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
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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…