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photography

Lots of people ask “what is like to be out there?” Or, “how do you take those pictures?”

It’s hard to explain exactly what goes on once you get there and you star making decisions. There is a lot of preparation before arriving to the first shot: research, light assessment, understanding behaviour… I guess everyone develops their own style and system. It’s easier to show than to tell.

But anyways, for those who have asked me that, I have two images I want to share from last week at Jones Beach:

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For more images of my adventures in Wild NYC click here: http://mariodavalos.org/index/#/the-other-nyc/

 

In 2013 I pressed the shutter over 75,000 times. I travelled to 8 different countries to photograph nature and I spent an average of 650 hours sitting at the computer editing images. All this, while keeping up with a full-time and very demanding job as CEO of Capital DBG plus enough time to fully enjoy the treasure I call family. It was a busy year, no doubt. A year filled with challenges and lessons that only now, when I pause and look at it like a closed period of time, make sense in the broad scheme.

Choosing my top 20 shots of the year was nearly as hard as achieving them. I tend to like an image a lot and the next week I completely change my mind and prefer the image I had discarded. So, this selection, may not be the same in a couple of weeks, but here it goes:

20. Southern Double-collared Sunbird, taken in Cape Town, South Africa. 

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19. Two Least Sandpiper, taken in Las Calderas, Dominican Republic. 

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18. Great-horned Owl, taken in Arizona, United States.

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17. Male Lion, Taken in Maasai Mara, Kenya. 

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16. Keel-billed Toucan, taken in Boca Tapada, Costa Rica. 

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15. Leaf-cutter ants, taken in Asa Wright, Trinidad & Tobago. 

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14. American Flamingoes, taken in Las Calderas, Dominican Republic. 

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12. Composition of Zebras, taken in Maasai Mara, Kenya. 

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11. Giraffes, taken in Ngorongoro, Tanzania. 

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10. Oilbird, taken in Asa Wright, Trinidad & Tobago. 

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9. Scarlet Ibises and Great Egret, taken in Caroni Swamp, Trinidad & Tobago. 

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8. Tropical Screech Owl, Taken in Aripo Savanna, Trinidad & Tobago. 

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7. Migrating Wildebeest, taken in Serengeti, Tanzania.  

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6. Palm Tanagers, Taken in Boca Tapada, Costa Rica. 

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5. Little Bee-eater, Taken in Lake Manyara, Tanzania. 

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4. Sunrise and myst over Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. 

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3. Elf Owl, taken in  Arizona, USA.

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2. Brown-capped Rosy finch, taken in Colorado, USA.

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1.Common Starlings, taken in Colorado, USA. 

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I remember when I thought being a wildlife photographer was completely out of my reach.

I remember when I thought of photography as a lower art form. A way to cheat.

I remember being 4 or 5 years old and for the first time trying to live in a tree.

I remember being 6 years old and wanting to be a dolphin.

I remember being 7 years old and my dream of owning a museum.

I remember being 12 years old and wanting to be a rock star.

I remember dreaming about being Tarzan all the way from 3 to 13 years old.

I remember the joy of picking strawberries with my mother.

I remember the first time a crab bit me and left it’s claw hanging on my thumb.

I remember writing my first short story about a pig that fought the family that wanted to eat him for Christmas.

I remember the first time I saw snow.

I remember publishing my first book.

I remember the innocent desire of becoming a famous painter when I was in art school.

I remember my first painting. A complete failure.

I remember my first photograph. A complete failure.

I remember the day I realised I was not a teenager anymore (it happened last month).

I remember the first photograph I was proud of. It was a Broad-billed Tody and it was taken in Jarabacoa, 2011.

I remember thinking happiness was a made up fantasy.

I remember when I thought I would never get married.

I remember vividly the first time I saw my wife and knowing she would be my wife.

I remember not knowing how strong and powerful and overwhelming it is to love one’s children.

I remember my first trip to Yellowstone. It felt like finally arriving home.

I remember the first time I dared to call myself a “photographer”.

I remember always having the desire of traveling the world.

I remember when “a year” was such a great piece of eternity. Now, 2013 has already gone by and all it took was a quick jump and a lot of remembering.

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CF6A3442Right now, I am probably sitting down for Christmas dinner with my family in the beautiful mountains of Jarabacoa. Most likely, our small little cabin has been turned into a noisy and crowded little space. Family is noisy, but it is family. And there is nowhere I rather be right now than here, looking down upon the marvelous hills and funny little clouds while up here is 10 degrees Celsius colder than Santo Domingo.

But I did not want to let this night go by without thanking all of you for your support to my blog this year. Thank you for your comments. Thank you for your likes, your feedback and your time. So while this post was schedule yesterday morning, I wish you are too enjoying with loved ones this night.


Merry Christmas and Happy Festivus!

 

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My first day at Altos de Chavon/School of Design was nothing short of special. I felt I was finally on the right track of becoming an artist and had left behind all the law school/psychology non-sense that had briefly crossed my mind. It was a great day in a great school that made me great friends. But I also remember when I first walked into the classroom and was told by my drawing teacher to put all color paint away. – You don’t need color, hell, you don’t even know how to use color.. just bring black paint, white paint and charcoal and we’ll talk again next semester – . And there, with a quick sentence, most of the fun disappeared. Or so I thought.

That first semester back in 1997 was all about composition, tonality, contrast and what we called “ the architectural structure” of the drawing. It proved to be not only a lot of fun, but also the basics of everything else I’ve done.. art related or not. Loosing color for a semester taught me to focus in the essence, not to get distracted and really think about composition, to see the world in a kind of x-ray mode, seeing lines, shapes and shades beyond any disturbance or temptation. And Montesinos, our dictator-like instructor really nailed it, we were not ready to use color, but after his class, we soon were.

Forward a bit more than a decade and I am holding a camera in my hands and not a brush, but the principles are the same and the lessons learned are still fresh and valid.

Black & White images convey a powerful sense of both intimacy and drama. When color is removed, only the essential remains. As color can enhance an image, it can sometimes distract from the core narrative as well. Black and white photography requires a whole different approach, specially if your subject is nature. Of course after Ansel Adams we all look at it with more confidence, but still, removing colors from nature and producing a pleasing and interesting image requires talent and experience.

Yesterday I finally got the courage to put up an extensive selection of B&W images on my website. These images depend on shades, shapes and design to tell their story and engage the viewer. Go ahead, check the gallery out and tell me what you think.

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_MGL4967When Columbus first arrived in what is now called the island of Hispaniola, wildlife was rich abundant; manatees thrived in the fresh water streams, trogans could be plucked like ripe fruit and parrots and parakeets where as common as insects in the lush Caribbean forests. Today everything is threatened, including us humans. We have managed to destroy one of the most beautiful places in the world and most of the time feel proud of what we call “progress”. Our greed and disregard for the place we live in, is driving every species to extinction including our own. But in that sad and terrible reality, there are some odd and positive stories.

Such is that of the Hispaniolan Parakeet ( Aratinga chloroptera). This emerald-green and noisy little fellow was heavily hunted down for its feathers and for the illegal pet trade. Along with the Hispaniolan Parrot (Amazona ventralis) the Hispaniolan Parakeet is sold to adorn houses and learn curse words. It is smuggled into US cities where dominicans live to remind them of the beauty back home. It was first described in 1856 by the french ornithologist Charles Souancé, which seems very surprising since such a pretty and obvious bird should have been noted much earlier. It is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List and populations are way down. Flocks of this amazing bird that could be seen flying over the mountains no longer are common… except in the city of Santo Domingo.

For some reason Parakeets have adapted quite well to the noise and activity of Santo Domingo and can be seen everyday flying south-north in the morning and north-south in the afternoon to roost in almond trees all over the city. To see them come in by the hundreds to their roosting spot in Hotel Embajador is a feast to the eyes and a nightmare to the ears (specially for hotel guests). So if you are ever in Santo Domingo, take a moment to enjoy these beautiful birds, and if you’re really into birding, choose to stay at El Embajador, order some dominican rum and enjoy the show.

More of my photos can be seen in my website mariodavalos.org

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_MGL1981As 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.

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CF6A6523Cape 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. 

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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.

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_MGL1506Drama 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. 

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