Our May 2021 highlights features lots of new material from all corners of the globe.
Claudio Contreras has returned from Guadalupe Island in Mexico, Franco Banfi documents the rich marine life of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, and Pete Oxford provides fascinating coverage of people from Madagascar, Bolivia and Papua New Guinea. You also find graphic new macro shots of insects and plants. We asked our photographers for an insight from behind the scenes, and any challenges they encountered.
The Wonders of Guadalupe Island – Claudio Contreras
Guadalupe Island in the Mexican Pacific is widely known as the place to see White Sharks. But, since access to the Island is now denied to tourists, many people do not know that the island itself and the adjacent islets are a real jewel. In 2005 Guadalupe Island and its surrounding waters and islets were declared a biosphere reserve to restore its vegetation, which was decimated by goats, and to protect its population of marine mammals and birds.
Unfortunately like in so many islands around the World, introduced goats had eaten most of the vegetation covering the main island. The goats have now been eradicated, and miraculously endemic plants are starting to blossom again. The islets give us an idea of how the main island must have originally looked, since goats were never introduced there.
Back in the 19th Century whalers introduced goats as food to Guadalupe Island. Other visitors left their mark too. After intensive harvesting, sailors left both the Northern Elephant Seal, which was hunted for their oil, and the Guadalupe Fur Seal, which was hunted for their pelts, on the brink of extinction.
Nowadays the Laysan Albatross colony in the southernmost part of the island is starting to grow, after an enclosing fence was built to ward off stray cats. The cats were introduced by sailors to control the mice population, which ironically, they also introduced.
Downy Birch – Nick Garbutt
During a stormy afternoon in Glen Strathfarrar, plumbeous clouds skidding across the sky periodically cast dark shadows on the valley sides, while the sun still illuminated the valley floor. Birch trees were cloaked in full autumnal golden splendour with the individual leaves wafting and dancing in the breeze. I selected a short telephoto lens (105mm) with an exceptionally wide maximum aperture (f1.4) and looked for an opportunity to compose an image looking through a veil of leaves. Selecting an aperture of f1.4 would allow the leaves in the foreground to be thrown massively out of focus, as if a curtain of sequins. It took me a while to find the right composition with an appropriate gap in the foreground leaves that allowed the trees on the valley floor – the main subjects to be visible. Then I had to wait for the clouds to darken the opposite valley side. The final decision was to take two adjacent images to stitch the final image as a panorama. (below left)
Fly Agarics – Nick Garbutt
I repeatedly returned to this cluster of Fly Agaric fungi over the course of five days, waiting for them to open to full extent and for appropriate cloudy soft light conditions. Returning early one morning after a night of heavy rain I found them in near perfect condition, but rather covered with rain splash debris. I cleaned up what I could – the large most intrusive pieces. I really wanted to show the cluster within the context of the coniferous woodland habitat, so selected a very close focusing wide-angle lens (14mm). Given the camera to subject working distance was only about 6cm, depth of field was a real issue – even at f16 the depth of field was very narrow and it was impossible to get all three fungi in sharp focus. The camera and lens were wedged solidly on the woodland floor with a cable release attached. Light was an issue. The camera was so close to the subject that it effectively prevented light reaching the fungi and significantly darkened the undersides. So, I used a reflector (the inside surface of an old orange juice carton) placed on the floor to bounce light back underneath the fungi. I then manually altered the focus, incrementally moving the focal plane from front to back through the fungi cluster – a total of 22 images. They were then stacked in Helicon Focus. (above right)
Novelty or Nuisance? – Solvin Zankl
This juvenile “helmet jellyfish” Periphylla periphylla was photographed in the open water in a Norwegian fjord around midwinter. Only during the dark season, when light conditions in the upper water layers resemble those of the dark depths, can these deep-sea dwellers be found close to the ocean surface. Scuba divers use the opportunity to observe Periphylla and become fascinated by its ability to produce natural light that can make its body shimmer.
Norway celebrated the wobbly beauty with a postage stamp some years ago – however, today it can also be considered a nuisance. In the Trondheim Fjord, fisherfolk observed an increasing number of these jellyfish, depleting copepods in spring. The reduction in these tiny crustaceans, on which cod larvae were also meant to feed at that time, has led to a reduction the number of cod later in the year. The jellies might have benefitted from rising water temperatures, and have brought the food web out of balance.
Bird-Brained – Jack Dykinga
In the pre-dawn light, I was trying to anticipate the magic moment when the Sandhill cranes would lift off after a brief sprint, against the on-coming sunrise. A family trio wades across the golden pond, but refused to take to the sky. They’re doing their own thing in search of the “perfect” take-off spot. They just don’t consider the desire of photographers poised for action. And yet, the sheer beauty of this scene compelled me to record the sublime moment. Often images magically appear during long periods of waiting…. (below left)
One might think that acres of corn fields would be enough for Sandhill cranes to establish their territory. Yet, the arrival of a new family unit can trigger maximum retribution for the offending newcomers. The size (especially with full wings span displays) along with a stiletto bill is a fearsome sight to see. Though the explosion of action can be violent…it usually ends quickly. (above right)
Often Overlooked – Franco Banfi
In the diving community, many people think that Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian seas lack in colours compared to the better-known Red Sea, Indian Ocean or Philippine Sea. It is a wrong popular opinion, since more divers hang out at warm tropical and equatorial shallow water rather than colder and deeper seabed in Mediterranean Sea. But if you think that the grass is greener, believe me, it’s not… even when we talk about underwater.
When divers leave the comfort zone and dive below 30 / 35 metres in the Tyrrhenian Sea, sceneries change and rocky bottoms are covered by a fascinating mosaic of life and colours that is impossible to forget, but difficult to document in pictures or videos, since the lack of natural light puts skills and experience of photographer and quality of photo’s gear to the test.
The soft, rhythmic undulations of sea fans and gorgonian corals seem to call out every diver, welcoming us to join the many creatures living nearby, like huge great rockfishes or tiny and shy seahorses. When I set my eyes on the colours and life of this misunderstood sea, I take the challenge to show how beautiful it is and I appreciate all recent opportunities given by state-of-the-art technologies in photography and technical diving. Just fifteen years ago it would have been really very difficult to record the blue of the water at those depths, balancing the natural light with the light of the strobes used to capture the colours palette of the featured animals.
Cultural Identity – Pete Oxford
I was working on live-aboard boats in Indonesia and decided that in my time between trips I would range into West Papua to photograph the Dani tribe. Being very interested in indigenous cultures I seem to spend a large part of my travels to the various tribes photographing their cultural extinction. Having seen images of the people in the Suroba area I decided to head there, and they seem to be no exception. Although older men like Oka, pictured here, were still very proud of their cultural identity, beliefs and way of life, the younger members of the village were much less so and well on the way down the slippery slope of identity loss as they are amalgamated by western values. I try to capture images of how the people like to view themselves. (below left)
A Sense of Pride – Pete Oxford
I enjoy tremendously mixing with the Malagasy peoples who are inherently extremely friendly. Here in the hot, dry south, in the spiny forest area, it is commonplace to see women with their faces covered in a thick sandalwood paste. Partly considered a mark of beautification, primarily the paste acts as an effective sunblock. Far from being timid in front of a camera, I think we can see in the image a sense of pride of who she is. (above right)
Amazonian Scale – Konrad Wothe
In September 2018 I had the chance to travel with my daughter Stefanie to the private Lowland Rainforest Reserve “Panguana”, a research centre for international scientists in the Peruvian rainforest of the Amazon Basin. My daughter helped a scientist to gather data of several tree species. This forest is a virgin rainforest with huge trees and my daughter and I were overwhelmed by the size, some of them reaching more than 60 meters high. To put the dimensions to scale, I asked my daughter to stand near the gigantic buttress roots and so I took this photograph.
Wild cats have serious difficulties hunting after it snows. If the situation lasts for several weeks, they are in danger of starving to death because they cannot find food. This old specimen found a supply of food for a golden eagle and decided to stay in the area for several weeks. (above right)
The Bigger Picture – Shane Gross
I was snorkelling into a mangrove creek in the Bahamas when the visibility suddenly dropped. I started to turn around to leave, when I noticed the poor water clarity made the light shafts coming though the mangroves extra noticeable. I knew a cool shot would be possible if I could find an interesting foreground subject, so I dialled in my camera settings and started looking. This green sea turtle appeared out of the gloom and casually swam by me, and was quickly out of sight as I held down the shutter release, praying I had done the moment justice. Endangered green turtles are born on beaches, spend their childhood in the open ocean, then, as they grow, feed in seagrass meadows, and hide on coral reefs and in mangroves. To protect this species, you really need to protect the whole tropical ocean. (below left)
The Seagrass Story – Shane Gross
The conch shell is famous, but I think the animal that produces it is far more interesting. Queen conch have two eyes on the ends of stalks, a tube for a mouth and a single foot to hop along the seabed. They mostly feed on the algae that grows on seagrass blades. This also helps keep the seagrass clean so they can better photosynthesize. I saw this one at the edge of a seagrass bed and set my camera in front of it. I waited for a few minutes until the animal inside the famous shell started to peek out. (above right)
Golf Course Encounter – Nick Upton
I noticed a clump of tiny green Parrot waxcap fungi just starting to emerge on a local golf course as I walked on a footpath around its margins last November, but they were in shadow at the time and barely showed above the grass, but I knew it would be worth returning. These little fungi are quite rare and favour regularly mown grassland and usually change colour from bright green through to orange, with nice mixtures at times, as they unfurl and curl upwards. I went back two or three times over the next week on sunny mornings to capture them in low winter light with melting hoarfrost and dew in the background, getting a range of detailed close ups and low angle close focus/wide angle shots to show them in their setting. On one visit, as I was lying full length on the ground, hunched over my camera and concentrating on focus and framing when a greenkeeper came up behind me and asked if I was OK as he thought I’d collapsed. I assured him I was fine, showed him the fungi and thanked him for his concern and assiduous grass management! (below left)
Favourite Fungi – Nick Upton
The Magpie inkcap is one of my favourite fungi to photograph, but definitely not to eat as it reputedly causes some people alarming digestive problems. I’ve often searched for them and other autumnal treasures in scenic Cotswold beech woods, looking out for their initially egg-shaped, beautifully patterned caps pushing up through leaf litter and for mature fungi like this standing clear of the ground. The caps unfurl upwards as they age, before virtually melting into a sticky black, goo which carries their spores. A close relative, the Common inkcap actually provided ink for important documents in medieval times. I used a close-focusing fisheye lens for this shot to frame in the woodland setting, and added some diffused flash lighting from one side to highlight the mushroom’s pattern and to balance the exposure. (above right)
Underwater Wonders – Pascal Kobeh
I spotted this individual (left) swimming in the open water with my torch and of course it was difficult to have it in focus with my macro lens. I was very happy when it led me to 4 other individuals that I could catch together (right). Their first move is to come close as they are attracted by the light. You have only a very short time to capture them as they swim very quickly away when they realise that there is absolutely no interest for them.
This picture was taken during a night dive in Flores Island in Indonesia. They look like 2 pregnant males with their big round bellies. The seafan was on a coral wall and it was quite difficult to have these two tiny creatures on focus as they were constantly moving and not on the same plane. Luckily with patience, I could manage to have them both on focus!
I have always been amazed by the colours of the reefs and their fauna in cold or temperate waters. When visibility is poor or when it is cloudy and dark you only discover the colours when looking at the pictures afterwards. Here the red of the reef fits very well with the green of the water (cold or temperate waters with a limited visibility turns very often green). Here the water temperature was 18 degrees Celsius. (below left)
This was my very first dive of the week near False Bay in Western Cape in South Africa. There were quite a lot of fur seals in a very small area and all of them very playful and even one quite aggressive as bit me (and not only me) several times particularly my hand holding my camera. I think it was just a game for her, but it scared me when she was tried to bite my flash cords! (above right)
Balancing Act – John Shaw
The Wakodahatchee Wetlands is a small wildlife refuge park open to the public in the town of Delray Beach on the Atlantic Coast of Florida. It was created as part of Palm Beach county’s water reclamation project and has become a prime location for bird watchers and photographers. A three-quarter mile long boardwalk meanders through the area, crossing several ponds. Thanks to the numbers of visitors, much of the birdlife has become somewhat habituated, or at least tolerant of photographers wandering slowly along the boardwalk with tripods and long lenses. I was one of those photographers one spring morning as I watched a purple gallinule, sometimes locally called the “yellow-legged gallinule,” feeding on the seeds of giant bulrush. It would balance on a swaying bulrush stem while it delicately explored a flower head for seeds, then carefully move to another stem and repeat the process. I worked with this same bird for roughly five minutes, until it finally moved too far back into the tangle of vegetation for any successful photos.
The Flattest Place on the Planet – John Shaw
The Salar de Uyuni, in southwest Bolivia, is the largest salt flat on earth at over 10,000 square kilometers (4000 square miles). It is also one of the flattest locations on planet Earth, as the elevational variation over the entire playa is roughly 1 meter. Seasonal flooding dissolves the top surface salt and consequently smooths the flats as they dry out. The Salar’s size and flatness, combined with the clear dry air above, has allowed it to be used in calibrating Earth observation satellite altimeters. The salt itself is collected by hand. Local workmen shovel the salt into cone-shaped piles, allowing excess water to drain for several days before they return to shovel the salt into trucks. One evening I drove my 4×4 onto the flats, flooded to roughly 30 cm of salty brine, and parked near some of the cones. Wearing my knee-high muck boots I wandered around to find my composition. My one and only concern was to not drop any of my photo gear into that water, but I’m happy to say that all ended well. Good cones, good clouds, good reflection, and no cameras or lenses destroyed. (below left)
In the middle of the vast Salar de Uyuni lies a small 24-hectare rocky outcrop named Isla Incahuasi. It is covered with a fairly dense forest of giant cardon cacti, one of the rare places where any vegetation at all is found in the extensive Salar salt flats. (below right)
Pristine Fernandina – Tui De Roy
Fernandina Island, the youngest and westernmost of the Galapagos hotspot volcanoes, is also one of the largest islands left in the world’s tropical regions that is still virtually pristine, unsullied by humanity’s footprint: nothing taken, nothing added. In other words, there are no introduced animals to disrupt the original ecosystem, just volcanic forces building and rebuilding the habitat that shapes the lives of superbly adapted endemic species — none more so than the Galapagos land iguanas.