Saturday, 24 September 2011

Galapagos! And the Long Road to Publishing

It seems that recently I have been involved with books that have taken over fifteen years either to write or to think about writing. The idea for Golden, my novel about a wild horse, began as an idea in about 1994 and then was kept on the back burner until 2009, when I began writing the manuscript, finally completing it over a year later.  My approach with Galapagos was different in that it began with a journal which I kept during my travels to the archipelago in 1996, and I actually began writing the book almost immediately upon returning to the US in March of that year. But here it is 2011 and the book is only now going into print (and ebook) after having gone through the final revisions in the past few months.  Many times during this lengthy pre-publication phase the irony was not lost on me that it was starting to look like it would take me as long to get my simple Galapagos travels book published as it had taken Darwin to finally publish Origins.

(Map by Wendy Newman)

From the time of the end of his five year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin took 24 years--until age 50--before getting around to completing On The Origin of Species in 1859. I used to think that that was an extraordinary and even irresponsible amount of time to take to complete a book.  But then I saw the same thing happening to my work-in-progress as the years ticked by.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
Charles Darwin 3 years after his long voyage; this portrait was painted about the time he conceived of his theory of evolution, at age 30 or 31.

Many books wind up being published posthumously. That was precisely what I was trying to avoid when I chose the path of self publishing this year. Several times in the past I encouraged my book agent to hustle a bit and try to find a publisher for Galapagos. The most recent excuse I heard from her for lack of success was in 2009, when she said that the publishing market was already saturated with Darwin-related works due to that year being the 150th anniversary of the original release of Origins.  She told me,  "Maybe in a few more years when things calm down."  Two more years rushed by. I finally lost all patience this year and published the book myself through CreateSpace, Smashwords, and Kindle Digital Press (KDP).  These options are available to any writer, for free, and make publishing a fast and streamlined process.  You can have your book up and running in a matter of weeks.

Soon after returning  from the Galapagos in 1996 I took my journal notes and laptop and headed out on to the Arizona desert to put the notes into book form. Using a power inverter connected to my rental car battery by alligator clips, I typed for several hours each morning, until it became too bright outside to read the computer monitor.  I would then go hiking for the day and return to writing after the sun went down in the evening. I kept to this routine for seven days, located in a remote part of the Kofa Mountains just southwest of Quartzite.  I had enough food and water with me for a week and did not see another vehicle or person in all that time. The skies remained clear and I was able to sleep outside without a tent. To me these were ideal working conditions and by the end of the week I had completed a first draft of my book. My working title was initially Galapagos Daze. Later on I took a friend's advice and changed that to In Darwin's Footsteps.
My friend convinced me that using the iconic scientist's name in the title would make the book more marketable.

When I returned to my home in Alaska I mailed the manuscript to my agent in New York.  She suggested changes and strongly recommended that I include photographs in the book.  I resisted that idea, since my goal was to break into the writing world and I felt that utilizing photographs would be a distraction for the reader and go counter to what I was trying to accomplish.

Vermillion Flycatcher on Santa Cruz Island

But as the years rolled rapidly by and the book failed to be picked up by any publisher, my resolve softened
until I was adding photographs left and right to liven up the work and make it more saleable (I hoped). During that period my book agent retired so I switched to a new one.  She suggested many text changes and had me really do a hatchet job on the original manuscript.  The book shrank to one third of it's former length and came to include less of me and more of Darwin and a good number of photos, both my own and historic. Thankfully, the historic photos were all readily available for free from Wikimedia Commons. According to US copyright law, any creative work that was published prior to 1923 is in the public domain (such as the Darwin portrait included in this blog).  There are companies out there trying to tell you otherwise and attempting to sell these historic images, but they are basically scamming and their claims to ownership have no legal basis. Wikimedia Commons is a terrific source of images for any writer who requires photographs to add to his or her manuscript.

Marine Iguanas at Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island

Earlier this year I learned the process involved in self-publishing with my novel about a wild horse (Golden).  After I had that project completed and the book for sale online at Amazon, it seemed that the next sensible thing to do was to take In Darwin's Footsteps off the back burner and feed the work into the same process. I told my agent what I was up to and she said I didn't need her any more and gave me her blessings.  I then had a good friend do one final proof reading of the book (probably the dozenth by now).   He found the usual assortment of typos which I corrected before emailing the finished work to a wonderful fomatter in Malta named Maureen Cutajar. I had her format for both ebook and print versions (they are two very different formats) according to the exacting specifications required by Smashwords and CreateSpace, respectively. She was busy so it took her about ten days to do the work and email the formatted versions back to me.  Within an hour of receiving the formats I had them uploaded to Smashwords and CreateSpace, as well as to Amazon's KDP. After that the process pretty well runs itself, with all sales being taken care of online through either digital downloads of the ebook or print-on-demand paperback copies of the book being handled by Amazon.

Magnificent frigatebird with gular sac mating display on North Seymour Island

I now have one more backlogged manuscript to pull out of storage and feed into this same publishing whirlwind before beginning work on an entirely new book.  The next book I write will not take fifteen years to publish.

Mark Newman 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Hawaii: Travels In Paradise

Hawaii's enormous attraction for visitors is based on it's fabulous climate and staggering array of beaches.  I, too, was initially lured to the islands by the promise of endless summer and palm trees swaying in the breeze.
In fact one of my earlier visits was supposed to be for two weeks and I wound up staying for a year and a half. My photographic career was just beginning in those days.  For subject matter I concentrated on beaches, sunrises, sunsets, sailboats, and big surf.  But after a while I became restless with the usual fare and gravitated towards the Big Island and, more specifically, to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Kilauea Volcano started erupting in January 1983 and has remained continually active since that time. The eruption is centered on a vent called pu'u O'o.  The amount of lava coming out of the vent varies greatly, even from day to day, with enough lava sometimes being produced so that the molten basalt flows all the way to the ocean, creating a great cloud of steam as the 2000 degree lava meets the cold sea water.  My first photographic visit to Volcanoes National Park was in 1991 when the pu'u O'o eruption was very robust
and red chunks of lava shot up through the air from various openings as the molten stream flowed slowly downhill.  I could feel the heat when these small glowing pieces of molten rock went flying over my head. 

I made trips to photograph the volcano several times over the next decade and saw a dramatic change in the attitude of the Park Service.  At first the rules were very restrictive and fines were issued for wandering too close to the lava. Rope barriers had been erected in places to keep visitors back.  But over the years people insisted on getting close to the action, fines notwithstanding, so the Park Service decided that if you can't beat em, then join em. They started loaning flashlights to visitors and put up a blinking beacon so hikers would not get lost in the dark.  In order to experience the most dramatic views, it was popular to hike out on to the lava field in the late afternoon and remain there until after dark when the red hot rock glowed most impressively. With the aid of the park service flashlights and the flashing beacon you could find your way back to the parking lot, if it wasn't too foggy. Some people stayed on the lava field until dawn.

On that 1991 visit I was very excited to be around lava for the first time.  I got as close as I dared to the flow and set up my tripod.  The ground was so hot that if I stood in one spot for too long, the soles of my shoes began to melt and it was an effort to lift each foot and break it free of the hot ground. The camera lens became too hot to touch and focusing was a problem in those days before I had an autofocus camera.

I personally never stayed out all night near the lava flow.  But I did get out there first thing at dawn on one occasion and came across the scene above as another visitor strolled past the steam cloud at the water's edge where the lava entered the ocean.  By coincidence, on that same morning I got to see an incredibly bright silvery streak move across part of the sky. It was surreal and I had no idea what I was observing. It wasn't until later in the day that I got to hear an explanation on the radio--Hawaii's governor was complaining to NASA that that agency should have warned state officials that part of a space project would be reentering earth's atmosphere directly over the Hawaiian islands, causing the lengthy flash in the sky.  Without any forewarning many residents had panicked upon seeing the prolonged flash across the sky.

Being around fresh molten lava is a seductive experience. It's hard to tear oneself away.  There's a certain primeval power associated with a volcanic eruption.  That's what accounted for my returning to the Big Island again and again over a ten year period. I was drawn to this tropical paradise mainly by the volcano and not by Hawaii's other charms.  But despite the fact that the Kilauea eruption has been continuous for 28 years, each visit is different. The eruption, although ongoing, is always changing in character. It is not always possible to obtain compelling images of the action. The lava may smolder instead of flow.  There is not always a large steam cloud at the interface with the ocean. And red lava in quantity is often lacking from the scene or is hidden below the surface of old, hardened lava.  As it turns out, my best photographs of the Kilauea eruption were taken on that very first 1991 visit.. Despite various later efforts I was never able to improve upon, or even equal, those initial images.

Mark Newman

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Run, Grizzly, Run!--But Not Towards Me

Throughout the decade of the 80's and halfway through the 90's I spent so much time photographing in Denali National Park that it prompted my daughter's good friend, Jennifer, to ask me if I worked in the park.
My answer was no, but in a de facto way the park was indeed my office.  I was there to obtain captivating imagery that I would subsequently be marketing through various stock photo agencies. My visits to the park were not casual. They were always photography intensive.

From the beginning I concentrated on photographing grizzly bears whenever possible. Even when I was seeking images of other species in the park, grizzlies had a way of trumping whatever else I might be doing.
Like the time I was in the park in late September, after all the tourists had left for the season. The park road remained open to cars until the Savage River, about twelve miles in. There was already a good accumulation of snow in the park and I decided to hike into Savage Canyon and look for Dall Sheep. I brought with me my Nikon FE camera on a strap around my neck and on the camera was mounted a Nikon 300/f4.5 lens.  In those days of the early 80's there was no auto focus, no image stabilization, and on the bright snow I set the exposures manually.

I hiked into the canyon and after spotting a group of seven rams high on the western slope I slowly made my approach. When I was about fifty feet away I laid down on my belly in the snow, steadied the camera by placing my elbows on the ground, and began shooting. It was a beautiful blue sky day. I was looking through the viewfinder and had only taken a half dozen shots when all of a sudden the rams ran to the left and out of sight. I thought that perhaps the sound of the motor drive on the camera had frightened the animals, but the reason for their swift departure soon became apparent. As I lay there still looking through the viewfinder a grizzly bear walked right into the frame from the right side. This was my first closeup encounter with a bear since moving to Alaska the previous year.

I knew the bear drill by heart: stand your ground, don't run.  I didn't have bear spray in those days. It was yet to be invented.  What I did have was an abundance of fear and I panicked, plain and simple. Instead of standing up and holding my ground I tried to get down the snowy slope as fast as possible. In the process I got caught up in some alder branches. My face and camera became entirely covered with snow as a result of this lame escape effort. When I cleared the snow from my eyes I could see the bear up the slope right where he had been before my hasty retreat. He hadn't moved.  As I looked at him he stood up and looked back down at me. We stared at each other for a few long seconds before he returned to all fours and continued unhurriedly on his way in the direction that the rams had gone a short while earlier. When my adrenalin level finally returned to normal I felt foolish, knowing that I had done the absolute incorrect thing in trying to run from a bear. I got off lucky this time. My next bear encounter would be a little more harrowing.

The first time that I had the opportunity to see a bear run at full speed was just east of a lookout pullover in the park called Stony Hill.  I had a photographic permit that day which allowed me to drive the park road in my own vehicle rather than having to use the park's public bus system.  Such are the perks of being a professional photographer. As I drove slowly and approached Stony Hill a lone wolf ran across the road a short distance behind my car.  Henran up a slope and out of sight.  I quickly made a U-turn and headed back toward where he had been running.  I rounded a bend in the road and found the wolf standing near a fresh looking caribou carcass that was partially eaten. Then a good sized grizzly bear lumbered in from over a small rise and headed right for the caribou.  The wolf was reluctant to give up his meal and stood his ground until the grizzly was nearly upon him. He did not move until the bear gave chase, and that is when I got to see a grizzly run at full speed for the very first time.

The bear did not catch the wolf. He was not interested in doing so. He only wanted to steal the wolf's meal, and this goal he easily accomplished. 

The next time that I got to see a grizzly running at full speed was not so entertaining.

My wildlife artist friend, Mike Sieve, and I met under interesting circumstances on the Denali Park road in the summer of 1980.  I was hiking down the road alone, deep in the park, when I rounded a sharp bend and saw a grizzly bear 100 feet ahead on the side of the road. The bear didn't notice me and I quietly backed up on the road until I was out of sight. I had no idea if the bear was headed in my direction or not.  Soon an SUV came along and I stepped into the middle of the road and waved my arms, forcing the driver to stop. I told him there was a bear up ahead and asked if I could get inside his vehicle. He said sure, and that began a friendship which has lasted over thirty years and spanned several continents. In subsequent years Mike  and I
have collaborated on photographic trips to India to find tigers and to Africa to capture images of a plethora of wildlife. We have been to Canada to photograph on several occasions, to Banff and Jasper National Parks and Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta and to the recently established Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan.  We have also returned several times to Denali Park together, and it was on one of our Denali visits that we had the experience of a lifetime that I would rather not have had. I still cringe when I think about it.

On that particular outing Mike brought along his 12 year old son, Eric. For a week we did some extensive hiking and wildlife viewing, spotting most of the larger species of mammals within the park.

Early one afternoon the three of use hiked up a gravel stream bed west of Polychrome Pass. We kept loosely together as we hiked and Mike made a point of telling Eric to always stay where we could see him.  For a while he did. Mike had a wildflower guide book with him and he and I used the book to try to identify every flower we came across. Eric eventually lost interest in the flowers and in being with adults and wandered off.  At first neither Mike nor I noticed his absence. We were busy looking at flowers. When we did finally realize that Eric was gone we shouted out his name.  There was no reply. We walked back down the stream bed a ways and called out again. There was still no reply.

After another few minutes we saw Eric round a bend about one hundred yards away down the gravel bed and come running right in our direction. He was running fast. He was also yelling. When he was fifty yards from us a grizzly bear rounded the same bend behind him, in hot pursuit.  Eric was running. The bear was running. They were both headed right towards us.  It was surreal. We each took a canister of pepper spay from holsters around our waists, removed the plastic safety tabs, and aimed the cans in the direction of the rapidly approaching duo. I shouted for Eric to stop running and never was a command so blatantly ignored.  The grizzly was gaining fast on Eric as Eric was closing the gap between us and him. One hundred feet. Ninety. Eighty. Seventy.  We had the bear spray cans up and aimed. When Eric was just forty feet from us and the grizzly was almost on his butt the bear first noticed Mike and me standing there and instantly aborted the chase. He veered off into some nearby alders and disappeared. 

We called it a day and hiked back to the car. 

Mark Newman

Friday, 12 August 2011

Florida Bird Photography

Whether it's an osprey flying through the air carrying a fish in it's talons or a gull on a beach trying to figure out how to swallow a sea horse, the images are all in Florida just begging to be captured.

Florida has come a long way since the day of the commercial plume hunters, it's landmark 1901 legislation banning the killing of wading birds, and the death in 1905 of game warden Guy Bradley in the line of duty while he tried to enforce that law. Those were turbulent times in the field of conservation. Today when we photographers visit Florida in winter we take for granted the presence of the multitudes of fabulous birds. But a century ago their survival was very much at risk.

When I first started photographing birds in Florida in the early 80's the hotspot for wetland birds was Everglades National Park, and more specifically the Anhinga Trail and Eco Pond, both near the road into Flamingo.  Today that is no longer the case. While those locations remain OK for photography, the new hotspots are Wakodahatchee and Green Cay Wetlands a couple of hour's drive north.

Both of these wetlands are artificial creations of the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department. Wakodahatchee covers fifty acres and has a 3/4 mile raised boardwalk, while Green Cay is about twice that size. Wakodahatchee means "created waters" in the Seminole language and that description is apropos. The Water Utilities Department decided to create the wetlands as a tertiary filtration system for irrigation purposes and the fringe benefit is that all sorts of birds and other wildlife have moved in.  And due to the presence of the boardwalks, which provide easy access, there are many daily visitors and the birds have consequently become habituated to humans and extremely tolerant. There is no easier place to do bird photography.

Wakodahatchee was opened to the public in 2000 and Green Cay four years later. On any early morning in winter one is likely to come across a photographic workshop in progress, with a half dozen photographers or more grouped together, their huge lenses all focused on some engaging scene.  140 species of birds have been recorded in these refuges, not to mention the other critters that frequent these created waters such as raccoons, turtles, bobcats, river otters and, of course, the iconic alligators.  Nesting birds--mainly anhingas and great blue herons--can be photographed from distances as close as thirty feet.

My main bird photography lens is an 80-400 VR Nikon mounted on a D300 camera body. This gives a maximum effective magnification of 600mm, or twelve power.  Years ago I used a tripod but found that I was missing too many good photo opportunities, especially of birds in flight. Since giving up the encumbrance of  a tripod my images have become much more dynamic.

While these two wetlands are the most easy and productive for photography there are, of course, many other worthwhile locations to capture bird imagery. The Gulf Coast of  Florida near Venice and Naples is my next most favorite locale, where birds like the snowy egret can be seen fishing in the surf and great blue herons fly along the the shoreline with their huge wingspans conjuring up the notion of prehistoric times. 

There is no doubt about it-- Florida is where to go for birds in winter. There is really no other place that hands you on a silver platter such a variety of easily photographable avian species.

Mark Newman

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Africa! You Know It Ain't Easy

Life in the wild is a constant challenge to both predator and prey alike. They all find themselves running for their lives. The struggle for survival  is not easier for one side or the other, although weather conditions may temporarily tip the balance. Evolution has seen to it that predators and the animals they stalk both have the inherent natural tools necessary in order to endure both individually and as a species.  With the notable exception of the cheetah, most predators are not as fast as the prey they chase after.  In order to compensate for slower speed they must rely on being clever and using the element of surprise.  In the case of lions, unlike other big cats, they also rely on cooperative hunting.

My good friend, Martin Grosnick, and I spent many weeks camping in the northern part of Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya's premier wildlife park, in order to try to photograph the big cats--lions, leopards and cheetahs--hunting.  Lions hunt mainly at night but occasionally they can be spotted on the prowl just after dawn.  We left camp just as the sky was getting light each dawn (the park's rules don't allow you to go out any sooner), driving without a guide in a 4x4 vehicle that we had rented in Nairobi.  Masai Mara is one of the few parks where you are allowed to drive where you want without having to stay on dirt tracks.  We almost always located lions, but only on one occasion did we find them actively hunting. 

There were four lionesses and they were walking very purposefully, at first in a single file.  It had been an exceptionally dry season and much of the wildlife, especially the African buffaloes, were in a weakened condition from dehydration and poor grazing.  There were carcasses scattered about the landscape, a testament to the effect of the drought.  We stayed a distance back in the jeep so as not to disturb the hunt.
The lionesses made a beeline straight at two buffalo who just stood their ground.  There was nothing stealthy about the stalk. The buffalo turned to face the big cats and made no effort to flee.  The cats concentrated on one of the two buffalo and walked right up to it.  It was not necessary for them to run or rush and the lionesses seemed to know that.  They simply walked up to the buffalo and jumped on its back. One of the lionesses grabbed it's muzzle. After a huge effort the cats were able to bring the buffalo down and then it was all over.  From a comfortable distance with out 600 mm lenses Martin and I were easily able to catch all the action.  But this was the one and only time we saw a successful lion hunt.  The statistics are not flattering to a lion's prowess:  single lions are successful in only 15% of their hunts and a pride manages to catch what they are after only about a third of the time.

Leopards are another story. Of the big African cats they have the second highest hunting success rate, 40%.  But even they are far from perfect, and the hoofed animals of the veldt seem to sense that.  We watched a leopard walk right past a herd of impala and the fleet antelope seemed to know instinctively that the cat had no chance of catching them. They remained on high alert but barely stepped aside.

It took a few more hours of observation that day before we got to see the leopard make a run at a wildebeest calf, successfully isolating the calf from it's irate mother who then chased the leopard, carrying the baby wildebeest,  into a bush.  The leopard remained within the safety of the bush until the calf's mother abandoned her hopes and rejoined the herd. Only then did the leopard carry the dead calf over to a fig tree and proceed to drag it up into the branches to feed.  We captured the whole drama on film.

Closer to perfection are the cheetahs. Their hunting success rate is 50% due to their ability to chase down any critter they want, racing across the landscape at 70 mph.  Usually they hunt the diminutive Thomson's gazelles which weigh a maximum of  29 kg.  We observed cheetahs hunt more often than the other two cats combined, primarily due to the fact that cheetahs are predominantly diurnal hunters. And once they had subdued their prey they sometimes used our vehicle for shade, dragging their kill into the jeep's shadow. Then photography was a piece of cake.

Except when the cheetahs were right next to our vehicle, basically all of our big cat photography involved using our longest lens, the 600 mm. Mine was a 600/f 5.6 Nikon. I never owned the 600/f4.  It was just too heavy, too bulky, too expensive, too much hassle to travel with.   I would rather up the ISO a notch than need to hire a Sherpa to help carry gear around. On this trip I often used a 1.4x teleconverter which made the 600/f 5.6 lens effectively an 840/f8.  I used the 840 power to capture the leopard in the middle photo above.  For lens support I used a bean bag draped over the edge of the vehicle's window or door frame. To create the bean bag I brought along an empty stuff sack and bought plenty of lima beans at a supermarket in Nairobi. The low tech device worked great.

Mark Newman

Saturday, 30 July 2011

China, Vietnam and Moon Bears

In mid 2009 I had recently finished a book about polar bears when I received an email from Laura Godwin, Vice President of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, located in New York City, asking if I wanted to go to China for a few weeks to photograph and work on a book about moon bears. Furthermore, she indicated that she would be disappointed if I did not go.

My first thoughts were that it would be nearly impossible to find China’s Asiatic black bears (also called moon bears) in the wild and that I could never obtain adequate photographs for such a project in just a couple of weeks.  But Laura was not to be dissuaded. She told me that she was in close contact with a conservation organization called Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) which was in the business of rescuing moon bears from bear bile farms  and providing a home for them in large, semi-natural enclosures on a sanctuary in Chengdu, China. Up until that point I had never heard of Animals Asia.

Laura put me in touch with Alice Ng, the Hong Kong-based organization’s US director at that time, and with Alice’s assurance that good photographs of the bears at the sanctuary were, indeed, possible, the book project was launched.  It took some last minute scrambling to come up with visas and plane tickets, but by early April 2010 I found myself in Chengdu at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Center.
I was introduced to Jill Robinson, Founder and CEO of AAF and given permission to wander freely about the sanctuary.

There were 168 rescued bears at the center, in a variety of large, outdoor semi-natural enclosures. Each bear had been given a name and received a devoted amount of attention and care from their keepers. A full-time staff of 140 people attended to their needs.  For the most part the moon bears seemed content and even happy, even those bears that were missing parts of limbs from having been caught in snares by hunters. But a large bear cemetery with dozens of somber grave mounds at the edge of the sanctuary grounds, with a huge jumbled pile of rusted coffin-size cages nearby, imparted a mood
that was anything but happy. The bears had suffered greatly.

All the moon bears came from tortured conditions on bear bile farms. Jill Robinson had managed to negotiate their release in a landmark agreement with the Chinese authorities signed in 2000 (a similar agreement was signed with the Vietnam government in 2006).  Jill, in her inspiring way, clearly demonstrated how one person can make a big difference.

When Laura Godwin at Holt became aware of the moon bears’ plight she felt compelled to also try to make a difference and spearheaded the creation of the book that I was sent out to create in order to educate young people.  Even most adults have never heard of a moon bear. 

For the assignment I relied mostly on my Nikon 80-400 VR stabilized lens, mounted on a D300 body. I brought along four Sandisk Extreme III 8GB CF memory cards.  Each card held the equivalent of about 750 images when shooting in RAW.  Having spent most of my career in the era of film I think of that as the equivalent of about 21 rolls.  In addition I travelled with a small computer and two Western Digital palm-sized external hard drives to be able to back up all files in duplicate.  At maximum focal length, the 80-400 lens gave the equivalent power of a 600mm lens when used with the small Dx sensor on the Nikon D300.  I did not bring a tripod along on the trip. I rarely do, choosing instead to rely on image stabilization technology to achieve sharp photos.  I value mobility, speed and spontaneity and they cannot be achieved adequately with constant tripod usage.

The main Animals Asia Foundation sanctuary is located in Chengdu, China.  But when I discovered that the foundation also ran a sanctuary rescue center on the edge of Tam Dao National Park in Vietnam I decided to visit that location as well.  Upon arriving in Tam Dao it was immediately obvious that the setting was more lush than China, being true tropical jungle, and would provide for more natural looking photo opportunities. As in Chengdu, the large bear enclosures were surrounded by cyclone fencing. This would have been problematic if I was shooting with a small lens, but by using the telephoto and keeping the f-stop wide open I was easily able to shoot through the fencing without it showing up in the pictures. All of the bear images in this blog were shot right through the fence. In order to accomplish this it is best to place the lens as close to the fencing as possible.

Between China and Vietnam I was easily able to obtain enough variety of  images for the book, which will be published by Holt in 2012 and called, simply, Moon Bears.  There are about 10,000 farmed bears being kept in horrible conditions in China and about 4000 in Vietnam.  The sooner that people worldwide are educated about the natural history and plight of this unique species, the more progress that can be made in convincing governments to shut down the bile farms and discontinue the practice of exploiting the bears altogether.

Mark Newman 

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Pros Photographing Their Kids--Do It Sparingly

The families of professional photographers are at special risk of having an obnoxious lens aimed at them at any time and in any place. That just comes with the territory when your parent or partner is obsessed with capturing images with a camera.  I plead guilty as charged with having been one of these overbearing
souls who has a tough time letting a good photo op get away. But for the sake of family harmony I have always made the effort to at least moderate the urge to pick up the camera and shoot when on family outings.

Neverthless, there are those impossibly compelling moments when camera addiction overrides all other concerns and a particular image is just destined to be captured, no matter what. At those times the photographer just has to bear the consequences of his or her behavior which can range from a simple nasty look to having to sleep on the couch for a week.

The images that cry out to be taken are always obvious, such as the one above, when my daughter, Heather, was five months old. My wife and I were headed out the door carrying Heather, a stuffed Easter bunny, and a small blanket.  The lighting on our front porch was decent and the potential just too great to pass up the opportunity. I actually don't remember whether the photo in this case was my wife's idea or mine. But for certain it was just an ad-libbed afterthought as we left the house and not a planned shot. Before getting into our car my wife quickly laid the blanket on the porch, leaned Heather and the bunny against the front door and each other, and I snapped off a few shots. It was all done hurriedly without any fancy choreography and then we were on our way.  Those were the days of film and I never even got to see the results until a few weeks later.  Upon seeing the transparency I knew it was a great shot and shipped it off to one of my stock agencies. They subsequently sold it to Avanti for use on their greeting cards and subsequenly the image has been used to advertise various products. Serendipity is important in photography. One needs to take advantage of it whenever possible.

It goes without saying that some people are more comfortable in front of cameras than others.  At least that's the case with adults. Children, however, almost all love to have their picture taken.  This is especially obvious in foreign countries, such as India and Vietnam, where kids come running over enthusiastically in groups to be photographed, even when they are not the subject of your attention.  Fortunately for me my daughter was never camera shy and was always a good sport (and still is). Plus she has always been photogenic.  Every April for many years I took her down to Homer, Alaska to camp on the beach and have an Easter egg hunt. At that time of year many starfish wash ashore and Heather didn't complain in the least when on one such trip I lined up a row of the creatures along her arm for this photo op. There are not many adults that I know who would sit still for this treatment.

The cutesy period for photographing one's own kids doesn't really last very long.  Perhaps eight or nine years at most, if that.  Once they start looking adult-ish the subsequent  photos you will be taking are relegated to the usual family albums and sending pictures to grandparents.  The commercial potential of extreme innocent youth won't be there any more.

And speaking of family albums, when I was selecting images for my recently published novel, Golden, about a girl and wild horse, I realized that I needed a photograph of a young girl riding a horse to show the human protagonist of the story. I could have gone to a stock agency and purchased such an image. But instead I remembered a trip we took with Heather in the Spring of 1993 to a friend's ranch in Ellensburg, Washington.  Heather was nine years old at the time.  I went to my collection of family images, found a transparency of Heather at the ranch galloping on a horse named Cassin, scanned the slide, and inserted the digitized photo into my Word document of the book manuscript.  Family photos can be where it's at.

Mark Newman