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 / 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 / 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 / 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,

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