As with the Bohemian Waxwings in my Yellowstone trip, the Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus) was in my mind way before arriving to Tanzania. When I research a destination there is always one species that captures most of my attention, and in a place filled with marvellous big mammals, it has odd that his bird was the origin of most of my day-dreaming. I searched for images on-line, read about the species and it’s habits, and finally, though of possible compositions for such a beautiful and colourful bird.
According to my records I have now seen over 489 species of birds in the world and without a doubt, the plumage of the Lilac-breasted Roller has no match. So, I had an image in my head of having all the colours of this bird in the same frame as a monochromatic animal: the zebra. Of course the chances of getting that image were slim, but dreaming is free as is imagination. After a while I gave up on the idea and moved on other thinking.
When we finally arrived in the Serengeti I told my guide – please, look out for Rollers.. i really want to photograph one before we leave -. The guy looked stunned. I was not asking about lions or leopards, I was not asking about the migration (given that i was drying to photograph all those as well) but I was asking about a bird. Ten minutes later we saw the first Roller, but wasn’t able to photograph it, so we moved on. On our third day, as we were searching for a rhino that had been spotted earlier by someone else the driver suddenly stopped: – this is your chance.. get ready -. And there it was, perched in the side of the road.. fearless.
When I looked through the 500mm lens I was shocked of the plumage and the attitude of this bird. It was way more beautiful than I had imagined. It had presence.. soul. I felt satisfied.. It flew to a nearby branch but still close enough. I then grabbed a shorter lens to play a bit with wider compositions and there, grazing in the back, was my zebra.. my vision. I believe you have to see images in your head before you see them in the world. I believe you must get ideas, visions, impossible scenarios… only if you do, will you be able to recognise them when nature presents them to you.
Cape Town is a cosmopolitan city. It is probably the most modern city in the African continent and it can rival any city in the world. It is chic and stylish: fashion is big, food is great and architecture is amazing. But Cape Town has a whole different dimension that sets it apart: nature.
Cape Town holds one of the world’s six floral kingdoms, this is the smallest and richest per unit of area. The diversity of wildlife is also extremely rich: birds, reptiles, land mammals and marine mammals are all part of the biodiversity heritage of Cape Tow and of its touristic treasures. From Table Mountains, to the Whale Festival of Hermanus to he Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden this place of wonders never ceases to amaze. Birdlife is also quite unique both for tis diversity and for the amazing beauty of the Sunbirds, (about 7 species present in the area).
It was perfect as our point of entry to the African continent. We got to relax while jet lag washed away and adapt to new time zones and climate. But as most other trips I’ve taken, time is never enough. We spent three nights at the Cape Grace Hotel (which by the way, is simply spectacular.. ) while we explored the region, but still I left with the feeling I needed at least 7 more days to absorb the essence of place.
This is a place both for families and explorers, for wildlife enthusiast and fashionistas, both for adventure and relax.
For more images of Cape Town please visite my website.
This is a short post, as most others are.
This morning I woke up and climbed to my little home office where I review and organize photos, study photo books and plan my travels. Every day I do this once in the morning and once in the evening, before and after my “real” job takes place. Today I opened Lightroom and there was an image of a Leopard I photographed in Maasai Mara. I was lucky enough to spot leopards in Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Maasai Mara… but the latter proved to be the most rich experience of all. And I mean of ALL. Not only leopard sighting, but of all other wildlife in Africa. Taken that these are not the best images of the African adventure, but nonetheless they are the best moments.
It happened on our first day in Maasai Mara. It was almost time to go back to camp and my guide was insisting we head back. I was alone in the vehicle since my wife had stayed at camp that afternoon. I was pushing my luck as any enthusiastic kid would – five more minutes .. please.. just five more minutes -. I think James, my driver and guide finally got it and decided he was willing to risk it a little bit and stay out longer. The sun was almost down. Almost.
We headed into a dense forest patch in the middle of the savannah. I was not happy. It was almost dark and inside the dense canopy there wasn’t enough light to shoot at decent speeds. But James insisted this was safer since it was harder to spot us in here and he reminded me we were past due the camp’s curfew. James went silent in mid-sentence and pointed to the right of the vehicle. He took his index finger across his mouth and his eyes widened even more. The leopard was right there… so close I don’t know how we had missed it. So close I don’t know how he stayed calm. He was laying in top of a dead tree trunk looking directly at me. It was a magical moment. The lone and mysterious creature was looking at me and I was looking back. With hardly any light left I had to push my ISO over 3000 and use incredibly low-speeds. It then sat down, looked again at us and slowly disappeared among the trees.
I still wonder about that moment. I look back and think – why wasn’t I more agile with the camera? -, – why didn’t I get better shots? -, what if we had gone in there a bit earlier? -. But those are empty and useless questions. Photography is about capturing a moment, and this creature and that precise moment, gave me the gift of a lifetime: an endless memory.
Drama is embedded in art. Think about it: in literature, painting, theater and of course photography , drama has been historically big part of making art. Drama, well-managed and told drama, gets into the human soul and touches the very core of it. And for me, as a painter and a photographer, light is one of the most powerful ways to use it.
I think photography is to cinema as a short-story is to a novel: what they don’t tell about the story is usually more important than what they do. Both short stories and photography work with a small frame of the whole story and invite the viewer or the reader to complete the image. And of course our brain loves to complete things, heck! is basically what it does.. make up for missing information and make decisions based on it. Backlight offers a lot of missing information, since the balance of light and shadows is quite more extreme, getting rid of a lot of the grey area… just the way I like it!
I feel wildlife photography should tell a story. The temptation is to document, almost on a scientifically manner the species or to try to make a pleasing image, sometimes forgetting about the surroundings, and about the narrative within subject. A story has to develop and create, at any point, some kind of mystery. And mystery comes from that part of the story you choose to hold back, which I think is a very important decision, since most of the time good photographs are built from what you choose not to show rather than what you do.
Lately I’ve playing a lot with the shapes and shades. I’ve been trying to fit a more complex narrative into a simpler image. I haven’t quite perfected it yet but I feel I am making progress, and above all, enjoying every minute of it.
To see more of my work visit my website.
After a week in Cape Town and Zimbabwe, I was ready to focus on wildlife and let the “safari” portion of our trip begin.
We flew to Nairobi and from there to Kilimanjaro airport where we boarded a small plane to Lake Manyara air strip. We had some delays so we arrived too late for a day game drive but managed to schedule a Night Drive for that same night. So, our first game drive in the whole African adventure was going to be at night: my wife was terrified! The fact that she agreed to this, was a true sign of love from my wife!
We climbed into a no-door no-roof vehicle and drove into the jungle. The sound of the night was magnificent: insects, birds and mammals could be heard as we drove from one micro climate to another dropping or raising 4 degrees in any given turn.
Our lodge had a great view of the Rift Vally and the lake, so next morning I woke up before dawn to watch the sun come up behind the mountains and enjoy some of the trails before breakfast. We then set for full day game drive into the same location we had visited the night before: it felt completely different: the sounds, the temperature, the sense of place was completely different. Of course we got to see more wildlife and in a much better light, but the magic of darkness is something special.
I also spent a lot of time birding in the grounds surrounding the lodge in the afternoon and it proved to be very productive. My encounter with the Little Bee Eaters was no doubt the highlight of the birding walks and probably one of the best images of Lake Manyara all together.
For more images visit of Lake Manyara click here
The Andes ends here. The Amazon ends here. The Caribbean ends here; Trinidad is a tiny island where everything ends but amazement begins. Diverse in its people and habitats Trinidad offers a fusion between Amazonian and Caribbean life. This first trip was short. It was an exploratory adventure into the northern range of the island that provided a small glance of all Trinidad has to offer.
My wife and I were visiting some friends in Port of Spain and I decided to stay four more days in order to explore the different habitats and wildlife. As you have probably guessed four days is not enough to explore any place with the attention nature deserves, but that is all I had and I was determined to make the most of it.
My operations base was Asa Wright Nature Center, a lodge built-in the northern range mountains with a vast amount of bird feeders and trails. From there I had short trips to the Aripo Savanna, Caroni Swamp and other near by locations. I tried to fit in as much as possible in those days and get a sense how productive, photographically wise, these locations could be for a next trip.
I have to admit I was quite frustrated at the beginning. The jungle is thick and tall, birds are very shy and getting good photos was kind of hard.. well, let me put that differently: getting good traditional photos was very hard. I now understand that the fault was not in the locations but in my approach. I had been used to photographing in a more traditional manner when it comes to nature: a blind, a clean perch… but this was unique. There was no way to manipulate this scenario. The jungle was son dense that light barely touched the ground and getting a clean shot was almost unthinkable. At some point, and luckily early enough, I changed both my attitude and my expectations. I decided to look for photo opportunities with a different eye and I have to admit I am extremely pleased with the results. Personally I consider this adventure a step up in my work. These images are among my favourites and with no doubt are the most unusual I have shot.
For more images on my Trinidad adventure click here.
I had very high expectations. I had seen the pictures and read about what the natives called Mosi-oa-Tunya: ”Smoke that thunders”. The more and day-dreamt about it the higher my expectations became, and with them my anxiety. How would I photograph a natural wonder that had been photographed in every possible way. I really spent lots of time thinking about it, but nothing seemed to calm my tremendous anxiety episode.
At 5:45am Jonathan, the manager of Elephant Camp drove me to the main entrance and I had to wait 10 minutes for the guards to arrive and open. I walked in and immediately could hear the thunder of water and see the mist flying like cool smoke. I kept walking towards the sound and suddenly found my self right at the edge: I was breathless, speechless. I felt a need of more eyes.. it was too much for me to look at.. my eyes alone were not enough to see so much at the same time. I set up my tripod and started looking trough the lens. Images started to appear like magic… visions. In retrospective I have to admit I was all over the place, running up and down, trying to decide where to look at. But it worked out. I got some images that I am proud of.
Next morning it was much easier. Same ritual, same time but now I knew where I was going and what to expect. I had a strategy and I stuck to it. At the end I could have used a few more sunrises since two definitely were not enough, but it was all I was going to get. I got to tell you, it does not matter how many photographs have taken of this place. It does not matter that millions of images are taken every year and uploaded to the web; the water falling over the rocks was a different water and the mist was a different mist.. many things were different that morning, specially the fact that it was my turn to photograph the gigantic Victoria Falls.
As a kid, the St. Louis Cardinals were one of my two favorite teams. The other was Aguilas Cibaeñas, a fierce baseball team from Santiago, Dominican Republic, where my maternal family is from. As a kid I got to watch the games from the dugout while visiting my grand father on the weekends or during summer. I will never forget those days nor the complete lineup of the 1988 team. It may sound cliché, but all dominicans DO love baseball. Is our national sport and I suspect it will soon be on the lyrics of our national anthem or illustrated on our flag.
My dad graduated from St. Louis University, and for that only reason and the framed diploma that hanged on the walls of our staircase, the Cardinals where my favorite team in the MLB. I am pretty certain it was my first obsession with birds even thou I did not noticed until now. Both of my teams had a bird as a symbol: eagles and cardinals. Because we don't have eagles in the DR, the very common Kestrel would often take it's role in popular culture, hence the team was called affectionally, -Las Cuyayas- (the kestrels). But Northern Cardinals where no where to be found our tiny island. The intense crimson-colored bird was mysterious to me and at times, I doubted that a bird with such intense color really existed.
As an adult, I did not get to see a Norther Cardinal until my visit to The Greenbrier last fall. I had a very short lens ( I am forbidden to take long lenses or tripods to trips with my wife), so I could not capture any good images but nonetheless I really enjoyed watching both a male and a female while hiking the Smoky Mountains.
They say good things come to those who wait, and as skeptic as I am, in this case I have to believe. While in Arizona I was able to get very good images from both the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) and the Desert Cardinal (Cardinalis sinuatus). Shooting all day from a hide arranged by Matthew Studebaker and Dan Behm, I had the opportunity to play with different lighting and composition and achieve pleasant and beautiful images. It was not a target-species on my Arizona adventure nor it was on my priority list, but in retrospective I am certain in was a meeting long overdue with a bird that was a big part of my childhood in those days when birds didn’t matter and the only thing that flew over the cahoba trees on my block was a baseball.