Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Talk at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

I am thrilled to have been invited to do a talk on September 23rd at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History in Pacific Grove, California as part of their Hardcore Natural History Speaker Series. 

The idea came about in a conversation with the museum's director of education and outreach, Liese Murphree relating to their wonderful new "Changes" Exhibit. The year-long speaker series is focused on changes in Monterey County habitats over time, the impact of humans in these landscapes, and the role of humans in protecting them for the future. 

Photography plays an important role in conservation and I look forward to discussing how it has shaped my own personal journey both as a photographer and resident of this incredibly beautiful part of the world.  I hope you can join me!  

Learn more and REGISTER HERE

Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

NANPA's Annual Showcase 2020

Every year, the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) hosts a photography competition for its members. Thousands of entries are submitted with 250 images selected by an esteemed panel of judges for publication.

Winning images tend to be those that are not only well executed both visually and technically, but contain scenes or subject matter not commonly photographed or submitted. As with any photo competition, it helps to view previous winning entries. This will guide you as far as what it is judges are looking for and how you can potentially submit images they may not have seen before.
Bears and eagles tend to be highly popular, so if you are planning on submitting images of either subject, they had better be extra special in order to grab the judge's attention.

This black oystercatcher was a top 100 selection and I was so thrilled to share this beautiful bird, which I rarely see either submitted or winning nature photography competitions. As with much of our wildlife these days, it is facing challenges primarily due to coastal development and human disturbance. You can learn more HERE.

Art in Nature Photography Festival

I am thrilled to be one of the eight judges in this year's "Art in Photography Festival" at the renowned Ward Museum, Salisbury University, Maryland.  As with many events and activities around the globe, this year's competition will be a little different in that it will be virtual.

With twelve categories, there is something for everyone, wherever your interest in nature photography lies. The competition is now open for entries up to July 8th with the exhibit taking place from July 10th - 12th.

You can learn more HERE

Thursday, May 7, 2020

It's Bambi!

Sharing an unprepared, short video clip I took at the spur of moment from my home as a recent addition to our Blacktail deer population made an appearance :-) More to follow as I document its progress over the coming months!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Helping Ourselves by Helping Nature

I know this is a difficult time for many and priorities have changed in various aspects of our lives. But if like me, you now have some extra time on your hands, there are ways to put that time to good use and where social distancing is possible. Nature heals and this is a wonderful way to feed our spirits when it is easy to feel low.

If you are able to get out in nature, many organizations are in need of volunteers, as crucial funds diminish and programs come to a halt. This in turn will have a drastic impact on the wildlife, the communities and the environments they support. Wherever your interest lies, whether that is nature related or something else entirely, there is something for everyone.

This year I officially became a volunteer with the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History with an interest in their Black Oystercatcher Monitoring Program. This involves observing nesting birds in various locations in the Monterey Bay area, gathering and documenting data as part of an ongoing research study.

It is a win, win situation for me and the birds, as it not only makes me feel good and useful, but I also get to see and photograph these beautiful birds. I was also recently highlighted in the "Volunteer Spotlight "section of the museum's newsletter.

New Nature Blog!

Announcing my new nature blog, "All Things Wild", where I will share short stories from my experiences in the natural world.

Wildlife photography requires a great deal of time watching and waiting. It is during these times of observation that I have discovered some remarkable things about my subjects and the environments they call home.

I created the blog with the sole purpose of sharing some of the things I have learned along the way and I hope you will subscribe and follow along!

Monday, May 20, 2019

A morning at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

This morning I headed over to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve with a specific goal in photograph the Brandt's Cormorants at Bird Island. Right now these birds are busy preparing for nesting season and there is plenty of action!

Males choose the nest site and display to ward off rivals and attract a mate. Displays include drawing head back with blue throat pouch extended and bill pointed upward, spreading tail, and fluttering wings; also thrusting head forward and downward in rapid repeated strokes.

The nest site is on ground, either level or steeply sloped. The nest consists of a mound of seaweed, eelgrass, algae, cemented by droppings. Most nest material is obtained underwater with the male doing most of gathering and the female most of the building. A pair may use the same nest every year, adding to it annually.

While at Bird Island, I met another photographer who kindly shared the location of three Black-crowned Night Heron nests, two of the nests already with chicks, while the third had three beautiful pale green eggs being carefully tended by the female.

All these nests are located on small islands so away from human disturbance. They only thing they have to contend with are predators including crows, gulls, hawks and a resident pair of peregrine falcons. If unfledged chicks happen to fall out of the nests to the rocks or ocean below, they have pretty much sealed their fate.

Deriving its name from the offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos, Point of the Sea Wolves, where the sound of the sea lions carries inland, the Reserve has often been called "the crown jewel of the State Park System" and it is easy to see why. Spectacular scenery, rock formations, hidden coves with turquoise water, and an incredible array of birds, wildlife, plants and trees can be found here. There is nowhere else like it on earth and I am so very fortunate to have it right on my doorstep.

If you decide to visit, weekends can be crazy, so arriving at the park when it opens at 8:00am is best. Otherwise, weekdays are going to be your safest bet.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

South Georgia on my mind...

Having recently returned from several weeks at the bottom of the world, I am now sifting through the thousands of images I shot bringing back wonderful memories from the amazing places visited.

If you ever decide to visit Antarctica and if funds allow, an itinerary that includes South Georgia Island will be well worth the investment.

South Georgia Island has to be one of the most mind blowing experiences when it comes to the sheer number of birds and wildlife that inhabit this very special place in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.

Home to some of the largest king penguin populations on the planet, it can be overwhelming to first time visitors, especially when landing at Salisbury Plain or St. Andrews Bay.  Each of these sites accommodate king penguins in the hundreds of thousands! I have seen eyes well up and jaws drop at the mere sight and sound of nature on such a massive scale. On a previous trip, one traveler in particular with tears in their eyes said to me "Jackie, I don't know what to say, I am completely overwhelmed!"

January in particular is prime baby time with fur seal pups scattered along the beaches sleeping, nursing, hanging out in small groups or crying in search of their mothers. It is hard to not fall completely in love with them.

King penguins come and go, mating, bickering, sitting on eggs, tending their young, or emerging from the water with bellies full, as they make their way back to the colony to feed their hungry offspring. It is hard to comprehend how they can possibly find each other in the chaos, but somehow they do! The sounds coming from the colony is constant as conversations and calls fill the air!

Predators such as the Antarctic brown skuas hover above in search of eggs or small chicks to pluck away at opportune moments. Giant Southern Petrels also present a danger both on land and in the water. Elephant seals are also seen resting along the beaches or among the tussock grass. At this time of the year the massive males have returned to sea while the females and juveniles remain.

At Gold Harbor which happens to be one of my favorite locations, the king penguin colony is set against a stunning backdrop with the Bertrand Glacier cascading down and on a day like the one we had, glorious sunshine and blue skies made it picture postcard perfect! As part of the expedition team, I have the benefit of going ashore in the the shore party staff members. This allows me to capture wide angle and landscape images without people.

Soon after landing at Gold Harbor, I quickly unpacked my bag and set up my gear as it would not be long before guests started to arrive. As I was doing this, a pair of king penguins began to head right in my direction.  Oh what luck as the image I have so wanted to capture in this spot was transpiring right before my eyes!  A pair of king penguins on the beach in the foreground set against the stunning glacier and scenery.  I waited as they got closer and stopped, then slowly positioned myself to get the right composition, getting down low to include the background. As they turned their heads to face each other I fired off a few images before they decided to move on. This has to be one of my favorite images from South Georgia and one I intend to grace the walls of my home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Photography in the Tropics

Having returned from my recent trip to Costa Rica and Panama as guest photography host with UnCruise Adventures, I reflected upon the challenges we faced from a photography perspective and wanted to share some tips and advice.

If you are planning a visit to the tropics, here are some key things to keep in mind.

1. The heat and humidity will cause your lenses to "immediately" fog up if you are bringing your gear from air conditioned environments outside. Your best bet is to store your gear in an area where it is not being moved from one extreme to the other. Otherwise you need to allow time to acclimate to the temperature changes. Missing a great shot because your lens is drenched is not fun. Moisture can wreak havoc on your gear and you don't want this to accumulate inside your camera body, so make sure you bring silicon packets as an absorbent and keep them in your camera bag.

2.  Birds and wildlife are difficult to spot particularly under the rainforest canopy. There are so many branches and leaves, so unless your subject is clearly visible and out in the open, the challenge is to find openings in order to acquire focus and get a half decent shot.

A telephoto or zoom with a focal length of at least 300mm is needed in order to get close enough to your subject. I had both a 300mm prime and a 200-500mm zoom lens which I would switch depending on just how much I wanted to carry around in the heat. I also had an external flash with a better beamer, which helps under the canopy, but you need to know how to adjust your flash output to avoid "over flashed" images. A natural look with just enough light to illuminate your subject is all you need.

3. Carrying a lot of gear while traipsing through the rainforest is tough and at times, I just wanted to ditch it all and go with one camera/lens combo. I used a BlackRapid Double Breathe harness, which I use all all my travels. It allows me to balance one camera/lens on either side, is very secure and the most comfortable I have found to date.

Depending the gear you bring and your expectations as far as the kind of images you wish to acquire, it might be better to bring one camera and one lens with a wide focal range, such as an 18-300mm. However, low light is not your friend and higher quality lenses with the ability to use wide apertures such as f/2.8 will allow you to use higher shutter speeds at lower ISO's. Unless your subject is stationary, much of the wildlife under the canopy will be moving, such as monkeys and birds, so at times compromises have to be made in order to just get the shot and in many cases, it is higher ISOs.

4. Light in the tropics can be harsh as the sun rises and sets quickly with direct overhead light predominant throughout the day. If under the canopy, beams of light filtering through the leaves and branches can be used creatively, or not. The key is to avoid pointing your camera up at a dark subject against a bright background and to look for alternatives. Otherwise, a flash is going to be your best bet. By exposing the image so the background is not blown out, then filling in with a flash, you will get the best results. Or, you purposely blow out your background in order to get your subject exposed correctly.

Preferably you want to capture your subject in natural light with no excessive bright or dark areas and at times you might be lucky, so always be aware of where you are in relation to your subject. Sometimes just moving to an alternate spot will give you the best vantage point and lighting situation.

5. Focus on the small stuff as there are so many incredible insects and amphibians. Colorful flowers are abundant and make beautiful subject matter as an alternative to wildlife. If you like to photograph the small stuff, a macro lens is worth the investment, even if you rent one instead of making a full blown purchase.

Out of the canopy and on tropical beaches, you may encounter various species of crab. They key here is to get down low in order to capture an intimate portrait of your subject. Lying on a beautiful white sand beach is not such a bad thing, so give it a go!

A word of warning...make sure you wear a wide brimmed hat and use plenty of sunscreen, otherwise you will end up with a nasty, burnt red neck, just like I did!

6. Tripod or not? In my case, since our trip was quite mobile, a tripod was of not much benefit. A monopod was easier to carry and position on narrow or uneven trails. However, if you are staying in a lodge or visiting areas where you will have time to spend watching and waiting for birds and wildlife, then yes, a tripod will allow you to set up your gear, particularly those long lenses and shoot at the ideal lower ISO's when working in difficult light.

7. Finally the weather. Depending on the time of year, you will need something to cover your gear should it rain. I visited at the end of the rainy season, so rain was minimal. During the couple of times it did rain, I brought Optech plastic rain sleeves and also a waterproof fabric cover I got off eBay, which I prefer since the plastic covers are a temporary solution and I don't like the idea of buying items that are disposable and bad for the environment. I also have a built in rain cover for my backpack, but you can also buy these separately.

The good thing about this time of year is the potential for some interesting skies, leading to beautiful, dramatic sunsets!

If you have any questions or need additional advice, please feel free to contact me!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tips for Whale Watching in Monterey Bay!

Yesterday morning I headed out on a whale watching tour in Monterey Bay. Now that I am a resident of this incredible area, I felt it was time I indulged myself in something people travel thousands of miles to see, which is literally on my doorstep!

I chose Monterey Bay Whale Watching as I often see their boats heading out they have excellent reviews. I also like the double level viewing platforms, which makes the vessel seem less crowded when it is packed to the gills! This allowed me more maneuverability on the lower level, which I tend to prefer.

Heading over to an area between Marina and Moss Landing, we were treated to several awesome humpback whale sightings which included pectoral fin slapping, lunge feeding and breaching!  We also encountered a large number of dolphins including Risso's and Pacific White-Sided dolphins.

ISO 640, f/7.1 @ 1/2500s, 300mm

Here are some useful tips for going out whale watching, particularly if you are susceptible to sea sickness! There were several people on this trip that did not fair too well and being out on the water for 4 hours feeling like absolute crap is not fun at all.  I have been there and done that on more than one occasion and it is only through my annual trips to the polar regions that I have finally found a solution.

First off, I recommend taking medication "the night prior" to your whale watching trip and NOT half an hour before boarding. This not only gets the medication into your system several hours prior, it helps you get a good night's sleep as many of these medications also cause drowsiness. I also take another tablet the morning of the trip, about an hour or two prior. I personally think the "recommended" half an hour prior is way too late because once you feel sick, the medication is not going to have an impact.

I eat a good breakfast consisting of tea, toast and a bowl of oatmeal. I avoid greasy food and also skip the coffee. Going out on a boat on an empty stomach is asking for trouble. I also bring saltine crackers and ginger ale on the boat to nibble on an sip throughout.

I avoid sitting inside the boat or at the rear where the diesel fumes tend to be more noticeable. I occasionally watch the horizon and make sure I have fresh air in my face. I will put the camera down every so often, as looking through a view finder for long periods can lead to feeling queasy.

This is the ONLY method that works for me.  It might not work for you, but I think it is worth trying if you are not having much success?

ISO 640, f/7.1 @ 1/2000s, 300mm
From a photography perspective, bringing a zoom with a wide range is going to cover a variety of situations as yesterday I failed to do this and regretted it.  I only brought my Nikon 300mm f/4 PF ED VR lens and a 1:4 teleconverter and was very limited in what I could ultimately capture.  With a breaching humpback calf so very close to the boat, I missed out on some awesome shots.  Lesson learned!!!

Capturing a breaching whale involves shooting at a high shutter speed and in continuous drive mode. Paying attention to the behavior and where it might potentially emerge from the water also helps. I will focus roughly in the area where I think it might happen and scan back and forth with my other eye open, so I can quickly reacquire focus on the whale if and when it happens!

As for clothing, wrap up with several layers as a sunny day out on Monterey Bay can be very deceiving.  I found myself switching from a cap to a warm beanie and adding another layer as the wind picked up.

I hope these tips will both help and inspire you to also get out there give whale watching a try, whether that is in Monterey Bay or some other location around the globe!

ISO 720, f/8 @ 1/2000s, 300mm