twin boys, our dogs and cats, and various hummingbirds and songbirds that visit our backyard feeders. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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Turkana Festival; incredible tribes of Northern Kenya

Kenya safari

I have finally made it back to Kenya and hope to catch up on some post before my safari season kicks off in a few weeks. This past May I took a small group of photographers with me to the Turkana Festival and it was incredible this year! Whether you drop in by charter aircraft or take the adventurous drive across the Chalbi desert to this remote tribal region, your first view of Lake Turkana is magical. Known as the Northern Frontier, the Turkana Basin remains one of the most untouched tribal regions in Africa. Lake Turkana, also known as the Jade sea, straddles the Ethiopian border. The Omo River feeds Lake Turkana and the beautiful tribes along the Omo River continue down through this entire region.

Nowhere else in Africa, or in the world, do I know of an event where so many exotic, colorful tribes gather in one area. The Turkana festival was started as a way to unite the tribes as a community, and promote peace between them. As many as 14 different tribes/ethnic groups such as the Randille, Samburu, Turkana, Dassanach Gabra, Borana, El Molo, Konso, Sakure, Garee, and Waata will gather in a kaleidoscope of color, dressed in their most elaborate traditional clothing, beading, head ornaments, and paint made from the red ochre. Simultaneously, during the festival, the tribes will gather in their individual groups playing traditional instruments, singing, and dancing for hours at a time. There simply is no way to describe the sensory overload of colors and sounds; one must simply experience it to believe it.

We spent several days at the festival where we could freely photograph all the tribes, but I was also able to arrange special private visits to various villages and incredible photographic opportunities along the shoreline of the lake. I have been spending a lot more time up in this Northern Frontier region, building relationships with the tribes, as I used to spend a lot of time in the Omo, before it opened up and mass tourism came into the area. This area is still under-explored and raw. However, as I wrote for years about the Omo, this amazing remote tribal region is changing at lightening speed. Now is the best time to visit, while it is still special and before mass tourism and photography groups flood into this area along with all the modern changes soon to come when one of the largest wind power projects is complete.

Besides the festival, a highlight of our trip, we also visited two of Kenya’s premier wildlife reserves; namely Amboseli and Samburu. Africa is an incredible tapestry of ancient cultures, exotic wildlife, and dramatic ecosystems, which are mesmerizing for the eyes, mind, and soul. Only in Kenya am I able to offer such an incredible mix of both tribes and wildlife on a single safari. You can download a free copy of my ebook on Kenya to view photographs from all the locations we visited or join us for the Turkana Festival and Wildlife Safari in 2017 and capture your own incredible images.  Continue reading here


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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Using Nik Complete – Tonal Contrast Filter to Increase Drama in Skies and Clouds

As I stated previously, one of my favorite plugins for Photoshop is the Nik Software Complete Collection. Within that collection, the Tonal Contrast is one of my most-used filters for adding a bit of contrast to select ranges within the photograph. Without a doubt, it is used most frequently on punching up skies and specifically clouds. Normally, my goal is to maintain a realistic and believable photograph, with more definition in the clouds, which is generally how I remember the scene. Below is a little tutorial on how I effectively utilize this tool in this manner.

Beginning Image:
medicine lake

The Tonal Contrast filter is one of the last steps in my workflow. Before I use this filter, I adjust the global contrast, colors, saturation, and exposure. When adding contrast to an image, it is good to note that this sometimes has the effect of an increased of perceived saturation. If I know that I will be adding some contrast to the image, I tend to keep my saturation and vibrance sliders on the conservative side. When dealing with skies and clouds most of the contrast we want to affect will be in the highlight zone with some falling into the mid-tone zone. The majority of the adjustments will be made by tweaking those two sliders.

Too Much:
medicine lake

Too much and the image begins to turn into a watercolor on acid. Although, this maybe an effect that is pleasing to some, in most instances it can be taken too far. In this image I pumped up the highlight slider to around “60” and the mid-tone slider around “30”. The edges in the sky start to bleed out and cause some very defined lines. Since this result falls short of my goal, I am going to bring the settings down.

Just Right:photography

Here, I have brought my highlight contrast levels down to “19”, my mid-tone contrast settings are set around “5”, and my shadow settings are currently at “1”. Additionally, I have protected my highlights by using the shadows/highlight slider and bumping the highlights to about the half-way point. Here, the clouds have additional contrast, the rest of the scene has a tad more contrast, but nothing that would make it unrealistic. As I remember that day, there were some crazy clouds and weather going on, and now the end photo better brings out that experience.

Screenshot of the Final Settings:
camera settings

 


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MEET THE AUTHOR

While growing up, Derrald’s parents took him on several trips across the United States to numerous national parks. It was on these trips that Derrald grew a love for the outdoors which we wished to explore and share with others. Photography was a natural result, an endeavor that Derrald began at a young age and continued to explore in years to come.

While pursuing a Bachelors degree at Creighton University, he enrolled in all of the photography courses. With these courses he learned the fundamentals of chemical darkrooms, light, balance, and exposure. After college he continued to explore the art and develop his own technique and style and choose to focus on nature and scenic photography as his primary subjects, although he is not hesitant to point the lens at anything.

Amongst the images of majestic mountains and the crashing waves of the ocean, one can find photographs of the prairies, lakes, and wetlands of the American Great Plains and Midwest. Some of these images are the artist’s favorites as they show the expansive heartland of the United States and the subtle beauty of the area surrounding his home. Through the right balance of subject, composition, and light, Derrald strives to transport the viewer into the composition.

Derrald has won numerous awards and exhibited in several solo and group shows regionally. His work has also appeared in several regional and national magazines, calendars, websites, and postcards. He continues to live and work in Omaha with his family.

Visit Derrald’s website Journey Of Light Photography to read his other articles. His images may be ordered from his store.

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Green Violetear Hummingbird 4

 

Photography

Costa Rica, San Gerardo de Dota, Green violetear hummingbird (Colibri thalassinus) at Savegre Lodge

 

During my November visit to Costa Rica, I began my trip with several days of birding in the San Gerardo de Dota. While my main goal was to photograph a quetzal, I also spent time photographing hummingbirds by the lodge’s feeders. There were often dozens of hummingbirds darting back and forth, sometimes sharing the feeders, but other times heatedly pursuing each other over some imperceptible slight. This is one of my favorite photos of a green violetear hummingbird ruffling its tail feathers. I especially love the detail and iridescent colors in the feathers.

I created this image using my Canon EOS 7D Mark II camera bodyand Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II lens. I processed the RAW file using Adobe Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC 2015, and Nik Software’s Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter.


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MEET THE AUTHOR

Jon Cornforth photographing surf on the North Shore of OahuJon Cornforth photographing surf on the North Shore of OahuJon Cornforth is an award-winning wilderness photographer whose images have been recognized internationally for their masterful composition and incredible detail. He’s compelled to express the beauty of the natural world through his photography, traveling all year, challenging himself in new locations and documenting the unique creatures who live there. All of his images are captured in the wild. He believes in supporting environmental groups and raising awareness through photography. He lives in Seattle, WA with his wife, Daisy, daughters, Maddy and Chloe, and Boston terrier, Buni.

Click here to visit Jon’s website.

Cornforth Images are copyright protected. Cornforth Images are available to be licensed for a fee and can not be used without permission.

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Africa Calling

africa safari

I had no idea, when I wrote about becoming a nomad for a year, how such a risky decision would turn out. In the modern world, we are conditioned to play it safe, work a real job, buy a house, save our money, and travel the world when we retire. Living in such an environment makes the fear of taking risk, especially during midlife, a catastrophic roadblock. This is when it is vital to realize thousands of people jumped off the path of normalcy, and they have not ended up broke, living on the streets, with people passing by, spattering in disgust, that they should have kept their good paying job.

When I returned to the US, from East Africa, in early March, I found both of my parent’s health in serious decline. With all hands on deck, we had only six weeks to find a good assisted living environment and move them out of their home of 50 years. During these weeks, my father landed in the hospital again, my brother had ankle surgery, which put him out of commission for weeks, I fell and broke a rib hours before a speaking engagement, and the tidal waves seemed just to keep on coming. It took every moment of each day to sort through five decades of memories and handle all their affairs. Outside of my editorial deadlines, my business and life would have to be on hold, until the waters were calm.

Just when I thought I could catch my breath, two days after the big move, I received an unexpected call from my doctor notifying me there were abnormal asymmetrical findings on my mammogram, and I would need to come in for immediate testing. During the ultrasound, I could clearly see the masses at which they were looking. The fear that gripped me over those next seven days was debilitating, and gave me a holistic perspective of what fear really was. When I received the news they were only cysts I thought I would bounce right back, but the last two months had taken a huge emotional and physical toll; my spirits remained low. Four days later, I boarded a plane to Kenya, took my seat, and slept almost every moment during the back-to-back 10-hour flights.

Instinctively, as I was stepping onto the rich red soil of Kenya, a huge smile crept across my face. In that moment, I realized that when I am in Africa, I smile a little more and a little brighter. There is a bounce to my step and a burning passion in my spirit. I engage in sillier conversations with the friendly local people, and I live fully in the moment.

A few days after my return to Kenya, while I was in Samburu leading a safari, I received a text that my parent’s house had sold, and escrow would close by mid-July. My risky choice to live an alternative life without an address, flying by the seat of my pants, had just become a wise decision. My plan had been to stay at my parents for a few weeks in July/August and during November, but it was easy to change directions when I only had a few bags of stuff and my gear to worry about. I simply searched through Airbnb Nairobi and found many great options. At the end of my safari season, instead of returning to the US for a month, I will take off in the Landy on an adventurous scouting trip. I will argue that we need much less than we think we do in order to be happy.

During our safari, while standing amongst fourteen tribes, at the Turkana festival in Northern Kenya, I thought about the phrase, “living the dream”. Too many people believe that phrase represents a life without stress and financial worries, where you have the freedom to experience whatever it is you desire. This allows people to believe if they stay working in a soulless job long enough, they will finally put themselves in a position to, “Live the Dream.” However, this philosophy does not seem to work if most of your thoughts are dreaming about the life you wish to be living, instead of fully living the short life you were given.

These past few months have given new meaning to the term, “life is flying by.” I spent many hours out on the patio of our family home, reflecting on how fast one of the biggest chapters of my life had come to a close and what I wanted the rest of the book to look. I do not understand how life will turn out or where I will settle in 2017, as I have learned this alternative lifestyle is completely possible and seems to suit my gypsy spirit. What I know is that when I am behind my camera, out in the wildlife reserves or tribal areas of Africa, I am alive; I am living the dream. It is not a dream of financial freedom, without stress, hard work, or without continuous risk, but it is a life of experiencing what I once dreamed about for years. I have come to believe more in the philosophy that dreams do not work unless you do.

These are just the thoughts of a passionate, nomadic photographer, which you can easily dismiss, but let me ask you this –

Where do you want to see the footsteps of your life, when looking back through the images you have captured?


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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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TECHNIQUE – How I Photographed a Giant Earthworm!

photography

A couple of years ago, a photo of a giant earthworm discovered by scientists in eastern Ecuador went viral and stirred up a lot of debate about whether the photos were fake. They’re not.

Yes, you diehard fans of hyperthyroidal nematodes, giant earthworms exist! I had heard of them but had no idea they were this big until my photo tour group (which I was leading with help from my good friends Lucas Bustamante and Frank Pichardo) and I encountered one near Wild Sumaco Lodge in the Eastern Andes in Ecuador. We think it is probably a specimen of the rare Mariodrilus crassus but it may well be a new species.

We arrived to the lodge to two surprises which, fortuitously, led to our finding the giant earthworm. First, it was raining heavily throughout our drive to Sumaco. Second, upon arrival we found that a tree near the lodge had toppled onto the power lines, and the flaming tree trunk blocked our access to the lodge. Put together, those two things — pouring rain and flaming trees — were kind of a bummer. But, as we waited in our tour bus for the electric company to arrive to remove the tree, the rain let up, and we decided to take a little walk down the dirt road. Just like at your house, earthworms emerge after a good rain, and it’s no different in Ecuador except that the earthworms can grow to nearly 5 feet long! The one we found was only 2.5 feet long, so it must be a youngster.

nature

That’s Frank accessorizing. Earth tones are always a good choice — stylish, dude!

We immediately came upon a giant earthworm crossing the road and, after initially being a bit shocked (if earthworms are this big, what might the local wasps look like?!), we decided to grab a bucket (family-size mayo from the lodge restaurant) and keep a specimen to photograph later that afternoon. The rain let up, the power company removed the burning tree, and we checked in with all of our gear and our new buddy in a bucket.

Great, but how does one make an interesting photo of a big earthworm which is, after all, simply an oversized digestive tract capable of locomotion? We decided the way to go was to place the animal in its normal forest floor environment but tweaked to our liking. Cecropia trees are common rainforest trees, and the leaves are about a foot and half in diameter. A quickly constructed forest floor littered with Cecropia leaves would give an authentic sense of the giant earthworm’s habitat and also some sense of scale.

3_gb_1460472458624That’s Lucas wrangling our earthworm. Lucas was pretty cooperative as was the worm!

We decided to work with a wide angle lens and light the scene with two radio-controlled flashes, diffused with softboxes. I took some test shots with flash as both main light and fill and worked quickly as my goal was to get a couple of shots for myself while getting the lighting dialed in for the workshop clients. In 10 minutes we had our set, our earthworm model (I think of him as the Derek Zoolander of giant earthworms as he posed quite well but didn’t seem very intelligent), and our lighting. The clients came next, and they all got great shots of an unexpected subject!

Our client Sheldon got some really nice shots of our earthworm model.

Our client Sheldon got some really nice shots of our earthworm model.

In the end, we were pretty happy to have worked up some good shots of a bizarre but difficult subject and to have a provided a great surprise for our group. And what was it like handling this squirmy behemoth? Imagine picking up a slimy, oversized gummy worm, intermittently coated with rusty knight’s armor. Strange but not too bad 🙂
5_gb_1460472682481This was my favorite of the quick shots I took. I worked handheld, lying on the ground with the Canon 5DsR, the Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L IS lens, circular polarizer, Phottix radio transmitter, f/8, 1/100, ISO 640. All the light was from our diffused flashes, and I was quite pleased with the natural look we achieved.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and learned a little bit about improvisational studio techniques in the field. By the way, as soon as we wrapped our shoot, the giant earthworm was returned safely where we found him and is living happily ever after eating all manner of detritus on the rainforest floor near the Sumaco volcano in Ecuador.

MY ECUADOR WORKSHOP FOR 2017 IS ALREADY SOLD OUT. BUT, I HAVE SOME GREAT THINGS PLANNED FOR 2018, INCLUDING TWO NEW PLACES. IF YOU’RE INTERESTED IN JOINING ME IN ECUADOR IN 2018, PLEASE CONTACT ME!


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About the author Gregory Basco
Like many nature photographers, I started my career doing something else. A political scientist by training, my research focused on the politics of the environment in Latin America. I researched environmental politics and ecotourism in Costa Rica and worked here for a number of years as a conservation professional, having first come to the country in 1992 as a Peace Corps volunteer. I now dedicate myself full-time to my own photography and my Costa Rica photo tour company. I work out of my home office in Costa Rica’s central highlands, where I live with my wife, twin boys, our dogs and cats, and various hummingbirds and songbirds that visit our backyard feeders. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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A Photographer’s Life in the Bush – What A Week!

Well, you can say, “It has been one of those weeks.” Those wonderful, “African Rains”, of which everyone dreams and Toto sings, have made a huge mud pit of the Mara, and it is the dry season!! At one point in my life, I thought it would be amazing to tough out the mess during the raining season, with big cats in a downpour and dramatic skies, but after this past week, I am rethinking that one. It had been raining for days when I first arrived at Little Mara Bush Camp. That was ok, as I had just finished 3 weeks in Ethiopia and could do with some down time, using the Internet to catch up on tons of emails. My mobile office there has a great view along the river, with Hippos to keep me entertained.

Little Mara Bush Camp
hippos at play
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After a hot day, which dried the roads a bit, I would venture out for an afternoon drive in the Landy. That, in itself, driving through the African plains, is incredible! I just started using infrared photography, so I was only looking for elephants or giraffes along the mass savannas with dramatic skies. Sometimes, I can wander out from camp and find them the minute I pop out of the bush, so I was happy to stay close to camp for a few days. However, on the third day, one of my external drives crashed. Then, while I was backing-up my back up, my computer crashed, or so I thought. Actually, it was not charging and simply died from running out of battery – Thank God! Once I got that all sorted, I was ready to race across the Mara, the next morning, in search of lions (Rekero pride with cubs) and Cheetahs (either Malika or Armani and their cubs). Well, of course, that night, we were pounded again with those wonderful African rains, hard enough to seem like a stage 5 hurricane.

At that point, it was time to pull on my big girl pants, put on my big rubber boots, and get out there to kick some *** anyway. So I did just that, except… I got stuck only a few km from camp! My windows were down in anticipation of quickly coming upon some great wildlife action, but all I managed to do was annihilate everything inside the Landy with mud! Luckily, my buddies from Intrepid camp came by within a few minutes. I threw on my rubbers, jumped out, chained up, and they pulled me out. Then, we proceeded to the Talek river, which was way too high, but since the Intrepid driver made it, I followed. Water flew up over my bonnet, and I was too focused on getting across to notice the water coming in along my floor. Yep, a lot got wet that shouldn’t have. A few hours later, we could no longer cross that river, so the adventure continued slipping, sliding, and driving sideways across the marshy plains. Finally, we made it across Olare Orak River and back into camp!!!
getting rescued
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All part of the adventure in the search for the perfect image and stories for the rocking chair!!

Here are a just a few of the infrared images I recently captured in the Maasai Mara. Visit my Piper Mackay Photography Facebook page to see a few I shot in the Omo Valley. I have a lot to learn about this new medium, but I am very excited about it.

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Piper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries. Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund. She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at www.pipermackayphotography.com.

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Secret Beach Sunset 3

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During my recent visit to Maui to photograph humpback whales, I also put some effort into shooting landscapes. The weather was clear, blue sky for most of my trip, which is great for tourists, but not for landscape photos. I finally got lucky with some epic conditions the night that I took my buddy Patrick Kelley to this beautiful location. I have been to this spot, known as Secret Beach, many times over the years and several times this trip. It is located south of Makena and is a small and popular beach, especially for weddings, so it is always hard to get everyone out of the composition. (I digitally removed a couple that were sitting behind the rocks on the left.)

The beautiful sunset light was brief, but dramatic, and I especially like the reflected light in the wet sand. I created this image using my 36MP Sony a7R camera body with a Metabones Canon EF Lens to Sony lens adapter, Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS lens, and Singh-Ray 2-stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter. I processed the RAW file using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC 2015, and Nik Software’s Color Efex 4‘s White Neutralizer filter.


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MEET THE AUTHOR

Jon Cornforth photographing surf on the North Shore of OahuJon Cornforth photographing surf on the North Shore of OahuJon Cornforth is an award-winning wilderness photographer whose images have been recognized internationally for their masterful composition and incredible detail. He’s compelled to express the beauty of the natural world through his photography, traveling all year, challenging himself in new locations and documenting the unique creatures who live there. All of his images are captured in the wild. He believes in supporting environmental groups and raising awareness through photography. He lives in Seattle, WA with his wife, Daisy, daughters, Maddy and Chloe, and Boston terrier, Buni.

Click here to visit Jon’s website.

Cornforth Images are copyright protected. Cornforth Images are available to be licensed for a fee and can not be used without permission.

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BEHIND THE LENS – Lizard King

I’ll confess right off that I really love this image as I think I succeeded in making something nice and dramatic out of an animal that is not especially pretty and doesn’t really do much, the green iguana (Iguana iguana). In Costa Rica, there’s a pretty well-known restaurant where wild green iguanas hang out in the trees over a meandering river, and I stop there with many of my workshop groups as it’s a great place to get eye level with these interesting creatures. Plus the place has great ice cream cones!

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Green iguanas (Iguana iguana) often hang out together, dozing and eating leaves (they’re vegetarians). I liked the way these guys were stacked up, and when I saw one iguana begin to become active, I quickly shot at a wide open aperture with a telephoto lens for shallow depth of field as the “iguana king” surveyed his little domain 🙂

Here’s the thought process I went through while taking this photo.

First, in terms of gear, my 300 mm with a max. aperture of f2.8 was a great choice for me here because it allows for the shallow depth of field look that I love and it gives me a fast shutter speed when handholding. In this case, one sometimes stands on a bridge over the river while pineapple-laden trucks roll past. Your tripod might well end up as a bipod or monopod if you’re not careful!

Second, I needed to consider which camera to use. At the time of this picture, I had a full-frame Canon 5D and 1.6x sensor 40D. The latter body would give me more effective magnification at a given working distance but a small sensor body offers two disadvantages in this situation. First, larger sensors offer less depth-of-field (see here for a fantastic, thorough explanation of this phenomenon). Plus the image quality of the full-frame body is always nicer than that of a 1.6x sensor body in my opinion. The 40D did have better autofocus but in this situation, fast autofocus wasn’t an issue. So, 5D it was.

Third, I had my flash mounted. Did I want to use it? When I came upon this scene, I knew I’d want to shoot through some foreground iguanas. When shooting through a foreground object, flash tends to light it up, and that’s not what I wanted here. Fortunately, I had nice bright overcast light to work with, which was perfect.

Fourth, what about my settings? I knew I wanted to use f2.8 to get the shallowest possible depth of field for that dreamy deep forest look. Plus a fast aperture would help to get me a decent shutter speed. I decided that 1/200 was good enough as my lens has pretty good image stabilization, and I was able to rest my elbows on the bridge’s guardrail. That put me at ISO 320, which was just fine. I could have gone up more in ISO but even with the good high ISO performance of the full-frame 5D, I decided that it was better to keep the decent shutter speed I have and be able to produce an image with lower noise. The shutter speed/ISO noise tradeoff is always an important issue to consider.

Fifth, the composition here was key. There were a lot of iguanas! I walked around a bit until I saw this iguana lifting his head a bit while the others napped. I composed carefully to have the out of focus iguanas all contribute to making the main iguana really pop out, and I made sure to have the main iguana’s eye right by one of the thirds of the frame (the power points — see below). Composing according to the rule of thirds is not an ironclad rule, but I thought it would work well for this situation.

Sixth, to meter the scene, I decided to work in aperture priority and evaluative metering mode. Most of the tones in the scene were darker than the face of the main iguana. So, I knew that I would have to apply a bit of negative exposure compensation, in this case, -1/3 stop did the trick.

Seventh, from there I simply selected the autofocus point closest to the iguana’s eye and used that to autofocus. I have my autofocus on one of the back buttons of my camera, totally decoupled from the shutter button. Thus I was able to lock focus and recompose before snapping the shutter.

Lizard Photography

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and the thought process behind the image. Successful nature photography is all about previsualizing an image (even when shooting action or capturing a fleeting moment), analyzing the tradeoffs that your previsualized image entails, and then making choices. Hopefully this little article will give you some ideas for the next time that you’re out in the field photographing.


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About the author Gregory Basco
Like many nature photographers, I started my career doing something else. A political scientist by training, my research focused on the politics of the environment in Latin America. I researched environmental politics and ecotourism in Costa Rica and worked here for a number of years as a conservation professional, having first come to the country in 1992 as a Peace Corps volunteer. I now dedicate myself full-time to my own photography and my Costa Rica photo tour company. I work out of my home office in Costa Rica’s central highlands, where I live with my wife, twin boys, our dogs and cats, and various hummingbirds and songbirds that visit our backyard feeders. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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