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.

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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. 

Favorite Images of 2019: A Retrospective

Favorite Images of 2019: A Retrospective

Inspiration

Favorite Images of 2019: A Retrospective

In early 2019, I was casually mugged by a teenaged reggae enthusiast in broad daylight while traveling in Mexico. Thin, lanky, with hollowed-out cheeks and a wolfish face, this young Bob Marley acolyte donned an oversized Rasta beanie and black tee shirt emblazoned with Marley’s visage and the suddenly appropriate words in block letters:

IF BOB SAYS DON’T WORRY, I AIN’T GONNA

Under the shirt, he kept one hand concealed, which for my sake was to imply a weapon of some sort. I happily obliged, giving him everything on my possession at the time: a first-generation iPad and two 100-peso bills (about twelve US dollars) each of which, before this interruption, were to help me score a mid-morning espresso in the city center of La Paz. This led to an uncomplicated, if not one-sided, transaction between me and the petty thief.

Expect the unexpected might be a tired cliché but that doesn’t make it any less true, particularly with regard to travel. Planning is admirable and always recommended but you should also assume that most of your plans will eventually be replaced by improvisation and gut instinct. Expect the unexpected. But why is the unexpected always biased toward the bad, negative, disappointing, tragic, or catastrophic? Bad travel experiences always eclipse the good ones because they make for better stories afterwards. No one wants to hear your boring tale about how smoothly your trip went off. No one.

Vehicle breakdowns, sickness, missed or cancelled flights, getting lost or even robbed are not necessarily to be expected but are never a total surprise either. My approach to the unforeseen and accidental is to remain calm, stoic, and philosophical as possible. This was expected after all, right? Besides, never in the entire known history of human travel has throwing a tantrum and acting like a spoiled, entitled tourist ever fixed a thing. Take a detached perspective of the situation as a curious bystander might do. It can be interesting or even slightly amusing if you don’t take the turn of fate too personally. It might actually be funny if not for the fact it was happening to you at that very moment. Rest assured, however, you will be able to laugh about it later.

On the dusty streets of La Paz, I wondered how Marley would feel about not only being a witness to this unfortunate situation but an unsuspecting accessory as well. I glanced at the shirt of my antagonist and imagined Bob wearing a pained frown of disapproval. He might even have said, don’t worry…

When the boy suggested that he follow me back to the hotel, presumably for the promise of a bigger and better haul, a wave of panic flooded over me. I looked him in the eyes, shook my head and emphatically said, “No.” No means no in either English or Spanish so he threw both hands up in the air (revealing there never was a weapon), backed away, and disappeared into the steamy La Paz landscape.

I hastily pulled myself together, checked to see if anyone had been watching, and returned to my room for more pesos. Coffee delayed was not going to be coffee denied and yes, every little thing was gonna be alright.

So, now on to some happier moments from this past year.

Silver Silken Blade
Gerlache Straight, Antarctica
December 6, 2019

But what of silver silken blade? I know this image isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine: moody and mysterious with just a glimmer of hope, glorious details of the Antarctic landscape combined with graphical abstract qualities as well. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 349mm, 1/1000 second @ f/6.3, ISO 1000.

Okaukuejo Rising
Etosha National Park, Namibia
June 18, 2019

A big African sunrise over the Etosha Plains with a lone elephant kicking up a little dust for some lighting drama. Compositionally I like a asymmetrical balance created by counterpoising the two primary visual elements but I hate the horizon cutting right through the top of the elephant. Bad form by me. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm w/ 1.4x @ 560mm, 1/1250 second @ f/11, ISO 100.

Meanwhile On Mercury
Cathedral Gorge, Nevada USA
November 12, 2019

This is a real landscape. On this planet. The scale, however, is extremely misleading. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 11-24mm @ 22mm, 1.6 seconds @ f/14, ISO 100.

After Glow
Pied Crows at Deadvlei, Namibia-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
June 13, 2019

I’ve been to Deadvlei countless times and it’s highly unusual to see any living things in this surreal place. After the sun set and there was no light other the the glow on the orange dunes, two pied crows set upon one of the most photogenic trees in the valley. This is why I carried my telephoto lens up and over the dunes. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 248mm, 1/1250 second @ f/5, ISO 2000.

Destiny Unbound
The Camargue south of Arles, France
September 12, 2019

“She said, there isn’t even any road, our destiny was bound”

White horses, bright sunset light, slow exposure to create the illusion of motion, high-key processing.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 105mm, 1/15 second @ f/5, ISO 1600.

Meraki
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
April 8, 2019

Meraki is a word used to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love. On the day I created this image it was cold, wet, and misty, with fog rolling in and out of the mountains, keeping them concealed for most of the time. In other words, it wasn’t the best of conditions. Then I found this composition and I created something new and meaningful, at least for me in this location. I was exhilarated! I remember thinking at that moment, “Holy #%*& I love what I do!” I might have even uttered it out loud. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 135mm, 1/1250 second @ f/16, ISO 1600.

She Lit Up a Candle
Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico
February 14, 2019

The unfortunate title of this image is the result of an unfortunate essay i wrote about an unfortunate popular rock song. I’ll just leave it at that.

There’s an almost zen-like quality to this photo: a wildlife image with no conspicuous wildlife subject? It’s understood. I kind of like that. Despite the many images from this trip with whales in the water and in the air, this photo captured how I felt more than any of the other crowd favorites. This is a gray whale spouting at sunrise in Magdalena Bay, which is protected from the Pacific Ocean by the remote, sandy barrier islands of Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 263mm, 1/1000 second @ f/5.6, ISO 500.

Faraway
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
May 14, 2019

In Tanzania’s Ngorongoro crater, the hills (actually the crater walls) are never quite out of sight. Here you lack the big skies of the Serengeti but the multi-hued hills with the chiaroscuro lighting in the late afternoons are the type of palettes I prefer. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm @ 490mm, 1/1250 second @ f/6.3, ISO 250.

Wrinkles In Time
Death Valley, California USA
March 25, 2019

It’s all about texture and movement here. The texture is obvious upon arriving at the scene but it’s also somewhat chaotic at first sight. What makes the image work for me is the visual movement. The subtle diagonal, left-to-rightward flow carries the eye through the frame like dancing barefoot through the desert. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 91mm, 1/10 second @ f/14, ISO 200.

Paulet
Paulet Island, Antarctica
December 9, 2019

An Adélie penguin welcomes visitors to Paulet Island with an offer of a hug, northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 35mm, 1/2000 second @ f/11, ISO 640.

Falling Down
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee USA
October 29, 2019

No dramatic light or special natural phenomenon. No in-your-face, complex composition or visual design. Just a quiet, peaceful photograph of a spacial place during my favorite season of the year. The overhanging tree branches do help to create a very cohesive composition here, however. Enjoy. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 35mm, 1.6 seconds @ f/16, ISO 100.

You can check out my Favorite Images of 2018 here as well.

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Here’s to Truth, Adventure, and Passion in 2020 –  Richard

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. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

Inspiration

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

The end of each year is always a good time to look back at the year that was. In my case, it’s been mostly a blur. I traveled to 15 different countries plus Antarctica during 2017 and its only now that I’ve been able to relax and reflect on my travels. Here are my favorite moments of 2017, through the lens of my personal bias and tastes of course. My personal comments are in italics. I hope you enjoy!

“High Noon” Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (June 7, 2017).

RB: A wildlife image taken with a wide-angle lens! I love these types of photos: the minimalist feel, the billowing clouds against that blue sky, the interaction between the giraffes – I fell in love with this image the moment I pressed the shutter.

“Keeper” Deadvlei, Namibia-Naukluft National Park, Namibia (May 17, 2017).

RB: I’ve been to Deadvlei many times and I was determined to come away with something new. I purposely stayed away from trees and compositions that had yielded good results in the past in order to see something different. As it turns out, Keeper is now one of my all-time favorite images from this area of Namibia.

“Adelie Waddle” Adelie penguins at Brown Bluff, East Coast of Tabarin Peninsula, Antarctica (December 11, 2017).

RB: I spent a lot of time watching and observing before capturing any images from this location. I noticed the penguins leaning forward meant that they were attempting to jump. Sometimes they chickened out and didn’t but usually they did. When I saw this congregation and the body language, I was ready. I purposely left space to the left and the bottom for what i was hoping would be an airborne penguin. I got my wish. I also reminds me of another one of my favorite photos.

Patterns in the lava lake in the caldera of Mount Nyiragongo volcano, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo (February 7, 2015).

RB: The experience of spending the night on the rim of an active volcano was exhilarating. The 6-hour, uphill hike to get there was grueling. The glowing spider web patterns in the volcano’s lava lake were utterly mesmerizing. 

“Zen Monkies” Gray langur monkeys at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka (September 26, 2017).

RB: I could not have set up this wildlife scene any better if I had actual monkey telepathy.

“Almirante Nieto” Cerro Almirante Nieto and layers of lenticular clouds at sunrise, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (April 11, 2017).

RB: An intimate telephoto vignette of a grand sunrise scene, replete with stacked lenticular clouds and intense scarlet light.

“Laughing Gorillas” A group of mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda (February 5, 2017).

RB: Mountain gorilla love a good joke as much as anyone.

“Crystal Ice Cave” Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier in Vatnajökull National Park, Southern Iceland (January 28, 2017).

RB: The volcanic soot imbedded in the glacier ice created a conspicuous line that leads right to the trekker. Ice caves are just one good reason to love Iceland in winter.

“Terra Incognita” Iceberg and foggy mountains in the Gerlache Straight, Antarctica (December 9, 2017).

RB: More than any other image of mine from Antarctica, this one captures the enormous scale of the coastal mountains, glaciers and ice of the continent. Handheld from a moving boat, I used a high ISO to ensure a sharp image.

“Fire on High” Sunrise on the high peaks of Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (November 15, 2017).

RB: Ridiculously dramatic sunrise over the Paine massif. This is an often-photographed scene but what I liked the most about this morning is the intense colors reflected in Nordenskjöld Lake. For more images from Torres del Paine and Patagonia, you can download my free e-book, Patagonia: Our Amazing Planet. 

Thanks for taking a look at some of my photography highlights from 2017. Here’s to an awesome 2018! Here’s to Truth, Adventure, and Passion –  Richard

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 is 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. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.