Sunday, July 31, 2011

Road Tripping Through Ecosystems #3

Pre-Dawn on Jackson Lake - Grand Tetons National Park
Canon 5D markII + Canon 17-40L Lens shot @ f11
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Road Tripping Through Ecosystems #2

Yellowstone Lake
Canon 5D markII + 100 f2.8 USM Macro Lens
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Road Tripping Through Ecosystems #1

Hot Spring Morning - Yellowstone National Park
Canon 7D + 300mm f2.8L IS
In this blog, "The Way We See It," I have tried to honor the tag line... We work to Travel - We travel to Explore - We explore to Learn - We learn to Teach - We teach to Conserve. 

While brevity is not my strength and I am prone to excessive analysis, I do believe that images inspire. I use photography to tell stories, to provoke a response, and to teach. As an educator in a bedroom community, I see the xenophobia that grips our society first hand. Communities at large stress that if you are not "one of us," then you have little value to us. The current debate about budgets, fiscal irresponsibility, and debt crises completely cloud the important things in life. 

So what does this rambling have to do with photography, ecosystems and road trips? 

Throughout this summer I have made a commitment to travel and photography. In one brief month, I have traversed multiple time zones, crossed the continental divide, and straddled the equator. I have endured the discomfort of twelve hour drives, showerless days, and straight-line winds to see my planet with fresh eyes. The monotony of responsibility is replaced by a devotion to my craft and admiration for the planet's biodiversity. So, as politicians continue to debate minutia, and people live in fear of each other, I think that it is only appropriate for me to ask... WTF?! Crawl out of that damn shell, hit the road and take a risk. There are more important things to our survival as a nation and a species than taxes and balancing the books. A good old-fashion road trip across the country or the planet hold lessons for us all. You will be reminded about the fragility of our ecology, recognize our unchecked opulence, and develop respect for simple living.  

So, to unleash your latent road-tripper, I plan to share seven images in seven days. Each picture will be captioned with little more than a location and photographic data. I sincerely hope that these photographs will inspire you to leave the comfort of home and do some living... 
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rant: On Art, Nature and Photography

Baru Beach at Dawn
Canon 5DII + 50mm f1.4 

Can photographs of nature become something more than a frozen moment ...more than a data point? 
Let’s face it, anyone can pick up a camera, put it on auto, and frame a subject. Today’s tools are so sophisticated that vision has replaced knowledge. It’s not that technical knowledge ever made the photographer, it’s just that it was once an obstacle between the artist and the art. Our sophisticated tools now allow everyone to express their vision.
Bamboo Orchid - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica
Canon 7D + 300mm f2.8L IS
Consider the following: iPhoneography. According to the “urbaN DICTIONARY” it is ...the act or practice of snapping quick digital pictures and performing post-processing and sharing from within the mobile phone itself,... 
My take, for the masses; a powerful tool in a portable box that says, “Vision first, knowledge later (or never).”
Some people just get it. They see the light, isolate the details, and convey a feeling with their images. The iPhoneography movement mirrors my observations of the American society at large. It’s all about the quick fix. We have no tolerance for the hard work or the thinking required to solve our problems. As such, we are in need of some serious help, and have chosen, instead, to erect a giant “help wanted ad” on every stoop, wall, and bulletin board. The ad reads: “Help Wanted, ...No Knowledge Required.”
Mantled Howler Monkey - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 7D + 300mm f2.8L IS
Some other current ads might be summarized as...
Help Wanted, Biology Teacher ...No Knowledge Required.
Help Wanted, Environmental Reformer ...No Knowledge Required.
Help Wanted, Politician to F#$%-up Reputation of Admired Country ...No Knowledge Required.
Frog on a Wire - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + 180mm f3.5L
Really, ...Is this what the the future has to offer? No Knowledge Required?! 
Before the digital era, we all shot film. There were no histograms, variable ISO’s or memory cards. This was an unforgiving discipline because it required knowledge about light and how it interacted with particles of silver on sheets of cellulose. In the “Dark Ages of Photography,” art was created with knowledge, not in spite of it. The pioneers of environmental photography, Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and Clyde Butcher (still alive and working with film), are more than just visionaries, they are artists. Their success followed a simple formula:
Technical Knowledge + Subject Knowledge + Unique Vision = Art
So there’s my rant, inspired by a simple question. When do pictures of of nature transcend photojournalism and become art? We live in a world of quick fixes, mindless solutions, and dreams that everyone can do everything at any time. While, I don’t wish to denigrate those who have discovered a vision without experience, I need to believe that experience matters. In an age when automation is a substitute for knowledge, how do we distinguish the litany data points from the unique vision that makes art?
The Trap - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + 300mm f2.8L IS
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tropical Eye Candy

Shangri La Valley - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + 15mm Fisheye - HDR Processing of three images @ +1, 0, -1 stop intervals
Our second day at Selva Verde began with an ass-whooping hike into the primary forest. We met our guide and friend, Michael Sevilla, at 5:30 a.m., shared a quick cup of café con leche, and crossed the Sarapiquí River. At first, the walk seemed somewhat pedestrian as we traversed the suspension bridge and hiked the river trail. Walking along the Sarapiquí, the birdsongs at first light was a chorus for the musical river that crashed along the rocky shore. Michael stopped at what appeared to be a random point, withdrew his machete, and hacked at a palm that was blocking the poorly worn path up the mountain. Barely awake and feeling the heat of a tropical morning, we began our ascent. It wasn't that the hike was particularly challenging, steep ...but not too bad; the disconcerting part of the journey was in the unknown. We had just swept a poisonous viper off the trail, and now we were hiking through thick vegetation. Our path was unmarked and seemed to be worn down by the feet of a peccary, coati, or some other small animal. We climbed higher, but I had no clue as to our final destination. Thorny vegetation, colorful palms, and spider webs slapped against my sweaty arms with each step into nothingness. At some point I turned to the rear and realized that Tamy and my sisters were gone. We all began as one, but now it was Michael and I. Sucking in the thick air, I yelled... "Marco...," and listened. "Polo, we're here..." So we continued the climb. All along, I couldn't help but think, "Where the hell are we going?!" I didn't dare ask the machete wielding man who had so kindly awakened on this Monday after Father's Day to take us on an adventure, but I couldn't help wonder "...would it be worth the hike?" Just as the doubt crept in, I gazed, breathlessly, into the valley. The sun was now peeking above the horizon, the thick virgin forest was to my back, and dew filled the landscape. This vista was my mornings' reward, this was my  'Shangri La.' 
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fifteen Years Later

Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas) on Heliconia Flower - Selva Verde Lodge, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + 180 f3.5L - June 2011
Tamy and I made our first trip to Costa Rica in June 1996. A photo excursion to the tropics had been among our many travel dreams, and memories of this first visit continue to linger today. In preparation for this adventure to the rainforest, we viewed endless National Geographic videos, books about the Amazon, and watched the movie Medicine Man. If you've since forgotten or are too young to know, Sean Connery was the Medicine Man. He was the ecologist who famously propelled himself through the canopy in search of yet to be discovered drugs. Hoping to emulate his research methods, we spent a week in Rara Avis. This deep jungle eco-lodge is continuous with Braulio Carrillo National Park and only accessible by tractor. Rara Avis is the research facility and lodge where the "real" medicine man, Donald Perry, did his pioneering research on tree-top ecology. After four nights at Rara Avis, "the tractor from hell" dragged us down the mountain, and we headed towards the Selva Verde Lodge near the Sarapiqui River... 
Hognose Viper (Porthidium nasutum) - Selva Verde Lodge, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + 180 f3.5L - June 2011 

So here I am, fifteen years later recalling our first adventure to the tropics. Since that time, we've returned to Rara Avis, been to Costa Rica on six occasions, traveled to Africa twice, camped throughout Alaska, and road-tripped across the Californian and Washington Coasts. In all of our travels, we never planned a return trip to Selva Verde... that is, until Tamy said, " hey let's go back..." So we did. 
Blue Jeans (Dendrobates pumilio) Poison Dart Frog - Selva Verde Lodge, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + 180 f3.5L - June 2011
The images displayed are ones that we've always hoped to make. They are some of Costa Rica's signature species in soft light. All of these herps were found throughout the primary and secondary forests that are contiguous with the Selva Verde Lodge. During our most recent visit, I've rediscovered the beauty of the Caribbean Slope and realized the amazing insect, amphibian, and reptilian treasures waiting to be discovered. 
Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas) on a Wire - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + 180 f3.5L - June 2011
Green & Black (Dendrobates auratus) in a Banana Flower - Selva Verde Lodge, Costa Rica
Canon 5D MarkII + 180 f3.5L, June 2011
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Five Tips for the Inadequate

Defocus and Shoot it Shallow, Ngorongoro Crater - Tanzania
Feeling inadequate because you can’t afford the latest and greatest? Sometimes I do! Just this morning I was surfing the web, visiting some forums, and reading a few of my favorite photo-blogs. I came across a post from a guy who had recently returned from a Tanzanian safari. He had some amazing images... the tight portraits of lions and leopards were stunning. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to a tinge of envy. So, I dug into his EXIF data (digital raw data) to determine the camera and lens he was shooting. Sure enough, the images were produced with a Canon 500mm f4.0L IS lens. I whimsically thought to myself... “you too could produce images like this for the low-low price of only $6,999 + tax and shipping!”

Defocused Water Lilies, Caribbean Slope - Costa Rica

Unfortunately, some things are just out of reach for mere mortals. I can’t justify that type of expense on gear because I don’t derive my income from my craft. And isn’t this what it’s all about. This thing I do with cameras is my way of exploring the natural world... it is the way I express myself... it is how I escape my everyday reality and relax. Photography is my art, and at the core of this exploration is my vision. At times it is a real challenge to fight gear envy, but in the end, gear is just this... a tool. Camera equipment is the ephemeral thing, it comes and it goes. In contrast, the final image... your vision, is forever. So rather than waste time obsessing about the gear, we image makers should be obsessing about the process. We are all on a vision quest seeking a way to tell a story about a place and time. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The One-Eyed Monkey

What does a one-eyed monkey and broken jaw have to do with natural selection? While I’m not sure I know the answer, I will venture the following hypothesis. However, before I explain, I feel the need to begin with the back-story…

So I’m thoroughly focused on a butterfly larva that looks like a snake’s head. The larva was perched on a large leaf displaying a scale-like pattern and false eyes. More bark than bite, its appearance is intended to be a threat that invokes fear. Since I’m no bird, I recognized the bluff to be an example of mimicry and proceeded to photograph the “sheep in wolf’s clothes.” With about thirty images in the tank, I began to hear the approach of howler monkeys crossing the river valley. The Sarapiquí River divides a patch of rainforest and acts as a natural barrier between two competing troops of monkeys. Hoots and howls from one side of the river inspire a nearby troop to respond. This type of vocalization is a declaration of territory and is a howler monkey’s way of saying… “don’t cross the line.” 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Species Profile: Megalopygidae

Biodiversity is the scientific way of describing variety; it is a measure of the total number of distinct species in a defined area. Some biologists assess biodiversity by examining genes within a population, while others invoke the classical “species concept” as a way of defining the richness of life in an ecosystem. Regardless of the measurement tool, high biodiversity is a good thing and is cited as a positive indicator for environmental health. 

Costa Rica and its tropical forests are known for its high species richness and biodiversity. Some regard the entire country as an ecological hotspot. With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Pacific to the west, two distinct weather systems collide where the mountains bisect the country. Traveling east to west, the elevation increases along the Caribbean slope. The cumulative affect of oceanic air and elevation changes result in the formation of distinct microclimates that define multiple ecosystems within small patches of land. Like the Caribbean, the Pacific Slope is geologically diverse. As the mountains sink towards the ocean, the structure and diversity of the forests change. Geographic diversity and climate stability contribute to the staggering biological variety found across the country.