Friday, 8 July 2016

Wedge-tailed Eagle

Wedge-tailed Eagle (captive animal)

Wedge-tailed Eagle - Aquila audax, is the largest raptor in Australia. What a majestic animal!

Yesterday, we went to Lone Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane. This photographic wildlife eldorado could not be more different to where I normally capture animals, namely in the wild.

In such a beautiful wildlife park, every unique photo opportunity comes like chips at McDonalds. You can order or help yourself to more at any time, repeat encounters with normally shy and rare animals. You can even plan the lighting and background with a bit of patience. You are seduced by cuteness and uniqueness in a multipack.

To me, it feels a bit like cheating wildlife photography. Seeing flocks of tourists taking phone selfies with birds, marsupials and other animals feels weird. Seeing people poke, chase and otherwise harass the 'faunal objects' even frustrates a bit.

Does the existence of places like this depreciate the value of wildlife photos in nature? Surely, it clarifies the context on which my wildlife photos are judged by the public. Seeing the many baby Koalas at close and eye-level distance with natural looking background and perfect light convinces me that photos taken in the wild should not even try to compete.

Koala baby (captive animal)

It somehow becomes archaic and irrelevant when hard work and luck competes with paying an entrance fee or a ticket. In many parks, you can and even should attempt to make staged and arranged photos look like wild ones. Vice versa, it is highly uneconomical and often impossible to make natural wildlife photos look like perfect studio shots.

Let's not pour more fuel into many examples of cheating and even fraud in wildlife photography. Just bear in mind: if some photos seem too beautiful to be true, unfortunately, we might (wrongly but often rightly) assume that this is what they are. In the end, what works and what evokes emotions has justification. But we should not fall for populism in photography even if that is exactly what all of us wildlife photographers are guilty of when we try to please anyone.

Does such a wildlife park replace the appreciation of real natural habitats in general or complement it? Does the modern alienation of nature combined with a narcissistic culture pose a threat or quite the contrary? Will we soon only have wildlife 'ghettos' in a rapidly developing cosmopolitan city and society? Will the public have a distorted understanding and little care of natural habitats and ecosystems?

Lone Pine is mainly a rehabilitation centre for injured animals and has also an educational function with respect to native fauna and heritage. They are doing a great job. It is so good, that I would recommend to spend a day there, preferably not around school holidays or on weekends. Maybe even take a picnic and commute there with a direct bus from the CBD to take advantage of lounge chairs at the bus stop. How innovative!

One of the Wedge-tailed Eagles, came to the park as a shooting victim. It is a bit ironic that real bullets have now been replaced with photos for the shoots. The eagle in the daily scheduled raptor show certainly don't seem to mind that much. This guy got a mouse for lunch as you might see in a few photos presented on my webpage.

Wedge-tailed Eagle (captive animal)

Photographically, my choice of a long zoom lens was an unnecessary choice out habit. It was a compromise that saved me changing lenses all the time. Quite contrary to a photo shoot in the wild, a professional would prefer a shorter, good quality prime lens under such controlled conditions.

A wildlife photographer in the bush would rather worry about how to collect stardust on mars than about too much or the wrong reflection in a wild eagle's eyes. It amuses me somehow that the result I got doesn't satisfy me from a technical point of view. And yet, it is another good example to show that context matters in photography. This was almost a studio shot and needs to be regarded and judged as such.

Do I really want to see a reflection of myself and my background in the pupils of an eagle picture? My answer is clearly 'no'. How could I plan that better next time? Many photographers would simply argue that photography skills start with Photoshop and don't end there. I disagree. Frankly, I am still short of an alternative option. A reflection board (let alone a flashlight) might distract or freak out the animal and would certainly need permission and thorough consideration to be used.

This picture is still artistically pleasing to me because the busy background is eliminated with a soft, creamy contrast to the dark animal. The portrait makes me wonder what the eagle is reflecting on and where it is focussing its thoughts. Is it happy or is its life too artificial and too close to human cameras?


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Australian Pelican

Australian Pelican with inside-out pouch put over its body

Australian Pelicans - they are so common and big that they may have exhausted to get much of my photographic attention. I often only check if they are fine and free from fishing line entanglement and other damage. There is hardly any picture that I have not attempted or one that has not been pixelated yet.

Last week, this guy distracted me a bit while I was witnessing some beautiful Darter family action nearby (will write a blog post later). What looked horribly wrong to me, may have been a witness account of some value.

This Pelican obviously turned its pouch inside out, leaned its neck back and put the pouch over its body. Try that! Once I was pretty confident that this was real and the animal was fine, I saw the funny side of it. How cool is that? You can clearly see the veins on the pouch skin, too.

I had assumed that the Pelican was having the sun rid him of a few parasites or some bad, fishy breath. Maybe the drying air or sun was helping with healing a wound. A QuestaGame expert pointed out that the role of their gular pouches to help in cooling is known. Maybe it was reverse engineering and the Pelican was trying to warm up. We have cold nights in Brisbane at the moment and I couldn't blame the Pelican for not caring about its silly 'pouched-over' looks.

This is certainly a photo that deserves to be on my website, maybe not for photographic quality (it was quite far away) but documentation of a rarely documented behaviour.

Hopefully, you'll enjoy.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Last thought...

Pristhesancus plagipennis

Look at this picture and imagine that you are a fly. By the time, you would have finished that thought being that very imaginary fly you'd be doomed, injected with a hormone that liquefies your tissue only to be sucked out by this Bee Killer Assassin Bug.

These predators move smoothly and steadily. They conceal in ambush until they can present their victims with their beautiful red-orange body. It might remind of a beautiful flower and food, look irresistible. The long 'horn' that acts as a syringe and straw might only be noticed when it snaps and punctures its prey.

If you are a human, being a fly might not be your last thought. If you are injected the strong venom of the Bee Killer Assassin Bug, however, you might wish for a few days that you could fly and leave the pain behind you.

Looking at this photo might help you to empathise with a fly or any other insects. You might see what they last saw. Maybe you'll know their last thought - a good one I am quite sure.

Enjoy your meal and keep dreaming!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Coffee sipping bug

Do you drink serveral cups of coffee per day? You might suffer from the 'Coffee sipping bug'.

Please have a look at what might be the first animated document witnessing this bug at work. Admittedly, you will not find any cure for your coffee addiction. You'll be witnessing a bug, obviously enjoying to suck out some coffee sap right from the plant. This is the stuff that you might expect in a David Attenborough documentary or a National Geographic story. They would have professional equipment and obviously quite a bit more experience and talent to make this really tantalisingly irresistible - just like a cup of coffee in the morning.

My friends would say that this movie - similar to my other wildlife activities - is not sexy enough for a wider public. Surely, they are right. But...isn't that a gorgeous bug? Look at it! This guy was so passionate about getting to the good stuff, the coffee sap I assume. I love seeing passion and natural behaviour. I love witnessing and documenting true and unmanipulated life that hardly anyone else knows and has ever seen before. How could I hold this back and keep this footage for myself? Surely, with a few billion people on this Earth someone else will share my fascination and fully enjoy this video.

I doubt that many people could identify this species easily. At least to me this animal is unknown, its segmented body with 6 legs hints at it being an insect or arthropod of some sort. So, I call it a bug but am happy to learn its true identity. The animal is not more than 2 mm long, the size of a pinhead. The body seems to be covered with a shield, probably made from collected material. Some long hairlike thread is constantly probing the environment while the animal is visibly busy sticking something that looks like an antler into the coffee leaf, probing it really well and leaving a visible trace. I love passion and dedication and that's what I can see in this video.

The bug totally ignored the fact that I had pinched off the leaf from the bush and kept flashing my camera at it. The footage was taken in our garden. Some fancy music would probably suit it better than the surrounding noise, some birds and traffic. It was a bit windy too. Some parts of the bug's shield or body are obviously blown around a bit at some stage.

I tried to take pictures with my 100mm macro lens with a 68mm extension tube on a cropped sensor camera. That didn't give me enough details in magnification and I got better quality with my microscope modus on my underwater camera.

Let's be realistic: we can't keep up with large animals, we struggle with small ones, on land but even more under water. Nudibranch documentation has taught me that introducing small animals to the world is a challenge, even when they are the most beautiful and story telling animals. When they are smaller than 2mm, it is almost hopeless to have the right equipment ready in the right situation that allow to document properly and to get an audience that is able to connect with it.

My addiction is not coffee, but macro photography and wildlife documentation. Let me know if you share my enthusiasm and let me know if you like this footage (if not the bug). By sharing this story and video with your friends you might contribute to get the word out there, namely that: 'coffee sipping' is addictive, even among some bugs.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Zeltnacht in Australien

Australian Camping Night
Australian Camping Night
PDF Week 20/2016: Canon 7D, 18mm (on 18-200mm lens), 43 sec, f3.5, ISO 400.

Die Sterne leuchten heller in Australien. Vielleicht haben wir weniger Lichtverschmutzung. Das naechtliche Firmament zeigt sich vielleicht auch oefter unbedeckt als anderswo. Beeindruckend ist der Blick hinauf in den naechtlichen Himmel allemal. In der suedlichen Hemisphaere zeigen sich Sterne und Himmelskoerper von einer anderen Seite. Statt des Polarsterns ist das 'Kreuz des Suedens' (Southern Cross) Orientierungspunkt fuer das Himmelszelt.

Hier moechte ich keine vertiefte himmelskundliche Kenntnisse vortaeuschen. Vielmehr geht es mir darum, mit dem praesentierten Foto meine Faszination darueber kund zu tun, dass man unsere Galaxie, die Milchstrasse, sogar in der Naehe von Grossstaedten klar wahrnehmen kann. Andererseits moechte ich in diesem Fotographie-Forum meine Erkenntnisse teilen, wie man solch eine eindrueckliche Szenerie bildlich festhalten kann. Vielleicht motiviert das ja jemanden, den Griff zur Spiegelreflexkamera zu machen oder die Begrenzung durch gaengige Universal-Kameramodelle zu erkennen.

Bei unserem Campier-Ausflug letzte Woche erlebten wir traumhafte Naechte. Mit einer Telefonkamera blieb ich ziemlich erfolglos, den Nachthimmel festzuhalten. Auch meine treue Unterwasser-Kompaktkamera verpatzte ihren Auftrag in diesem Fall voellig. Es fand sich keine Einstellung, die auch nur annaehernd den Blick von unserem Camp haette wiedergeben koennen. Das mag an meiner Ungeduld oder mangelnden Kamerakenntnis liegen. Vielleicht ist daran auch der Umstand schuld, dass diese Kameras fuer solche Szenen nicht gebaut sind. Das wenige Licht der Sterne faellt schlicht einem unsensiblen Sensor oder Bearbeitungs-Algorythmus zum Opfer.

Wir haben sie wohl alle gesehen, die tollen Sternen-Nachtbilder mit Matterhorn, Alpsee oder Gebaeude im Vordergrund. Solche Szenen sind glaubhaft, aber mir persoenlich aus der alten Welt nicht gelaeufig. Selbst wenn Computerprogramme mehrere Fotos miteinander verrechnen, finde ich die perfekten Postkarten-Sujets einen Blick wert. Mehr noch: warum nicht zum unkreativen Nachahmungstaeter mutieren? Ich wuerde gerne lernen, wie man solche klare Sternbilder kreieren kann.

Ganz so einfach ist es nicht, auch nicht mit meiner halb-professionellen Spiegelreflexkamera. Mein Learning-by-doing-Ansatz war wohl nicht direkt zielfuehrend. Die nachtraegliche Internet-Lektuere, wie Hochglanzresultate zu erzielen sind, bot mehr Werbebotschaften als Weisheiten. Der gelesene Artikel bot mir aber Trost. Ich hatte wenig falsch gemacht und wohl fast das Optimum aus meinem Material herausgeholt.

Mit meinen ISO Einstellungen hatte ich bei einigen Probeaufnahmen experimentiert. Da ich den Sternenhimmel von Baumkronen eingerahmt haben wollte, machte ISO 400 als Kompromiss- und ehrliche Versuchsloesung in meinem Fall viel Sinn. Die weit offene Blende sollte mehr Licht auf meinen unsensiblen Kamera-Sensor lassen. Die Schaerfe waehlte ich manuell. Ich wollte die vom Lagerfeuer in dunkles Grau-Rot getauchten Baume koernig aber relativ scharf. Selbstverstaendlich benutzte ich ein stabiles Stativ. Fast gaenzliche Windstille erleichterte die Langzeitbelichtung. Sterne stehen bekanntlich nicht still am Himmel. Deshalb sind lange Belichtungsdauern kritisch. Die maximal waehlbare Belichtungszeit von 30 Sekunden schien mir auch bei hohen ISO Werten trotzdem zu kurz. Deshalb steuerte ich die Belichtungsdauer im Bulb-Modus mit meinem Funkausloeser, zaehlte leise vor mich hin und vermied jegliche Erschuetterung. Endlich hatte ich mehr als ein schwarzes Display als Resultat.

Dies soll kein Rezept fuer stellare Nachtfotographie sein. Wenn man keine oder nur die einfachsten Software-Hilfsmittel benutzen moechte, geben solche Angaben aber mehr Anhaltspunkte, als der gelesene Ratschlag, eine professionelle Kamera und spezielle Linsen zu benutzen. Mich draengen immer noch die Fragen: Gibt es mechanische Hilfen und Tricks, sowie einfache Software, um den Effekt der Sternen- bzw. Erdbewegungen zu minimieren? Hilft es, den Kamerawinkel um eine (relativ) stabile Achse zu waehlen und den fotographierten Ausschnitt durch entsprechende System-Positionierung festzulegen?

Bestimmt moechte ich nicht zu einem exkusiven Nachthimmel-Fotographen werden. Aber ich empfinde den Sternenhimmel in Australien als Spektakel. Es ist unglaublich bewegend, bei Einbruch der Dunkelheit immer mehr leuchtende Punkte am Himmel ausmachen zu koennen, die Milchstrasse und andere entfernte Galaxien zu erkennen, gelegentlich ein Flugzeug, einen Satelliten, Asteroiden, Kometen oder einen anderen wuenschenswerten und weniger wuenschenswerten Himmelskoerper zu entdecken. Der Blick hinauf in eine grosse vereinende Hemisphaere zu richten, laesst mich ein aehnliches Gemeinschaftsgefuehl erleben, wie das Betrachten des nahen, knisternden Lagerfeuers. Es ist berauschend, entrueckt vom Alltag und gleichzeitig tief in uns allen verwurzelt.

Wenn nicht als Fototechniker, dann als emotionaler Mensch stelle ich mir die Frage, wie ich solche Momente festhalten und vermitteln kann. Kann es wirklich sein, dass solche Szenen der alles dokumentierenden Selfie- und Schnappschuss-Gesellschaft verborgen bleiben? Der Sternenhimmel gehoert zum Campieren, wie der Schauspieler zum Theater.

In diesem Fall, holt mich meine Fotographie zurueck in eine fantastische Realitaet, wo noch vieles zu entdecken ist. Es holt mich auch zurueck in eine Natur, die ich liebe. Meiner Meinung nach lohnt es sich, Australien abseits der Touristenstroeme zu erkunden, fernab vom Massen- und Postkartentourismus. Es gibt den Sternenhimmel auch ohne Ohrdroehnen oder sonstigem Rausch nach einem Partybesuch.

Es lohnt sich, Zeuge des naechtlichen Sternenspektakels zu werden, zu staunen und seine Gedanken fortschweben zu lassen. Wer weiss, vielleicht findet jemand das Sternbild des Krokodils, der giftigen Schlange, der Spinne, des weissen Hais oder sogar das Selfie-Sternbild oder den helle Schein eines Gluehwuermchens!

Viel Spass und viel Erfolg beim Fotographieren!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Crimson Rosella

Crimson Rosella
Crimson Rosella
PDF Week 19/2016: Canon 7D, 400mm (on 100-400mm lens), 1/400, f5.6, ISO 2500.

Crimson Rosella come in a variety of colours. Juveniles and adolescents sometimes resemble other species and even other bird groups, such as Lorikeets, Parots, even Cockatoos etc. While there are a few colour morphs and even a few different races, Crimson Rosellas can normally be recognised from their blue patch on their chin.

We just enjoyed some days out in the bush and were spoiled to witness these majestic animals in the wild. Despite their colourful presence they can be amazingly well camouflaged. Often only their loud screeching voices high in the tree canopy give away their whereabouts. I can not remember ever having spotted a solitary Crimson Rosella. Neither was this individual alone but had a mate nearby.

These animals are wary of humans but not shy. Some are even tame especially when they are fed by humans. For us, it was great to meet a pair roaming a green bush for its orange fruit. They seem like sloppy eaters seemingly dropping half the food. The light was poor but I love the authenticity of the picture. It shows the bush and wildlife we came to see.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Cluttered Chaos at Sunset

Cluttered Chaos at Sunset
Cluttered Chaos at Sunset
PDF Week 18/2016: Canon 7D, 100mm (on 100-400mm lens), 1/400, f5.6, ISO 640.

'Those Who Dance Are Considered Insane by Those Who Can’t Hear the Music'


This quote, attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, might resonate in a lot of us or make us reflect. Can it be true? Am I dreaming? What on earth made other people do certain things? It is often that we can't hear the music when others dance. Reversely, it also happens that we are dancing along our music while anonymous people are watching, reading or listening to us. They must think we have gone insane. The music is muted for them, as it is often muted for us. Is there really a 'them' and 'us' by default? Is that a natural, necessary state?

Following Australian politics a bit, I have started to realise what this music is, that some weird politicians are dancing to. Frankly, I don't like the music. It seems to be pumping statements through the loudspeakers and TV screens. The message is often that the guys outside are considered too dumb and irrelevant to be heard and respected. How would I know and be sure though, only hearing some low sound waves and the monotony of repeating tones. Half the population outside even cheers to what they can't hear properly, what they don't know and understand, and as a consequence don't really care much about.

Australia celebrated ANZAC day last week. It was also announced that our next submarine fleet is going to be built by - drumrolls - France. There was hardly any mention of the 30th anniversary of the Tchernobyl catastrophe. There was also no time to commemorate Fukoshima or reflect on diabolically located nuclear power plants in the San Andreas fault. While we could read about North Korea's provocative activities, France's nuclear testing on Australia's neighboring Pacific atolls in the past finds no mentioning.

In times, where people all over the world, start pre-ordering electric Tesla cars, when the Netherlands considers banning the sale of fossil fueled cars, it is obvious that we need clean energy. Australia is still debating whether they should continue to fight over climate change. It is roasting the CSIRO boss and forcing him to admit guilt for moving on his concentrate of federally subsidised intelligentia. Collecting data can be done by free slaves or Citizen Scientists. From the ballroom, there comes laughter. Renewable energy has copped a beating in the very recent past, is diligently worked against. Equally demonised is decentralised power generation. The grid locks to consider such options.

Scientists and David Attenborough are crying over the dying Great Barrier Reef on national and international TV. Queensland gives approval to build and operate the biggest coal mine in the world, with ports being installed and channelling ship traffic right through an allegedly fragile environment and a World Heritage site. Fly-in/Fly-out jobs are traded in for our cultural and natural environment and a more sustainable future. We chime in the crying but decide to turn our ears and eyes away for comfort.

The 'cashed-up backpacker tourism strategists' from Queensland ask to be moderate in showing and warning of the devastation at the Great Barrier Reef. We also saw the video of a "Greeny" go viral. It showed an explosive situation, the politician sitting in a boat and putting a river on fire. Fracking forces the gas out of the ground and produces bubbles in the remaining water that has not been dried up upstream by excessive irrigation yet. How can someone *peeptone* swear and blame greedy politics and industry when the bubbles burst with a big bang? Why would you light it, when sitting in the middle of it? Why would you not have documents and scientific analysis ready to prove that some greedy corporation is to blame? Especially if you don't want to be subjected to our new warfare, namely legal swatting!

Australia has a black coal record. But it hasn't got a Fukoshima or a Tchernobyl, not even a nuclear power plant. Not many people know, that the UK conducted atmospheric nuclear tests in Australia in the 1950s, as far as I know killing indigenous people happening to live in the area. Lest we forget. The country is big, and the traditional owners and the general population is often not invited to dance. They are just here to pay the bills, along with nature and future generations.

Soon, we'll have the first nuclear waste site in the country. And we'll have our submarines built by Australians under the command of the nuclear superpower France. The subs are not driven with Tesla technology like the Japanese proposed models. All Australians care about is that, obviously or allegedly, the many jobs remain or are created in the country. The decision is applauded mainly because the billions of taxpayers' money doesn't go to what some still consider the old war enemy, Japan. After all, they kill our whales, don't they.

We need clean energy. How amazing that we can hear hardly anything about how to achieve that. Opinion leaders don't seem to own shares of potentially leading industrial complexes yet. At least, Panama papers (who saw them anyway?) didn't reveal much comPELLing evidence of abuse in Australia. There is one huge issue with solar, wind and other clean energy. They can (and will) be produced decentralised. They not only mark the end of fossil fuel. Energy conglomerates will have to find new ways to maintain their control of the big business. As much fun as it is at the moment, buying, shutting or slowing down alternative energy solutions is not a long term solution.

The question is whether we'll soon hear the music that is being played behind thick walls. Will the communication with weak signals be soon replaced by clear statements. I would not be surprised if - in times when other nations leave nuclear power behind - Australia proudly announces plans to have fossil fueled power plants to be replaced by nuclear production of energy, the National Broadband Fusion project maybe.

Beware! Even if there is an accident involving nuclear power, who cares? Couldn't we all just witness in the media how wildlife and nature is starting to strive when people are forced to leave their contaminated homes? Maybe Australia should build a nuclear reactor right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Maybe at Lizard Island, where all our most competent and licensed marine biologists could be joined by nuclear scientists. They could have a ballroom playing their music. In case of an accident, they could get relief and a nice tan in swimmers and bikinis on a beautifully rich atoll. Snorkelling in heavy water, they could fuse with teeming marine life and never seen before creatures. It doesn't get any CRISPR than that. There is not even a need to describe existing marine species, e.g. non-prioritised nudibranchs, when new ones can be created.

Admittedly, I can't hear the music, but I can see the figurines moving to a distorted rhythm. There is undoubtedly loud music, maybe punk rock. I never liked aggressive music, lyrics and pogo dancing. My own music style is boring, my dancing style virtually nonexistent. I'd love Australia to be able to communicate openly and plan a future based on common sense and decency, beyond greed, exploitation and pretention.

Politicians should care about providing legal and infrastructure framework that allow for jobs. They should neither create them nor in the case of ecological marine exploration and education destroy opportunities. Why doesn't Australia stick to what we have (not talking about Antarctica) and what we are good at (not only talking about repairing Ford and Holden cars and fishing)?

What industries does Australia want to be known for in the future? In my opinion, we have all the ingredients for a prosperous future, including the energy sector. We have decent and hard working people. If we manage to build (and not just pretend to have or import) real skills in creating a good mix of industrial and postindustrial value chains, Australia and the world might profit. Put alternative power generation and reasonable power usage and distribution on the agenda, make coal and nuclear power the alternative and declare it a dead end to be out-phased. Tackle the challenges fairly and openly, not within the ballroom that determines and distributes profits to a few star dancers and the costs to the listeners and hosts.

I am glad, I don't clearly hear the music yet. And I am sure that many people can't follow and wonder what dance I am dancing. The photo 'Cluttered Chaos at Sunset' was taken at the Queensland Sunshine Coast. We had a great time, eating fish and chips at the marina. The boats that we had photographed in the afternoon fishing in or at the edge of marine protected zones (I assume legally) were hauling their catch, even offering us crabs - fresh and cheap. The light was beautiful and I tried to show the cluttered chaos of the marina when boats and the sun went to sleep, a glimpse of hope and energy on the horizon.

Photo Discussion Friday is still open for photos of the public to be discussed or presented. This should not become my own forum. It should be about photography not about politics. However, I do admit that I enjoy mixing photography, art and politics. Art will become more important in the future. It always did when the freedom of speech was bound to be restricted and when humans and nature were exploited excessively, and when people were keen on selfies rather than relevant portraits and reflections of society. There are brilliant people who are starting to come out of hiding, presenting great ideas. Life can be short, so why not dance your own dance!

Enjoy your weekend!