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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Arctic Highlights - Part Two

I always make sure I bring my GoPro on all the expedition tours I take, as I find it is fantastic for capturing time lapse footage. I generally set it up on the top deck of the ship and include the front of the bow to convey a sense of scale, particularly while traversing through areas with large icebergs!  I also include footage from other parts of the ship and on this most recent trip, I tested out the view looking back on both the port and starboard sides.

Here is a video I compiled using a combination of short clips, primarily as we traversed the stunning fjords of east Greenland. 

The GoPro version I use is the Hero4 Silver Edition. I particularly love the touch screen back, which makes it very easy to adjust settings quickly and I use the open back protective casing allowing easy access. If I was to put the GoPro under water, I would switch the back for the full protective casing. I learned my lesson the hard way last year by putting the GoPro in the water, not realizing I had not switched and it was completely ruined.

I use the GoPro Jaws Flex Clamp, which allows me to clip the camera onto a variety of spots around the ship. I have found this to be the most sturdy and versatile attachment after trying a variety of other options including the Jobu Gorillapod, which I would wrap around a pipe only for it to slip down due to the vibration from the ship's engine, whereas the Jaws Flex Clamp stays firmly in place.

Settings are as follows:

Mode: Time Lapse Video
Interval: 5 Seconds
Resolution: 4K

I prefer the Time Lapse Video mode as opposed to the Time Lapse Photo mode simply because the video is compiled "in-camera. If I wanted stills from the video, I would go with the latter.  Note however, in the Time Lapse Video mode there is no option as far as the field of view i.e.: Wide, Medium, Narrow.

I compile the video using the now obsolete "GoPro Studio", which I thankfully have on my laptop and desktop computers. I have heard the new "GoPro Quik" is lacking many of the previous features, which makes very little sense to me.  Otherwise I would go with iMovie as an alternative.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Arctic Highlights - Part One

I have just returned from an amazing three week trip to the Arctic, two of which were in my role as Photographer in Residence with G Adventures on their Arctic Highlights" tour. This is the final tour of the season beginning with three days exploring Svalbard, before heading east to Greenland. The remainder of the tour centers around the fjords of east Greenland before heading south, another two day journey and finishing up in Reykjavik, Iceland."

This is my third season in the Arctic, but my first time on this particular tour and I have to say, it totally blew my mind! Greenland, the largest island on the planet did not disappoint, providing us with jaw dropping scenery, amazing wildlife sightings and two aurora borealis displays!

Although the majority of the tour explores uninhabited areas, we did however visit the remote Inuit community of Ittoqqortoormiit, which I found to be both fascinating and somewhat sad. Climate change is having an impact on their livelihood, particularly hunting, which is an essential part of life in this harsh, unforgiving land. The day we were there is was raining and we heard this seems to be a far more common occurrence.

Ittoqqortoormiit is the remotest inhabited community in the western hemisphere, home to
approximately 450 inhabitants. It lies south of the Northeast Greenland national park and north of Scoresby Sund, the largest national park and fjord on earth! Although the Inuit have inhabited this part of the world for centuries, the colony was only established in 1924 by the Dane, Ejnar Mikkelsen, as a means to ensure the Danish flag would be flying before the Norwegians, who had already secured Spitsbergen in 1920 and were showing an interest in northeast Greenland.

Prior to landing, I had heard from members of the expedition staff that a highlight of the visit is to see and play with the east Greenland husky puppies which wander the town. They are intentionally allowed to do this, but once they become "working" dogs, they are chained up and we were understandably not allowed to go near them. I subsequently learned that this is because they become territorial and can potentially bite. If someone is bitten, they are then shot...not fair to either the dog, or to its owner.

Yet how I loved seeing the puppies as they eagerly sought our attention and even though we were all soaking wet, it was an experience I will treasure.

Stay tuned as I share more about this incredible part of the world, from the stunning color and beauty of the Arctic tundra; massive, blue icebergs and a surprising seven polar bear sightings!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Point Lobos Native Plant Patrol

Another morning at Point Lobos removing invasive plants and on this occasion, collecting seeds!  We walked along the coastal trail towards Weston Beach stopping at an area which has been successfully replanted with beautiful, flowering native plants!

Point Lobos Native Plant Patrol Volunteer Jeff
The success of this particular area is due to the addition of a mesh layer preventing the non-native plants from getting through and taking over. We removed the odd invasive, but nothing to be concerned about and boy, what a sight to behold!  Simply stunning!

We also collected seeds from native plants, which will then be used to restore other areas around the park. They are brought to a greenhouse, potted and grown to the size of a seedling before replanting.

Thriving native plants protected by mesh layer

If you are interested in learning more and participating, here is some more information from the Point Lobos Foundation website:

Pearly Everlasting
(Anaphalis margaritacea) Seeds

Point Lobos Native Plant Patrol crew welcome you to join our team the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month to help restore the beautiful Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.  Restoration work activities include: weeding, seed collection, and planting! No experience is necessary to join in, everyone is welcome! Please bring water and wear clothing that will protect against poison oak, weather and ticks (long pants and long sleeved shirt). Gloves, additional white protective outer layer and a snack will be provided. Native Plant Patrol crew will meet from 9am -1pm, however may end early if weather conditions are difficult.  Please contact abonnette@pointlobos.org to RSVP and for more information.

I have found this to date to be a fun, rewarding experience in an absolutely stunning location!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Getting involved in local conservation

With my recent move down to Monterey, California, I wanted to involve myself pretty quickly in local conservation efforts. I find it is a great way to do my part in the community in addition to networking and potentially connecting with organizations or individuals who are in need of photography.

Volunteering is a great way meet new people and I signed up to participate in a bi-weekly native plant patrol at beautiful Point Lobos State National Reserve, just south of Carmel. This reserve is an absolute gem with incredible scenery bordering a turquoise ocean and an abundance of birds and wildlife. It is considered the "the crown jewel of California's 280 state parks and a photographer's dream!

Invasive plants have been introduced over the years and our job was to remove a variety of fast growing grasses and succulents and although beautiful, are detrimental to the native plants and wildlife. The area we would be working in was thick with poison oak and notorious for ticks, so we dressed in a protective,"unflattering" outer layer which I was very glad of.

We spent the morning digging, pulling and bagging in a area overlooking Whaler's Cove.  It is thought some of these plants were introduced from overseas during the days of whaling and other commercial activities including shipping, granite quarrying and abalone harvesting.

To learn more about Point Lobos and volunteer opportunities, you can visit the Point Lobos Foundation.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Farewell "Luckier"!

With my move out of the bay area this week, this morning I paid a final visit to the bald eagles in Milpitas, California. "Luckier" is extending it's flight range further afield and was perched on top of a residential rooftop when I arrived with mother close by.  Mother left and Luckier flew to the small pedestrian bridge near a neighboring pond where I managed to get this portrait.

It then took off and vanished from sight for a couple of hours only to return to another roof.  The hope was the mother would return to feed Luckier in the large field adjacent to the school, but it did not happen. She arrived with a fish which she ate atop a pylon. Nature does not always cooperate as we would like.  

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Luckier" Fledges!

I returned early this morning to Curtner Elementary School in Milpitas after a nine day hiatus to find the second eaglet, now named "Luckier" had fledged. A small group of the regular photographers had gathered and were watching the bird as it sat on the roof of the school waiting for a parent to bring food.

The bird took flight and landed in the adjoining field where it walked around and flapped it wings.

It took flight again and my 500mm was just way too much lens as the bird flew in my direction and completely filled the frame.  This is when I wished I had my versatile 200 - 500mm zoom on hand.

We are not sure the sex of "Luckier", but we are guessing also possibly a female.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"Lucky" Rescued!

The now named juvenile bald eagle "Lucky" which fell to the ground on Sunday morning, was finally rescued yesterday evening and brought to The Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Walnut Creek, CA.

Here is a link to the story by the Mercury News, although I think the media are in part to blame for generating the large numbers of onlookers, only adding to the unnecessary stress inflicted on the bird.  I am glad it is no longer in that situation.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Early this morning I headed up to the bald eagles in Milpitas only to find the front area of Curtner Elementary School sealed off in order to protect one of the juvenile bald eagles which had fallen to the ground yesterday morning. The mayor of Milpitas was there and I spoke with him briefly. He was concerned about the welfare of the bird and was planning on checking back periodically. He told me animal services are also keeping an eye should it need rescuing.

However, because this latest event was "broadcast"on Channel 7 news this morning, it is now drawing large numbers of people and I honestly don't see how the bird will be able to receive food from the parents with so many onlookers. This morning the bird was in the shade of one of the trees and I left for an hour or so to go photograph elsewhere.

I dropped by again on my way back, but this time it was behind a low bush up against the wall.

This bothered me, so when I got home, I contacted the Mayor of the City of Milpitas expressing my concern. I also contacted my friends at the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.  As I was writing this however, I learned that the Department of Fish and Game are in the process of sealing off the entire area, so the parents can feel safe and comfortable enough to continue with their feeding until it is ready to finally take to the skies!

Photography is not always about getting the shot and the safety and welfare of the wildlife we are so eager to capture must always take precedence.

This is a prime example of learning to conduct ourselves in an ethical and responsible manner.

Let's just hope people respect this decision and put their self interests aside for the sake of this beautiful bald eagle family!!! 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bald Eagle Family of Milpitas, California!

A pair of bald eagles have been nesting the past couple of years in a redwood tree located on the ground of an elementary school in Milpitas, California.  The news has been drawing both birders and photographers en masse!

Last year was the first time I visited and the parents successfully raised one chick. This year, they have managed to produce and raise two which are now close to fledging.  It is the first time I have visited this year and I am excited to potentially see these amazing birds take their first flight!

Here is a short clip I took of the siblings in the nest. Watch their behavior as a gull passes by!

Juvenile Bald Eagles - Milpitas, California 2018 from Jacqueline Deely on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

UnCruise Adventures "Alaska's Whales & Glaciers" Highlights!

Just back from an amazing week in Alaska as Photography Theme Host with UnCruise Adventures. Based out of Seattle, WA, this company holds ties to my past as the owners, Captain Dan Blanchard and Tim Jacox were former executives with Cruise West where I too worked in the late nineties. Cruise West eventually closed it's doors, but in 1996 Dan and Tim had embarked on their own small ship enterprise creating what eventually became UnCruise Adventures.

Our journey began in Juneau's bustling port, jam packed with cruise ships both large and small and an endless stream of float planes transporting eager tourists to destinations unknown.  Since Dan spends most of his time living in Juneau, guests embarking on our trip were treated to one of his enthusiastic talks about Alaska and the journey we were about to undertake. He also personally greeted each and every guest as we boarded the ship, something I have not experienced with any other company and a really nice touch.

Highlights of the trip for me were...

The fjords and waterfalls of Tracy Arm. Although we had a rainy day, it did not spoil the magic and beauty of this area.  In fact, I think I preferred it this way!  We enjoyed kayaking and skiff tours to the face of the glacier, harbor seals hauled out on the ice and jaw dropping scenery.

A large school of dall's porpoises following and playing alongside the ship late in the evening. The excitement of seeing humpback whales in Frederick Sound, including one that surfaced very close to the ship generating lots of oohs and aahs!

Visiting the Tlingit community and artisans in Kake. Learning about their history, culture and traditions including demonstrations in basket weaving and carving techniques used on totem poles.

The beautiful and at times comical children of Kake who performed for us and an invitation to participate in a Tlingit communal dance. A unique memory and experience to treasure!

Maneuvering around stunning blue icebergs adrift in the ice sculpture garden of Le Conte Glacier.  Witnessing their transformation before our very eyes, as they seemed to take on a life of their own, rotating and rolling, crackling and popping, releasing centuries old oxygen bubbles!

Waking up in pristine coves with incredible views right outside my cabin door!!! Sunrise at this time of year in Alaska is EARLY and it was already light at 4:00am!  For me, this was the absolute best time of day to completely immerse oneself in the absolute quiet, stillness and stunning beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. It was also the best time to see and photograph glass like reflections such as this.

At 6:30am each morning, there was also the opportunity to participate in a yoga session out on deck.  What an amazing setting in which to stretch, meditate and prepare for the exciting day ahead!

With the long days of summer, sunsets were late, around 10:00pm, but well worth waiting up for with scenes such as this in Thomas Bay.

Other highlights included kayaking in pristine, turquoise waters and bushwhacking our way through wild terrain! We also saw lots of bald eagles and bears!

Additional options for guests throughout the week included paddle boarding and hikes/walks on marked trails. And for those a little more daring, a polar plunge!

Our journey ended in the beautiful city of Sitka with Mount Edgecume as a backdrop and I only wish I had more time to spend here.  Next time I hope!

What makes these small ship cruises so special is the ability to get to know everyone on board and I truly enjoyed meeting both young and old from around the globe. Last but not least, the staff and crew of the Safari Endeavour was absolutely wonderful and I thank them all for their excellent service and support!

You can find more images from my adventure in my Alaska gallery.  Here is a short video I put together from some iPhone footage I took throughout the trip.

UnCruise Adventures "Alaska's Glaciers & Whales" - May 2018 from Jacqueline Deely on Vimeo.

To learn more about UnCruise Adventures, their wide range of Alaska itineraries and other amazing destinations, VISIT HERE! 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Brandt's Cormorants of Santa Cruz

Every year, Brandt's Cormorants nest along a rocky portion of the cliffs at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California and I love to visit not only to photograph, but to simply watch them go about their lives, building nests and raising their young.  This area is maintained by local conservation groups who remove the invasive ice plant, allowing enough space for the birds to build their annual rookery.

Yesterday I dropped by and they are busy preparing for a new batch of babies, mating and gathering nesting material.  Males were displaying their beautiful, blue iridescent necks, an area called a "gular pouch", while females were arranging the nest and bickering with their neighbors.

Many people walk or jog on by this spot without noticing the activity below. I did have one young lady visiting from the east coast stop to ask me what kind of birds they were and I got into a really nice conversation with her.  I told her a little about the birds and their behavior and she was looking forward to telling her mother who is an avid birder.  This is one of the aspects I enjoy of wildlife photography.  Sharing our love and knowledge of the wildlife we photograph and hopefully inspiring others to get more involved in the natural world around them.

Here is a short clip I took yesterday.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Saving the Albatross

I came across this heart wrenching video clip while conducting an on-line search for information pertaining to saving the albatross. I have been blessed in my travels to have seen both the beautiful Black-browed Albatross with their amazing eyes and the Wandering Albatross, with the largest wingspan of any bird on the planet! Seeing them wild and free as they effortlessly soar over the oceans is a sight to behold and the idea of them suffering due to our complete disregard for the planet makes me both sad and angry.

Both of these spectacular birds along with the many other species of albatross are in dire danger due commercial long line fishing techniques whereby they get caught up in or ingest the hooks and ultimately drown. But even more sickening to me is and the amount of plastic and garbage dumped into our oceans which they consume and ultimately die a long, slow, painful death. This applies to both adult albatross and their young. It brought tears to my eyes and an absolute feeling of helplessness and shame as I too am a consumer of plastic goods. It is definitely something to think about as far as how we go about our daily lives, from the items we purchase to how we depose of our waste.

If you would like to learn more and help in a variety of ways, visit here: