13 May 2011

A Cappella

For most of the subjects that I shoot, I already have the perfect image hanging somewhere on the walls inside my head. This doesn't always happen right away, but usually after my first attempt, having experienced the behavior of the subject and seeing the location, I have a pretty good idea of what I want. Unfortunately with wildlife photography, what you want is not necessarily what you get. :) When the light is perfect, the subject is not there. When the subject is there, the light is terrible. Or when the light is perfect and the subject is there, it is in the wrong position, facing away from the camera, or not doing what you want it to do. Frustrating as this might sound, it is also one of the reasons wildlife photography is so addictive - you keep trying to get the shot you're after.

I visit Japan every year, and one of the highlights of the tour are the beautiful and highly endangered Japanes crane (Grus japonensis, also known as red-crowned crane), the second rarest crane in the world. The graceful winter dances of these elegant birds are a joy to watch and photograph. I have planned this trip during winter when there's usually lots of snow. As these birds are primarily white, the shot I really wanted to get was one where you'd have a white foreground (snow), a light gray sky, and the birds on the horizon - different shades of white and gray. As often, this shot proved to be much more easy to produce inside my head than in the field. On last year's visit though, all the elements briefly worked together in perfect harmony.

It had been snowing continuously on our last morning, so the snow was fresh and the sky was fully overcast. The light was soft and all around us, and the cranes were doing their usual thing - throwing their heads up in the air and calling as loud as they could. Once small group was walking up a slope, removing all background vegetation resulting in a clean and graphic scene with low contrast and very subtle detail - just the way I like it. When they simultaneously started calling with their beaks pointed upwards, I took this shot. It's moments like this that I enjoy most, probably because they don't happen very often.

Nikon D3, AF-S VR 200-400/4.0, 1/800 @ f/10, ISO 400

10 May 2011

Full Moon Mesa

Icons are icons for a reason. My initial feeling is always to avoid icons, because they've already been photographed a kazillion times before - what's the point. However, at the same time I'm always curious to see the icon myself, and when I'm there I always end up trying to do my own version. Same here.

Everywhere you read about Mesa Arch, people say that it's a sunrise location and they're very specific even about the exact time that you should shoot it - only during a few minutes after sunrise when the arch turns bright red. This was very helpful information, so I decided to go there at night. :-)

The most obvious advantage was that there was no one there - not very typical for this location. I had the whole place to myself and was able to use a small flashlight to paint the arch without bothering anyone else.

I had timed my visit with full moon so that I basically had the same light situation as in the early morning, but much more subtle. I hid the moon behind the arch and used the moonlight to illuminate the background. During the 60 second exposure I painted the arch and the foreground rocks. I added a warm up gel to get a nice color contrast between the warm tones of the rock and the blue of the sky. This is a single exposure.

Nikon D3S, AF-S 14-24/2.8, 60s @ f/8, ISO 800, flashlight

>Click here for larger version<

09 May 2011

Feature in the Daily Mail

UK newspaper The Daily Mail features Marsel's image of a charging lion in the Kalahari desert. It is used as inspiration for new entries into the 2011 Travel Photographer of the Year competition. Marsel's image is part of the exhibition currently held at the Royal Geographical Society in London and was a winning entry in the 2010 Travel Photographer Of The Year awards, as well as voted most popular by the people visting the exhibition. Read the full article in the Daily Mail 

04 May 2011

New photo tour to Egypt: Sahara Sandscapes

In 2009 I decided that in 2010 I would focus more on landscape photography, and so I did. For a couple of years I had done so much wildlife stuff, that at times it felt like shooting on auto pilot. I needed a change of subject matter to force myself to think and work differently. The 200-400 and the 600 went into the closet, the wide angles were suddenly my standard lenses on most trips. And how nice it is to travel like a landscape photographer - my camera bag lost at least 20 pounds.

Deciding on possible locations was not an easy task. There are countless beautiful places on our planet, but there are already zillions of photographs of most of them. As we were also thinking about adding another Squiver photo tour, we wanted to go somewhere special - far off the beaten track to get the sort of shots you haven't seen a hundred times before. In my photography I like strong shapes, clutter-free compositions and graphic lines, so the desert it was. :-)

When I say Egypt, you say pyramids - and you're correct: there are indeed pyramids in Egypt. We didn't visit them though, because a) they've been photographed to death, b) it's way too crowdy to even think about taking a photograph, and c) we had something much better in mind: the Western Desert and the White Desert. 

I have a strange preference for surreal landscapes, which explains our tours to Namibia and Turkey. But Egypt has a few extraterrestrial landscapes to offer as well. No need to pay 20 million dollars for a trip into space when you can visit a different planet with Squiver - the landscape of the White Desert is alien in every way. It has a white, cream color and massive chalk rock formations that have been created as a result of occasional sandstorms in the area. The chalk-white landscape is strewn with otherworldly shapes, boulders of brilliant white which thrust up from the surface of the desert, intensified by the clear light of noon, shimmering gold at sunset or blackened and shrunken in a cloud-filled sky. Cupcakes, mushrooms, rabbits, profiles, monoliths, tables, crowns, swirls, mounds and any other shape your mind imagines dot the golden yellow sands for as far as the eye can see.

In the remote past, the White Desert was a sea-bed, the sedimentary layers of rock formed by marine fauna when the ocean dried up. The landscape we see today was formed  by the plateau breaking down, leaving harder rock shapes standing while the softer parts are eroded away by wind and sand. In some parts the chalk surface still has the appearance of delicate wind-ruffled waves on water. The White Desert is unlike anything you've ever seen before.

The Western Desert is more mountainous and has a high plateau that offers spectacular views on the Mars-like scenery below. You can walk here for days on end and see the landscape changing around every corner. A night under the stars is an experience never forgotten. As the sky turns pink then deepest fiery orange, the rock-shapes fade and silence is all around. Sitting around a small fire and enjoying the simplest meal of chicken, rice and vegetables, you will feel like nothing has ever tasted so good. If the moon is near full, the white chalk rock shapes glow eerily, like ghosts in the darkness under a sky still filled with bright stars and there is no need for artificial lights.

This is a unique trip to a unique location and an experience of a lifetime. We're excited that tourism is alive and kicking again in Egypt, and we're looking forward to show you around in one of the most spectacular parts of the African Sahara. If you like adventure, then this is the trip for you. Check out the photo tours page on our website for additional information and download the day-to-day schedule.(PDF).

Utah date changed to: 17 December - 23 December 2011

Because we don't want to keep anybody from having Christmas with their family, we have pushed the Utah trip one day forward. You should arrive Saturday 17 December in the evening at the latest to join in on the fun. And the tour ends after a last early morning shoot on Friday 23 December. Merry Christmas :-)

03 May 2011

New photo tour added to Utah, USA: Arches under the stars

We've always wanted to visit the National Parks of Utah, and when we finally did in November last year, we were stunned by the incredible beauty. Sure, we'd seen many photographs from Utah before our visit - who hasn't - but it just goes to show that a picture can never beat the feeling of actually being there.

We were so impressed by the landscape and the photographic possibilities of Arches National Park and the surrounding areas, that we decided to organize a photo tour to this dramatic geologic marvel of the American Southwest.

Arches contains one of the largest concentrations of natural sandstone arches in the world. The arches and numerous other extraordinary geologic features, such as spires, pinnacles, pedestals and balanced rocks, are highlighted in striking foreground and background views created by contrasting colors, landforms and textures. It is truly a landscape photographer's dream.

Water and ice, extreme temperatures and underground salt movement are responsible for the sculptured rock scenery of Arches National Park. On clear days with blue skies, it is hard to imagine such violent forces, or the 100 million years of erosion that created this land. The more than 2,000 cataloged arches range in size from a three-foot opening, the minimum considered an arch, to the longest one, Landscape Arch, which measures 306 feet from base to base. New arches are being formed and old ones are being destroyed. Erosion and weathering are relatively slow but are relentlessly creating dynamic landforms that gradually change through time. Occasionally change occurs more dramatically. In 1991 a slab of rock about 60 feet long, 11 feet wide and 4 feet thick fell from the underside of Landscape Arch, leaving behind an even thinner ribbon of rock.

The park lies atop an underground salt bed, which is basically responsible for the arches and spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins and eroded monoliths that make the area a photographer's mecca.

After we thoroughly explored the park and some of the lesser-known areas outside, we decided that winter would be the perfect time for this trip. First of all, winter has the fewest crowds. Arches NP is a very popular destination, and rightly so, and we want to avoid getting hordes of tourists in our shots. Also, in winter there is always a chance of snow. Southeast Utah is part of the Colorado Plateau, a "high desert" region that experiences wide temperature fluctuations, sometimes over 40 degrees in a single day. Winters are cold, with highs averaging -1 to 10C (30-50F), and lows averaging -18 to -6C (0-20F). From personal experience we can tell you that Arches in the snow is even more breathtaking, so it's worth the chill factor.

A nice advantage of photographing in winter, is that sunrise and sunset times are a bit more humane. :-) The light is also softer in winter and the air more clear.

Chances are that we'll be getting a couple of clear nights, during which we will try some night photography. Marsel will give a dedicated workshop on night photography, light painting and shooting stars and star trails, so that should be great fun. We have already selected a couple of good locations for this specific purpose and we're looking forward to our nightly sessions!

Balancing Rock, Delicate Arch, The Windows, Wall Street, Devils Garden, Landscape Arch, are only a few of the locations we will visit. But outside of Arches NP there is also plenty to photograph, like the countless bird's eye views of the regions many stone canyons and spires from the high plateaus of Canyonlands National Park. And for those that like hiking, there are even more landscape gems to discover. We already know where to find them, and what the best time of day is for photography, so we won't waste any time.

Moab will be our base from where we will start our daily excursions. It's a quaint little town, but it's got everything we'll need, including good food.

We expect this trip to fill up fast, so if you're interested in joining us - don't hesitate and book a spot on this tour. More information & images can be found on the photo tours page on our website. You can also download the detailed day-to-day schedule (PDF), with lots of panoramic images. Hope to see you there!