Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Simple Images - Simple Themes

If you are Looking at me Here, Check Out how Great I Look on the new Blog

The Way We See It has Moved! You can find our musings about wildlife, travel and the environment at our SquareSpace Blog at: http://btleventhal.com/bruceleventhal/
Our gallery of images and upcoming events and workshops are also now on SquareSpace... check it all out at: http://btleventhal.com 

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

In Search of Simplicity


Leaf and Rock - Interstate State Park, WI
Canon 1D mark iii + Canon 100mm f2.8 USM Macro

It’s a funny thing how a style or pattern seems to creep into the subconscious of our art. I’m not certain if these things happen because of life’s circumstances, or in spite of world around us. Regardless of the cause, it appears that my photographs now seem to emphasize the simple over the complex.

To read the rest of the blog post, check out the blog at our new SquareSpace site at: Simplicity
See our new gallery at: btleventhal.com

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

September 22, 2013

Autumnal Grasses - Tamarack Nature Center, White Bear Lake
Canon 1D Mark III + Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro

Saturday September 22nd was the autumnal equinox. The week preceding this first day of fall was unlike the pre-autumnal weeks to which I’ve grown accustom. Minnesota is known for its temperate weather where summer transitions to winter, and fall is a wish that rarely comes true. Bracing for the worst, this harvest season seems to be more summer than winter. Warm winds and dry air continue to bathe the parched landscape, and fall is hiding somewhere in the shadows. I don’t object to this extension of summer, but I can’t help wonder if our departure from the norm is a harbinger of the future. 

To read more and see more images please visit our NEW SquareSpace gallery at http://btleventhal.com and blog at http://btleventhal.com/bruceleventhal/.

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Color of Costa Rica

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguss swainsonii) - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x Converter
The Way We See It is on the move!
We have constructed a new gallery / website and blog where we will continue to discuss photography, travel, ecology, evolution and life in Minnesota. Please continue to follow us and our adventures at: http://btleventhal.com


©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Box of Chocolates...

High key Lake Superior Sunrise - Kitchi Gammi Park, Duluth
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 17-40 f4.0L w/ a Tiffen Variable ND Filter
You never know what you’re going to get.

Sunday had the potential of being an epic day. Wolf pups were frequenting a hamlet near the North Shore, and I was in need of an adventure. After a bit of arm twisting and plan-shifting, I convinced my good friend Brian to join me on one final summer shoot. Having spent two weeks together photographing Costa Rica in July, and countless days in the field throughout the years, I knew that this wild idea had traction. 

We left our respective homes at 3:30 a.m. and coordinated a rendezvous near the northbound freeway. Bleary-eyed and unrested, we were in a race against dawn. First stop,... Lake Superior. 

Nearly three hours after consolidating the gear in one vehicle, the sun began its daily ascent. Masked by the big lake’s atmospherics, we knew that there was little time to find the optimal vista. As we sped through Duluth, we hit the Superior Scenic Highway and pulled off the road at Kitchi Gammi Park. The sun was now our enemy as it made its way through a shallow bank of clouds. I overestimated the cloud cover and knew that we now had less than twenty minutes of good light.
Water and Rocks - Kitchi Gammi Park, Duluth
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 17-40 f4.0L w/ a Tiffen Variable ND Filter
Brian and I scrambled across the rocky surface to find “the spot” where we could each craft “the shot.” As if hiking along a forked trail, he banked south and I ran north. The light was less than magic, but the surf was rough and splashed aggressively at my feet. The wet rocks caught my eye as the sun broke through a thin layer of clouds. This was far from ideal, but I was not going to let bad light damper my excitement. Rather than seek some perfect exposure, I chose to shoot both high-key (overexposed) and low-key (underexposed) images. Here, the mood was more important than the subject. Being there and experiencing life trumped my trivial desire to achieve perfection
Low key Lake Superior Sunrise - Kitchi Gammi Park, Duluth
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 17-40 f4.0L w/ a Tiffen Variable ND Filter
We never saw the wolves that day, nor made the great American landscape, but we didn’t let sleep interfere with the opportunity to seek out an adventure. This Great Lake is like a box of chocolates, sometimes you get the rich nougat and sometimes you get the mystery cream center than nobody likes.

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Summer 2013 : Live Your Passion

Suburban Coyote (Canis latrans) - White Bear Lake, MN
Canon 50D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x converter
It’s the annual end of summer post. For years I have blogged my ode to summer as a lament to the loss of freedom and a return to a year of work. At times I’ve eluded to a fabled purgatory or indentured servitude, but each of these references were always intended to be tongue in cheek. 
The Singer (Melospiza melody) - Chippewa Preserve
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS

I am a conservation photographer and artist, but this is only one of my two passions. My work, “the job,” is to teach. Teaching biology and exploring the working of life’s biodiversity is my other passion. I’ve been playing the role of a teacher since 1992, and am now a seasoned actor. Once a young buck among a sea of future retirees, I am now the old guy. Yet, with 22 years in the bank, I’m not one of those wannabe’s looking to leave the profession.
Northern Saw-whet Ow (Aegolius acadicus) - North Central WI
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS

The onset of the school year is as exciting and tense as capturing an ephemeral moment with my camera at the break of dawn. I feel the same pressure and fear of failure during my first week back to work as I do when photographing a fleeting moment. This fear is tempered by the sense of potential that also floods my thoughts. Much like photography, teaching excites me. The unknown product of my efforts and desire to improve what I do each day is a redundancy in these two passions of mine. 
Chippewa Prairie State Park - Minnesota
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 17-40 f4.0L
It’s been a good summer. I’ve photographed the prairies of Minnesota, the deep woods of the Midwest, and the jungles of Costa Rica. I’ve explored the details in bird feathers and frog eyes and climbed mountains to catch the start of a new day. This will be a good year too. I will craft rich lessons that will illuminate young minds, and paint a picture of the life found on this Earth. So rather than author yet one more lament, just this once I’ll let the real truth speak for itself... this educator has a nice life ;-) 

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 - Black and White Portraits

Portrait of a Jaguar - Rehab Center, Costa Rica
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
Some faces look better in black and white!
Lurking Howler (Alouatta paliatta) - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x
Paca (Cuniculus paca) in Rehabilitation Center - Costa Rica
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What’s in a Blur (In Search of Creativity)

Green violetear hummingbird (Colibri thalassinus) - Savegre, Costa Rica
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8IS L + Canon 2x mark iii


I recently took a look at my neighbor / wedding photographer’s website (see http://brandonwerth.com) and thought to myself... “man that guy is so damn creative!” Being far removed from the portrait/wedding world, this type of photography seems as foreign to me as working with clay. 
Flying Monkey (Cebus capucinus) - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica
Rather than art, I often describe my work as conservation photography or nature photojournalism. While I always strive to produce the best possible images, I know “creative” is not the first word that comes to mind. At times my work is technical, compelling or emotive, but the word creative is reserved for the artists of the world.
Lapa Lapa Lapa (Ara macao) - Rio Quatro, Costa Rica
To break my current photo-funk, I’ve been on the hunt for creative nature photographs. I know it when I see them, and sadly, this is not what I observe in most of my work. While searching for inspiring photographs of nature, I’ve found many self-described creatives and creativity in post-processing, but the real artists in my discipline seem far and few between. The well-known humanitarian and photo-educator David duChemin is at the precipice of creativity with his portraiture and recent works in nature, but the one I find most compelling is Nick Brandt. Call it retro, but Brandt continues to shoot large negative black & white film while the rest of us toil with our pixels and memory cards. The structure of his images are evocative and expressive in a way that few can extract from their nature and wildlife subjects. There is a depth and emptiness to his images, yet each is filled with the essence of its subject. I call this work creative because Brandt manages to combine the key moment with brilliant technical skills that makes for much more than a journalistic representation of time. I can stare at his pictures for hours.
Flying banana (Ramphastos swainsonii) - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica
So, what’s with all the burry pics in the blog, you ask? 
During every prolonged shoot, I will break from my tendency towards technical perfection and try to escape from my self-imposed constraints. While I won’t be so bold to call any of these images creative, I might describe each as a purposeful attempt at making art from a bit of nature.

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.   

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Costa Rica 2013: My Ficus

The Strangler (Ficus insipida) - Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 17-40L @ 19mm / f16
This giant of the secondary forest began its life after a clearcut, and has meandered its way towards the sky for the past forty years or so.  With buttresses that top out at six vertical feet and a girth of five man hugs, the tree shares all the characteristics of a typical mid-successional species. It’s a nutrient hog that is pre-programmed to strangle its elders in an attempt to fulfill a biological destiny. Much like the cottonwoods and tulip trees of North America, strangler figs (Ficus insipida) grow fast and large in a race to the top. Once there, they bask in the light of day and propagate effusively with a productivity that feeds a complex tropical web.

This particular ficus has been a favorite photographic subject. Located along a mangrove trail in the Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge, the fig tree is a landmark between the lodge and an egret rookery. I am drawn to the curvaceous buttress, asymmetric branches, and its largess. The challenge of capture is my muse. I dream of perfect light that is so rare below a rainforest canopy and am always forced to yield my preconceptions in search of a compromise between what is offered and what I can take. This tree has been pictured here in the past (see “Road-tripping Through Ecosystems #4) and I am certain that I will shoot and show it again. Ok... so it’s not really my ficus, but I wish it were. 

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

5 Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Your Landscape Photographs

St. Croix River Sunrise - Summer 2013, Stillwater MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + 17-40mm L @ 18mm w/ 6-stop Tiffen Variable ND Filter


Call this one a tweener... a little something from home in between our Costa Rica 2013 recap.
  • Use a tripod to increase stability, slow you down and permit long exposures.
  • Wake up early, be on site before sunrise and shoot the pre-dawn light.
  • Use a strong foreground element like a rock, tree or color to add balance to the image.
  • Use lines to lead your viewer’s eye into the photograph.
  • Try to expose in a way that stretches your histogram from the brightest whites (at the right) to the darkest blacks (at the left). This offers you the greatest flexibility when post processing. If the exposure range is greater than five stops between the extremes, then shoot multiple images at various exposures. By capturing a bracketed series you can merge the divergent exposures in software like Photoshop, Photomatix, or Nik HDR Effex. 
St. Croix River Sunrise (#2) - Summer 2013, Stillwater MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + 17-40mm L @ 18mm w/ 6-stop Tiffen Variable ND Filter
These pictures were taken on August 13, 2013 @ 6:10 a.m. Each was from a single exposure where I worked to maximize the dynamic range prior to and after image capture. The photographs were pre-processed in Aperture 3.4.5 and finished for presentation in Photoshop CS 5. 

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 - Painting with Light

Light Painting with Frogs (Agalychnis callidryas) - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 7D + Canon 100-400L IS @ 400mm
Exposure: ISO 200 : 6 seconds : f5.6
Used as a way to illuminate foregrounds without flash, light painting adds texture and dimension to star photography and nighttime portraiture. Less commonly applied to wildlife subjects, nocturnal animals are typically photographed with flash traps. While this technique can freeze the motion of an animal on the prowl, subjects caught in a trap often appear startled and unnatural. Additionally, because camera traps are challenging to focus, it’s important use small apertures that will increase the depth of field. The reliance on this technique results in pictures that seem to be littered by branches that reflect the cold and sterile light produced by a flash. 

While traveling through the tropics this July, we had the opportunity to do some light painting. Unlike the millisecond pop of a flash-trap, light painting relies on long exposures to soft light. To paint with light, you’ll need a friend or two to illuminate your nocturnal subject. To emulate the appearance of candle or firelight, we covered the bulbs of our dying flashlights with our hands and slowly moved the light near and around the frog. This type of light painting requires you to prefocus, and bump your iso to 400 or 800. I suggest that you use a stable tripod, mirror lock-up and a cable release in order to minimize camera movement. You’ll need to be prepared to experiment with duration of your shutter, take many pictures and stay up late! 

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 - Nesting and the Importance of Perseverance

Adult Male Quetzal #2 - Savegre River, Costa Rica
Canon 5D mark iii and Canon 300mm f2.8IS L w/ Canon 2x mark iii converter
When asked how we find so much wildlife and produce so many unique pictures, my answer is unintentionally flippant. Simply put, our photographic outcomes are the product of practice and perseverance. We take many pictures, shoot most weekends, edit ruthlessly, and learn from our mistakes. After working all week to pay for the photography addiction, I look forward to sunrise Saturdays or Sundays with the intent of producing something new within the boundaries of my home range. This is the  practice; it is the investment we make that prepares us the fleeting moments. 

When traveling, we don’t travel like tourists. It’s not about seeing it all, it’s about making the most of the opportunity. We are “nesters.” We plan ahead, strategically select a few places to stay for extended periods, and we study the patterns in these novel locations.

We are patient and we persevere. After eight trips to Costa Rica, we have become more thoughtful and intentional when making pictures. Repetition is the key to our success. Rather than spray and pray, we’re on the trail early and make return visits to wildlife and landscape hotspots throughout the day. This type of forethought, patience and knowledge is attainable to those willing to nest. The longer we stay, the more we learn, and the greater our productivity. 
Adult Male Quetzal #2 - Savegre River, Costa Rica
Canon 5D mark iii and Canon 300mm f2.8IS L w/ Canon 2x mark iii converter
The quetzal images posted were produced because we knew how to use our gear, learned where the birds would feed, and invested the time to revisit a likely roost. While we photographed many individual quetzals during our prolonged visit to the Savegre Hotel, these two pictures were made as we departed lodge. Shot during our fifth and final day at this location, these images exemplify what is possible when you create the time to nest and are willing to persevere.

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Where is your Shangri-La?

I Call it Shangri-La - Selva Verde Primary Forest, Costa Rica
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 17-40mm f4.0L @ 19mm / f1
6
Synonymous with an earthly paradise, Shangri-La was first described by James Hilton in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon. The Himalayan utopia, as described by Hilton, lies trapped between mountainous peaks, and is a place where happiness and youth are maintained in perpetuity. 

I have seen Shangri-La. Hidden to most, this magical landscape reveals itself to those who embrace their wanderlust. A place where the land touches the sky and light scatters about, Shangri-La is only visible to the early risers, compulsive hikers, and the dreamers of the world. Located somewhere on this planet I’ve been there before and I have no doubt that I’ll be there again. 

Black & White Conversion with Topaz B&W Effects II

About the Picture --- This image was first conceived in 2011. I visited this valley during an intense hike through primary rainforest protected and owned by the Selva Verde Lodge and Preserve. Following an early morning ascent that included a precarious swinging bridge, hognose viper, steep switchbacks and bushwhacking up a mountainous slope, we arrived at the valley after sunrise. While I took many pictures that morning, I was forced to use HDR processing to reconstruct the image that disappeared as fast as the sun rose. 

We returned to the Selva Verde Lodge in July 2013. Knowing that my intended photo required us to beat the sun, we began our 2013 hike to Shangri-La at 5:00 a.m. On this day the atmospherics were kind as rain clouds hung in the valley while the sun climbed the mountainous slopes. With the sun to my right and thick clouds in the foreground, I decided to use this dying tree as a way anchor my landscape. While I like what I’ve produced, I still don’t think I’ve made “The Shot” that lingers in my mind... I guess this means I’ll have to make plans to return to this Central American Shangri-La.
  
©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 : Oophaga pumilio

I'll Take a Half Cup - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 2x Mark iii Converter


What’s in a name? 
Known as the “strawberry, blue jeans, blastimentos, or la gruta” poison arrow frog, Oophaga pumilio is a frog with many names. Diminutive at about 20mm, Oophaga pumilio appear in 15-30 color morphs that vary according to their geographic distribution. Once considered members of the larger Dendrobates genus, the strawberry poison dart frog is classified in a single clade, Oophaga, whose evolution coincides with the formation of the Panamanian land bridge. 

Found from Nicaragua to Panama, each subpopulation is morphologically distinct. Some groups are bright red (strawberry) while others are yellow with black spots (la gruta). The frog pictured here is the “blue jeans” morph, and they are found throughout the Caribbean slope near the La Selva Biological Reserve in Costa Rica. 

The name “poison arrow” or “poison dart” is a generic reference to the poisonous neurotoxins that are secreted dorsally. Historically, pre-Columbian aboriginal populations used the secretions from living and dead frogs to produce poison darts that could be used to hunt monkeys and birds living throughout the forest canopy. In general, poison arrow frogs are unaggressive yet fearless. Dressed in neon and Day-Glo, this genus is famous for its aposomatic or “warning color” patterns. While there are a few bird species that can tolerate the toxins or modify frogs by scraping the glands on rocky surfaces, most birds use the outrageous colors as a way to recognize these frogs as non-food items. Observed in everything from insects to snakes, there is strong selective pressure for aposomatic warning patterns throughout tropical communities. So prevalent is this strategy, some non-poisonous species will mimic toxic ones by evolving aposomatic-like color patterns. 

The genus Oophaga is fitting, as the prefix “Oo,” egg, and suffix “phaga,” to eat, aptly describes the nutrition of the developing frog larvae. Female frogs carry eggs into the canopy and deposit them near a watery vessel. Often laid on the leaves of bromeliads, male frogs will make multiple visits to water the eggs and prevent desiccation. Once the tadpoles emerge, females will retrieve the larvae and carry the embryonic frogs to pools formed at the base of epiphytic bromeliads or tree cavity. Here, the larvae will grow until they develop legs and can leave their aquatic homes. The maternal ecological investment is high because the strawberry tadpole is a finicky eater. Beginning with the deposition of one to two larvae and every three days until final development, the adult female will return to the aquatic nest to lay unfertilized eggs. These eggs represent the entire diet of the Oophaga larvae until they can leave their watery home. The diversity and range of this species seems all the more incredible when you consider that less than 12% of all fertilized eggs the survive through metamorphosis. 

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 - In the Beginning...

A Window into a Monkey's World (Cebus capucinus) - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 300 f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x Converter
After arriving at Juan Santamaria International airport in San Jose, we grabbed a taxi to the Hotel la Rosa de America in La Garita de Alajuela. Hotel la Rosa is a favorite bookend for my Costa Rica photo-adventures. Located in a quiet spot near the airport, La Rosa has beautifully manicured gardens that attract exotic blue-crowned motmot’s, rufous-naped wrens, and a variety of tanager species. However, la Rosa is just the beginning... we are now eight days into our travels and have seen more than can be shared at this time. Stay tuned, as there is much more to come! 


©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 : Pre-trip Post #3

Hognose Viper (Porthidium nasutum) - Selva Verde, Costa Rica 2011
Canon 40D + Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L IS
It's summer in North America and we're heading to the tropics. Constrained by a pre-defined school schedule, we rarely travel during spring and holiday breaks. In Costa Rica, these are the peak travel periods, and we can't afford peak rates, nor do we wish to endure peak tourist traffic. In the end, this winter retreat has become our summertime  oasis. With relatively few travelers competing for access to prime photographic locations, July and August is both affordable and productive months for those seeking some solitude in the tropics. 
Not Stuttering... Two Toucans (Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii) - Selva Verde, Costa Rica 2011
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
Our batteries are charged and we've got memories to make and memory to burn. Follow us throughout the next few weeks as we explore the unimagined diversity of Costa Rica. 

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shooting the Prairie (I)

Road to Nowhere - Near Milan, MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 17-40L
Often referred to as “flyover country” this nation’s midsection is a rare destination for travelers, adventurers and photographers. The Rockies, Sierras, and Appalachians compete with the coasts for nature enthusiasts, and should anyone be interested in visiting the middle, they are likely to search for a good fishing hole or forest trail. Unlike the allure of the African savanna, North America’s grasslands are the ignored step child to the ecotourist. 
Eye of the Storm - Lac Qui Parle State Park, MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 17-40L
Maybe it’s due to proximity or a nostalgic reflection on my research with monarch butterflies, but I seem to be drawn to the prairies of middle America. A frequent visitor to North and South Dakota’s Badlands and lover of road-trips to nowhere, I have been quietly documenting grassland species and landscapes between Minnesota and Montana. This unplanned personal project now represents a significant percent of my image-portfolio, and continues to be an important photographic subject. Representing less than three percent of its original distribution throughout the midwest, North America’s grasslands are an endangered ecosystem.
Old Barn - Near Milan, MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 17-40L
Photographing a sea of grass can be a challenge to the most accomplished photographer. More than any other location, the prairie requires a deliberate study of composition and light prior to squeezing the shutter. To make the mundane interesting, try to leverage the turbulent weather of spring and summer, the contrasting lines between habitat and farms, or the pastels of dawn and dusk in your photographs. To make the infinite intimate, seek converging lines and search for a focal point to anchor the viewer. 
Minnesota River Sunset - Lac Qui Parle State Park, MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 17-40L
The formula, (Being There + Serendipity = Art) has served me well in the past, however I can not claim that this accurately describes my efforts on the prairie. Here, repetition and forethought are essential components for generating compelling images. For each picture presented in this post, I scouted the location and planned to be present in the “right” light. While I doubt that any one image was truly previsualized, I knew that if I put myself in the right place at the right time, I’d increase the chance of making a keeper.  

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 : Pre-trip Post #2

Three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica
Canon 40D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 2x converter 
This three-toed sloth was photographed in 2009 at the Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge and Lodge. After days of looking for sloths on our own, we spent an afternoon with rainforest naturalist, Carlos Jimenez, searching for these omnipresent and elusive animals. We've discovered that nearly any basketball sized growth of fuzz looks like a sloth when staring into a forest canopy. Slow and deliberate, the hairy blobs are surprisingly challenging to find and photograph. While this image is far from perfect, it is among the best three-toed sloths we have on file. In 2013, we hope to have another opportunity to see and photograph these iconic symbols of the neotropics.


©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 



Monday, June 17, 2013

On The Prairie

After the Storm - Lac Qui Parle State Park
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 17-40mm f4.0L
It's 12:25 and I've found a respite from the high-noon prairie sun. The Java River Cafe in Montevideo, MN is a quaint artisan coffee shop and grill in the center of town. There's nothing like a strong cup of espresso after a long hike throughout the grasslands of Western Minnesota. 
White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos ) - Minnesota River
Canon 7D = Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x converter
I'm here on the western prairie hoping to document research in an experimental conservation plot and follow the work of ecologists as they collect data on bees, birds, reptiles and plants. With little time to reflect on the experience, I'll let the photos speak for me now. 
Chippewa Prairie Preserve - Milan, MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + Canon 17-40mm f4.0L

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 - Pre-trip Post #1

Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata) - Sarapiqui, Costa Rica
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS - 1/250 @ f/2.8 & iso 400 
Towards the beginning of July we'll be returning to Costa Rica for the eighth time. Although I have been fortunate to have safaried throughout East Africa and traveled across Alaska and Canada, I continue to find Costa Rica a compelling destination. Ever since the first trip in 1996, we always leave with the plan to return. 

During the next few weeks, I'll post a few archived images and share some photographic goals and plans for our forthcoming July adventure.

Pura Vida,
bruce


©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Monday, June 10, 2013

In The Right Light

In the Right Light - Glencoe, MN
Canon 5D Mark iii & Canon 300mm f2.8L IS 
A dark roast is the only thing that looks good at 3:30 a.m.; so when I left my home for Schaefer Prairie twenty-minutes later, a strong cup of joe was my most valued traveling companion. On this Saturday morning, I was breaking with tradition. It was “the day after,” but I wasn’t sleeping in. The academic year ended on Friday, and the day after is reserved for mindlessness. Foolishly, I accepted an assignment to photograph the “Birds and Blooms” event at Schaefer Prairie Preserve, and I wasn’t about to let mental fatigue stand in the way. I pointed the Cooper due west and drove  one hundred and twenty miles in a sleepless stupor.

I committed to the project because I love a prairie sunrise. The sea of grass reminds me of safaris in Africa and feeds my imagined conception of pre-settlement North America. The American prairie is one of many threatened ecosystems. Fragmented by farms and urban development, less than three percent of indigenous grasslands remain. On this morning I chose to document a restored habitat instead of sleep. So, it is with great irony that I post this image of Taraxacum, the dandelion.

Pest to lawn-lovers across United States, the dandelion is a perfect model of evolutionary success. Adapted to disturbed habitats, the forb blooms fast, and can produce from 54 to 172 seeds per flower head. One estimate suggests that as many as 240,000,000 seeds are produced per acre of dandelion (http://fyi.uwex.edu/weedsci/2002/11/12/dandelion/). It was during the final stretch of my drive to Schaefer Prairie that I began to feel the photographer’s panic. The light was brilliant and I wasn’t on site. I was listening to the pings of gravel striking the undercarriage of the Mini, when I decided to slam on the breaks. This wasn’t the prairie, but the light was too good to pass up... I ran with the lens mounted to the tripod, lied prone on the edge of a farm field and shot into the dawn’s haze. In the end I seemed to have confirmed an oft uttered statement in photography, “almost anything looks good in the right light.”

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Of Two Minds

Evening Storm - West Side of Manning Trail
Canon 5D Mark iii and Canon 17-40 f4.0L + 3-Stop ND Filter
Physical or mental state... lately it seems that I'm at opposite ends. The school year is rapidly coming to a close. To prepare for the frenzied moments of the final week, grading has been a priority and art lays quietly waiting for inspiration. Ten hours in two days... interpreting data, reading about energy, judging student thoughts. The mind wanders as I navigate through the infinite pile of papers and watch the passing of storms. I am of two minds; I am ready to free the artist, but I'm beginning to mourn the end. Photography is my passion, but teaching is what I do. Schizophrenic in the literal sense, I am an introvert walking through a jungle of patterns and space; I am an extrovert, a showman on stage relating stories that make the abstract tangible. It's almost over, but I think I am sad... I am a teacher who takes pictures and a photographer who teaches. My students stoke my passion for biology, and I will miss them during this summers' sabbatical.

As with my thoughts, these images are of two minds. The first captured at dusk on June 1, 2013 was taken during an approaching storm. The second image (below) was made at dawn just one week earlier. Less than 400 m and quiet country road separate the two perspectives, a photographic metaphor for my state of mind.

 Spring Sunrise - West Side of Manning Trail
Canon 5D Mark iii and Canon 17-40 f4.0L + 3-Stop ND Filter

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Go with the Flow

Old Cider - Stillwater, MN
Canon 5D mark iii + 17-40mm f4.0L & 3-stop B+W ND
We've adopted another puppy and with this comes the duality that accompanies every major decision. The fun of jostling a belly with stumpy legs is tempered by sleep deprivation and zero dark-thirty walks. The older dog, Sequoia, must endure the annoyance of puppy teeth in order to eventually have a worthy playmate. Dichotomies are at the root of so many of life's experiences. When we embrace the dichotomy we begin to see with greater clarity.

To produce this photograph I needed to balance my vision with the limits of my circumstance. The light was changing rapidly as heavy winds moved the clouds aloft. The streaky sky was quickly becoming overcast, and the tree I sought to photograph was trembling in the breeze. Rather than fight nature, I let the conditions dictate the process. I must have encircled the tree a dozen times before settling on this vantage point. The apple blossoms were in full bloom, but the wind foiled any attempt to make them my focus. The path of least resistance was to embrace the situation. It was here, before the composition was set, that I knew the image would be a black and white photograph. I added a 3-stop neutral density filter to my 17-40mm lens and zoomed to maximize the size and texture of the trunk. I waited for a massive gust of wind and shot a one-second exposure to capture the rustling of leaves. With windows facing into the apple orchard, I embraced the dichotomy and captured this familiar place in a new way. 


©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Practice your Craft

Portrait of a Bear (Ursus arctos) - Radium Hot Springs, Canada
Canon 7D = Canon 300mm f2.8L IS @ f2.8
It's not often that I have the opportunity to make a tight portrait of a large predator. In fact, other than my safari experiences in East Africa, I have found the pursuit of carnivores to be among my greatest challenge. Large predatory birds always seem to be just distant enough to frustrate, while mammalian carnivores rarely reveal more than a glint in the eye. So when faced with a fleeting moment, I want it all to be automatic. Here, automatic is not a dependence on some predefined camera mode but, rather, a reference to mechanical memory. The way I see it, the difference between maximizing success and minimizing failure is practice. 

I was a photo-newbe in the 1980's. Those were the days of photo magazines, books and film. Magazines and books were cheap, and film was expensive. As result, I spent more hours reading about photography and playing with jewel-like cameras than taking pictures. When I did shoot, it was like driving with my foot on the brakes. Fearful of wasting money and making poorly exposed images, I was a paralyzed by the process. As my income and knowledge expanded, so did the willingness to experiment. My skills and my vision are a product of the past, but the quality of my work has everything to do with the present. While there is little doubt that I've benefited from a thousand rolls of film, shooting medium format negatives, and laboring over a light box, this is not a requisite for today's aspiring photographer. What took years to make ten-thousand images can now be done in months, weeks or days. Digital is the great liberator and equalizer because each image is as disposable as it is precious. Once you've made the primary investment, picture making is free. So, if you want to be prepared to make the shot of a lifetime, work the trigger finger and practice your craft. 


©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Good Morning From Stillwater

St. Croix Scenic River - Stillwater Area, MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + 17-40mm f4.0L @ f16
A postcard from home... 
Spring has sprung. Missed you all winter... welcome back!


©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

High Key Deer

Young Buck (Odocoileus virginianus) - Tamarack Nature Center, MN
Canon 50D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS 
On Saturday morning I took a hike looking for signs of spring. The crisp pre-dawn air bit at my hands as if to remind me that this winter was less than a distant memory. With each step I sunk into the saturated earth rich with autumnal leaves discarded and relegated to the decomposers of the world. There is a smell to early spring, and while it is mid-May, the late snow and unseasonable cold conspired to stretch winter beyond its normal limits. 

So as I walked, I watched for the signs. Migratory birds sang throughout the leafless forest as crows mobbed an owl pair looking for shelter. The animals were on the move. Herds of deer froze as I crossed their paths. Stealthy in wolf country, they seemed more like pets than something wild and untamed. I would stop, stare into their obsidian eyes and project their thoughts into my own. Nearly 20 deer later, I challenged myself to see them in a different way. The sunrise bathed their weathered bodies from behind, so I chose to capture the dawn of spring juxtaposed by broken bodies that struggled to survive this winter.  
Backlit and Wary (Odocoileus virginianus) - Tamarack Nature Center, MN
Canon 50D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chasing Chickens

Chicken Dance (Tympanuchus cupido) - Bluestem Prairie, MN
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x Converter
I tend to be a minimalist when compared to most wildlife photographers. My ego might claim that this constraint is by design, a way to force creativity, but reality is less kind than the fiction. I am a minimalist because I live within a restricted budget. Teaching offers great flexibility to a creative, but financial success is not one its perks. Were it not for the budget limitations of being a public school educator, I’d probably be a walking camera store rather than a minimalist. So whenever I plan a wildlife shoot, I’ve learned to dwell on the details... details are the difference between producing something good and making something great.

Head On (Tympanuchus cupido) - Bluestem Prairie, MN
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x Converter
 Prior to leaving for Moorhead MN, I studied the maps of the Bluestem Prairie SNA and searched the web for photographers who have worked these blinds in the past. Since my dates at the lek were scheduled well beyond the peak mating period, I was less than confident that this experience would be much better than my shoot at the grouse blind in 2008 (See: I Laughed in the Face of Chaos Theory). 
Truce (Tympanuchus cupido) - Bluestem Prairie, MN
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x Converter
Climatic chaos (the late Minnesota spring) was my only consolation. Historically, the prairie chicken lek is most active in mid-April, and the interesting territorial behaviors diminish as daylight hours grow and the temperature warms. It turns out that this year’s unseasonably late snow might have been an unexpected bonus. The cool weather delayed the hens, so the males were forced to maintain their territories until the females were in the mood. By the time I was able to get to the blinds, the males were out in full force booming, hooting and fighting for a piece of turf. If these males intended on propagating their genes, they had better stick around to strut their stuff. In the end, it was the combo-platter of preparation and luck that conspired to create an unprecedented opportunity to capture the drama so late in the season. Lucky or good, I don’t care... May 4, 2013 was a great day to photograph prairie chickens in Northwest Minnesota. 
Get Out! (Tympanuchus cupido) - Bluestem Prairie, MN
Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x Converter
In the next post, I’ll focus on the gear and techniques I used to get the shots. 

©2000-2013 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.