Epiphany and Experimentation
We’ve received some amazing images and stories from our photographers over the last few months of the worldwide coronavirus lockdown. So here, as promised, is part two of our blog on how they got creative in lockdown – around the world.
Comfort in a Galapagos garden
Tui De Roy experiences the severe restrictions and curfew on a Galapagos archipelago devoid of tourists – and finds comfort and wildlife in the garden she has created:
“I returned to Galapagos in December, planning to stay five months preparing to write my autobiography. But now it looks like I might be here for years, with no flights in or out, except for vital goods and the return of a few islanders stranded outside. We’re in total lockdown, house arrest save for one shopping trip per week. At 2pm each day police cars cruise the streets with loudhailers announcing a daily 15-hour curfew. After that, it’s just the occasional siren sending the stragglers home.”
Epiphany in a shipping container
“For me, who spent four decades of my adult life roaming all seven continents in search of wildlife photos in the planet’s remotest corners, this extraordinary situation produced an epiphany. I quite suddenly discovered the magic of living in a world that stretches no farther than I can throw an orange! All at once, I fell in love with my ‘home’, where I’ve lived off on and for the last year. It is, in fact, not mine: a friend let me plonk three old shipping containers on his unused plot of land. I cut doors and windows in my metal boxes, affixed paneling and installed basic mod-coms. It’s a ‘tiny house’ without the glamour, as the containers must remain functional and portable when I leave or when my friend reclaims his property.”
“To make the grounds less rugged, I pushed back the thorn scrub from my immediate surroundings, had a truckload of volcanic gravel spread over the jagged lava around the foundations and, fortuitously, ordered a truckload of highland soil a couple months ago to create a small garden.”
Endemics in the garden
“In my miniaturized world, every leaf, every petal, the way they grow and unfurl, every moth and every caterpillar has taken on new meaning. When I step outside at sunrise, the wild passionflower (a Galapagos native) that I use to screen the view across my neighbour’s yard, is fairly strumming with the buzz of big black Galapagos carpenter bees.”
“And then there are all the native birds. Darwin’s finches by the score, of several different species. A pair of Galapagos flycatchers, whose twitter is the first to greet each dawn. And a family of Galapagos mockingbirds, who successfully raised two clutches of babies this season.”
It’s been one helluva ride!
“There’s no end in sight, with Ecuador ranking 17th among 187 countries reporting Covid cases. I feel like I’m living in prison because there are bandits (viruses) on the streets, so it’s safer in jail. Frankly, I’d rather face the bandits, live or die, and get on with it whatever the consequence, rather than whittle away life waiting for a miracle. At 66 I am supposedly ‘high risk’, but there is only one certainty in my life: someday I’ll die. Meanwhile, it’s been onehelluva ride, no complaints, and I want to keep going!”
In the Umbrian hills
Paul Harcourt-Davies tells us how his wild Italian garden became his place of work:
“Serendipity certainly aided my return to Italy: Monday, 9 March was my mother’s funeral, Tuesday, a return flight brought forward, Wednesday a ‘significant’ birthday and then wham, lock-down, Italian style. Strict rules apply, solely with trips for essentials and medical reasons…a self declaration form must be carried and there are frequent police checks.”
I’ve been self-isolating for 16 years
“My son hit the nail firmly on the head, pointing out that I have been self-isolating for the past 16 years. For, by its very nature, a lot of my work takes place at home. Fortunately there is hectare of wild garden and insecticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers have never been used. The house, partly ruined, was empty for a decade before we moved in and began the renovation ourselves. We undertook to minimise impact on the ‘other inhabitants’…two species of swallowtail, eleven of hawk moth, several mantids, numerous nesting nightingales singing day and night… orioles, hoopoes, wryneck and bee-eaters. To say nothing of porcupine, wild boar, deer, fox and badger! Each day I greet the evening with a glass of red wine and a feeling of gratitude – I have so many friends who live in apartments with no outside space.”
“In a normal year, we would be exploring the hills of the Mediterranean leading tours and running photographic workshops searching for wild orchids and butterflies … However, spilt milk and lost opportunity are not to be cried over – one way of staying sane through fallow periods is to keep occupied. When doom-laden thoughts invade, I step outside and listen to bird song, or watch lizards and bees…”
Like caged birds when lockdown eased
“I eagerly anticipated the ending of lockdown, almost like taking school exams years ago – it seemed life would only begin when the ordeal was over. We were so used to confinement, however, that we were like caged birds when a door is opened. The first trip into the mountains galvanised us – especially since a rare and local butterfly (Italian marbled white) posed obligingly for images. Seeing, once more, those carpets of mountain flowers in the Apennines was the most natural of therapies. We could breath deeply.
“The experience of driving through small towns was surreal with fewer people around and almost everyone masked. We stopped for a coffee and stood the regulation one metre from others with marks on the floor. Instinctively, we gave others outside a wide berth and even teenagers in a group stood apart chatted with masks on. In our part of Italy there seems to be a good sense of self preservation and people are not averse to masks -often worn with Italian style!”
Experience and experimentation
“Experience over the years has taught me never to put all eggs in a single basket but it seems too many of those eggs were in a basket called “tourism” – a major industry in Italy. We can survive as long as we batten down the hatches: we have to and opportunity knocks for doing a whole host of things. There are jobs in the house and garden that have been neglected. Fortunately, I have always loved making things and woodworking, which was something of a hobby, has become a useful income stream here in Italy…”
“Experimentation has always been a part of my life and the macro images I create sometimes necessitate the building of bits of equipment. I like new challenges, have a low boredom threshold and always explore new techniques. Perhaps now is the time to do more filming of the small creatures we find in and around home. It might turn into something or just be a video diary of life at Nutters’ Hill farm (the literal translation of our home Podere Montecucco). It doesn’t matter at present as long as we are doing something creative and can see results!”
In the heart of the Norwegian mountains
Erlend and Orsolya Haarberg are true wilderness photographers. In the lockdown they were grateful to live in the Norwegian mountains:
“Two years ago we moved to the heart of the Norwegian mountains, to a place surrounded by five national parks, in order to travel less and start working more locally. This seems to be a good decision these days when travelling is restricted all around the world. In mid-March we spent three days on a mountain called Skaihoe, which is just 5 hours walk on skis from our house – the elevations were more than 1000m so it was a tough walk with our sledges though. We had beautiful mountain views in all directions from the top. We find it is a great privilege to live so close to wild nature!”
A national park on our doorstep
A short drive from home is the Jotunheimen National Park where there are more than 200 peaks over 2000 meters. In the beginning of April we joined the reindeer herders of Lom village while they were moving a large flock of semi-domesticated reindeer to their calving area in the Jotunheimen National Park. Following more than 2000 reindeer through the lenses of our cameras, surrounded by majestic mountains, was an adventure we have long been dreaming of..
“At the end of April, we packed our sledges again and climbed one of the many 2000 meter peaks in Jotunheimen and photographed the neighboring peaks in the low-angle morning and evening lights. Up there it is still winter conditions with cold nights and a lot of snow, but you can enjoy the warming rays of the sun during the day. It is a wonderful time to be in the mountains and experience nature before winter turns to spring and life awakens in the higher regions.”
Bird life in Bangalore
Shanthi Chandola told us how photographing the local birds was her inspiration and her Bangalore garden became her sanctuary.
A rare visitor
“When lockdown was suddenly announced in India, starting on the 25th of March, I was fortunate to be based at home – with a large garden and a few trees. We generally see quite a few birds out here and with gyms and parks closed, the garden became my sanctuary. I had a surprise visitor in the form of a blue-capped rock thrush, a winter migrant to the Western Ghats, which on its way back to the foothills of the Himalayas took a detour via Bangalore!”
No traffic noise – I could hear the birds
The other birds were regulars and not uncommon. What was different however, was the quiet – no traffic noise and no people on the streets having loud conversations. I think to a lot of city folk, the palpable hush may have been disquieting, but for me it was wonderful – one could certainly hear the birds much better. I had recently bought a new 200-500mm lens, so I was very happy just shooting birds in the garden. Getting a good photograph of an ashy prinia – a generally shy bird was thrilling.”
A sad outcome for the magpie robins
Meanwhile in our own garden a magpie robin pair had occupied one of the nest boxes. It is summer and peak nesting time for birds in much of India. There couldn’t have been a happier person on the planet during lockdown! For an entire month, I observed and photographed the birds when possible.
But the magpie robins were unlucky. One afternoon there was a lot of commotion in the back garden. I ran out without my camera to see a 6 foot rat snake enter the magpie robin nest box. The adult birds were pecking at it and trying to deter it. The ashy prinia and a three-striped palm squirrel were calling loudly in alarm. The snake was in the box for about 40-50 seconds and then it left. The robins looked shocked as they went in to check. Silence enveloped the garden. The next day, the magpie robins, my companions for a month, decided to move. I do hope they come back next year.”
A tiny turtle provides entertainment in the Japanese state of emergency
Tony Wu, based in Japan, told us how a rescued baby turtle kept him well occupied over the last weeks:
“Back in May 2018, I stumbled upon a tiny turtle on the asphalt in front of my house while I was working out. It was a hot day, around 28ºC, with harsh sun. The turtle was only 2.8cm long, sun-baked and motionless, far away from water. My wife and I revived him and nursed him back to health, named him Oogway – after the character in the film Kung Fu Panda.”
“Oogway has grown so much in the two years he’s been with us. I devoted time during the state of emergency in Japan to playing with him and of course, photographing him even more than I normally do, partly as a means of staying familiar with my gear, but mostly to enjoy the time with this wonderful little turtle, and also to wish him a happy second birthday. Who could have imagined that a tiny turtle could be so engaging and endearing?”
A view from down under
Doug Gimesy explains the challenges and unexpected benefits he has experienced during lockdown in Australia:
What were the challenges?
“Having spent a lot of time recently in the field covering the Australian bushfires, being forced to spend time around home and in my neighbourhood has actually been a nice change.”
And what were the opportunities?
“Time to spend upskilling – doing Lightroom tutorials for processing, practicing use of additional lighting (on my cats and partner). Editing photos and metadata for NPL. Finished a children’s wildlife book (on Grey-headed Flying-foxes). Writing articles for photography magazines. Speaking to people about my next self driven conservation project.”
Impact and travel
“I normally like to focus on conservation stories relatively close to home. However the lockdown has given me the opportunity to really concentrate on my local urban wildlife, and I’ve started to see some things I’d never taken the time to notice before. I’m really not documenting for a photo story, I’m just enjoying the wildlife near home and looking for an interesting image.”
Changes in the natural world
“‘With the St Kilda penguin colony closed for viewing, and fishing prohibited until last week, I’m sure this has been been great for the penguins.”
“Port Philip Bay is cleaner – you can see more fish and can see the bottom in parts I couldn’t before! The sky is cleaner. The bay and suburbs are quieter – so I can hear the birds more easily. I really like the slower, quieter, cleaner pace.”
A view from the States
Tim Laman, Marie Read and George Sanker, all based in the eastern USA, found opportunities for photography in their “backyard”, which in George’s case turns out to be part of the Acadia National Park! Meanwhile Doc White found hummingbirds nesting just outside his door in California and David Fleetham had an interesting time getting into the ocean in Hawaii…
“Here is a selection of my backyard images from the last couple weeks. In addition to my actual yard, where I’m shooting songbirds mainly, I also am able to go to Walden Pond State Reservation, which is still open and only 6 miles from my house. Though a small natural area in the suburbs, it has some very natural habitats, and I just photographed Canada Geese with goslings yesterday there for example. ”
“With travel restricted and photo trips cancelled, my biggest challenge has been to come up with creative ways to portray common birds and other nature subjects close to home, to make images that are different from the standard coverage I already have. So I’m using such techniques as backlighting, shooting through vegetation, seeking out interesting backgrounds and foregrounds, exploring abstract natural patterns—it’s actually very liberating! ”
Experimenting with bokeh balls
“One phenomenon that has me particularly excited is “bokeh balls”—the out of focus circles of light produced by specular highlights as viewed through a long telephoto lens. In my favorite shot, the backlit Red-winged Blackbird image, I composed to include bokeh balls for an artistic background. In the Canada goose gosling, they occur due to the sun shining through water droplets in the foreground. Another of my favorite strategies is to explore natural patterns with my long telephoto as I’ve done with the newly leafed-out willow branches against a background of red maple flowers.”
“The Covid-19 lockdown took away my planned 5-week photo expedition to Yellowstone in May, but it also provided a photographic opportunity. I own a small business called Acadia Frameworks in Bar Harbor, Maine. It is a custom picture framing shop and gallery. Due to the lockdown, instead of going to the shop most days, I have been out photographing nature. My home shares a border with Acadia National Park and sits next to a small beaver pond. I can walk through the woods to the ocean for landscape photography, or stay by the pond for wildlife photography, without contacting another human being.”
A strange irony
“Spring has arrived at the pond and with it wild turkeys and wood ducks looking for mates, great blue herons, a northern goshawk and a mink looking for prey, and red and gray squirrels everywhere. I set up a photo blind some time ago and have used it extensively during the pandemic. I love what I am doing right now but am well aware of the nightmare others are experiencing. It is a strange irony.”
California-based marine specialist Doc White found hummingbirds nesting just outside his studio door:
“While being shut-in, an Anna’s hummingbird made a nest at eye level just outside my studio door. I was lucky enough to photograph her building the next, laying the eggs, hatching them, feeding the young, until the chicks made their first flight. It was a wonderful experience, especially while being stuck at home.“
“Hawaii seems to be doing fairly well through all of these virus times. The beaches were shut down right away. You could not lay out and get a tan, but you could cross the sand to access the ocean. All of the local dive boats were closed so my “plan B” was my Hobie kayak that you peddle rather than paddle. I can load my scuba gear on the back and my camera fits down into a forward hatch.
When I see something, I just drop the anchor and shoot
I have a small anchor that I drop as I assemble myself on the surface. The camera drops over the side first on a line, clipped at about 20 feet. I then pull my scuba gear off the back and put it on in the water. The outriggers on the kayak eliminate any chance of it tipping over as you get off and back on. I then grab my camera and once on the bottom I pick up the anchor and pull the kayak with me along on the dive. When I see something to photograph I just drop the anchor and shoot.
View the full gallery and read Lockdown Part 1…
To view a wider range of our photographers’ lockdown images, including the UK and European perspective, check out the Photographer Lockdown gallery.
And you might also want to read the Lockdown Blog part 1. This now includes new images by Tracey Rich and Bernard Castelein. Here is a little taster…