Sunday, July 31, 2011

In the Name of the Wolf

The wolf is probably one of the the most misunderstood mammals on earth. With a reputation as violent killer, the wolf got hunted almost to extinction in the US, severely reduced in Canada and didn't fare much better in the rest of the world.

Although our understanding of the ecological value and benefit is now better than ever before, the ordeal for this magnificent hunter is far from over: Alaska allows aerial gunning; Idaho officials are finalizing a hunting and trapping season that could claim the lives of hundreds of wolves this coming week; in Arizona and New Mexico the Mexican Gray Wolf struggles for survival with only 2 breeding pairs left; the wolf population in many areas of Canada, like the Central Rocky Mountains, is among the lowest density of wolves in the world. The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife states in it's report about the status of the wolf in Europe: " Human caused mortality, either through hunter harvest, official lethal control, or poaching seems to be the main limiting factor for wolf populations. There are several countries where wolf management is clearly unsustainable due to over-harvest, and even state sanctioned bounty programs."

Years ago, on one of our frequent trips to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, I stumbled upon a Wolf Sanctuary, called the Northern Lights Wolf Centre .The Northern Lights Wolf Centre is owned and managed by Shelley and Casey Black, a couple who not only dedicated their life to the fight for the conservation of the wolves in their natural environment  but also built this fabulous wolf education center in the Canadian Rockies.

To keep the wolves fit, Shelley and Casey exercise the wolves daily. As an extra bonus they offer the opportunity to accompany them on these wolf hikes in the wild through Blackwolf Photography. An amazing experience where one is able to get to know the wolves better, observe them in their natural environment and of course can photograph them. These wolves are not tame but imprinted and everything goes on wolf terms.

I have done three hikes already and I'm hoping to do more! All the images on this post are from these hikes.

Here I'm treating one of the "vicious killing machines" to an Altoid. He was way more gentle than my Chocolate Lab....

For more information and how to help the wolves please have a look at the following links:

Northern Lights Wolf Centre

Encouraging Literature:

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

3 Among Wolves by Helen Thayer

Brother Wolf by Jim Brandenburg

What makes a photograph award winning?

Want to find out?

Have a look then:

Touring the International Conservation Photography Award
exhibit with juror Cynthia Hall

Burke Museum, Seattle

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

HTC = High Tech Camera????

Rather not, but last November I had to upgrade my phone, the old one was just giving up. When it comes to cell phones I would say I'm rather technically challenged and hate changes, but it had to be. Now choosing the right device, just calling it a cell phone would be an understatement, proofed to be quite tricky.
A very patient and knowledgeable salesman showed me different models and explained the different qualities of each. As he came to the model I now own, a HTC Incredible, he pointed out how good the camera was on this phone. I slightly puffed up, explaining him that I'm a professional photographer and surely would NOT ever use a cell phone to take pictures...mark my words...Long story short, I ended up buying that model, for the simple reason that I could remember it's special feature, the camera....

So far so good, after a few challenging weeks I finally mastered my new "device" and was happy. Not long after I went to the beach with the dogs, needless to say without my camera equipment but with my phone, and the light was just perfect. Muttering to myself that I should have taken the camera, a little voice whispered in my head: "your cell phone has a camera...". Well, I had nothing to loose, right? So I tried it, and took one photo, hmmm, didn't look too bad, took another one, even better. Meanwhile I had to download my images twice to my computer because the phone storage was full......

Still, even the best cell phone camera can certainly not replace a SLR, but for sharing on the web and small prints it actually can work.

On a recent trip to Oregon I exclusively used the phone to take pictures, not because of the lack of equipment but because I either couldn't take the camera or we went spontaneously somewhere and I didn't have my camera with me.

Since almost everybody now has a camera in his or her phone, I thought you might enjoy a few ideas on how to get better images with it:

This outing to Arnold's Ice Cave was one of the unplanned side trips and I knew I wouldn't have a chance to come back. As you can see, it got quite dark there towards the entry of the cave, and also very cold...;-) As with a normal camera, your phone probably has an ISO setting. If you are trying to photograph in darker areas, change your ISO from 200 or auto to 800 or as high as it goes. Since you won't print your photo big anyway, it does not matter if it's a bit grainy, at a small size you won't notice and it prevents a blurry picture, just don't forget to put it back to normal after the shoot.

Avoid very contrasty scenes. Luckily the clouds here were not bright white and I avoided to include the part of the rocks that was already in deep shadow.

If you have an even lit scene with one bright spot, it's likely to blow out and ruin the photo. Try tilting your camera slightly, up or down, left or right. I have have no explanation as to why this works, I guess it helps if the light hits the lens at an angle.

Since you can't manually set your exposure or use filters, sometimes it's just hit or miss. Again, tilting the phone a bit often helps. At the above scene the foreground is a bit to dark, in the below image it worked...

The lens on the cell phone doesn't have a lens cap and it is most of the time exposed to all kinds of dirt in your jeans pocket, purse or car. Check and clean before you shoot.

Forget about the "I can fix it in Photo Shop", it doesn't work, or at least not as good as with a "real" photo. I tried to tone down the blown out water in this image of Tumalo Falls, without great success.

Due to the shutter lag (you press the shutter and it takes a short but noticeable time until the camera takes the photo) anything moving fast is a challenge. If you can, have your "model" slow down or stop before you take a picture.

The phone camera is perfect for "out of the airplane window" photos, just don't forget to put it in airplane mode!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July Conservation Tip

Beach Clean Up

The 4th of July weekend was one of the few summer weekends here in Half Moon Bay that were not foggy but wonderfully sunny. This and the long weekend brought tons of people over here, all enjoying the beach. And so did we. But as our older son came back home from a beach party, he was distraught by all the garbage he had seen, left behind by accident or careless minds.

So both boys decided to go out on July 5th and collect as much garbage as they can. A noble undertaking, so I equipped them with heavy duty garbage bags and gloves.
1 1/2 hours later they came back with 3 filled 42 gallon garbage bags weighing together 48 lb.! Filled with as small things as cigarette butts to broken down air mattresses and everything in between.

Over dinner that night we figured out, that if every family household would clean up for only one hour per year, some part of their community, that with an estimated 75 million households, up to 3.6 billion lb of garbage per year could be taken off the environment. Even better would be, if nobody would litter, or leave his/her stuff 3 feet away from a garbage seen here:

I then asked them which item they found the most, expecting to hear soda cans or the like, but was surprised to hear it was cigarette butts! This is especially disturbing since each cigarette contains more than 3,900 chemicals including nicotine, cyanide, ammonia, cadmium, acetone and arsenic, and cigarette butts contain the toxic residue of these.
It is know that seabirds, turtles and some fish do ingest butts. As the butts swell in the stomach of the animal they cause false satiation. The animal, believing it is full, refrains from eating and eventually starves to death.(1)

A bit of research on this topic revealed even more...

At a national shoreline clean up in Canada findings from that day are showing that 367,010 cigarette butts were collected across Canada. Cigarette butts made up the single largest item collected. Just as the boys did here.
But the picture doesn’t look better elsewhere.

According to Cleanup Australia, out of 24 billion cigarettes sold in Australia each year, 7 billion of these are littered. It is estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts worldwide are littered each year.(2)

In the US, Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the country. Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup reports that “cigarette butts have been the single most recovered item since collections began.” (2)

An excerpt from a report by Smoke Free Oregon:

“…Tumors found in turtles returning to beaches to lay eggs in the sand have been linked to cigarette butt pollution in Hawaii. Sea lions, elephant seals and harbor seals haul out daily on beaches to absorb the heat from the sun, give birth and feed their newborn pups. Crabs, clams, starfish and sea urchins are commonly found on nearly all beaches. According to the UN International Maritime Organization, 177 species of marine animals and 111 species of shorebirds are affected by tobacco litter causing unnecessary malnutrition, starvation, and death (Source: California Coastal Commission 2003, UN International Maritime Organization 2003).” (2)

(1)Whales alive

(2)Sea Forever

The conclusion?

Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

Maybe next time you go to the beach or park, take a bag and collect what others left.

If you smoke, PLEASE don't litter!

This way we all can enjoy clean beaches...

..and marine animals clean oceans.