Artistic Intimacy

POINT PERSEVERANCE | MAINE

The formative years of my life were spent along Maine’s scenic coastline, just outside the state’s biggest city of Portland. Unlike most of the kids I knew, I didn’t watch TV. My days were spent outside. The greatness of summer wasn’t measured by how many times you visited the amusement park, but by how many hours outdoors you were able to cram into each day. By the time I reached second grade I was an aspiring naturalist. In the third grade my parents elected to begin educating me with a curriculum at home. This change allowed me to embrace my love of nature at a young age without the criticism I might have otherwise experienced from my peers. Such treatment could easily dissuaded me from my new found love. My parents decision was perhaps one of the greatest contributing factors influencing my young life, and helped form the person I am today. As a result of this change I had a lot more free time in my schedule. I capitalized on it by satiating my curiosity of the natural world. Some of my happiest memories involve the endless hours spent outside exploring during those years. I was keenly attuned to the native habitat and wildlife that made their home around me. I knew the identifiers that marked when the seasons would change and welcomed them with joy. This kind of knowledge is priceless. It cannot be read from a book or purchased, but must be acquired out of love for a particular region or subject. It’s the reward for a personal investment of time. I like to call this artistic intimacy.

FANTASIA | MAINE

Though my love of photography developed in high school while still living in the state, I was truly a novice and just learning the craft. The few images I have from my youth are contained in a small box of slides and a few dozen images scanned from 3.5 x 5 inch prints. For some time I’d been hoping to make a trip back to scout for a Maine photography workshop. Earlier this year I decided it was time to create the itinerary. As Fall approached I waited for the best Autumn colors to develop and soon was back in my beautiful home state of Maine.

DESCENT OF AUTUMN | MAINE

 The next seven days I was in absolute bliss. Fueled by a strong dose of adrenalin, I was on the road before sunrise until long after sunset each day. All my childhood memories of the area came flooding back. In an instant I remembered the secrets that were held in the forests and meadows here and eagerly rushed to create images of those locations. Knowing where the best light could be found and what weather systems would create beautiful atmospheric conditions was key in helping me create powerful images.

OPUS OF THE DAWN | MAINE

The ocean called to me too. More than any other place I find solace by the seaside. The sounds of the surf crashing on the rocks, rich aroma of tidal pools and the taste of salt on the breeze is unforgettable. During my trip I photographed the coastline at all times of day and in various types of weather. Some of my favorite shots of the coast came after sunset. On those nights I would stay long after dark and enjoy the sounds of the Maine coastline alone, lost in my thoughts. Those are moments I will cherish forever.

THE BEACON | MAINE

I was filled with inspiration every moment of my stay in Maine. At the conclusion of my scouting I announced my 2019 Maine workshop, within twenty four hours it was nearly sold out. As a professional who makes a living teaching nature photography, the time I spend out shooting for myself is actually quite limited. This trip however was the exception. Everywhere I went I photographed exactly what I wanted. I spent as much or as little time with each subject as I desired. My vast knowledge of the region paid huge dividends for me during this process. Over the course of that week I created a Maine portfolio I was delighted with. An intimate knowledge of your subject matter keeps the creative juices flowing and is obvious to others in your photographic work. We all have a distinct advantage when it comes to photographing the places we know and love, so go out and capitalize on that. Your back yard is only as boring as you allow it to be.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel

SURRENDER | MAINE

Life, Legacy and The Shadow of Death

Inspiration | Iceland

“Leukemia,” my doctor answered when I asked him to clarify specifically what he meant by eliminating anything ‘really scary’ from the possible cause of my symptoms. His words were followed by stunned silence as my wife Elizabeth and I tried to process the weight of that word. Leukemia is perhaps the most dreaded of all cancers. For those who have been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia the survival rate after five years is a mere 26%. Earlier in March of 2018 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a non-contagious, auto immune disease that attacks the digestive system. I’d also lost over 35 pounds in the past year without really trying. During the following weeks my blood labs showed my hemoglobin was below normal and that my blood platelet counts were dangerously low, and dropping steadily. Healthy platelet levels range between 150,000 – 400,000 per microliter, mine were at 32,000. Platelets are responsible for clotting your blood, so low levels make even a small cut a serious situation as significant blood loss can occur. In mid-May my hematologist recommended I take a high dose of steroids over four days in hopes of boosting my platelets into a normal range. The following week we met to discuss the results. They were far from what we’d hoped, my platelet levels had only increased to 48,000. It was on this day that my hematologist indicated the urgent need to eliminate Leukemia as the cause of my symptoms. I was scheduled for an emergency bone marrow biopsy two days later on May 24th.

For Whom The Bell Tolls | Iceland

WHISPERS IN THE DARK

From the day my doctor uttered the word ‘Leukemia’ my life was forever changed. Despite the absence of a confirmed diagnosis both Elizabeth and I were certain of the results long before we received them. It all made sense now, my platelets were low because with Leukemia I’d no longer be producing them. I went through a variety of emotions; disbelief, loneliness, anger, sadness and a host of others. At the same time all the typical, daily frustrations suddenly seemed so insignificant. The priorities of life rearranged themselves incredibly fast as my family and I struggled to grasp and accept this new reality. So often we take life for granted, there is an unwritten expectation of living well into our eighties. I wasn’t afraid of dying, however, the pain of knowing I’d not be able to be there for my wife and children crushed me. When I looked at the faces of my three sons I struggled not to weep. I’ve usually been very observant of my surroundings, but now when I went outdoors I took even greater notice of the trees and flowers, the warmth of the sun, the sounds of a bird singing and tried to soak up every single moment of my existence here. Over the following days Elizabeth and I had some very real conversations, the kind you never expect to have in your early forties. We discussed what a positive diagnosis would mean as far as where we lived for the next five years. All of my family lives in New England. Elizabeth and I decided it would be best to move back to Maine so that our four year old son Dimitri could develop a strong support network and be surrounded by my family members once I was gone. We’d been seriously considering a move back to the East Coast within the next five to ten years anyway, but my health was now accelerating this decision. We insulated our youngest from what we were discussing, however our two older sons (ages 15 and 13) knew all my symptoms were pointing towards some form of cancer. As a result we had to discuss all the possibilities of life and death with them as well. This was certainly the most difficult conversation we’d ever had and lots of tears were shed. Most of the time Elizabeth and I were stohic in front of our children in the face of this situation, but that conversation was the exception. Over the following week sleepless nights became almost common. Elizabeth and I frequently awoke in the middle of the night and cried in each others arms when the pain became too much to bear. We would sit up together for hours discussing everything from our favorite memories, to planning how to best position our family for a life without me.

The Solar Effect | New Zealand

LIFE AND PURPOSE

During one of our late night conversations Elizabeth asked me what I wanted to do with whatever time I had left on this earth. I’d had many hours to ponder that question over the past few days, so my answer was easily articulated. I said my primary focus would be on making wonderful memories with her and our three boys. Secondly, I already had four major photography workshops sold out for this year to Iceland, Alaska, Sedona and Africa, and if my health would allow I wanted to complete those trips with my clients. After that I’d see how effective the chemo treatments were before deciding whether I could continue my photography business in 2019. My third and final wish was to dedicate a concentrated effort into making the world a better place as long as I had the strength to do so. My plan is to donate any spare time I have teaching nature photography and sharing presentations of my images with the infirm and those suffering from terminal illness in hopes of brightening their days. I’ve been immensely fortunate in my life to travel the world and photograph some of the most beautiful places on our planet. I want to share these blessings from my life with others in attempts to ease the sufferings of my fellow man in some small way. Elizabeth said that would be a noble way to spend the remainder of my life and that me using my last days seeking to comfort others who were suffering would be a profound example for our sons.

Photographers speak about using nature photography to bring about awareness and affect change for the benefit of the natural world. While I believe this is important or perhaps even critical, it has never seemed like it accomplishes enough. There’s more that could and should be done. People all over the world live every day with chronic diseases like Leukemia while no sign of a cure exists. Nature photography can be used as a tool to bring peace and comfort to them in their pain and suffering. Just knowing someone else cares enough to visit them and share their work could brighten the day in ways we can’t even imagine. Though much of the devastation in the natural world has been caused by man, I don’t believe we can discount the fact that humans are also the key to protecting it. People protect what they love. The famous Russian author Dostoevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world”. Through my images I’ve always strived to foster a real love and respect for the natural world by touching the heart of the viewer with its beauty. As Dr. Jane Goodall said, “We can never win an argument by appealing to people’s heads, its got to be in the heart”.

Dawn Of Time | Africa

CREATING A LEGACY

The results of my bone marrow biopsy surprisingly came back negative for Leukemia, Lymphoma or any other forms of cancer. I was instead diagnosed with ITP, an auto immune disease where the body destroys your platelets. I’ve begun infusion treatments for this disease at the cost of $40,000 per treatment and I’m expected to do four of them in the first month alone. While I am immensely grateful for this news and thankful that my journey on this earth continues, I’ve been forever changed from this experience. I see life through a completely different prism now. Once you’ve experienced life as a defined timeline, your perspective is permanently altered. For an extended period I truly believed that my time here was over, instead I now have a new lease on life and a fresh outlook. I’m delighted at the prospect of spending it with my beloved family and eager to continue sharing my love of photography through teaching my workshops. All of these recent experiences caused me to ponder the idea of building a legacy with ones photography. Due to the sheer number of photographers today, leaving a legacy behind after your death is more implausible than ever. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I stopped uploading files to my website or posting on social media, just how many people would notice? We are so inundated with an endless stream of content that it would be easy to overlook the absence of our favorite photographers if they faded from view. The realization that my weakened health led me to see was that I must create a legacy with my photography now. Perhaps this was the reason I had to go through such a terrifying experience, the clarity that it brought me is invaluable. This seed of inspiration, to teach nature photography and share my images in order to brighten the lives of those around me that are suffering, was planted in my heart for a reason. The results of these efforts will produce a far greater legacy than being remembered for ones work after your death. My commitment to this is even more important now that I have the time to fulfill the task. I’m deeply grateful to have this opportunity. It is my hope that by teaching nature photography and sharing my images with those that are terminally ill, perhaps I can enrich their lives and help to ease their suffering. I pray that these recent life experiences I’ve shared here inspire others to do the same and bring happiness to those who need it most. This is how photography will change the world.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel

* UPDATE:

Nearly two years after this terrifying experience I am happy to report that my Crohn’s disease is in full remission and my blood platelet levels are continuing to climb back to normal levels. Thank you all for your love, prayers and concern during this incredibly difficult period of my life.

Through The Tempest | Iceland

Alaska, Land Of The Ggagga

This is the incredible backdrop while on location photographing Alaskan Brown Bears in Lake Clark National Park. The top of Iliamna Volcano, shrouded in clouds here in this photo, towers 10,016 feet above the park and is covered by snow year round.

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve protects more than 4 million acres of diverse habitats ranging in elevation from sea level to over 10,000 feet. The first record of the native people building permanent settlements on the shores of Lake Clark are estimated to have arrived around 1000AD. Known as Dena’ina Athabascans, these people came to this land for the fishing opportunities. Lake Clark (known to the Dena’ina as Qizhjeh Vena – or ‘The lake where people gathered ‘) was named after John W. Clark of Nushagak, Alaska in 1891. Long before the Dena’ina came to this place or John W. Clark discovered it, this region belonged to the bears. The Dena’ina word for Bear is Ggagga… Welcome to the Land of the Ggagga!

ALASKA’S BEST KEPT SECRET

A few years ago I began to explore the possibility of leading a workshop in the wilds of Alaska to photograph the majestic Brown Bears. After a lot of research I determined the ideal location was at a remote Lodge along the shores of Cook Inlet in Lake Clark National Park. The Lodge is situated on 40 acres of private land in Lake Clark National Park. The owners have deep roots in Alaska combined with a sincere love for the land and its wildlife. This is an exceptionally unique location offers an unrivaled opportunity to photograph these incredible animals. Over the past 30 plus years the Lodge and its caretakers have carefully established their presence so as to limit the impact on the bears way of life. The Lodge requires compliance of their staff and guests to certain guidelines that ensure the bears and people continue to live together here in harmony. Since starting to lead groups to the area nearly half a century ago, the they have achieved an impeccable safety record with zero bear related injuries or attacks. The Lodge has been named “One of the 10 great places for a North American Safari” and boasts a 50% guest return rate.  Their experienced, professional staff attended to all the needs of their guests with the greatest enthusiasm and care. Due to the immense popularity of this destination there was a multiple year wait to even be able to book space for my workshop participants. Finally after a lot of planning the day of our departure finally arrived.

The view from the skies approaching Seattle.

THEN AND NOW…

Before you even reach Alaska the anticipation begins to build. My flight routed through Seattle and then continued on to Anchorage. As our plane dropped below the clouds the view of the lush rainforest below was overwhelming. Stands of deep green forests covered the mountain range as far as the eye could see, dotted by vast, blue lakes. After a brief transfer we took off for Alaska! Upon arrival we checked into the historic Hotel Captain Cook to rest and relax before our charter flight the next day. The hotel offers views of neighboring Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains from any one of their 546 rooms and suites. The Hotel Captain Cook is Alaska’s only member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, making it far beyond the ordinary. It was the perfect resting place for the group on our first night together. The hotel was recently inducted into Historic Hotels of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This organization founded Historic Hotels of America in 1989 with 32 charter members for historic preservation. Since that time, only 275 hotels and resorts across America have been awarded this prestigious honor for preserving and maintaining their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance. The Hotel Captain Cook being one of those recognized. The hotel offers four distinctive restaurants within the building as well as gifts and unique souvenirs for sale in their 12 shops. After a pleasant evening meal together we all turned in for the night.

The stunning view from one of the hotel’s impressive ‘Crow’s Nest’ suites.

A BIRDS EYE VIEW

The following morning we enjoyed a pleasant breakfast before heading to the airport for our charter flight that transferred us to Lake Clark National Park. We were fortunate to have clear skies, but high winds delayed our departure for a couple hours. While we waited for the winds to subside we spent time chatting about the upcoming adventure, sharing our mutual excitement. Finally the call came through from the Lodge and we were cleared for takeoff. The plane was loaded quickly and we climbed in, eager to reach our intended destination. We took to the skies and headed towards Lake Clark National Park. I have flown over many beautiful landscapes, including Iceland and Africa, but this flight was exceptional! Despite the light mist that we flew through, the views were incredible. A myriad of patterns played out on the forest floor below us. Rivers and streams made fascinating shapes as they chased out to the wide open ocean. Intricate, abstract patterns in the sand could be seen along the shoreline, left behind by the changing tides. As we drew closer to our destination massive waterfalls could be seen flowing off the cliff faces and plugging to the ground beneath… It was magical! Our pilot welcomed us to talk to one another through the headsets during the flight to the Lodge, but it seemed we were all lost in our own thoughts as we passed over this breathtaking landscape. As a result, most of the trip was completed in silence with us staring out in awe at the Alaskan wilderness.

Our chariot awaiting to take us to the remote Alaskan wilderness!

The view from the skies just outside of Anchorage.

Amazing patterns in the sand where large rivers flow into the open ocean.

Fascinating shapes in the tidal rivers below us.

One of the guides from the Lodge greets the incoming plane and the new guests as they arrive on the beach against the backdrop of a dramatic sunrise.

WALKING IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS

We were greeted by the friendly faces of the Lodge staff as we touched down on the beach. Landing on a sand beach is one of the most incredible experiences and only added to the amazing journey we were on. Stepping out of the charter plane signs of the bears were evident if you looked closely. Scanning the sand you could see their gigantic footprints along the shore. The smell of the salt air mixed with the strong aroma of the conifer forest surrounding us was a welcome greeting. We were quickly shuttled up to our accommodations and given an opportunity to settle in before meeting at the Lodge for a warm mid-day meal.

The Lodge here in Lake Clark National Park affords photographers a completely unique experience with bears, allowing us to photograph them free of viewing platforms and crowds of noisy tourists. All the guests visiting this Lodge are there to view the bears and they do so in a respectful, considerate manner. As the bears walked we would stay back, always giving them their space. The guides from the Lodge do an amazing job ensuring that the guests never restrict the bear’s movements or encroach on them. Our first session shooting the bears was very memorable and set high expectations for the group! We started off photographing a couple of bear cubs with their mother on the beach. Eventually we followed them back into one of the expansive meadows for more photo opportunities of them grazing. The bears, though certainly aware of our presence, behaved as though we didn’t exist and passed by our group as we hunkered down behind our lenses. Listening to their grunts as they communicated with one another was unforgettable. At times we were close enough to hear them munching on the grass. One of the local raptors perched in a nearby tree repeatedly put on a show for us, flying out over the field and hovering in place as it hunted for its next meal. A light rain was falling on and off, giving the bears great texture in their fur. Every so often one of the bear cubs would shake, sending a shower of spray everywhere. The expression on their faces are priceless as their bodies wiggle in three different directions!

A first year cub shaking the water from its fur after a rain shower.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A BEAR CUB

Over the next five days my workshop group would experience and photograph incredible scenes and unforgettable moments beyond their greatest expectations. The Lodge is situated along a river that flows into the ocean and provides the perfect feeding opportunity for the bears and their cubs. They fish for salmon in the river mouth, dig for clams at low tide on the mud flats and graze in the meadows on the grasses. During the workshop there were about half a dozen mother bears with cubs. Watching the young cubs interacting with their mother and each other is very entertaining! The cubs would often try to hunt for fish in the river without success. However, when one of them was lucky enough to catch a salmon that was spawned out or a morsel of one left behind by their mother they would become rabidly aggressive in protecting the fish from towards their sibling and mother. This was when you’d really see the personality differences between the cubs, it was fascinating to watch. When a cub did manage to catch a fish or secure a stray piece you almost wanted to stand up and cheer for them!

An experienced mother bear showing her two small cubs how to hunt for salmon at the river mouth.

A yearling cub races off frantically from its mother and sibling with a chunk of salmon in order to eat it without sharing. These moments were hilarious!

The smaller of the two siblings sits dejected in the surf after missing out on the last fish caught. Its larger counterpart affectionately approaches and comforts junior bear.

Apparently forgiven, the junior bear cub returns the affection of its larger sibling with kisses on the end of the nose.

One of the favorite places for the mother bears to feed their young cubs was on the tender clover blossoms that grew thick on the mowed lawns of the Lodge. Getting down low offered an excellent perspective to capture these images.

About half way through the workshop we got to witness and photograph a mother bear nursing her two cubs. This was one of the many highlights on the trip and a memory that we all will treasure. There were a few times when we were photographing the mother with her cubs that we anticipated this happening, but it never did. When we finally got to witness this behavior it made it extra special for my group. The mother bear purrs to her cubs as they nurse, sounding like an overgrown cat!

After fishing all their bellies were full and they would settle down into a giant heap of bears and dose off in the warm sunlight.

Photographing the sleeping bears from the shoreline of Cook Inlet.

The weather wasn’t sunny all of the time, but the mists and rain provided whole different look and feel to the surrounding landscape. I loved these days.

FISHING LESSONS

Perhaps the most exciting part of the workshop is witnessing the bears hunting for salmon in the river. This is an adrenalin filled experience as these apex predators charge through the surf at top speed, tracking a fish as it swims. You realize the incredible strength and power of these animals and it leaves you in awe. The bear’s sense of smell is exceptionally keen, aiding them in locating and capturing the fish. The average dog is said to have a sense of smell 100 times better than humans. The bloodhound is in exclusive company with a sensitivity 300 times better than that of humans. Estimates of the sensitivity of a bear’s nose vary widely, but many say bears beat all the competition boasting the ability to smell 7 times better than a bloodhound. I’ll do the math for you, if true, that means a bear can smell 2,100 times better than you and I can! When you watch them fishing you easily accept that as fact, despite how crazy it sounds.

Sometimes while the bears were fishing they would chase a salmon in the general direction of where our group was set up. Watching this drama unfold through the viewfinder on your camera makes these moments all the more intense, as it can appear that the bear has nearly reached you when looking through a 600mm lens! However their sole focus is on catching as many fish as possible and they rarely even afford us a passing glance while we are out photographing them. The Lodge has been established here so long the bears simply treat the people as part of the landscape.

Full Tilt | Alaskan Brown Bear

Chasing Fish Tails | Alaskan Brown Bear

Missed Opportunities | Alaskan Brown Bear

The Pursuit | Alaskan Brown Bears

The River Of Life | Alaskan Brown Bear

Catch Of The Day | Alaskan Brown Bear

The Plunge | Alaskan Brown Bear

The Trophy | Alaskan Brown Bear

An Alaskan Brown Bear casually strolls past a group of bear watchers as it heads into the river to hunt for salmon.

LAKE CLARK, A HAVEN FOR WILDLIFE

Though the bears in Alaska are one of the biggest attractions, my workshop participants were treated to a wide variety of other subjects. For the past couple seasons a few Wolves have been frequenting the region and they were hanging around while we were there. Regrettably we didn’t get any pictures of the wolves, but we did find some of their giant tracks in the sand on the beach. The presence of these wolves just further lends to the attractiveness of this Lodge for nature photographers. We also spent time photographing Trumpeter Swans, Red Foxes, Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagles and other Birds of Prey. All of the other subjects were a nice bonus and provided diversity to the images the workshop participants captured for their portfolios. It was an incredibly rewarding trip and my guests all produced exceptional images. We watched the forecast for the aurora borealis each night, but unfortunately it didn’t peak while we were there.

Massive Wolf Tracks In The Sand

The Long Road Home | Sandhill Cranes

Newton’s Law | Gull and Sea Shell

Potential For Mischief | Red Fox

The snow capped top of Iliamna Volcano is an impressive sight on a clear day when you can see the steam rising up from the volcano’s mouth.

Heading South | Trumpeter Swans

A Jellyfish stranded on the sand, waiting for the incoming tide to wash it back out to sea.

Lord Of The Skies | Bald Eagle

Nathaniel offering instruction to the workshop participants in the field.

Paradise Found | Alaskan Brown Bear

FIRST CLASS STAFF AND GOURMET MEALS

My workshop participants enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of life in the wilderness, detached from their own daily schedules and demands. You may not travel to a remote region of Alaska expecting to experience culinary delights, but we looked forward to our meals in the Lodge as much as we did photographing the wildlife each day! The Lodge is world renowned for the delicious food that they serve. The daily, personalized touches by the staff were greatly appreciated. Fern was our own dedicated server at meals, by the completion of the first day at the Lodge she had memorized all of our dietary preferences and ensured everything we desired at our place setting before we walked into the dining room!

The Lodge chef, in his element.

My workshop group posing with Fern, our incredibly competent server. This photo shows the incredible view from the second floor deck outside the dining area.

My workshop group posing with our knowledgeable and friendly guide under the Lodge’s giant bear sculpture.

The best Alaskan Brown Bear photography location in Alaska… Lake Clark National Park.

Our group had a fantastic time sharing this amazing trip together and collectively built memories that we will treasure forever. The fun didn’t stop with the photography either, we spent our spare time relaxing around the outdoor fire pit or editing our images together in the lounge. The time we spent eating meals together were just as special, and the view from the second floor dining room is epic! We often watched bears stroll by while we were up eating our meals and a Red Fox also paid us a visit. There simply is no substitute for this unique location. If you want to truly experience photographing Alaskan Brown Bears the only place to do it is in the Land of the Ggagga!

I’ll be returning to Alaska again this year in September to lead my Wonders Of Alaska Photo Workshop. There are currently only two spots left, you can find more information about the workshop here at this link.

If you’d like to see a collection of images from our recent trip please visit my Alaska Portfolio.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. ~ Nathaniel

Until we meet again…

 

This Is Africa

Chronicles of Nature

A  DAY  ON  THE  CHOBE  RIVER

The Greeting | African Elephants at Dusk

Life on Safari is never dull and the memories you return home with are unrivaled. I recently traveled to Africa for my 2016 Chobe River Safari and wanted to share a glimpse into what a day on the river was like in my newest trip report.

Feeding-Frenzy-_-Hippo

Feeding Frenzy | Hippo

I arrived in Botswana under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid 80’s following a brief flight from Johannesburg. Our group boarded a hotel shuttle for the ten minute drive to Chobe Bush Lodge and got checked in. As I walked to my room I was surrounded by a varied chorus of birds singing in the canopy above me. A group of Baboons scuttled under the boardwalk as I passed by. The youngsters cautiously hid in the under growth until I was past and then raced to rejoin the adults. A couple of large Warthogs rooted in the trees behind my room before roaming further on in search of better feeding grounds. I could hear their squeals as they lumbered along in the mid-day light. The rustling sounds and branches swaying above me was a reminder of the local monkey population, yet they remained hidden from my sight. Only an occasional cry would confirm their presence. I spent the next couple hours getting settled into my room and resting by the pool while I waited for our afternoon photography session to begin.

The-Shortcut-_-Baboons

The Shortcut | Baboons

Aguana, our river driver, was a large, stoic man with a eager smile. He expertly guided our boat on the river ensuring we were in the correct position for the action and to maximize our opportunities where the light was best for photography. Our dock assistant, was always there when we needed help loading our gear onto the boat in the morning or carrying it back to our rooms at the end of the day’s excursion. As we made our way out onto the water that first day we were almost immediately met by a pair of Carmine Bee Eaters that entrained us with their acrobatic flight patterns. Their behavior of tossing bees into the air before eating it was fascinating to photograph. Beyond them we came across a small, but colorful Malachite Kingfisher hunting for its next meal. It’s larger cousin, the Pied Kingfisher, had large colony nesting in the river bank nearby and numerous adults were in the area showing off their striking black and white plumage.

The Song of Africa | African Fish Eagle

We also encountered a elusive Green-backed Heron who posed boldly for us on a sunken log. Every 500 yards or so a majestic African Fish Eagle could be seen in the trees or high in the sky above us. As we traveled further up the river we found Hippos with their young feeding on the lush grasses and we saw our first elephant herd along the shoreline. A number of Marabou Storks could be seen as we made our way further into the park. Despite their unflattering appearance they were incredibly striking birds. Pied Kingfishers continued to dot the shoreline as we moved further up river. A pair of African Skimmers put on a stunning aerial displayed while feeding along the waters surface. As the sun began to descend to the horizon we turned the boat back towards the lodge just in time to see a large herd of Cape Buffalo making their way onto one of the large grassy islands in the center of the river. The young Buffalo calves interspersed in the herd made for great subjects. On the opposite bank crocodiles lurked in the shadows regretting lost opportunities of the day. As the setting sun merged into the horizon the whole sky became a blazing shade of red and the gigantic orange sphere slowly faded way giving place to the rising moon and the creatures of a cool Botswana night. The food buffet at each meal was incredibly diverse and the espresso ice cream was impossible to refuse. Perhaps my favorite day was when a local, traditional African dance troupe performed at our evening meal. I was caught off guard by how beautiful their singing was. While sitting eating my meal, it occurred to me that it would be impossible to feel sorrow while hearing their joyous voices. This is Africa. I’ll be returning there again next year to lead my Ultimate African Adventure Safari, if you would like more information you will find it here at this link.

If you’d like to see a complete collection of images from my recent trip please visit my Africa – Botswana Portfolio.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. – Nathaniel

Chain-Of-Love-_-Elephants

Chain of Love | African Elephants

 

A Bold New World

Chronicles of Nature

WINTER  PHOTOGRAPHY  IN  THE  POLAR  CIRCLE

Dance of the Green Dragon | Lofoten, Norway

It is hard to believe that two months have past since I returned from leading back to back photography tours in Iceland and Norway. I had a great groups of dedicated photographers for both destinations and we enjoyed shooting in some incredible conditions. People generally have one of two reactions when they consider the thought of participating in a photography tour to a colder climate. There are those that will jump at the chance relishing the challenge and new experiences, asking eagerly, ‘Where do I sign up?!’ The remaining personalities typically respond with ‘Over my dead body!’ or mutter something about how they’d turn into an icicle. Another objection I’ve heard is fear of the damage their camera will suffer from the snow. First of all, if your equipment is worth its salt then it should be able to manage a little dusting of snow. The main risk with camera gear in a colder climate is extreme temperature changes. If you you allow it to gradually adjust then you shouldn’t have any problems.

Labyrinth | Lofoten, Norway – A maze of fascinating sand patterns made the perfect foreground for the distant snow capped mountain peaks during my recent Norway photography tour. This quiet stream flows directly into the ocean and the large, broken ice patches were too inviting to pass up. Sometimes you wait for what seems like an eternity for clear skies when shooting in the polar circle, but when it clears the sunrises are nothing short of spectacular. This was one of those days.

Nordic Dreams | Iceland – During my recent Iceland Winter Photography Tour we visited a few different locations looking for the elusive aurora borealis, including the mighty Skógafoss waterfall. The Northern Lights never danced for us here, but a moonbow put on a show all its own. Later over Vik we were rewarded with a beautiful aurora display. Iceland is a land full of wonders!

Keeping batteries in a base layer pocket close to your body should extend their life in the cold when they aren’t in use. Secondly, at the end of the day the simple reality is that their really is no such thing as ‘bad conditions’, just a lack of creativity. We live in an age today when apparel manufactures make gear and clothing that will keep us comfortable in nearly any type of weather or at any temperature. I’m speaking from experience. Last year I led an winter expedition in the Himalayas to photograph Snow Leopards in the wilds of northeastern India. With the the right type of clothing and apparel you can endure some pretty extreme conditions. Finally, perhaps one of the best kept secrets about winter in Iceland (and particularly Norway) is how mild the winters are. The general assumption is that just because it’s in the polar circle it must be frigid. The reality is that almost all of Norway’s coast remains free of ice and snow throughout the year. Norway and Iceland are located along the same latitude as Siberia, Greenland and Alaska, so it is often expected to be a land of bitterly cold weather. However, due to warming influences of the northern Gulf Stream, the country actually enjoys a fairly mild climate. Average daily temperatures in the winter are typically above 32°F or 0°C. The good news is that this rampant misconception drastically reduces that number of photographers that visit these Nordic regions during the winter months, leaving it for groups like mine to enjoy. Once you’ve experienced and shot these locations in the summer, winter is a whole new experience. Like peeling back that layers of an onion, winter removes all the ‘fluff’ from the landscape and leaves one composing from a raw, rugged scene… and it is breathtakingly beautiful. I’ll be returning to lead my two Iceland Summer Photo Tours in July and I’ll be off again in September to lead my Norway Autumn Photo Tour. Below are just a few more examples from my winter tours, if you’d like to see more visit my Iceland Portfolio  or my Norway Portfolio.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

– Nathaniel

Scream of the Sea | Lofoten, Norway – This image was captured on the upper northwestern side of the Lofoten peninsula. The weather was extremely dramatic and while we were there it began to snow. The raging ocean crashed harder and harder into rocks with the rising tide. I sat and stared for a long time before going to work on this composition. I listened to the gusting wind as it drove tiny white snowflakes through the air like so many small darts. I watched the surf dash onto the coast churning white froth all over the shoreline. There were so many different emotions at work in the scene. When I finally began to shoot it all went silent, but the sea still let it’s voice be heard visually with this striking face in the foaming water below… Unforgettable.

 

Flow | Iceland – There are few things that I enjoy more than spending time alone with a camera surrounded by nature. However, there is certainly something to be said for sharing the magic of the outdoors with fellow photographers. For some it’s the moment they see a new country or species the first time that they have longed to witness for years. For others that have been to a destination before, it’s like taking them back to visit an old companion. Each time that I lead a tour to the Nordic countries I look forward to sharing the magic of that region with friends both old and new, and with you all. This is a large chunk of glacial ice getting caught in the rushing tide that was photographed on a black sand beach in eastern Iceland. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Eye Of The Sea | Lofoten, Norway – At times hunting for the northern lights can be a bit like an emotional roller coaster. Typically I will have been up early that morning shooting sunrise and then out in the mid afternoon for sunset. After a warm meal for dinner one usually just wants to curl up on a couch and fall asleep looking at the images from the day. But the chance of seeing the beautiful aurora coaxes me back out into the dark and the crisp, winter air. Trudging through the snow or along a dark roadside thoughts of doubt creep into your mind and whisper that you’re wasting precious hours you could be sleeping searching for a phantom. And then suddenly from out of nowhere the sky explodes into into vibrant, changing patterns of color. In that moment all thoughts of sleep rush out of your your mind and adrenaline courses through your body. For a minute you forget to even shoot. All the tired muscles and sore joints in your body are forgotten as you bask in the glorious display of one of the natural worlds greatest phenomena. Nature’s therapy at its best.

 

Explosion | Iceland

Explosion | Iceland – There are certain locations that regardless of how many times you visit, it’s like a new experience every time. Iceland is one of those. This image was made at dawn on the beach in Vik, and while most are drawn to photograph the ancient sea stacks there, the surf is a subject unto itself. This area tends to experience some of the island’s more dramatic weather systems and the towering waves are astonishingly powerful. Exercising extreme caution here is of the utmost importance as sleeper waves often surprise tourists and can be deadly. The small black flecks that you see in the crashing wave here are actually fist-sized stones… just to give you an idea of how powerful the ocean is on this beach.

 

Arctic Pastels | Lofoten, Norway – Hamnoy is the oldest fishing village in the Lofoten Archipelago, and though small, it is undeniably beautiful. Considered by many to be to be one of the most picturesque villages in the region, Hamnoy is also popular tourist destination due to its scenic, unspoiled nature. This village was only accessible by ferry until bridges were built connecting it to the rest of the peninsula about 35 years ago. During my Norway Photography Tour, participants are accommodated in remodeled fishermen cabins like the red ones pictured here. The oldest one of these was built in the 1890’s. There are few things that compare with staying in a traditional seaside cabin overlooking the coastline and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean lapping against the rocks below. This image was captured during the first sunrise photo shoot of my tour, we were rewarded with a soft pink blush in the clouds just above these iconic peaks.

 

Winter Oasis | Lofoten, Norway – Ice is often one of the best elements to utilize in a winter scene, however this year many of the large lakes in Norway were covered due to increased snowfall late in the season. The snow cover compromised the stability of the ice which made working around the lakes difficult at times. Adapting to these conditions meant passing on some of the grand compositions with ice cracks in the foreground, and instead finding small hidden ponds like this one just off the beaten path. While shooting in a colder climate certainly has its challenges, with the proper clothing one can remain quite comfortable and and the rewards are great. Winter images are very unique and produce results unlike any other season. This is a favorite area of mine for sunrise in Norway for good reason. And yes, the ice is really that color.

 

Kelidesope | Norway

Kaleidoscope | Norway Fascinating sand patterns along the shoreline of one of Norway’s many beautiful beaches. Turquoise waters and white sand beaches, Norway is very much like the Caribbean of the North.

 

Someone recently asked me what we do on my Nature Odyssey Worldwide Photo Tours when the weather changes and the storms blow in. I was puzzled, but smiled and said, ‘That’s often when we do our best work.’ This shot was taken on my sold out Winter Iceland Photography Tour in 2016 with a great group of dedicated photographers. We’ve found some great scenes both in the landscape and the ice caves.

 

What a beautiful country! This shot was taken on the final day of my Nature Odyssey Worldwide Tours in Norway. A fitting end to what was a week filled with the perfect variety of weather, allowing us to photograph the landscape in all conditions. One of my participants that travels a lot for photography said this was perhaps the best tour they’d ever been on, I couldn’t ask for a better compliment. Thanks to this great group for joining me this Winter, 2016 Photo Tour in Norway!

Beyond The Waterfalls

Chronicles of Nature

Independence | Iceland – A lone volcanic boulder rests in a windswept landscape of volcanic stone pebbles and patterns.

Hills In The Mist | Iceland

 

The Great Wide Open – Golden Plover Chick

You may have dreamed of traveling to Iceland, as I did for years, longing to photograph its incredibly diverse landscape. A plethora of images had tempted me for a decade or longer, enticing with massive waterfalls, glowing sunsets and noble Icelandic horses. Admittedly the allure of this magical country is hard to resist. As recently as a few years ago I had a powerful ambition to capture all the ‘iconic’ shots so often published of Iceland, but over time something in me changed. I’m not sure exactly what it was that altered my perspective, perhaps it was a number of factors. I noticed that my interest had shifted towards photographers that were creating more subtle, unique compositions and capturing the hidden elements of a scene, as opposed to the more obvious, grand shots that have almost become common now. I also became weary of what I perceived to be a rabid pursuit of ‘epic’ light. I do not mean to imply that there is anything wrong with photographing ultra-dramatic light and conditions, we would be remiss as photographers if we did not. Unfortunately though, the message often conveyed is, “If there isn’t a flaming sky, stay home” or even worse, “If there isn’t a flaming sky, just paint one in later with Photoshop”. Despite the general popularity and initial impact of these ‘sensationalized’ images of nature, I felt there was something missing. That approach to landscape photography left me feeling jaded. It is to the point now when one posts a photograph depicting spectacular light that they run the risk of their audience automatically assuming that the saturation slider was pushed too far to the right, or some Photoshop processing trick was executed. The viewer usually doubts, even if only sub-consciously, that the conditions represented in the photo ever existed. Often in today’s culture of digital nature photography great liberties are taken when processing files, pushing them far beyond the realm of reality. We’ve labeled this ‘artistic expression’ and moved on. I became more certain with each passing day that there was something forgotten, something overlooked…

Waiting for our attention, beyond all the hype about towering waterfalls and blazing sunsets, there is a quite landscape.

The River Serpent | Iceland – This image was made from a cliff high above Háifoss Waterfall. I sought something other than the ordinary, and found a serpent.

It was with these thoughts on my mind that I arrived in Iceland and began my quest to capture the beauty of this land from a fresh perspective. My first impression was that none of the photos I’d seen could do this amazing country justice. The photographic potential of the landscape in Iceland is staggering, at nearly every turn I found inspiration and elements that caught my eye, begging to be photographed. Since this was our summer photography tour we had nearly 24 hours of light each day making for nearly endless opportunities.

Halo Of The Earth | Thingvellir, Iceland – One of three different rainbows that we photographed on our tour.

One of the great benefits of this ‘midnight sun’ is that the ‘golden hour’ stretches into multiple hours and the window for soft light during sunrise and sunset has a much longer duration. Due to its proximity to the polar circle and location in the center of the vast Atlantic Ocean the weather changes frequently. Some days we would awaken to bright sunshine and a soft breeze and another day troubled, stormy skies with 60 mile per hour wind gusts. Regardless of the weather, the landscape is enchanting, and from a photographer’s perspective it is paradise. Glaciers, icebergs, volcanoes, lava fields, geysers, waterfalls, rivers, mountains, meadows, flowers, birds, horses, beaches and the mighty ocean, what’s not to love?

Bend in the Meadow | Iceland – A simple stand of small, weathered trees are complimented by the gentle curve of a quiet stream.

We visited many of the iconic locations throughout Iceland, but you might not know it looking through my Iceland portfolio. I wanted to shoot what resonated with me personally, not what garnered recognition or would get lots of attention on social media platforms. Much of the time this approach worked well, other times it meant visiting an iconic location and finding nothing that caught my eye but the obvious composition. When this occurred I’d set my gear aside and drink in the beauty surrounding me, capturing mental memories of the scene to enjoy forever.

The Veil | Seljalandfoss, Iceland – The waterfalls that I did photograph I worked to find a fresh composition. This waterfall is repeatedly shot from the side looking back at the setting sun… Google ‘Seljalandfoss’ and you’ll see what I mean.

My one regret from our tour is that it did not last longer. Thankfully I’ll be back in 2016 to lead our Iceland Winter Photography Workshop in January and February where we’ll experience Iceland decorated in winter’s embrace. I can’t wait to return and hope that a journey to Iceland is in your future as well, it’s truly an unforgettable experience.

There are stunning waterfalls everywhere in Iceland… be sure to look beyond them and find all the other beauty this land holds for those who seek it out.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

– Nathaniel

Feel free to email me directly for information on next year’s tours and please also check out: Iceland Photo Tours

Enjoy a hi-res gallery of the images from this article in my Iceland Portfolio.

A Gentle Awakening | Iceland – The incredible beauty of the sunrise over Iceland needs no enhancement, it is already perfect.

The Phantom of the Himalayas

Chronicles of Nature

“A shadow veiled by the mountain steep, or winter’s descending fleece of white.

Like its tracks the ghost cat vanishes, as a phantom fading into the night.”

~ from:  THE  PHANTOM     

Few animals have captured our imagination like the snow leopard. This iconic cat’s habitat is known to be one of the harshest environments in the world. It ranges throughout the alpine areas of Central Asia and is rarely ever seen in the wild, much less photographed. This is due in part to its elusive nature and also because there are so few left in the world. In fact, most exceptional images of these animals are taken with camera traps in the wild, or more likely in captivity.  As of 2014 the population of this endangered species was estimated between 3,500 and 7,000 individuals (*visit The Snow Leopard Trust for conservation info). In the snow leopard we find the untamable spirit of the raw wilderness and the grace of a large feline combined in a way that is duplicated nowhere elsewhere in the animal kingdom. I refer to them with great admiration as, The Phantom of the Himalayas.

When I was first contacted and asked if I’d lead the 2015 Snow Leopard Expedition I eagerly accepted the job. Few things define adventure like pursuing an evasive, endangered cat through India’s Himalayan Mountain region for two weeks. I was very excited about the trip and went about making my preparations.

Part I: Arrival in India

The streets of Old Delhi at dusk.

The streets of Old Delhi at dusk.

 I departed from Arizona in the evening on February 18th and after traveling for over thirty-six hours I finally arrived in India on February 20th. As the plane began its descent into the New Delhi airport the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon, casting beautiful patterns on the clouds. I was met there by my contact, Sanjay, and taken directly to the hotel. If you’ve never visited India, it is best described as a smorgasbord for the senses. The vibrant colors, intoxicating smells and varied sounds are overwhelming. India ranks second out of all countries in the world for population with nearly 1,268,000,000 people.   There are over sixty different dialects, which effectively means that one could hear a new dialect spoken here every fifty kilometers. One of the most fascinating things for me coming from the United States, was the seemingly baffling traffic system. While I was pondering aloud what looked like organized chaos on the streets of Delhi, Sanjay said that to drive a car in India you need three things; a good horn, good breaks and good luck. I chuckled at this, but there was a lot of truth to his statement.

Clouds breaking up over the city of Leh, India

Clouds breaking up over the city of Leh, India

The day after my arrival I was joined by the rest of our group back at the airport for our morning departure to Leh, the capital of the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. Located in the northern region of India at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet (3,524 meters), Leh has a noticeable Tibetan influence and boasts a population of nearly 30,000. Due to its proximity to Kashmir, and the tensions between India and Pakistan over that region, the Indian military ban the use of any satellite radios as a matter of national security and will in fact confiscate them should you attempt to bring one with you. We were in Leh two days allowing our bodies to acclimate to the increased elevation and to watch for signs of altitude sickness. Precautions must be taken at this point with the group, even a mild case of altitude sickness can lead to symptoms like headache, dizziness and nausea, or in severe cases include double vision, convulsions or even deranged behavior. Thankfully everyone seemed to adapt to this new climate well. We spent these days taking in some of the local markets and visiting a number of the regions Buddhist monasteries that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, including Hemis, Thiksay and Shey monasteries.

Girls In Market

Girls selling items in the market of Leh, India.

 

A hilltop monastery high above the city of Leh.

A hilltop monastery high above the city of Leh.

An orphan, Buddhist monk and his elderly caretaker.

An orphan, Buddhist monk and his elderly caretaker.

A colorful door at the 15th Century Thicksay Monastery.

A colorful door at the 15th Century Thicksay Monastery.

 

CallToPrayer_India_DSC3846

Call to prayer at a local Buddhist monastery.

While visiting the 15th century Thiksay Monastery our group was invited to share lunch with the Buddhist Monks. I took no pictures with them, choosing instead to live in that moment, sitting cross legged in the shadow of the Himalayas, eating rice and vegetables together. It was an experience I’ll never forget. A photograph is often the end of the story, but there are times it’s best to forget the camera and capture in your mind and soul what might otherwise be missed, and could never be documented in an image.

A Buddhist monk and a pilgram pause at the prayer wheels while making their ascent to the monastery.

A Buddhist monk and a pilgram pause at the prayer wheels while making their ascent to the monastery.

The hand of a Ladakh resident spins the long row of prayer wheels as he passes by.

The hand of a Ladakh resident spins the long row of prayer wheels as he passes by.

Buddhist women praying at a monastery located in Leh, India.

Buddhist women praying at a monastery located in Leh, India.

During our trip Gyalson (one of our guides) accompanied us to his home village of Matho to witness the annual Oracle Matho Nagrang Festival. This event is held on the 14th and 15th days of the first month of the Tibetan calendar at Matho Monastery. Matho Monastery is the only Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism in Ladakh. It sees fewer visitors than Hemis, Thiksay or Shey monasteries due to its location, however, it is renowned throughout the region for its Festival of the Oracles, which attracts thousands of visitors.

The 'Festival of the Oracles' at Matho Monastery.

Crowds line the balconies of Matho Monastery for the ‘Festival of the Oracles’.

Detail from a giant statue of Buddha.

Detail from a giant statue of Buddha.

During this festival the oracles are said to inhabit the bodies of two monks for a few hours. The purpose of these oracles is to attempt to predict the fortunes of the local village communities for the coming year. Tables of food, tea, and hand crafts can be found as you make the climb up the hill to the monastery courtyard where the celebration occurs. A strong police presence can be seen which helps to maintain order of the large crowds that have gathered. Matho Monastery is also home to a large collection of ancient, Buddhist artifacts dating back as far as the 14th century. These items are displayed behind large, glass cases in guarded, upper rooms. Here above the monastery courtyard Gyalson secured fantastic seats for our group in front of the open windows so that we would have a birds eye view of the festival, and more importantly, so that we were not at risk of being squished by the throng of people below us. Photographs of the oracles were strictly forbidden during the ceremony, however pictures of the other portions of the event were allowed. We stayed for a few hours enjoying the spectacle, but elected to depart before the conclusion of the festival. Soon the one lane road that led back from Matho to Leh would be a chaotic mess from the traffic leaving this this small village. Thankfully we beat the rush and returned to our hotel for the evening.

A solitary monk lost in thought on the side of the mountain above Matho Monastery.

A solitary monk, lost in thought on the side of the mountain above Matho Monastery.

Thousands of people pack into Matho Monastery for the Festival of the oracles.

Thousands of people pack into Matho Monastery for the Festival of the oracles.

The police were drastically outnumbered, yet made a valiant effort to keep the crowd under control.

The police were drastically outnumbered, yet made a valiant effort to keep the crowd under control.

Some of the staff at the monastery attempted to enforce the law as well, but weren't taken very seriously.

Some of the staff at the monastery attempted to enforce the law as well, but weren’t taken very seriously by the masses.

A young boy with a donation in hand is carried on his mother's back up to the monastery.

A young boy with a donation in hand is carried on his mother’s back up to the monastery.

A young girl holds on to her father's hand tightly as they navigate the crowds.

A young girl holds on to her father’s hand tightly as they navigate the crowds.

The welcome challenge of finding unique compositions in a sea of people.

I enjoyed the challenge of finding unique compositions in a vast, sea of people.

The monastery’s superior monk awaiting for the festivities to commence.

Masked dancers performing.

Masked dancers performing.

Young and old alike attended the event.

Young and old alike attended the event.

Entertaing the children.

Entertaing the children.

Dance of the Dragon

Dance of the Dragon

Part II: Into the Wild

Crossing above the Indus River on our way into Hemis National Park.

On the morning of February 23rd we departed Leh by car for the tiny village of Zingchen located on the perimeter of our destination, Hemis National Park. Only two families call Zingchen home. Thus began our odyssey in search of the snow leopards. Arriving in Zingchen we set out trekking on foot with our expert local guides, Gyalson Shangku and Tsering Gurmet, making our way up into the Himalayas. Each member of the group was assigned an assistant that would help carry their camera gear anytime needed. My helper’s name was Stanzin, he and the other assistants worked tirelessly for the duration of our expedition. Our travels would now take us anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 feet in elevation (3,658 to 4,572 meters). For me this is where I experienced one of the most refreshing aspects of the trip as we officially left the ‘grid’. There was no longer a cell signal or an internet connection anywhere. It changed the tone of our trip from one of international travel, to a wilderness adventure. Large, loose stones covered the surface of the trail most of the way. Admittedly I’m no road construction expert, but the road (as it was called), that led from the tiny village of Zingchen to Rumbak, was a highway engineer’s worst nightmare. Large boulders as big as a mid-sized car were perched precariously at various points along the route, looking like they might tumble down at any moment. Over time patches of loose shale collapsed into the road below making obstacles in our path. Nearly a mile past where the pavement ended and the rough terrain began, a long abandoned motorized scooter sat decaying off to one side of the trail.Eventually we reached the base camp site where different expedition groups pitched their tents, and from there moved on to Rumbak Village.

Clouds from an approaching storm begin to engulf the mountain peaks.

Clouds from an approaching storm begin to engulf the mountain peaks.

As you trek through the overwhelming presence of this raw wilderness one quickly becomes aware of the frailty of our human existence. Without all our ‘expedition gear’ we are in fact incredibly weak when compared to the intelligence of the snow leopard on the ridge line, the agility of the blue sheep on the mountain cliffs or the strength of the golden eagle soaring in the sky. In this extreme climate we would assuredly falter without the assistance of our modern ‘advancements’. This realization brings with it an even more profound respect for the relatively few species of wildlife that call this land their home.

The base camp area in Husing Valley as seen from the observation platform.

The base camp area in Husing Valley as seen from the observation platform.

Tents in the snow under a string of Buddhist prayer flags.

Tents in the snow under a string of Buddhist prayer flags.

One of the most impressive rock formations i saw during the expedition.

One of the most impressive rock formations i saw during the expedition.

Himalayan Daydreams.

Himalayan Daydreams.

In Rumbak we were given accommodations at a home stay by a kind, elderly man named Younton. The local people in Rumbak Village take turns providing accommodations and food to the tourists, receiving payment for their hospitality to help supplement their limited income in this remote region. There’s no running water in Rumbak. After sundown the entire village is powered from a single generator which one of the local villagers starts each day at dusk. Following a traditional Ladakhi meal sleep came easily to our group, exhausted from the day’s long hike. 

Blue Sheep resting on a symmetrical mountain side.

Blue Sheep resting on a symmetrical mountain side.

Stone Carving

Stone Carving

Snow and rock slides on the mountain slopes creating beautiful patterns.

Snow and rock slides on the mountain slopes creating beautiful patterns.

Part III: Call of the Ghost Cat

Perhaps due to the change in climate or the drastic jet lag (I’m honestly not sure), at this point I’d begun to lose track of what day of the month it was. According to the calendar it was February 24th, but the days had all started to blend into one. We awakened while it was still dark and got in position long before sunrise, scanning the mountain slope for any sign of the big cats.

A lone Chukar Partridge makes its way across the shale covered ground.

A lone Chukar Partridge makes its way across the shale covered ground.

 In the mornings we searched for the leopards on the ridge line, returning to their place of rest for the day after a long night of hunting. The frigid air on your face drives away any lingering hint of drowsiness and the adrenaline of our search made me feel alive in a way that I’ve not often experienced. A large flock of chukar partridge fly by us, but remain invisible in the pre-dawn light. The rush of air whistling through their wings is reminiscent to the sound of an F-16 Fighter Jet passing overhead at a very low altitude. Oddly the towering, majestic mountain peaks here are not named, but rather the valleys in each region. This area is appropriately named Rumbak Valley, due to its proximity the village by the same name. We search the surrounding mountain slopes all morning without any evidence of a snow leopard, but are pleased to find a flock of almost two dozen blue sheep. As the leopard’s primary source of food in this area, locating blue sheep in the valley is a good omen.

A Blue Sheep Ram teaching a yearling the virtues of camouflage.

A Blue Sheep Ram teaching a yearling the virtues of camouflage.

About mid-day we gathered our belongings and make the trek from Rumbak back to our base camp on the banks of a frozen stream in Husing Valley. As our group arrives back to base camp the afternoon shadows stretched out, lengthening as the sun began its decent and dipped behind the western peaks. After settling into the campsite we make the 200 meter climb up one of the mountain sides, to a level place above camp known as the observation platform. There we set up our scopes and long lenses, watching for any sign of movement on the mountain tops. Snow leopards tend to live alone and regularly patrol their territory, which often covers hundreds of square miles. To communicate across such vast areas, these cats leave markings on the landscape by scraping the ground with their paws and spraying urine on the rocks. They’ll also rub up against these rocks leaving behind bits of hair. The snow leopard’s breeding season occurs during the coldest months of the year from December to March, making the timing of our trip perfect. This is the one time that a snow leopard will allow another to enter its range. We searched without success from the observation platform for some time. My eyes were drawn to a large group of boulders almost 400 meters above us at the summit above the observation platform.

On the observation platform searching for snow leopards.

On the observation platform searching for snow leopards.

 For some unknown reason I felt a strong impulse to climb there. With the permission of the guides I set out making my way up the slope. My body was still acclimating to the elevation, so I found myself stopping often in the thin air to catch my breath. The loose stones beneath my feet made progress incredibly difficult, and portions of the climb felt almost vertical. Few things can prepare one for the majestic sight that’s found at the top of a mountain in the Himalayas.

This photo was taken from the observation platform looking up toward the peak I climbed to. You can see the location in the top/center of the image.

This photo was taken from the observation platform looking up toward the peak I climbed to. You can see the location in the top/center of the image.

 Arriving at the peak I stared in awe at the untamed, rugged beauty surrounding me in every direction. Though the light was poor, I took a couple images to remember it by and rested there until darkness began to fall. I stood up to make my way back down the mountain and froze, rooted in my tracks from the sound that fell upon my ears. From across the Husing Valley was the clear, unmistakable cry of a snow leopard! In that moment I discovered the answer to why I’d made the arduous climb to this place. In delirious excitement I radioed down to the group to tell them what I’d heard. Initially I believe my report may have been met with some skepticism. However, once I made my way back down to the observation platform and imitated the sound I’d heard, the guides agreed it was indeed the call of a snow leopard. They’d been listening attentively all winter for the male and female snow leopards to begin calling to one another, but silence had reigned over this alpine region up until that moment. The snow leopard is the only big cat that cannot roar. During the mating season a pair will call back and forth to each other. Their cries are best described as a very loud snarl more than anything else. We climbed back down to camp excitedly discussing the close proximity of the snow leopard and the potential of soon capturing a glimpse of one.

One of the dominant rams that we encountered during our trip.

One of the dominant Blue Sheep rams that we encountered during our trip.

Part VI: Through the Shadows

Snow Leopard paw prints.

Snow Leopard paw prints.

It was windy overnight, our group awoke on the 25th of February to find snow falling lightly at dawn. We set out early and as we hiked up to the observation platform were delighted to find snow leopard paw prints just outside of camp along the trail. We had just reached our destination when a call came over the radio saying that a snow leopard had been spotted from the road below the camp in Tarbung Valley. With those words everyone set off at a rapid pace carrying long range lenses and tripods, hoping to catch sight of the elusive cat. The wind pushed snowflakes against my face like tiny darts. Their sting was muted by the stunning scenery surrounding me, and the anticipation of seeing a snow leopard in the wild for the first time. We climbed a few miles up into the mountains above Tarbung Valley without finding a trace of the leopard. The sun, hidden behind snow clouds for most of the morning, suddenly broke through and illuminated the rocky mountain side. Rather than feel dejected after the long hike, our group took advantage of the scenery and captured some beautiful light shining on the cliffs above. Lobzung (our cook) followed us up the mountain and served breakfast there, soon afterwards we returned to camp.

The clouds parted for a brief time during a snow storm revealing gold on the mountain.

The clouds parted for a brief time during a snow storm revealing a golden mountain.

A view of our camp site by night in the shadow of the Himalayas.

A view of our camp site by night in the shadow of the Himalayas.

Towards the end of the day we heard the snow leopard call five consecutive times from our campsite, further confirming the cry that I heard the previous day above the observation platform. That evening as darkness settled over the camp, a soft snow began to fall from the heavens. With no wind to push the storm away from us the snow rapidly began to accumulate on the ground. Our group was resting before the evening meal and I was outside capturing a photograph of our campsite. Not long after nightfall, Gyalson and Gurmet were walking just beyond our campsite discussing the day’s events. At one point Gurmet turned and glanced over his shoulder at the cliff above the road. In utter disbelief he stared into the darkness at what was unmistakably an adult snow leopard walking on the cliff directly above our camp site, a mere 80 meters away! He came running over to me whispering excitedly “Nathaniel, hurry with your camera! Come quick, we’ve seen a snow leopard very close!” My initial reaction was to run to join the group already there attempting to capture a photograph in the semi-darkness, but something in the back of my mind told me that I wasn’t going to capture an image of the leopard  this time. I finished taking my photograph of our campsite and proceeded to switch the ball head on my tripod to a gimbal head to accommodate my super-telephoto lens. I don’t know if it was the cold, the age of my tripod or perhaps a combination of factors, but when I went to switch heads the threaded center post spun freely down into the tripod base. I tried unsuccessfully in the dark three times, but I wasn’t able to attach my gimbal head. I stared in disbelief at my plight, the snow leopard now a mere 60 meters away.

The dark side of the moon.

The dark side of the moon.

 As a general rule the wildlife officials don’t allow the photographers to get closer than 300 meters to the snow leopards. Seeing one at a distance this close was almost unheard of. All around me camera shutters were firing off in rapid succession seeming to only further mock my situation. At first the snow leopard just sat silently watching us and then like a true ghost cat it slowly walked away, fading into the darkness. I congratulated all the photographers who had managed to capture images of the leopard and admired their photos. An exceptional opportunity had eluded me due to the failure of my equipment. However, something told me that it wouldn’t be our last encounter with this leopard. That night I met with Gyalson and Gurmet and told them that I wanted our entire group to get up while it was still dark to search for paw prints before the rest of the groups awoke and trampled on whatever tracks might have been left by the leopard overnight.

A yearling Blue Sheep jumps fearlessly from the edge of the cliff to the rocks below.

A yearling Blue Sheep jumps fearlessly from the edge of the cliff to the rocks below.

Part V: The Phantom Revealed

I didn’t need an alarm the morning of February 26th. I was out of my tent with all my gear long before dawn. The snow ceased and skies had cleared overnight. The moon aided us, its light reflecting off of the snow. We set out from camp towards Husing Valley in search of tracks, looking where we’d seen them the previous day, but there was no evidence of the big cat there. Scanning the side of the mountain we saw what looked to be a pair of eyes reflecting back at us. I tried to tell myself that it was only a blue sheep, however the eyes looked too close together and faced forward… much like a snow leopards. Once it moved there was no mistake, we’d located our phantom! Leaving a cleft in the rocks where it had most likely waited out the evening storm, the leopard walked gracefully along the face of the mountain. Soon it disappeared from view between a gap in the rocks and we lost track of it. Part of our group went with our Gyalson up the face of the mountain we were on, while I elected to climb with Gurmet and Stanzin up to the observation platform to search that area. Arriving we set up a scope and my 600mm lens and began scanning the mountains. We found nothing for the first few moments, then suddenly Gurmet exclaimed, “Nathaniel! There’s the snow leopard!” Where?! I asked excitedly. Looking in the direction Gurmet was pointing I saw the snow leopard near the summit. The big cat was climbing directly towards the rocks above the observation platform where I’d made my solitary hike a little more than a day before! The distance was nearly 400 meters and it was still mostly dark, so I pushed my ISO to 6400 and quickly took a couple shots. I stared in dumbfounded silence as the snow leopard walked and sat down directly below the large rock that I’d rested on at the top of the mountain.

Snow Leopard near the summit of mountain in Hemis National Park, India.

Snow Leopard near the summit of mountain in Hemis National Park, India.

I managed to capture another couple images before it disappeared from view over the crest of the summit. I was the only photographer on the platform, and though my images were far from exceptional, I was the happiest man alive. There were plenty of hi-fives and fist bumps there on the mountain that morning. I marveled at the fact that I’d stood on the exact same ground as this snow leopard a mere day before.

The heart of the mountains.

The heart of the mountains.

In many ways the beginning of the expedition played out as though it were scripted, we were just here acting out our roles in this unbelievable story. Many travelers come from every corner of the world to the Himalayas in search of snow leopards, spending days or even weeks here, but leave without even catching so much as a glimpse of one. I was humbled and incredibly thankful for the success we’d experienced in such a short time. 

We saw the snow leopard again on February 27th, the third consecutive day in a row. This sighting was atop a ridge line at a distance well over 500 meters. While the rest of our group was resting I had elected to walk up the surface of the frozen stream with Stanzin in search of some unique images. We slowly made our way, eventually nearing an area called Pika Point, (named by the locals after the community of pikas living under the rocks there). While setting up my camera for a landscape composition I heard excited conversation nearby from someone’s two-way radio. Due to the conversation being in Ladakhi I turned to Stanzin and asked him what they were saying. After listening for a moment his face lit up and he said that someone had found a snow leopard just up the trail from where I was shooting. I could have easily walked to the location and been set up to photograph the leopard within minutes, but as the photographer leading the expedition I felt it my responsibility to ensure that our group knew about the sighting. As you can imagine it was incredibly difficult to maneuver back downstream on the ice at a rapid pace without falling. We finally reached the campsite and I roused our group.

A young Blue Sheep in need of some assistance.

A young Blue Sheep in need of some assistance.

Everyone quickly took off up the trail and arriving at the location set about photographing the cat on the ridge line. I was pretty winded after racing back to alert the others. As a result I ended up being one of the last to make it up the road to where the snow leopard was visible.

One of the many pika in 'Pika Point' up the trail from base camp.

One of the many pika in ‘Pika Point’ up the trail from base camp.

Just as I drew close to the group the leopard stood up and started leaping downhill from one boulder to another and disappeared. I was disappointed to have missed another opportunity, but comforted recalling the incredible experience I’d had with this leopard the day before. We would hear the snow leopard call one more time during the remainder of our stay in Hemis National Park, but never saw it again after that day. It occurred to me that the snow leopard is only seen when it wants to be. Our clumsy movements are no match for their exceptionally keen senses.  During each encounter these incredible animals seemed well aware of our presence long before we ever located them, and they disappeared without a trace whenever they chose to.

Layers of beautiful patterns and textures on the mountain.

Layers of beautiful patterns and textures on the mountain.

Part VI: Saying Goodbye

The remainder of our expedition was spent photographing blue sheep, pikas, bearded vultures golden eagles and even some urial sheep. The sky was dominated by shades of solid gray during much of our stay, making landscape photos a challenge. Of the time I was in India I believe we saw blue sky on only three different days. Due to the sky being shrouded in clouds we didn’t experience much in the way of nice light for sunrise or sunset. We focused a lot on the more subtle patterns and textures of the mountains, as opposed to the grand landscape.

It's official, the' Candy Crush' craze is international!

It’s official, the’ Candy Crush’ craze is international!

On our final, full day in Hemis National Park I spent a lot of time with the expedition team. Sitting with them in the kitchen tent I thought to myself how remarkable it was that after just two short weeks with these wonderful people I’d already begun to understand elements of their conversations in the Ladakhi dialect, though I knew few of the words. Often I could sense inflection in their voices or read the expressions on their faces to learn what the conversation was about. Perhaps the best was when I detected humor in their speech and knew when to laugh with them. We shared many a good laugh together, but perhaps none as hearty as when we discovered that one of Lobzung’s favorite ways to pass time during the day was playing Candy Crush on his phone. After our final meal Lobzung prepared a surprise cake and presented it to our group, inscribed with icing were the words ‘Snow Leopard Trek – We Did It!’.

The Snow Leopard Expedition Team | Hemis National Park, India

The 2015 Snow Leopard Expedition Team – Hemis National Park, India

Snow-Leopard-Trek-Cake_India_IMG_20150304 That afternoon Gurmet and I climbed a good distance up the mountain face beyond where the snow leopard had been seen walking on the cliff above our camp at night. Having explored the area we took in the view one last time before making our descent. Walking back along the edge of the stream I found an old blue sheep horn hidden among the rocks and bushes. With the permission of our guides I placed it carefully in my tent. This horn now sits prominently on the desk in my office, a gift from these majestic mountains and a reminder of this incredible journey. The following morning we departed from Hemis National Park. As I hiked out I recalled many of the experiences from our eventful snow leopard expedition. My heart was full of gratitude for the various memories that I would carry for a lifetime of this vast, alpine kingdom and the cat I call, The Phantom of the Himalayas.

Parting Shot | India

Feel free to email me directly for information on next year’s trip and please check out:

Snow Leopard Expedition

Enjoy a hi-res gallery of the images from this article in my India Portfolio

Review: Naneu Adventure K5-v2 Hiking/Photo Pack

Chronicles of Nature

Field Test of Naneu’s Adventure K5-II at White Sands, New Mexico

I recently took my Naneu Adventure K5-v2 hiking pack out on the road for a field test. My destination? New Mexico’s White Sand Dunes under a full moon. In this particular Park you have two options to access the Park outside of normal hours of operation;

1). Pay the Park Rangers to access the Park after or before its normal hours of operation at the rate of $50 per hour.

2). Pack your gear in to one of their remote campsites and spend the night in the Dunes to experience sunset, the night sky and sunrise.

I chose option two as I wanted to take full advantage of my time in the Park and get away from the casual tourists on the main road. In packing my gear I need to be prepared for a 50 degree temperature swing with highs in the 80’s during the day, and lows dropping all the way down to the 30’s at the coolest point of the night. I also had to consider the possibility of rain in the forecast. Unfortunately the weather was uncooperative on this trip, but I was still able to enjoy the versatility of my new pack. Heavy rain showers blew in one of the days I was there, but the Adventure K5-v2’s rain cover kept all my gear dry. Besides my camera equipment I was also carrying a 2-man backpacking tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, rain jacket, change of clothes, water and food for two or three days. Fully loaded my pack weighed over 50lbs, and distributed the weight exceptionally well. While it certainly isn’t weightless, I easily could have carried more gear if needed.

The 80 liter capacity the Adventure K5-v2 offers more space than any other technical, hiking camera pack available. I was pleased to find that its internal frame and ventilated, padded back support was designed with photographers in mind. The spacious main compartment can be accessed from both sides, as well as the top and the bottom. The numerous external pouches and pockets afforded me plenty of additional space to stow a wide variety of items and keep them readily accessible. I like to always have a designated location to store my wallet, keys and smart phone on these trips, the waist straps pockets were perfect for this. An interior pouch on the left side of the pack is designed to hold a large volume water bladder and one elastic pouch on either side perfectly accommodated two Nalgene bottles allowing me to transport plenty of water even in a desert climate. There is a built in system that secured my tripod and didn’t allow it to shift around or hit me in the head.

Wanderlust | New Mexico

There were a few features that really sold me on this pack, but perhaps the most notable was the removable camera pod. The Adventure K5-v2 has a dedicated center compartment that fits a separate camera pod for storage of all your fragile camera equipment on long treks. This center compartment is accessible from either side of the pack and is fully collapsible once the camera pod is removed. The pod’s padded interior easily provides storage for my pro DSLR with my 70-200mm lens attached, spare batteries/memory cards, filters, cable release, flash and three additional lenses. The pod’s shoulder straps allowed me to use it as a day pack for shorter hikes and leave the main body of the Adventure K5-v2 behind at my base camp. The pod also clips to the front of the Adventure K5-v2 allowing it to be transported attached on your chest and quickly accessed without having to remove the hiking pack from your back for shooting on the go.

My initial response to this pack is nearly all positive. I will say that if you are not going on an extended, multiple day trek this bag may be more than you need, however that is not to say the Adventure K5-v2 couldn’t be used on single day trips as well. I advised Naneu that I’d like to see the hydration bladder pouch be designed in future production to be a zippered compartment as opposed to a sleeve style pocket. They have taken that feedback and are researching what can be done to address that request. I noticed some shift of the chest strap at times, but have experienced that with other packs as well, so that might just be the nature of life on the trail with 50lbs of gear on your back.

Naneu Adventure K5-II Camera Pod

One of the common complaints made by photographers looking for a good hiking pack is that there are few technical, hiking packs designed to properly carry camera equipment, and camera backpacks are certainly not designed to offer balanced weight distribution for your body over long distances, much less transport camping gear. Naneu left no stone unturned in the design of this pack and the result is an intelligently crafted pack in a class by itself. The Adventure K5-v2 is the perfect fusion of a top of the line camera bag and a technical hiking pack in one. If you’re in the market for a new, large volume, hiking pack and looking to transport your camera gear in a safe, secure way this pack is the answer. If you choose to order one be sure to mention my name at checkout to receive 15% off your order and free shipping.

Visit Naneu’s website  for more info.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel

Adobe Creative Cloud – The Perfect Storm

Chronicles of Nature

June 17th, 2013 marks the date of perhaps one of the most significant events to affect the photographic industry since the dawn of the digital age. On this date Adobe announced that new releases of their flagship image editing software ‘Photoshop’ would only be available through their ‘Creative Cloud’ as subscription based software with a monthly fee. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past three months this may come as quite a shock. Most photographers have been considering their options for the past ninety days since the announcement, and it has created quite a divide. A large number of top level professionals have turned their backs on Adobe, walking away with no intentions of ever returning; others have not been dissuaded by the announcement, and promptly subscribed to the Creative Cloud. This is a vast topic and as this situation is still evolving I would encourage you to continue to monitor it as it develops.

 Why did they do it? Well, from a business perspective the idea is potentially ingenious. Changing the software to a monthly subscription as opposed to a one time download essentially guarantees Adobe a constant revenue stream from their customer base. Up to this point a user could purchase Adobe Photoshop once and continue to use it as long as they wanted without paying for the latest updates. At the time of the release of Photoshop Creative Cloud the monthly subscription fee for current CS6 users was set at $19.99 per month ($29.99 per month for CS3, CS4 and CS5 users). Presumably due to the public outcry, this price was recently reduced to $9.99 per month with a twelve month subscription contract and includes Photoshop CC, Lightroom, Behance Membership with ProSite and 20GB of Cloud Storage. This package is being marketed as Adobe’s Photoshop Photography Program and will be available starting September 17th, 2013. The $9.99 price will only be available to those who already own a version of CS3 (or more a recent release up to and including CS6). This reduced price will only being offered until December 31st, 2013. The monthly subscription fee will cover any updates or new releases to the software and allows the user to access the software on up to two devices. Oddly enough Lightroom is also available outside the Creative Cloud as a one time fee, perpetual license version, as it has always been. Adobe Bridge is a separate item and can be acquired free of charge by Photoshop Creative Cloud subscribers. Bear in mind that this is just the hook… after your first year’s contract there’s no price guarantee. Adobe states that, “The cost of an annual membership will not go up during the first 12 months of your membership. It is possible that the cost of the month-to-month membership will increase, but if it does, you will be notified and given the opportunity to cancel.”  Those are not exactly comforting words from Adobe…

 Ultimately we are left with three choices:

 1).* Subscribe to the Creative Cloud and find a way to include an additional cost into your annual budget, while hoping that Adobe doesn’t put the price out of reach in the future. (This may not be such a big deal to the high volume professional, but to the hobbyist or casual photographer this could exclude them from continuing to use Adobe products).

 2).* Choose a different processing software to edit your files with such as Elements, Capture One Pro, Pixelmator, Gimp, etc.

 3).* Continue to use your current version of Photoshop and/or Lightroom until Adobe no longer offers support on that version.

 * 1). I have some major reservations about option one… Unfortunately I believe this move by Adobe is just the tip of the iceberg. In taking this route I believe Adobe has paved a way for all other software companies to take this step at some point in the future. We see already that Microsoft has a similar option with their Office 365 subscription. Granted you can still purchase Microsoft’s software as a one time fee, perpetual license version, but how much longer will this last? In fact, in May of this year Microsoft Office Director of Communications Clint Patterson wrote in a blog entry that though he agrees with Adobe that subscription software is imminent, Microsoft won’t discontinue packaged software in the near future. Patterson wrote, “Unlike Adobe, we think people’s shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time.”

 Adobe states that you don’t need an internet connection to access your Creative Cloud software every day. Members who subscribe on a month to month basis will need to connect with Adobe’s servers every 30 days to “validate their software license”, and every 99 days for annual subscriptions. However, fellow professional photographers that I’ve spoken with who have signed up for the Creative Cloud tell me that they’ve been required to login and validate their software license much more frequently than this. This is a cause of great concern for me as a professional Nature Photographer. I do a great deal of my work in National Parks and remote locations, far from the range of an internet signal for extended periods of time. Often I have my laptop with me on these trips to review and process files in the evening hours. If I’m out on the road and can’t get an internet signal on the day that I’m prompted to connect to Adobe’s servers and ‘verify my software’, am I just not going to be able to access Photoshop until I get somewhere that I can login?

 You may have noticed that Adobe offers 20GB of storage in the Cloud with your subscription. What you probably didn’t notice, (unless you read every word in their ‘Terms of Use’ statement), is that by uploading to the Creative Cloud and opting to have your content displayed as ‘Shared Material’ your content becomes their content. Quoting from Adobe’s website it reads: “You grant Adobe a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, transferable, and sublicensable license to adapt, display, distribute, modify, perform, publish, reproduce, translate, and use Your Shared Material for the purpose of operating and improving the Services and enabling your use of the Services.”  While you are not required to use the Creative Cloud storage, (and even if you do you have the option to not share your files), this is a slippery slope and one that I’m afraid far too many will fall prey to due to being uninformed. If you have not reviewed this language I strongly suggest you review sections 9. ‘Your Material’ and 10. ‘Shared Material’ before uploading any images into their Cloud Storage. I’m not accusing Adobe of malicious intent here, but all users should be aware of this agreement before adding their images to the Cloud. If you are interested in reading it you can find their ‘Terms of Use’ here.

 * 2). Option two is difficult in that one is faced with learning a whole new image editing software. However the competition is trying to make this an easier transition. Companies like Corel, Xara, Nitro, Nuance, and Pixelmator are taking advantage of the disenchantment Adobe’s customers are feeling since this change from selling Creative Suite perpetual licenses to Creative Cloud subscriptions has been foisted upon them. Corel went so far as to offer a promotion that lets Adobe CS4, CS5, and CS6 users buy Corel software for the ‘upgrade price’ instead of the full price. Many pro photographers speculate that this is a perfect opportunity for a company to come in and sweep up a lions share of the market from Adobe. Google having recently acquired the Nik Software Suite of products is one player that comes to mind as a powerhouse that could challenge for this market if they chose to invest in the process. Nikon’s NX2 editing software give Nikon users the ability to edit RAW files without the use of Adobe products, while Canon offers their users Canon Digital Photo Pro. Topaz also offers an image editing software suite that is popular with some photographers. It should be noted that as of the writing of this article Gimp ( a free image editing software) will open PSD files. Also please note that any image files you’ve edited in Photoshop or Lightroom up to this point, that have been flattened and saved as a TIFF or JPEG file, will be able to be opened by any software that supports those formats.

 * 3). As for option three you can continue using Creative Suite products indefinitely, however they will not be eligible for future software updates. Eventually Adobe will no longer offer support for these products. How long will they be supported no one can say. It could be five years, it could be ten years or it could stop tomorrow. Ultimately this option will fail you when the device that is currently running your copy of CS6, for example, dies and you purchase a computer with Windows 9 on it. When you go to download your copy of Photoshop onto your new device you will be told it does not support it. As of right now all previous versions of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom work with Windows 7 and 8. At that point you will be left with only choices one or two listed above. Lightroom currently continues to be sold outside the Creative Cloud subscription, but odds are this too will go away in the near future and will be only available through the Creative Cloud.  Clearly this is the intended future of Adobe’s sales approach.

In conclusion all one can do is make an educated decision that works best for their individual situation, these circumstances are different for each of us. I have worked to compile this information to help you decide what is best for you personally. My hope is that this post helps you to see through the storm created by Adobe Creative Cloud and provides some clarity in this decision making process. Remember, the way we speak the loudest is with our wallets.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

 – Nathaniel Smalley

A World Without Colors

Chronicles of Nature

Adult Great Horned owl image captured near owl nest in the Phoenix metro area.

Though the vast majority of my published portfolio is in color, I enjoy working in black and white as well. Color photography began to overtake the market in the mid – 20th century and has effectively left black and white photography as essentially a niche market for photographers who use this medium for artistic purposes. Most professional photographers today would agree that creating an appealing black and white photograph requires much more effort than one in color. Thus the market has been shaped by the influx of color in our profession and changed public perception in ways that few ever anticipated. In 1935 the Eastman Kodak Company came out with its Kodachrome film, a product that revolutionized the photographic industry. Before that time those wishing to capture color images had to deal with heavy glass plates, tripods, long exposures and a painstaking development procedure, despite all this work photographers were left with unsatisfactory results. After dominating the market for decades, Kodak announced in 2009 that it would be discontinuing it’s production of Kodachrome as it now accounted for less than 1% of the company’s revenue. Ironically enough, Kodak is now all but obsolete in the world of digital photography.

Wild Morning Glory found growing along the banks of Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona.

Composing images with the absence of color demands that one be even more mindful of photographic principles. Suddenly things like subject matter, composition, contrast, textures, tones and shading take on a whole new level of importance. In the world of color photography it’s often all too easy to become lax in these areas and rely on colors to persuade the viewer’s eyes into appreciating the image they are looking at. Thanks to our culture of rampant visual stimuli, creating compelling black and white images that will appeal to the general public has become increasingly difficult. A widespread popularity for photos that demonstrate a misuse of color saturation has led to images that rival Lisa Frank’s graphic art, and this can be discouraging for some. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t exercise ourselves in the discipline of working in a black and white medium.

Winter landscape shot of an Aspen Grove shot near Greer, Arizona.

 

 

 

It was Ansel Adams that said, “A photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium.” If one of the greatest black and white photographers could make such a statement we should take it upon ourselves to see what work we can contribute to this end. Some have said, “A picture is worth a thousand words”… If the greatest poets were able to paint pictures with their words, how much more ought we as photographers be able to create pictures without colors? I encourage you to challenge yourself by composing images in black and white; I’m confident that it will assist in making you a more skilled photographer and help you create in ways you never thought possible. See the world in black and white and throw away those colorful crutches for a while.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel Smalley

Black and White landscape image taken off Hwy 89 in Montana near Glacier National Park.

Black and White landscape image taken off Hwy 89 in Montana near Glacier National Park.