Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Venomous Tale

The back story... 
A naturalist/guide was clearing a trail through a patch of virgin rainforest when the fangs penetrated his shirt. The viper's teeth sunk into his arm and inoculated the victim with a potent toxin. We were listening acutely to the story as Michael Sevilla led us across the suspension bridge and into the jungle. Call it a coincidence, but a hognosed pit-viper (Porthidium nasutum) now sits in a tight coil blocking our path through the forest. Michael, our photo-guide and naturalist, explained that his friend is in a hospital bed unsure of his fate. It took a while to transport the victim to the nearest emergency facility, and discussions about necrotic tissue and possible amputation ensued. Our viper is unfazed by our presence, and is unwilling to move. It's a small animal... less than a meter long, unglamorous, and well camouflaged. The reddish-brown color is broken by dark splotches that make this serpent cryptic in the understory of the forest. Unperturbed by our presence, the viper sat poised, coiled, and prepared to strike. Eventually, the extended leg of a tripod and repeated agitations had the desired affect. Unenthused by the relentless prodding, the snake slithered off the trail and into the leaf litter.

To produce this image I attached a Canon 180mm L-macro lens to my 5D Mark II and positioned the tripod in the same plane as the snake. The 180mm macro allows me to produce life-size images while maintaining a not threatening working distance. With the lens aperture set to f/4.5, there was enough depth of field to maintain sharpness across the head of the viper, while allowing the background to fall out of focus. 

Final note... during our last day at Selva Verde, we learned that Michael's friend has recovered from his altercation with the viper... no doubt he may a bit wary when it comes to snakes, be has survived and will likely be out hiking a forest trail in no time. 
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bird on a Wire

"Bird on a Wire..." 
curiosity about this idiom led me to a google search for meaning. I found references to the 1968 Leonard Cohen song, but this didn't not match my graphic interpretation of the phrase. To me, a "bird on a wire" is a service animal employed by some Southeast Asian cultures when fishing. Quite literally, the bird on a wire is a hungry cormorant forced into indentured servitude. The captor places a noose around the servant's neck, and sends it into a lake to hunt. Instinct and hunger motivate the cormorant, and success is a fleeting experience. Once a fish has been trapped in the gullet of the bird, the fisherman reels in the servant, tightens the noose, and expels reward. Hunger motivates the servant, instinct drives the behavior, and success, normally adaptive, now lacks the positive reinforcement.

"Bird on a Wire..." a male and female cherrie's tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis) perched on a support line at Hacienda Baru. Also known as the orange-rumped tanager, this relatively common bird can be found from the coastal plains to an altitude of 1700m. Though ubiquitous wherever there are ecological edges, gardens, and pastures this species continues to be an elusive subject for me to capture. Seven trips to Costa Rica, and this is the best tanager image that I've managed to produce. I comically call this species my nemesis, and have spent many morning hours chasing it around the gardens and edges of ecolodges. To produce this image, I mounted my 300 f2.8IS to a 7D, set the camera to aperture priority (AV mode), and set my exposure compensation to -2/3 stops. After much flittering about, the pair settled on the wire for about a second and I managed to catch this moment. I would have preferred an image on foliage, but the lines and out of focus background work for me. 

These birds on a wire are a metaphor for me. Much like the cormorant, hunger and instinct motivate my behavior. I cannot help but chase the moment. I am driven to produce images, and with each success, I am also met with failure. I have made the shot... it looks good, but it is not perfect... 
The fish is in my gullet, but I am not allowed to eat!
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Greetings from Costa Rica

We are currently traipsing around the Costa Rican country side. Every time I visit this lovely tropical paradise, I can't help but think... "Must Never Leave!" While Costa Rica continues to develop economically as industry and tourism expands, the people seem as warm and friendly as ever. More about the people, the photography, and the environment when we get stateside. 
Pura Vida!
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the Fringe

Joshua Tree National Park has been an inspiration to me in more ways than I can articulate. Shortly before my 13th birthday I moved to 29 Palms California, and I... a New York City kid, had to learn to love a place that was foreign. The Mojave was relentless. It was a dry sparsely populated fragment of rock, dirt, and tumbleweed. I hated my new world. I craved the odors of Manhattan, street vendors, and sewers... I just wanted to go home. 
Like any lost kid, I adapted. I looked for anything to help me waste away the endless hours of boredom. I took long hikes into the desert, investigated abandoned shacks, and fished for lizards (yes... we use to call it fishing!). By the time I left JTree in 1979, I'd fallen for its charm. In this seemingly simplistic world, I discovered complexities.    
My studies in college led me back to the Mojave... This barren landscape that was the place of my youth was also where I found my wife. While I no longer call the desert home, I am a frequent visitor. I have camped, hiked and photographed this harsh landscape for more than two decades, and have spent hours searching for elusive creatures. During a recent outing to Joshua Tree National Park I had a brief encounter with the herd pictured throughout this essay. While I've seen Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) across montane regions of the U.S., I had never observed them here. The herd traversed rocky outcrops as they ushered their lambs up and over the mountain pass. Their cryptic form allowed even the largest rams to disappear into the mountainscape like a desert mirage on a sunny day. I am forever amazed by the complexity of life and its capacity to evolve and adapt to marginal habitats across our planet. The desert is a beacon for the evolutionary process... competition for limited resources drives change and allows only the most fit to thrive, reproduce and contribute genes into the next generation. If you want to see evolution, look to the fringe... in the desert, the footprint of biology is too large to be ignored. 
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Three Dimensions of Photography

Today's lesson... Processing Matters!
Some might say that there's no point in stating the obvious, but I disagree. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, the obvious is often too cryptic to be seen.  

With the school year over and my need to be anywhere at any time now gone, I am free to sleep, shoot and wax poetic once again. While it might take some time for me to hit my stride, I am looking forward to a summer of photography and deep thoughts ;-) 
So, while you were all sleeping off a Saturday night binge at the bar, I decided to slip out of bed and do a morning shoot. The sun was climbing fast above the horizon, and time was not on my side. I grabbed my gear, jumped in the truck and scurried off to a familiar spot. Thick morning fog juxtaposed with a pastoral landscape was the only inspiration I needed. It was a quick shoot, and by 7:00 a.m. the sky was bright and burning out... time to go. In the end, I managed to squeeze off about twenty images, not much, but it felt good to be in the "zone" again. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Only Images

With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, I lack the mental energy and time to finish any abstract or concrete thought that relates to photography, vision, evolution, ecology, travel, or environmentalism. I crave an adventure, but I am mired in piles of grading. While I'd love to ponder my summer of photography, I am absorbed by the biology yet to teach. There are so many ideas, theories, and discoveries that I want to share with my students, but there is only a shred of time to teach and learn. So here I sit, committed to a blog that nobody reads, compelled to share my thoughts and vision of the world. As such, I humbly offer a few images captured during the waning hours of Memorial Weekend and hope to find new ways to inspire myself and others to pursue their dreams, love of photography, travel, and this planet.
Mirror into the Past
Canon 5D mkII + 50mm f1.4
Spring Oak in Black and White
Canon 5D mkII + 50mm f1.4
Apple Farm
5D mkII + 15mm f2.8
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.