2016 Year in Review

Photographically, 2016 was a good year. After taking much of last year off, I decided to pick myself up and get serious again. I travelled to Yellowstone, Costa Rica, Svalbard, Jasper, Kaktovik. Churchill and the Falkland Islands with each trip yielding several memorable images. It was difficult to whittle the list down to just 12, and 15 made it into the final set.  There are others that could easily have been included (and in fact were selected over some of these by friends of mine) but I had to draw the line somewhere.  Its funny how changes in my day-to-day mood affects the selection set.

The images found in this blog entry are rendered in more-or-less chronological order, rather than by favorite.  If there is one that really catches you eye, please let me know by email or on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/LEViiMAGES

Yellowstone

The photographic year started in Yellowstone in late January.  There was a reasonable amount of snow but the temperature was quite warm, a recurring theme throughout my photographic adventures:  Svalbard, Kaktovik and Churchill were all unseasonably hot.  We did not see many fox jumping for prey but we did find this one sleeping/sunning on a rock ledge covered with moss and lichen. The colors and the composition speak to me.

Sleeping Fox

Costa Rica

In March I went to Costa Rica with my buddy Jon Cornforth. We spent most of our time in Osa peninsula photographing Howler, White-faced Capuchin, Spider, and Squirrel monkeys as well as Scarlett Macaws, Toucans, and frogs (and the list goes on).  We did not go up-country for the birds as many people do.

In this image a Howler monkey mother naps with her baby in her arms. While I have many other images I think this one touched me the most. I can feel the connection between the mom and baby.

Howler Mother and Child Resting

This image of a tree frog was taken in the dark of night. It is the only image in this set taken with artificial light. I have seen many beautiful images taken in Costa Rica made with all manner of artificial lighting. While the results can be striking, I have come to realize it is not my thing.

Tree Frog

 Svalbard

My next trip was to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago a few hours north of the European mainland. This was a bad year for ice in Svalbard. Conditions in April were more like what one would find in July, and by June there was no ice to be found around the islands. To find the ice, and better the odds of finding bears, we travelled to 81 degrees 32 seconds north latitude. However, the weather deteriorated and a decision was made to head south to beat the predicted strong winds. Twelve hours later we arrived at King Karl XII Island at the northeastern edge of the Svalbard archipelago.

We saw a polar bear right away sleeping on the black gravel beach and waited. There are two small islands here and a 100 meter channel that separates them. It was low tide and the waves were breaking between the islands. Because the tide was so low the bear was able to walk rather than swim. Getting as low as I could in the zodiac, I was able to capture this rare, dramatic, and unusual image of a bear traversing the surf.

Polar Bear in the Surf

 

Bearded seals are indigenous to the Svalbard archipelago and can be found with different colorings depending on the minerals present on the sea bottom where they forage for food, primarily shrimp and clams. The area where I created this image is known to be rich in iron giving this seal its vivid colors. Of course, beyond its coloring, it is the beard and its curls that gives this seal its character.

 

Bearded Seal, Svalbard

Kaktovik, Alaska

Going to Svalbard ignited my passion for the Polar Regions and upon returning I booked two other trips to see polar bears in different habitats. The first was Kaktovik, Alaska. I tried to time my trips for optimal weather, choosing to go to Kaktovik in late September in hope of there being snow and before the lagoon was frozen. Again, it was warmer than expected and it was another full month before the lagoon froze (some time after the traditional tourism season ended). With no snow, the bears were quite dirty; a result of lounging around on dirt combining with the natural fatty whale oil from foraging in the bone pile.

Kaktovik is a remote Inupiat village on the North Slope of Alaska. I went there to photograph polar bears in a setting different from the Hudson Bay or Norway. The Inupiat are subsitance hunters and are allowed to harvest three bowhead whales per year. All of the meat, blubber and skin are shared with the whole community and is a source of nourishment throughout the winter. After processing the whales, the bones are moved to the “bone pile.” Here the new bones are mixed with those from decades of previous catches. The bears know of this place. They start to show up in late August and will stay as long as there are scraps on the bones, or the freeze comes and they can head out to hunt for seals. In the image a COY (Cub Of the Year) is walking in front of the maxillary bone, or head bone, of a bowhead whale in the twilight hour just before sunset.

The Bone Pile

This two year old cub was playing in the water with its sibling for a good forty minutes. I have a number images of the two if them playing together, splashing, spinning and making silly gestures. There was even a third bear that joined in for a while. I chose this portrait image because of the light and the water streaming from its neck, and this image seemed to be more popular with my friends.

Polar Bear Side Portrait

After the cubs were done playing they decided to head out to the bone pile. The mom was still on the shore resting and seemed to have little concern over the safety of her cubs. She became alert when the wind picked up, making hearing difficult, and the cubs were no longer in view. I captured this image when she entered the water to reunite with her cubs.

Polar Bear: I see you!

Jasper, Alberta

After Kaktovik I made a spur of the moment decision to drive to Jasper, Alberta. I ended up driving over 2,000 miles in 7 days! Two images that stand out from this trip are the Bighorn Sheep close-up and the fire and snow abstract.

Big Horn Sheep Portrait

 

The close-up of sheep speaks for itself but there is something about the abstract that touches me at a different level. Without context it is hard to tell what you are looking at. Perhaps that’s the attraction? This image, more than any other in the set, has drawn mixed reviews. My abstract/artistic images seem to appeal to a different audience. I guess that is not surprising.

Fire and Snow Abstract

Churchill, Manitoba

I went to Churchill at the historically optimal time hoping for and expecting cold snowy weather. As with my other arctic trips, the weather was not cooperative and it was unseasonably warm. Typically, in November it is well below freezing and we had temperatures in the 40’s!

 

Polar Bear: One of the Big Boys

 

The more unusual things at Churchill was the continued presence of a wild wolf. For several days we saw this lone wolf during daily hikes. At no point did we feel, or the wolf appear, threatened. I have plenty of other images of this wolf, perhaps some technically better, but none as good at this close range. It was an experience I will not forget.

Wild Wolf Up Close

 

Perhaps my favorite image from Churchill is of this polar bear taken in the twilight hours. The dreamy quality in the foreground is authentic as I was able to get low enough to photograph through a small snowbank.

Sweet Dreams, Polar Bear

 

The Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are a magical place, especially if you like penguins (or you are a birder). Surprisingly, on this trip, my favorite were created at Volunteer Point outside of Stanley. I traveled there twice, each day-trip involving a 5 hours of 4×4 driving over bumpy tundra. The King Penguin colony, while not very large by South Georgia Island standards, is the largest in the Falklands.

 

A Waddle of Penguins

What Volunteer Point lacks in numbers is made up for by the near-tropical looking beach and ocean. Add the edge of a dramatic storm and presto, magic!

Into the Storm

 

This image of a baby elephant seal is just cute.

Elephant Seal pup

 

One of the last images I created in 2016 is also one of my favorites. This pair of King Penguins walked right up to me. I must not have appeared very interesting or threatening because they began to demonstrate courtship behavior. The sky was incredible, the sun at my back, and they performed for minutes!

Courting King Penguins

 

May your New Year be bountiful.

Stay tuned for more adventures to come…

Steve

Flying Spider Monkey


By 6am the sun was hot and the sky a blaze. If you listened carefully though the sounds of the birds one could begin to hear the swoosh-swoosh of the money troop moving through the tree tops. Eventually, they came to a place where they had to make these big jumps from tree to tree. Sometimes it was as much as 30 feet across with more than a 20 foot drop.

The monkeys, one by one, would get on the same branch, rock back and forth to gain momentum (sometimes with their hands holding on to the branch) and then launch!

Hysterical!

Jump3

White-Faced Capuchin (Cebus capucinus)) Portrait 1

LEViiMAGES_Costa_Rica_2016_Bosque_del_Cabo-901While in Costa Rica I saw many many monkeys and created images of all four species found there: white-faced capuchin, howler, spider and squirrel. This image was created while staying at the Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge on the Osa peninsula. Fairly remote, Bosque del Cabo provided an abundance of wildlife opportunities. This image was created in an area where we would common;y find three monkey species all in the same tree.

Nikon D800 600mm 1/320s handheld.

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Green Sea Turtle Cleaning Station

Green Sea Turtle being cleaned by yellow butterflyfish

While in Hawaii I had the opportunity to start using my underwater housing. I can tell it is going to take some time to hone my skills to make the kind of images I am interested in. Getting used to the camera controls, looking through the mask (with corrected optics for my poor eyes), getting (or being ) in the right postion, and having enough air left to wait for the right moment is a lot of work!

For the most part, I took the camera snorkeling in the reefs around Kehei. Even though the visibility was not so great and there were lots of people around I was able to make a few images I like.

In this image a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) is being cleaned by Lemon Butterflyfish (Chaetodon miliaris). Algae and parasites collect on the skin and shell of the turtles and the fish gather round and eat the parasites thus “cleaning” the turtles

The large white masses on the turtles body are Fibropapillomas, a kind of tumor thought to be related to the herpes virus. Sadly, Fibropapilloma is considered one of the primary threats to overall health of the green sea turtle population.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/11/101108-green-sea-turtles-tumors-pollution-science-environment/

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Po’olenalena Beach Sunset 1, Maui

Po'olenalena Beach Sunset 1 with waves swirling around lava rocks

This image is probably my favorite created on Maui. The tide was just right so that the level of water hitting the rocks created the swirls in the exposure as the water receded back out to sea. I really like the way the sunlight reflects off the swirl.

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The Chinstrap Penguin Highway: Baily Head, Deception Island Antartica

The Chinstrap Penguin Highway: Baily Head, Deception Island Antarticat

Baily Head on Deception Island off the Antarctic peninsula is an amazing place. Home to about 170,000 breading pairs of chinstrap penguins it is the second largest known chinstrap colony. The chinstraps make their nests up on the rocks in moraine-carved hills of this active caldera. With such vast numbers there is a constant and relentless flow of penguins from their nesting sites to the sea where the feed, so much so that they form a bi-direction highway. The landing to get to Baily Head is steep and exposed. We were lucky to be able to make this landing.

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Saint Andrews Bay King Penguin Portrait

Saint Andrews Bay King Penguin Portrait

This image was taken at Saint Andrew’s Bay on South Georgia Island. In the morning the weather was rather calm and gray. As the day progressed the katabatic winds started to pick up with gusts over 70mph. At one point we had to head back to the zodiacs in case the winds got any worse. Luckily, we were able to go back once the winds subsided. This image was taken inland near the head of one of the glaciers. I used my 200-400mm with a 1.4x converter (550mm) at just about the closest focal length possible.

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Mazama Ridge wildflowers, Mount Rainier National Park

Wildflowers at Mount Rainier National Park with mountain and clouds

Mazama Ridge wildflowers, Mount Rainier National Park

Chasing the light is always a crap-shoot. When trying to catch the edge of a storm you never know if you will get the clouds and the light, have it blow out and miss it altogether, or get throiughly soaked staring into a wall of fog.

On Monday I dashed off to Mount Rainier to photograph the wildflowers. The weather forecast was sketchy and the flowers supposedly had already peaked. Having been down there 10 days earlier when the flowers had not yet peaked and there was brilliant sunshine I was hoping for something more dramatic.

Early Tuesday morning I dashed up to the ridge while the clouds were whipping past me. One moment you could almost see the entire mountain, the next it was completely engulfed. The breeze made creating an image that more difficult — even the slightest of breezes causes the flowers to sway and on a long exposure blur. Waiting for the flowers to stop moving (mostly) and the clouds to part enough to reveal the mountain at the same time was both a game of patience and a race with the clock as the sunrise light was waning.

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