Bear Necessities

Bear Necessities

Bucket List

Bear Necessities

bear necessities

I’m at 36,000 feet on a flight from Seattle to Anchorage, blissfully dreaming about another rendezvous with Alaskan Coastal Brown bears in a remote, fly-in lodge. Suddenly my body is overcome by a wave of paralyzing dread. Have you ever had a dream where you show up for a final exam in college, but you forgot to study? Or you attended no classes? Or you weren’t wearing pants? Well, that’s the feeling.

The meaning is obvious and unmistakable. There’s an upcoming event for which I’m unprepared. This could be the result of packing fantastically light for a remote photography location in the Alaskan wilderness. For example, I’ve packed only two lenses. On my first trip to Alaska more than ten years ago, to offer context, I hauled in 37, give or take a few. Doctor Freud could easily have demonstrated a symbolic link between the number of lenses carried and pants – or the lack thereof.

However, the anxiety would wane within moments as my left-brained rationality laid out the game plan for this expedition. I had two Canon R5 camera bodies, a Canon 100-400mm lens with EF-RF adapter, a Canon 24-105mm lens, and 4 TB of Lexar CF Express cards. That’s all my photography gear.

The practical excuse for this minimalism was the weight limit imposed by the air service from Anchorage out to the lodge. If you wanted to board the plane, your clothes, boots, jackets, toiletries, photography gear, and anything else necessary for five nights in the Alaskan hinterlands couldn’t exceed 50 pounds. In years past, this limit was more of a suggestion to help reign in chronic over packers. I was advised this year would be different.

But even before the newly enforced restriction was known to me, I had decided to leave the 500mm f/4 lens, bulky tripod, and gimbal head at home and adopt a light and nimble approach to the bears this year. I was convinced that super-telephoto primes were becoming less necessary for most wildlife photography and, in many cases, a liability. To creatively compose or to ensure I achieved the right balance of negative and positive space in the image frame, I would need to continually “zoom with my feet” – moving closer and farther away with every shooting encounter. Zooming with the lens while keeping my feet stable and in one place is a tremendous advantage.

bear necessities

“Illiamna” Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA

Then there’s the obvious fact that bears are large mammals and don’t require the same image magnification as songbirds, for example. Coastal brown bears in this specific area were relatively well adapted to a human presence, so I could approach these bears closer than grizzlies in the interior parts of the North American continent. The 45 megapixels of the Canon R5 also allow generous latitude for cropping in post, making the decision even easier. In fact, replacing the heavy prime telephoto lens with the 100-400mm wasn’t really much of a radical option at all.

The decision not to bring a tripod was more psychologically uncomfortable, however. Before I left for Alaska, I experimented with some settings. I knew at 400mm I would need at least 1/1000 of a second to ensure consistently sharp images when handholding the camera and lens. I tested the combination of 400mm and 1/1000 of a second in a variety of lighting conditions I expected to encounter while working with bears in Alaska. Under no reasonable lighting situations did I need more than 4000 ISO to produce a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. Most ISO settings were at least half of that, and in sunny conditions, I could use ISO 400 or less. With the low-light capabilities of the Canon R5, I felt those numbers were easily manageable. Plus, handheld photography gave me more freedom and mobility to capture those decisive moments that make wildlife photography so captivating. I’m confident I captured images handheld on this trip that I would have missed had I been using a tripod.

A second camera body is an essential safeguard against accidents or electronics failure, especially in a remote place like Alaska. I mounted the Canon 24-105mm lens on the second R5 body for wider “bearscapes” with background tree lines, mountains, clouds, and sky. Environmental portraits are some of my favorite wildlife images.

In the end, the two camera bodies gave me a necessary peace of mind, the 24mm to 400mm range offered no unnecessary overlapping focal length redundancies, and the 4 TB of storage in the CF Express cards allowed me to leave the computer and external hard drives at home. Best of all, I made no real sacrifices to the quality of my photography work while still weighing in a few ounces under the limit.

Sometimes the bear necessities are all you really need.

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – AUGUST 2021

My Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Essential Composition: Frames

Essential Composition: Frames

Creativity

Essential Composition: Frames

FRAMES

Using frames is an effective compositional technique in photography and art that provides a powerful way of emphasizing the primary subject or most essential visual element in the photo. Framing immediately directs attention to and leads the eye to the subject or anything else you feel is important in the image. This is the “frame within a frame” that you’ve probably heard so much about in composition books. The image border is a frame too. Frames are another way of helping manipulate and guide how your audience looks at your image.

Look for frames in architectural elements such as doorways or arches, natural elements such as tree branches and natural arches, or variations in light and dark to effectively frame your subject.

“Spring Garden” Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 58mm, 1/20 second @ f/13, ISO 500.

In the image above, the arching tree branches not only provide a frame for the walkway and “V” shape created by the azaleas and receding tree trunks, but it also gives some needed balance to the image by counterpoising some visual weight the colorful flowering shrubs in bottom part of the photo (learn more about Achieving Photographic Balance in a previous blog post).

You can learn more about using frames, as well as many other compositional concepts in my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

My Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Essential Composition: Balance

Essential Composition: Balance

Creativity

Essential Composition: Balance

Balance

The concept of balance in composition is one most people can easily understand, even those who don’t consider themselves artists or photographers. After all, the idea of balance can be a lifestyle goal; balanced time, a balanced diet, and just trying to stay balanced and upright to keep from falling over are things to which we can relate. Balance is a universal concept.

In gestalt theory, the Law of Symmetry states that the human mind will constantly seek balance in all visual information it receives from the eyes via the optic nerve. It says that if something appears unbalanced, the viewer will waste valuable time trying to resolve the problem instead of focusing on the scene’s contents. Concerning photography and composition, photographic balance refers to “visual weight” within the image frame and how it’s arranged. The placement, size, and brightness values of all the visual elements will determine if the image feels in equilibrium or not. Photographic balance is harmonious. When an image is out of balance, it can give the viewer a negative or uncomfortable feeling or sensation.

There are two types of compositional balance used in photography, art, and design: formal and informal balance. Symmetry is a type of formal balance where two sides of a photo are mirror images of each other. Symmetry can refer to vertical balance – where the top and bottom are essentially the same – or as horizontal balance – where the left and right sides of the image are equal.

Balance

A reflection is one of the few instances where bisecting the photo through the center of the image frame is effective compositionally. Symmetry works when the photographer wants to communicate or project equality, equivalence, uniformity, or even fairness. There is little visual tension with this arrangement, and all the visual elements are harmonious.

With informal or asymmetrical balance, visual equilibrium is achieved by counterpoising two or more elements at opposite ends of the image frame. The arrangement can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Image balance is achieved by strategically placing two or more of these strong visual elements and distributing them equally within the photograph. While formal balance creates symmetry, informal balance leads to an asymmetrical composition, yet it’s still balanced.

Balance
Balance
Balance

When positioning two powerful visual elements at opposite ends of the image frame, you give the image informal balance and trigger powerful visual tension and energy by moving the viewer’s eye back and forth between the two elements via a virtual diagonal line (see above). These elements could be two competing focal points with varying sizes and colors, as long as they are conspicuous. The result is an image that achieves photographic balance and harmony and is also dynamic. You can learn more about photographic balance and many other compositional concepts in my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

My Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

NFTs and Photography

NFTs and Photography

Creativity

NFTs and Photography

NFTs and Photography

NFTs and Photography

NFTs have been around a while – at least 5 or 6 years – but it wasn’t until 2021 did they really capture the attention of creators from every corner of the globe. NFTs didn’t even enter our collective consciousness until the artist known as Beeple sold a piece of digital artwork for a record 69 million dollars. A number like that can certainly get people’s attention, so suddenly, everyone was talking about NFTs. So can NFTs benefit photographers? Wait, what is an NFT anyway?

What Is an NFT?

An NFT is a unique cryptographic token on a blockchain that can represent a real piece of artwork, music file, or collectible. These items are minted or “tokenized,” which certifies ownership on the blockchain and allows these assets to be bought, sold, and traded. NFTs are also “non-fungible,” which means they are wholly immutable and not interchangeable with each other, unlike currency or commodities.

NFTs And Photography

When most people think of NFTs, what immediately comes to mind are highly pixelated digital art, cartoons, and GIFs. Some of this art is genuinely compelling work and deserves our respect. Others, however, are no more than non-fungible, tokenized gimmicks (an audio file of a fart was minted and sold on an NFT marketplace just recently). But photography, still in the NFT infancy stage for the most part, is on the rise. Several marketplaces have reported a marked increase in both photography NFTs minted and sold over the past few months. Some NFT platforms are even connecting buyers and sellers of photography work exclusively.

If this trend continues, photographers will be able to significantly supplement their incomes with a minimal amount of invested time or effort. In fact, experts expect demand for some of the trendy digital art to wane as collectors seek out higher quality art, including photographic images.

Copyright Issues

When you sell an NFT to a buyer or collector, are you giving up all your I.P. rights? The answer is an emphatic no. You still retain the image copyright just as if you had sold a physical print to a client. The buyer could display the image digitally or re-sell the NFT to someone else. Each transaction is chiseled into the blockchain with complete transparency, so there is never any question about legitimate ownership.

The Environmental Impact?

When I first entered the NFT space a few months ago, its environmental impact was my biggest concern. I read that the BitCoin blockchain, to use one well-known example, consumed as much energy in a year as some entire countries! Ethereum, the blockchain used for most NFT tokenization, is also an energy hog. But green NFT blockchains now exist, and environmentally conscious photographers are flocking in that direction. Ethereum 2.0, perhaps only months away from being introduced, uses 99.5 percent less energy than Ethereum Classic. This means minting a photograph will consume about the same amount of energy as posting an image to Instagram. Well done!

The future of green NFTs is bright. Concerns for the environment and the carbon footprint associated with blockchains and minting NFTs are serious ones but are now mainly in the rearview.

Should You Give NFTs A Try?

If you’re a photographer, you need to do what’s best for yourself and your business. That might include choosing to sell NFTs or not. That’s entirely up to you. But don’t let the fact that NFTs are new and unfamiliar be the reason you decide to sit on the sidelines. During the course of my career, I have watched many photographers dismiss innovative technological trends for no other reason than they were new and required a different approach to the business. The transition from film to digital and embracing social media are two glaring examples. By the time the error was realized, the opportunity had passed and they spent years playing catch up.

Yes, NFTs might seem strange at first glance and perhaps even confusing. But without disclosing any specific numbers, I have made more income with NFTs in only 2 months than I did in print sales over the past 5 years. And I believe this could be only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

My Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Cradle of Life
“Cradle of Life” Lone giraffe on the Serengeti Plains under dramatic evening skies. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Canon EOS 1DX Mark II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens @ 70mm, 1/250 second @ f/13, ISO 100.

Cradle of Life

This captivating image of a giraffe on the Serengeti Plains almost never saw the light of day. Captured in June of 2017, it has languished in my image files (perhaps it was published somewhere on social media at some point) as a rather pedestrian sentimental wildlife image with a contrived, rule-of-thirds composition. There’s the fantastic, early evening light with crepuscular rays that added a dramatic flair, that’s all it had going for it to be honest.

I should say that it wasn’t exactly the same photo as the one you see above but it was the same capture. The original color version just didn’t inspire me very much, but I revisited this image during the coronavirus lockdown and decided to see how it felt in black and white. It was only then that the image came alive: the Serengeti grasses pulsed with the blowing wind; the light flooded the frame as the rays beamed from the sky; and the dark storm clouds loomed ominously over the wide expanse of the plains.

All of that was missing in the color version. My image portfolio is made up of 95 percent color images because color is such a big part of my experiences but every once in a while, a black and white interpretation better expresses how a scene felt to me than color. Cradle of Life is one of those exceptions.

The key to creating powerful and compelling black and white images is contrast. If your original raw file doesn’t contain much contrast, make it. Darken the darks, lighten the lights, create contrast by selectively adjusting tonal values of each corresponding color. And unlike color photos where there’s an implied threshold of believability that shouldn’t be crossed (photography is the only form of art where people expect the image to represent something real) that isn’t the case with black and white. Push the blacks to the limit if you like. The black and white medium doesn’t represent what we see because we don’t see the world that way. You have more creative latitude as a photographer to create mood with monochrome even if there isn’t any.

Cradle of Life was captured with a Canon EOS 1DX Mark II camera body and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens. The image was processed in Adobe Lightroom and Skylum Luminar 4.

Cradle of Life can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

My Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

Bernabe Answers Twitter AMA (Ask me Anything)

Bernabe Answers Twitter AMA (Ask me Anything)

Creativity

Bernabe Answers Twitter AMA (Ask me Anything)

Bernabe Twitter AMA

Go Ahead. Ask Me Anything

If you feel 2020 has been like a strangely dystopian episode from The Twilight Zone, you’re not alone. To borrow and paraphrase a colorfully descriptive lyric from the pen of musician Gordon Summer, it’s been one humiliating kick in the crotch after another for humanity. It began in January – as most years do – with Kobe’s tragic death and limped into February with the persistently hellish brushfires in Australia, where 40 percent of the koala population perished. It’s estimated that the total area of torched land there, when the fires were finally contained, was equal to the size of Portugal. March smirked, said hold my beer, and unleashed a global pandemic on the world that forced almost every human being into a self-isolating lockdown with nightly rolling death counts and frightening toilet paper shortages. April conceived a vision of what a 1930s-style Great Depression might feel like and gifted us a flying demon called the murder hornet. And if all that doesn’t Sting enough, we’re not even halfway through May.

So, at the urging of some Twitter followers, I sheepishly offered an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with the hashtag #BernabeAMA on April 28 and 29, as a modest distraction from all the above. I chose some of my favorites and gave my answers here. I’ll try to address as many of the others as I can, but most were fairly redundant so an answer to one is an answer to many. I also tried to avoid most of the technical gear questions because….well, I think gear is boring, at least for what I wanted to accomplish here. I’ll get back to you personally about your camera gear and lenses. Hey, I do have the time.

So here we go. Thanks to everyone who participated!

What was your biggest photographic challenge? @IamnotMarilyn

My good friend Rick Sammon just completed a book titled Photo Quest: Discovering Your Photographic and Artistic Voice and I was honored to be asked to write the book’s foreword, which I happily did.  With regard to “finding your voice” I attempted to make two key points. First, it’s essential that you know yourself. Know your sources of happiness, your deepest fears, who you really are and what you’re not. Be honest since this is where the voice comes from. Second, as an artist, you need create for yourself. Be selfish. Don’t create to pacify the critics or impress your peers. Don’t create for the sake of “likes” on social media and don’t create for commercial success either, otherwise it’s not your voice. It’s the voice of someone else. By being selfish, paradoxically, you ultimately achieve perfect selflessness since there’s no greater gift you can give your audience than a piece of your authentic self.

Now I hear many of you shouting into your computer screen or phone.

“That’s sounds great, Bernabe, but how can you be a professional photographer or artist and make a solid living if you’re not listening to the market and what editors, collectors, and clients want from you and your work? How can you survive financially?”

The long answer to that question would make an excellent blog post or essay for another day. The short answer directly addresses your question as to my biggest challenge.

I have always admired your photos with symmetry of animals. And this is very different from a landscape. So, what happens first: luck or patience in getting the shot right? @40GRAUSS

Luck plays a much larger role in wildlife photography than any of us would care to admit but it still runs both ways. I’ve been in situations where I’ve done everything right and prepared for every possible contingency and it didn’t work out because of something completely out of my control. Conversely, there were times when I couldn’t be more inept if I’d forgotten to remove the lens cap yet still managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. You take the good with the bad but good luck does tend to correlate positively with the amount of time invested in the field. Patience certainly helps but preparation and research are even better.

Can nature and landscape photographs be “too pretty”? @gregerts

I don’t believe you can have too much beauty in your life, particularly during these dreary times. But instead of relying solely on superficial beauty to carry your image, why not make it meaningful too? Better yet, make the images all about what’s meaningful to you and the emotional responses to your experiences. The real subjects of your photographs should be raw emotion: awe, peacefulness, power, fragility, joy, melancholy rather than the shallow, self-indulgent sentimental beauty you might find in a Thomas Kincade painting or John Denver song. Your personal vision and interpretation of nature should be the shortest distance between your heart and your audience so they can feel what you feel, not what your camera coldly captures.

Did you do formal photography study such as at school/college? Did you do an internship or work with a more skilled photographer in the beginning of your career? @MelindaAlfred

No, I’m completely self-taught which only means I have so many bad habits to overcome that I now rationalize my flaws as giving my work “character.”

I have mixed feelings about formal training for artists. On the one hand, the more you learn about anything, the better as a general matter. On the other hand, an untrained, motivated, insanely curious person with a strong personal vision might have a more intuitive feel for creative expression, but that’s just my uneducated, unlettered opinion.

How did you know your style? @fanni40877378

I’m allergic to the whole concept of style to be honest, to which anyone who has seen how I dress can attest.

When someone sends an email to say they’ve seen one of my published magazine photos while in the dentist’s waiting room, it’s a nice gesture that never goes unappreciated. But when they go on to say they knew the photo was mine because they recognize my style, I die a little on the inside. By having a style, it means I’m using the same conceptual formula time after time for each experience even if the location, subject matter, and circumstances are different. It’s muscle memory. It’s easy. It’s lazy. It’s not being creative.

I try to approach each situation with a clear and open mind, completely in the present moment, with zero influence from the previous day, week or month. Have a look at David Bowie’s body of work through the years. I respect the hell out of Bowie. He was always re-making himself and his music as something different from what he did before while still being different from everyone else. That’s why even now, Bowie’s music still sounds so fresh to me.

What is the progression of questions/attributes that you use when evaluating a scene for its photographic potential? @firthermor

My process always starts with an emotional/intuitive/right-brained series of questions regarding how the scene or subject makes me feel. I’m searching for an emotional core around which I’ll build the image. The process then transitions into conceptual/technical/left-brain thinking about how I want to execute it. This is almost always the methodology I use.

You can only use one lens for the rest of your photography days. What will you choose, and why? The format is 35mm equivalent, and it must be a real existing lens. @awilliamsny

If you’re going to put me in that predicament, I’d hold my nose and go buy a Tamron 18-400mm “ALL-IN_ONE” lens. Honestly, I didn’t even know there was such a thing until 5 minutes before writing this piece. But in the real world, I would keep my Canon EF24-105mm F4L IS II USM (Soon to be the RF Version) since 24mm is wide enough for wide-angle, near-far landscapes and 105mm would allow me to do some wildlife in a pinch, with a bit of cropping. It is, of course, the perfect “walking around” lens and ideal for street photography and general travel.

Beyond photography, music and writing are there other creative art forms that interest you? @mauramullarkey

Are you saying there’s more to life than that? I mean, beyond food and the love of friends and family, is there anything else I need? I’m a fan of any type of creative expression – movies, music, art, even poetry – that has the ability to inspire or move me to tears.

After another long hard day at the office, travelling, or shooting in the field, what’s your go to drink? @life_with_louis

With the exception of an occasional signature exotic drinking experience tied explicitly to a particular place (aguardiente in Colombia, pulque in Mexico City, absinthe in Paris, etc.), I prefer to keep my libations pretty simple: water, a double espresso, or red wine, depending how good or bad a day it was.

What is your favorite Seinfeld episode and why? @themahoneyphoto

The Boyfriend. I grew up in the shadow of New York City and I’ve been a Mets fan since I was 4 years old. Keith Hernandez, Art Vandalay, did you sneak a peak?, the magic loogie. No need to go on. But I consider the very act of asking a Seinfeld question to be openly flirting… so I see you, Jason.

What is that one elusive goal you have yet to accomplish in your career? @KristaBower411

I’ve always wanted to get arrested and spend a night in jail, but that goal has been a spectacular failure. You’d think it wouldn’t be so difficult or “elusive” but it has, mainly because of the many caveats and pre-conditions I’ve demanded. For example, it must be a real arrest, not some phony stunt. It must be a victimless crime yet not petty and pointless like shoplifting or trespassing. I’d prefer to be arrested and incarcerated in the name of some righteous cause such as a protest or sit-in while battling a social or environmental injustice. I could actually be proud of that and wave my arrest record around in public like a badge of honor. Also, one night in jail. Just one, thank you very much.

Why? Curiosity mostly. That and my environmental activist friends tell me I can’t be taken seriously until I’ve been arrested at least once. But yeah, it’s mostly curiosity.

Hey, you asked!

My Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe.