Michael J Lang: Blog http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog en-us (C) Michael J Lang sales@jcmichaelphotography.com (Michael J Lang) Sun, 04 Sep 2016 17:31:00 GMT Sun, 04 Sep 2016 17:31:00 GMT http://www.michaeljlang.com/img/s/v-5/u112488741-o222479987-50.jpg Michael J Lang: Blog http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog 120 80 The Bears of Katmai http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2016/9/the-bears-of-katmai It is very easy to go online and learn anything and everything you could ever want to know about bears, Alaska....anything!

I'd like to share with you My experiences in Katmai with Coastal Brown Bears. 

Click here to view the full gallery. Please leave a comment on you favorite shots so I know what to print and frame.

This trip was preceded by another trip to St. Paul Island (a small island in the middle of the Bering Sea) which should be a blog post all by itself (and it might be).

On St. Paul Island I photographed Puffins, Auklets, wildflowers, Blue Foxes etc. There were species such as the Red Legged Kittiwake that breeds in only 5 or 6 places in the entire world (all in the Bering sea) that I was fortunate enough to photograph.  There was also a murder! A very tragic event, especially in this small tight-knit community. All of this on an island with less than 500 inhabitants! See, this trip deserves its' own blog post.

But I digress. Back to the Katmai trip. We landed in Anchorage and drove five hours to Homer with a stop on the way to photograph Dall Sheep and their acrobatics on the sheer cliffs.

Dall Sheep: Mother & BabyDall Sheep: Mother & Baby

Our small group took a float plane to Kukak Bay in Katmai N.P. It was a beautiful flight over mountains and glaciers on a partly cloudy morning at a balmy 65 degrees with a pleasant landing and float up to our home base for the week. It was an old fishing boat with a small kitchen/dining area and bunk beds for the six of us.

An iPhone shot of our boat with the float plane landing in the background

We had such an amazing crew: Joanna, our adorable red-headed cook from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (she also happened to be a kick boxer), her husband Wes was the skipper of the skiff (a shallow, flat bottomed boat) that would take us ashore. Wes would eventually tell us the horrendous story of the horrible chainsaw accident that disfigured him at nineteen and the painstaking years of surgery that resurrected his rugged good looks. Erik, our Viking bear biologist, who was meant to be eaten first had we gotten into any trouble. Our Captain, John, was a shy fellow with not too much to say...but great stories when he did open up. One of which includes his interactions and subsequent observations about Timothy Treadwell, the quirky bear enthusiast who met his doom in 2003 in the Grizzly Maze of Kaflia bay, one of the bays we explored on this very trip.

 

L to R: John, Wes, Joanna, Erik

 

Our days were like three mini-sessions. Mornings always started with a hearty breakfast and a warm smile from Joanna. Wes would excuse himself and get the skiff ready while we grabbed camera gear and put on our hip waders. Our fearless leader, Chris, was nursing an ankle fracture. He left his prescribed walking boot at home so he could don his hiking boots and/or hip waders. Despite the pain he never missed a session and was fit enough to stay in the lead for most of the trip! We would photograph in the morning until the light got too harsh, then we would head in for lunch. You start to realize pretty quickly how dangerous boating in Alaska is when a seasoned veteran shows concern and a large dose of healthy respect each and every time we would board or disembark the skiff. The tides move so quickly through the bays, moving debris, logs and sand bars that the bathymetry (topography under the water) is never the same from one tide to the next. Wes would search for clues in the ripples of the surface of the ocean to assess the safety of a shore approach. On several occasions he would have to turn around and search elsewhere. The same held true when it came time to pick us up. There were occasions when we would have to traverse inlets with our camera gear on our shoulders to get to the safest pickup point.

Trudging through an inlet with our gear. A recipe for disaster, luckily none of us fell.

At this point we would pass our gear onto the skiff and climb aboard. The breeze from our speed on the skiff would serve as our fly abatement program and offered a nice break from the goliath Alaskan flies. By the time we reached the main boat the inconvenience was nothing but a memory. Time to pass the camera gear up to the big boat, take off the waders and wash up for lunch. Another warm smile and lots of amazing food. Joanna always had fresh fruit for us, and would whip up some secret 'sauce' to put on it. After lunch we would grab our gear and head back to shore to photograph the bears and hope for a wolf sighting. The wolf population, where we were concentrating our efforts, was not doing well we were told. We did, however, have a couple of sightings. One afternoon we heard some howling so we decided to see if we could get close enough to photograph the wolves. We took our time and stayed low. Amazingly enough a wolf broke cover from the tree line and to our awe she had several pups in tow! On another occasion we were busy photographing bears when a wolf squared his shoulders to us from a few hundred yards away!

We would come in for supper and guess what. We'd go back out again. Since the sun didn't set until almost midnight we would have plenty of time to shoot the nice soft late afternoon light (at 10:30pm) and then after a few games of cribbage with my new friend (who is also named Mike), I would retire to bed...undefeated! Sorry Mike, I know you were rusty.

Three sessions a day over five and a half days left me a little disoriented as to what transpired when?! Let me wrangle some details, the specific day and time is irrelevant since we are not in a court of law. 

Before I get to the details I feel like I should impart a quick biology lesson (that could easily be found on wikipedia). The difference between a grizzly bear and a coastal brown bear. All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzly bears. A coastal brown bear feeds on very nutritious salmon and males can routinely weigh over 1,000 pounds. Grizzly bears are a subspecies of brown bear and don't live near the ocean, therefore they don't gorge on salmon and are generally smaller. Ok. onto some stories.

One day, let's call it a Wednesday (since my camera metadata tells me it was July 13th, 2016), we were in Kukak Bay  spending some time on Eagles. Our guide had located a nest that was active and accessible! Accessible via a steep hike through dense bear country!! We relished the sweet flavor of  Salmon Berriesboth red and white, as we ascended. At the top was five foot by two foot area that two, maybe three people could squeeze into as long as one didn't hold a large life insurance policy on the other. Thirty feet to the northwest at eye level was a spectacular Bald Eagle nest with a large juvenile waiting for some fish. I could see the shot! Given the wind direction and our presence the adult delivering the meal would approach the nest facing me with wings wide open. At eye level! It is so engrossing when you can photograph a wild animal at eye level. There is an intimacy, a sense of belonging, a connectedness when you are at the same physical plane as an eagle! You can see it on 'Eagle Cams', you can see it on television or the internet. I assure you there is no substitute for getting out into nature and going through the trials and tribulations of the planes, boats, turbulence, rough seas, sweaty hikes, nuisance insects, anticipatory mauling and then finally seeing something as spectacular as an Bald Eagle at eye level while the taste of Salmon Berries is still fresh in your mouth. Knowing that if a 900 hundred pound Coastal Brown Bear came crashing through the brush and your only escape is a 200 foot drop off a cliff is very sobering and then you realize that a 200 pound cub would put you in the same coffin! 

Bald Eagle with mountains in the background

Juvenile bald eagle in the nest

On Friday July 15th I was photographing a Mom and her two cubs (probably 2-3 years old). They all dropped down into a channel with some retreating tide still present. I watched and photographed as they clammed and frolicked. The mom was teaching them how to spar, how to handle themselves in real world situations. At times it seemed rough, excessive from a human perspective. I moved in unison with the bears staying ahead at the proper light angle 4 feet above them and many yards ahead...until they caught up quickly and rushed by me. They were not more than 5 feet outside my reach. This was not intentional or desired. With my gear, the obligatory 100 yards is plenty close. I felt no threat, no rush of adrenaline, no sense of fear. At that moment I could see how someone like Timothy Treadwell could possibly persuade himself into a lull of safety. That is until I continued to witness the ferocity in the playfulness of the cubs, at which point I remembered why I'm so drawn to nature. It's not because I need to become one with these wild creatures. I don't want or need to understand them in a way that I can communicate  with them. My connection with wildlife is simply my fascination with them. The beauty, the differences they possess, the contrasts between us and them. Capturing the beauty of bears, wolves, pigeons...any wildlife in their element caught up in their natural behavior causes an elation, a euphoria for me that is unparalleled.  Me photographing bears clamming. Photo courtesy of Erik Larson

The plan for this portion of my trip was to photograph bears in a variety of behaviors. Bears eating grasses and berries, sparring and eventually chasing salmon. Although we saw salmon jumping in the bay, they never made it upstream while we were there. Looking back on this adventure I know without a doubt, Alaska is a place I will go back to. The ruggedness, the wildness, the unforgiving climate, the mesmerizing landscape. It draws me in. I will bring my girls and we will explore. We will submit to the last frontier.

 

I definitely approach my adventures in a very disciplined and systematic manner. I eat clean, stretch, don't drink alcohol (maybe 1 beer at some point). I want to cram as much as I can into every trip and I want to bring as much back for my family and friends as I can so I can expand their horizons as well as fostering their sense of adventure to make them stewards of the world as I strive to be. I don't have a platform. I don't think I need to. I believe if we all get out and see the world, the beauty, the fragility, the compassion, we have no choice but to realize how important it all is. How important we all are individually in maintaining this great blue sphere we all dance on.

Click here to view the full gallery. Please leave a comment on you favorite shots so I know what to print and frame.

 

Midnight in KatmaiErik Smoking his pipe and sipping on some Jameson

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sales@jcmichaelphotography.com (Michael J Lang) Alaska Bears Coastal Brown Bear Eagle Grizzlies Grizzly KMP Katmai bear http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2016/9/the-bears-of-katmai Sun, 04 Sep 2016 17:27:00 GMT
The Eagles of Kachemak Bay, Alaska http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2015/3/the-eagles-of-kachemak-bay-alaska As I unpack my gear and settle back in to temperatures in the mid 70's I can still hear the eagles of Kachemak Bay calling out.  This trip, as my good friend Chris would say, was EPIC!  In the past every time I've been to Alaska I have been extremely comfortable no matter what time of year.  I have always had amazing sightings: Bear, Moose, Fox...everything, you name it I saw it!  This trip WAS epic...it was also different from all of my other trips to Alaska since this was the first time I actually visited in person as opposed to just watching nature shows about Alaska on t.v. from the comfort of my couch.  

I flew into Anchorage and drove around Turnagain arm a bit looking for large ice formations and ice climbers to photograph. It was not to be, while my hometown of Boston broke records for snowfall, Alaska was having an unseasonably warm winter (it was still in the teens most of my trip).  No large 'other worldly' ice formations, no ice climbers, no Moose sightings (the Moose didn't need to travel down from elevation to look for food since their food source was not covered in feet of snow).  No Dall Sheep to photograph, death defyingly moving about on the tiny footholds of sheer cliffs. 

It was a beautiful 5 hour drive from Anchorage to Homer and I did spy some Eagles in Cooper Landing waiting to pick off some unsuspecting waterfowl.  I also spotted lots of meadows where I fully expected to see a Great Grey Owl...it was not to be.  I arrived at the Land's End Hotel in Homer and soon spotted Eagles all over town, not necessarily the best of photographic opportunities with Eagles perched on telephone poles etc...that was soon about to change.

Heading out with Chris Dodds and his Captain, his Captain's son and the rest of our group, we headed across the bay to various secret locations throughout the week and Chris came through, creating some amazing photographic opportunities. The Eagles of Kachemak Bay congregate in this area due to the fact that the lakes of their 'home territories'  are frozen over.  They assemble at this location to feast on the waterfowl that congregate here as well as for the fish in the bay. Chris has this workshop set up over five days typically with two shooting sessions per day, one in early am and one in late afternoon.  We were able to get across the bay several times, but had to miss a few sessions due to high seas and dangerous conditions...not that we didn't try (we had to turn the boat around once after encountering 8-10 foot swells in our small craft).  I came away with about 6,000 pictures to sort through and had far more 'keepers' than I anticipated. Check out the gallery here.

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sales@jcmichaelphotography.com (Michael J Lang) Alaska Bay Eagles Homer Kachemak http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2015/3/the-eagles-of-kachemak-bay-alaska Wed, 18 Mar 2015 02:23:25 GMT
The Phantom of the North http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2015/3/the-phantom-of-the-north Dead Indian Memorial Rd. The Phantom of the North may sound like a title from the upcoming season of Game of Thrones but it is a description of something far less dramatic and bloody.  The Great Grey Owl, (Strix Nebulosa), is documented as the biggest owl  species by length and one of my target species for quite some time.  I spent a week in Canada this February with hopes of getting some nice pictures of a GGO with no luck, not even a sighting...It's ok, I did get to spend a lot of time getting great photographs of Snowy Owls, another amazing species well suited for extreme cold.  My time with the Snowies was chilly to say the least (-20 Farenheit and wind).

Back to the Great Grays (for this bird it's acceptable to spell it either way: Gray or Grey, or so says Wikepedia and countless other sources).  After a week of 'no shows' from the GGO in Canada I was determined to finally see this phantom in the wild. Before I boarded the plane in Montreal I began my research to see where else this raptor has been spotted recently.  I used my clandestine birding sources full of secret handshakes and kickbacks for info (at least that's how my wife describes this network of friendly folks with a passion for nature). I found out quickly that there had been several sightings in southern Oregon (3 hours from my home)! I was considering flying there from Montreal and renting a car while I continued to pay for long term parking at the San Francisco airport. I decided I needed to spend a little time with family first, so I went home...for a few days. After some family time (and a little work), friends and I trailered a travel trailer to Emmigrant Lake the following weekend. We spent lots of time over the two days driving through the areas where the owl had been spotted, but we could not locate it. We drove back just in time for my youngest's second soccer game of the season and then back to the office on Monday to continue my research.  I decided that I would take the whole family up to the Ashland area the following weekend. I arranged a cabin at Green Springs Inn and Cabins and brought my wife, daughters and nephew along under the guise of a weekend get away. I had a schedule saved on the notes app of my phone of when I'd scout for the elusive raptor and when we could do fun family things.  This is the point when I began to realize the extent of my obsession.  I tried to have us load up into the car with no lunch at 1:30pm after my youngest daughters soccer game and decided that Catalina should remain in her sweaty soccer outfit (yes, cleats too) as we began our three plus hour journey. Luckily I have a very easy going and supportive family...also my wife made me grab lunch for us. We got into Ashland just in time to scout for an hour before sunset.  I ran into Harry Fuller who was also out looking for the Great Grey with a group of like minded folks, we exchanged pleasantries and contact info so we could share if we made a sighting.  No luck the first night.  The next morning my nephew, Justin, and I focused on a 3 mile stretch that had a few meadows.  These owls blend perfectly into their environment so I would stop frequently and scan with my naked eye and then with the binoculars, painstakingly working a grid so as not to miss where this big bird was hiding.  2.3 miles down a lonely road, there he (or she) was, perched on a low branch of a California Red Fir with beautiful bright green lichen draped onto the branches as well as the trunk itself. The tree looked as if it had been placed in the middle of this small meadow.  It was amazing to see this majestic owl in plain view first thing in the morning.  Although it wasn't dark, the sun hadn't come up over the horizon yet therefore I was photographing at ISO 25,600 for most of my time with the GGO.  He moved perches a couple of times and even came to the ground briefly, alas it was all pre-sunrise. After a while this phantom wanted to go back to being elusive and silently flew into the tree line. Later that morning I took the whole family to Science Works museum in Ashland.  The kids and adults all thoroughly enjoyed this interactive outing. When we got through all of the hands on exhibits we had a not so enjoyable lunch (I won't name where) and then got back to the owl prowl.  The whole family was very excited to see this bird in the flesh...feathers.  It did not happen! The next three times we went out our evasive friend gave us the slip.  On our drive home we decided to stop off at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. We got to see lots of Eagles, Bald and Golden, as well as a variety of fowl and raptors including a Merlin! Don't be alarmed by the last photo, there was a controlled burn happening.

I will be going back to this area when the weather changes for the worse...I need to get shots of the GGO with snow falling.  I don't know why, I just do.

The images I am sharing are not (IMHO) print or sale worthy due to the fact that I had to shoot at shutter speeds between 1/80 - 1/1000 with ISO between 6,400-25,600 and they do not meet my standards. My favorite part of this trip was the genuine excitement of my wife when I told her "I saw him and I got pictures"! She jumped up and down and kissed and hugged me, how wonderfully supportive! If this addiction were more seedy (pun intended) one might call my caring wife an enabler.  I love these images and the memory they carry.  

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sales@jcmichaelphotography.com (Michael J Lang) Bird Game of Thrones Great Gray Owl Great Grey Owl Nature Owl Raptor http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2015/3/the-phantom-of-the-north Mon, 02 Mar 2015 04:08:34 GMT
More Snowies! Quebec and Ontario Canada http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2014/3/more-snowies-quebec-and-ontario-canada photo courtesy of Christopher Dodds

Canada Feb. 2014

 
My wife is a fantastic cook (and an amazing wife and mother), we have many friends who love to cook: I get to dine with Sarah Fragoso of EverydayPaleo.com and enjoy the masterpieces that she creates.  Any one that cooks for me who knows me will ask me to 'taste test' their food either out of courtesy or for the comedic value as I have an extremely undiscerning palate along with a poor sense of smell.  So when I am aware of someones presence behind me utilizing my most defective sense (sense of smell) there is a problem! To begin my trip I was at the security line at SFO when I picked up on the stench of body odor and stale wine. Me and my 50+ lbs of camera gear swung around behind us to see:  Smart dress/casual shoes, designer jeans, a casual high end button down shirt poking out of a nice v neck sweater which in turn was covered by a very nice warm weather jacket.  A tall beenie hat topped off this 30 something year old gentleman with 10 days growth on his face and fashionably long hair (I guess) who happened to find his way into these garments.  Although I have no evidence, I assume his clothing had lots of starch in them as he was asleep standing up and swaying the way a giraffe would had he found itself on the deck of a small boat in high sees.  It was comical to start with until he unintentionally began to invade my space and sway into me a couple of times.  I thought I might let security know about this inebriated sleepwalker if it continues…..nah, they'll discover him soon enough, anyway I'll be on the plane soon enough and be rid of him.  
I had gotten to the airport early and had my seat changed to an exit row, score!
As I boarded the plane and neared my row I spotted that same man dangeroulsy close to my row, obviously the coincidence would be too great and there is no way he is in MY row (which only has two seats).  I pull up to row 16 and notice on one side are two very attractive women in their late 20's with one open seat (surely they were saving it for me) and on the other is my drunk friend (also with one open seat).  I settle in to MY seat and in a French/Canadian accent with eyes half closed he (yes, my new neighbor) says "zay put you in zee exit row too?"  To which I reply "They were worried about your current condition and asked that I look after you!"  He smiles and magically ceases the planes spinning with the power of his two eyelids.  The attractive women across the aisle laugh quietly and smile.  Politely Marcél, (that's what I've decided to call him in my mind), excuses himself as he intends to sleep during the flight since he had been up drinking wine all night on the beach.  But before we even take off Marcél strikes up one of many conversations and before 10,000 feet we're shaking hands and discussing all sorts of subjects as I discover Marcél is a world traveler with a degree in something medical or engineering I forget, and a passion for life.  We spend some time watching the movie 'Slapshot' with Paul Newman (without headphones), so Marcél narrates and gestures and we both laugh hysterically on and off for twenty minutes!
 
Fast forward to the reason for my trip…Nature photography: The tour consisted of Christopher Dodds (our guide and pro-photogher).  Bridgette, who was born and raised in France, is a retired pharmacist that owns an INN on the island of Tahiti. C.J., retired from the Navy as an Aviator and subsequently retired from his practice as a family physician. And myself.  
Chris is very methodical and deliberate in everything he does.  He sets expectations for himself and his group and makes sure we are 'all on board'. He is certainly respectful, interesting and has a good sense of humor.  He created a routine for us during this trip that was predictable and easy to follow.  
Our typical day on this five day adventure consisted of getting into the SUV early (between 4:30am and 5:30am), driving an hour to get near location, eating breakfast at Tim Horton's (I hope I never need to eat there again).  
At that point we would drive to our location and find our Snowy, wait for the right light, get into position outside where it was below freezing (Celsius and Fahrenheit) and wait for the action.  We would spend at most two hours outside. Between shutter clicks we pulled our thumbs and fingers into a tight ball around our hand warmers so that we would have enough sensation in them the next time we needed to capture more images.  After the shoot we would go back to our hotel remove some layers of clothing, download pictures, charge batteries and then meet up for lunch.  After lunch we did it all over again until the sun fell below the horizon, those last bits of light are always the most crucial and beautiful!  
 
Wednesday night we went to 'Sterling', www.SterlingRestaurant.com an amazing steakhouse in Gatineau, Quebec, where we were taken on a tour into the kitchen where they only cook their highest quality meat over a fire burning from maple wood (a half a cord of which stacked neatly in the corner of the kitchen).  The manager, Ahmed, explains to us the different grades of meat and why Sterling is the best:  http://www.sterlingsilvermeats.com/BeefBuyingTips.asp
He takes us into the wine room and shows us various bottles, the one that gets my groups attention is the Petras which is famously expensive and hopefully tasty.  Ahmed talks about the politicians and who's who of the business world that frequent the restaurant and buy these pricey bottles. As he is picking  up and putting down bottles he knocks the $12,000 bottle of Petras into a far less expensive bottle and everyone cringes and closes their eyes… the two bottles will live to see another temperature controlled day. 
After you decide on your meal the waiter brings out your fresh cut of meat for you to approve or not.  Ahmed was from Morocco and got along famously with Bridgette (Bridgette is very striking and surprisingly near retirement age).  Ahmed insisted on buying us a bottle of wine with our meal! The food was truly amazing!  Bridgette spoke of the Escargot, but didn't want to order the “Feuilletée” Escargot and mushrooms with white wine and mascarpone sauce.  She prefers Escargot with Garlic and Butter.  Our waiter Mark, (whom we called 'Sexy'), happily obliged when I asked if the Chef would be able to prepare the Escargot the way Bridgette liked.  I also ordered the PAN SEARED FOIE GRAS with Caramelized apples, blueberry chutney and almond crumble.  Their were two types of Foie Gras and Bridgette insisted this was the one I NEEDED to order.  I truly enjoyed having a native Parisian as my personal food guide on this adventure, if only for this one meal.  For the main course I ordered the the 8oz Filet Mignon medium rare with buttered Asparagus.  It was out of this world! Tender, tasty, juicy and even I could taste that it was cooked over wood, maple wood.  I could actually discern this!
At the end of our meal Ahmed insisted on us staying for a glass of port.  Our taxi had already arrived and we were tired from the day, yet all of looked at each other 30% sold on the idea of staying.  I piped up and told Ahmed that if he pulled up a chair and drank with us then we'd all stay.  He agreed and no one seemed to mind. 100% all in !
Thursday morning, once again, we arrive near our location.  
This time instead of Tim Horton's we pull up to a charming Bed and Breakfast  'Maison Centenaire' - 'Century Home'
www.bedbreakfastlagaleriedenavant.com for breakfast (and our 'home base' for the day in between shoots).  The proprietors Lynda and Christian are folksy, down to earth and extremely friendly and welcoming. This farm house has been in the family for multiple generations and you can see it in the decor that gives this recently renovated home a true and authentic farmhouse feel.  Lynda makes more food than any of us could possibly eat: various fruits, greek yogurt, fresh baked croissant, quinoa pancakes, sausage, farm raised bacon prepared perfectly crispy, fatty and greasy (obviously my favorite), eggs to order, juice, coffee, tea etc….
The best way I can think of to describe the Inn, the place settings, the decor and the Owners is as follows: Eclectically upscale with country charm.  Lynda and Chris (as Christian like to be called) ask each of us about our home, profession and family and we find ourselves genuinely wanting to learn more about them. 
Lynda had worked in a hospital setting and Christian was an A.I. tech which is why at one point a large block of conversation is devoted to the Artificial Insemination of cattle (A.I.).  We had many opportunities to change the subject, but found it too interesting and comical not to tease Christian about his previous thirty year career.  He has a great sense of humor about this, after much ribbing we do deflect to his counterparts that have to collect the bull semen and the ribbings they must endure.
After our morning shoot we drove back to Maison Centenaire rested for a while and then had another home cooked enormous meal consisting of: a roasted Capon, various yams, potatoes and root vegetables, fresh bread…more food that I must have blocked out from pure over indulgence and am amazing dessert that Lynda called 'Maple Surprise'.  The consistency of this dessert, which was served in a miniature Mason Jar with a long slender dessert spoon (known as an Iced Tea Spoon in the U.S. according to Wikipedia), was 74% Mousse-like and 26% similar to Bread dough (at it's final stage when you could pinch it between your fingers and then open slowly and the dough would stretch).  It had a light maple flavor that was mild, the type of dessert that a child wouldn't pass up, but that is made for an adults palate.  After lunch we get to the meat & potatoes... (of the workshop).  Chris Dodds, the famed nature photographer who travels the world doing workshops and talks, sits with us and our laptops asks us thought provoking questions about our images then constructively critiques our work. Then Chris proceeds to systematically go through his personal workflow followed by the techniques he most often utilizes to edit his pictures.  Global adjustments, local adjustments, Photoshop use, Nik plugin use, post processing….the whole nine yards as they say!  The advice and critiques Chris gave on shooting technique, Equipment set up, Histogram interpretation, proper exposure (where the majority of your image data actually reside) as well as the post-processing were all game changers for me.  Some of these tidbits were minor tweaks, others were glaring oversights or ignorance on my part.  If you are at least halfway serious about nature photography or just want to see Snowy Owls doing something other than sitting on a telephone pole, this trip will not disappoint.  I fully intend on going on many more nature trips with the singular purpose of capturing some amazing images.  I couldn't imagine achieving these goals consistently without someone like Chris, (and I get the feeling there aren't many like him), who puts all of his time not only into his craft, but into the relationships of the people and animals of all of the destinations that he travels to.  Chris is an amazing professional that truly respects the intended subject and enjoys teaching and challenging you (the photographer) to increase your knowledge and technique.
 

 

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sales@jcmichaelphotography.com (Michael J Lang) Birds Owl Snowy Owls http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2014/3/more-snowies-quebec-and-ontario-canada Mon, 03 Mar 2014 05:33:38 GMT
Snowy Owls, Cape Cod January 2014 http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2014/2/snowy-owls-cape-cod-january-2014 I have a trip coming up at the end of February to respectfully 'stalk' and photograph Snowy and Great Grey Owls in Canada, very exciting!  So when my best friend Jamie clued me in (and taunted me with amazing photos) that there is a phenomenal showing of Snowy Owls on Cape Cod this year I decided to go out and visit him 'on the Cape'.  It had been far too long since our last visit (Jamie and his entire beautiful family had been out to stay with us in early January).  Jamie and his brother Jay picked me up at Boston's Logan airport and we promptly went to the first place I always go when I arrive back home: Mike's Roast Beef.  There is no place that I have found in California that makes a roast beef sandwich like Mike's,  the roast beef is from a prime cut of meat and is as close to raw as you'd ever want, gently cuddled in a soft onion roll that also houses some cheese and I don't know what kind of addictive secret sauce. I'm hungry! 

Oh yeah, Owls!  Jamie and I spent two and a half days going to various locations where the Snowy's had been spotted and took our time to get in position with lighting from the proper angle etc….If you've ever spent time in New England in the winter you know that it can be chilly, some might even say cold (but if you're from New England you wouldn't admit to it). We spent a lot of time on the marshes of Duxbury, a beautiful town with historic charm and amazing seaside properties. The marshes themselves are an arduous journey with numerous tributaries (for lack of a better word) to be ware of.  Add in snow and ice to 'hide' these crevices and you have a recipe for disaster, injury and possibly broken, damaged or lost equipment!  With a 5 foot wingspan and standing up to 2 feet tall you'd think these birds would be a breeze to spot.  Not so when there is snow on the ground.  During our 2 and a half days we spotted at least 6 individual Owls and were able to respectfully approach a few of them over the course of time and with much patience.  The weather and lighting were fantastic, 30 degrees and just enough cloud cover to diffuse the sunlight for even lighting on the top of these majestic birds and also reflect off of the snow to open up the shadows on the underside of these large Owls.  We were bundled up for the long haul on these winter days me in my North Face gear (4 layers hat and gloves) and Jamie in a casual dress shirt and sweater…I may have become California-ized!  Oh well I was comfortable.

 I'm sure Jamie and I took over 2,000 pictures and I have uploaded about 20, so check back we will probably add more as we pour through them.

Please visit    http://www.jcmichaelphotography.com/p176212844    to view these photos.

I welcome comments from our intensive nature photography expedition!

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sales@jcmichaelphotography.com (Michael J Lang) Birds Nature Owl Owls Snowy Snowy Owls http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2014/2/snowy-owls-cape-cod-january-2014 Thu, 06 Feb 2014 02:06:43 GMT
Thailand Trip http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2013/12/thailand-trip Two Quick disclaimers:

                               1. I've never blogged!  

                               2. Sarah's Travelogue/Cookbook will be a thousand times more interesting, thorough and tasty than what you're about to read.

 

First off, this trip would not have happened without the vision, talent and generosity of Sarah and John Fragoso.  Thank You!  This 5 week journey was borne out of yet another one of Sarah's amazing cookbook projects, but certainly ended up being much more than just food photography (which I love).   We visited many places in Thailand traveling around the country by plane, van, car, tuk tuk, scooters [or as John and I like to call them: motorcycles].  Our journey began with nine people (don't worry it ended with all nine of us still alive): Sarah & John and their two boys, Myself and my wife America with our two girls as well as Mayela a wonderful friend/nanny to help out on days that we were working on the book, or the occasional night out for dinner.

I've tried to arrange my pictures in the Thailand gallery in order of events…as I remember them.  Let me dive right in and state what an amazing trip this was and what wonderful, welcoming and warm people I found the Thai to be.  We would go to a restaurant and the waitress would just scoop up one of our 5 or 6 year olds and engage them without a common language to connect!  I've been at some restaurants where the site of young children can make a host(ess) roll his/her eyes, what a welcoming environment.  So many people asked me before the trip: "aren't you worried about.disease, bad food/water, child trafficking" etc…my reply: No, I'm not worried.  My plan was this: Be alert and aware of my surroundings and don't put my family in any dangerous situations.  

After our flight from San Francisco to Beijing, (where we missed our connection), we eventually landed and stayed in Bangkok for a few days.  Yes, it is busy. Yes, there does seem to be a seedy side.  But, no I never felt as if any of us were in danger. In fact we were extremely welcomed by everyone right from the start.  We got a fair amount of work done in the beginning, which was encouraging to all.  

While in Bangkok  I was able to squeeze in a nature expedition as well as witness some very cool events. Not only did I photograph a ceremony/street procession for two gentlemen entering into the monastery  I passed my camera off to my guide and jumped into the procession and had my picture taken with a few of the locals.  They were very willing and warm (I've encountered some angry people when it comes to pictures in other countries).  I also witnessed workers harvesting/mining the salt from the salt flats. Both of these things I had never witnessed before, not to mention the various bird and reptile species that I saw for the first time.  

From Bangkok we flew to Chiang Mai where we continued to get the lions share of this project in the books. Not to mention a night at Muay Thai fights, a morning riding Elephants through the forest and straight into a river where we got to bathe them! We spent a morning at a sustainable farm, Sunday night at the street market. I was able to arrange a birding/nature photography trip to Doi Inthanon National Park.  My driver know nothing about birding, yet he was very patient as we hiked around, he took great pride in helping me spot various species (he had a keener eye than I).  

After 10 days or so in  Chiang Mai we traveled to three islands (the order of which we visited them is fuzzy to me) Ko Pha Ngan, Phuket, and Ko Samui.  Mopeds or Scooters were the best way to get around and the kids LOVED the thrill.  It was 'low season' and therefore pretty easy to get a great deal on beautiful accommodations, some right on the beach.  One early morning I took my girls for a ride on the scooter onto the beach and ended up at another hotel nearby that had a zoo (of sorts).  Not very humane conditions, but my girls fell in love with the Otters (that had been declawed).  

We saw a very interesting and large Eagle Owl with very dark ominous eyes, all of us concluded that this was one amazing looking bird that was not to be messed with.  Later that evening, after 'shooting' food we were dining outdoors, at a picturesque hilltop location.  The sun was setting, a gentle breeze was blowing and suddenly I noticed a very large bird beating its' wings deeply but not making much progress.  I called out to the group as we watched an Eagle Owl on a treadmill of wind about 30 feet from our heads just above eye level.  This majestic creature flapped in place for 27 minutes as we watched (actually it was about 2-3 seconds) and then disappeared silently the way only Owls can do.

While in Khao Lak, we were all deeply moved when we got to cook with owners of a restaurant that were survivors of the 2004 Tsunami.

Traveling with our families, we decided crabbing at night and exploring during the day, would be a good time for all. Snorkeling, adopting stray dogs, visiting Angthong Marine National Park and playing on the beach also kept us quite entertained.

Our return to Bangkok at the end of the trip was spent visiting Wats, shopping, going to the backpackers district and having drinks at the location of 'Hangover II' lebua at State Tower.  

P.S. I spent 5 weeks in Thailand in high humidity with the following: 2 shirts, 2 pants (with zip off legs), 2 pair of underwear, 2 pair of socks, 2 pair of shoes…it made sense at the time seeing as though I was bringing about 80 pounds of camera gear.

This was a trip of a lifetime with lifetime friends! I would highly recommend traveling to Thailand with or without children.  

 

 

 

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sales@jcmichaelphotography.com (Michael J Lang) Bangkok Chiang Elephant Khao Lak Mai Muy Phuket Thai http://www.michaeljlang.com/blog/2013/12/thailand-trip Mon, 23 Dec 2013 05:02:34 GMT