Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Third World Diary (Nathanael Gass)

One of the other NANPA students that I learned with is in Africa right now, doing some work with ex-child soldiers. He's a great guy who is very mature for his age, and is really passionate about using photography to help conditions in third world countries improve. I know that he will one day be working with National Geographic to help these places through photojournalism. He's not just a great photographer, he's a great person. It would mean a lot to me if you could please support his efforts by visiting his blog:

Thank you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Call For Stories (Gabby)

Hello Photographers -
I am currently gathering materials for the spring and summer issue of next year and am looking for articles on the following topics:

- Photoshop (Elements or full) tips
- Full Feature Stories - locations, adventures, your home state, etc
- Shooting on National Wildlife Refuges
- Tips and Tricks

Please email me if you have any ideas or suggestions or if you'd like to work on one of the features listed above -

Also, ENTER OUR PHOTO CONTEST ( - the deadline is August 15th and we don't have that many entries yet. The grand prize winner will receive a Sigma Lens of their choice (up to $600).


P.S. The image included in this email was taken in Peru from a 180 foot canopy tower.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

National Geographic Glimpse Writers (Gabby)

Hi Readers -

National Geographic released a new magazine about experiences abroad called Glimpse. They have a great opportunity for young travelers who are spending more than three months abroad (perhas on a school program) and are between 18 and 30 years of age. You can become a correspondent for their website and you receive $600. Check it out:

More soon!

- Gabby

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Home and Editing (Gabby)

I'm finally back in North Carolina after a few more days of travel and some visits in the DC area. I am making the switch to Mac this week after spending my whole life as a PC user. It's time because I need the speed for video editing and I am excited for the MacBook Pro.

I have posted some new images on my website under NEW galleries. For now, here is an image of one of the many orchid species inhabiting the cloud forest. The first two weeks of my trip were spent at this site and I did not have Internet to share images with.

Gabby Salazar

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer insects (Jodie Randall)

Hot, hazy days in the middle of summer always bring an abundance of butterflies and dragonflies and an enthralling assortment of bugs and beetles.

During the summer months the light can be quite harsh, so rising early and being out in the field at dawn produces the best results. At this time of day, not only is the light softer, but most insects are just waking up, proving much easier to approach.

Arriving at one of my favourite locations on a still, dew-covered morning a couple of weeks ago, I began my search for damselflies and dragonflies resting in the long grasses.

Just as I had hoped, four or five bejewelled common damselflies clung to the blades of a tuft of grass - perfectly still. As I took my photographs the sun rose steadily higher in the sky warming the damselflies, some of which began to vibrate their wings sending a flurry of dew falling to the ground.

As the day heated up I moved deeper into the scrubland in search of bugs, beetles, grasshoppers and crickets. Somewhere from a near-by lake I could hear the honking voices of geese, just audible over the din of the grasshoppers around me. I find that concentrating on a very small patch around a square metre in size is the best way to find insects. The more you look, the more you see.

Tips: A small reflector can prove an invaluable tool when photographing insects. I use a home-made reflector, made from a strong sheet of card and a warm gold paper.
Reflectors can be purchased from most photographic stores and are inexpensive. If you do decide to make your own reflector, make sure you crumple the paper well before fixing it to your base so that the light will be reflected evenly.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Machu Picchu (Gabby)

I had to visit Machu Picchu while in Peru and especially while staying in Cusco which is a mere three hours from the "Lost City of the Incas." While I usually avoid tourist locations, this particular draw warranted a visit and it was actually full of suprises. The town outside of Machu Picchu is full of pizza joints and souvenir shops, but if you take just a 5 minute hike outside of the town there is an abundance of montane cloud forest. The area adjacent to the historical sanctuary is thankfully forested and I enjoyed a very successful afternoon of birding on the first day. I saw a female cock-of-the-rock and a number of stunning tanager species.

As for Machu Picchu, we woke up at 4:30am to stand in line for the 5:30am bus which was incredibly crowded. In order to hike up Wayna Picchu for the classic view from above you have to be one of the first 400 visitors in a day. When we arrived at the site they took our tripod because it was "dangerous" and held it for our visit. So, we hiked in to a mist covered stone city without a tripod. While at first annoyed it turned out to be okay because we hiked a very steep mountain to reach the stop of Wayna Picchu. The view was breathtaking and the stonework amazing. While I did take some "typical" shots of the site, I ended up with two I really like - one of the landscape including the peak where Wayna Picchu is located and one of the mountain viscacha hanging out in the ruins.

More soon!

- Gabby

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Macro Workshop & Updates (Johan)

Recently I attended a macro photography class at a tulip farm. Never in my life have I seen so many macro lenses--mostly the 100/105mm ones. Here are some macro photography tips I learned:
  • When photographing flowers, it is good to use the RGB histogram (verses the luminance histogram) to ensure that you don't blow out important color channels. The RGB histogram shows a histogram for each color channel (red, green, and blue) so that you can properly expose that color. For example, when shooting a pink flower, the luminance histogram may show a correct exposure, but the RGB histogram may show that the red channel is drastically over- or under-exposed.
  • Even if you have a macro lens, use extension tubes or diopters to get even closer to your subject. I used a macro lens and extension tubes for the picture below. The flower was backlit with a off-camera Canon 580EX II strobe.
To avoid getting your camera wet, use Op/Tech rainsleeves. When shooting in some rain recently my Canon 580EX (version 1) strobe quit working properly. Canon repaired it, but the cost of fixing it could have been fairy easily avoided. (Yes, the rainsleeves were in my bag) :-(

Sunday, July 12, 2009


So, this is slightly unrelated to photography, but interesting nonetheless. We took the boat ride back to Puerto Maldonado yesterday and were able to observe the Madre de Dios River from a different perspective. Since our initial journey upriver I have learned a lot about some of the threats to the Amazonian region. When I was little I always remember hearing and reading about "saving the rainforest" and as I've grown older the threats of deforestation and global warming have become one of my main academic interests. However, until this trip I was not aware of one of the main threats to the forest and its inhabitants. Alluvial gold mining is actually causing some of the worst and little known destruction to the rivers and forests. Gold is currently washed down from the uplands and it accumulates as dust in the river beds. Intensive mining has been affecting the region for more than 20 years. The first threat to the river is the dredging of sediment and the second, and main threat, is the mercury used in the mining. The miners use mercury because it adheres to gold. They mix the mercury in barrels with their bare feet by stomping on the sediment and mercury mixture and the gold clumps up with the mercury. After this process they burn the mercury off because mercury vaporizes much more quickly than gold. So, mercury enters the river when they pour the sediment back into the river and when the mercury is burned off. Mercury causes severe neurological and other health affects in humans as you may know from the care that your parent's take with mercury themometers - a small spill can start a panic in an American household.

Mercury is a huge problem because it bioaccumulates in the food chain - so the mercury in the water gets into the fish and actually stays in their muscle tissue. Then other animals eat the fish and they also ingest the mercury. A researcher at the station was actually studying the affects of mercury in raptors and is finding high concentrations of mercury in the blood and feather tissues of raptors, even those species that do not feed on fish or other animals from the river. In other words, mercury is climbing the food chain. This is very similar to the problem of DDT a few decades ago and if you do not know about that issue, be sure to pick up a copy of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

So what do we do about this issue? Well, there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account. For one, gold mining is very profitable - miners are thought to make up to $1,000 per month and a good salary in Peru is about $400 per month. Another problem is that other "greener" technologies are very expensive and there is little political pressure or regulation of current practices. For now some conservation groups are working to convince miners to try other technologies, but a lot of bridges have been burned by groups going in and telling miners that they are "wrong." Work on this issue is certainly needed and hopefully someone will take up the cause with an open mind and an understanding of the complex issues surrounding gold mining in the Amazonian basin.

- Gabby

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mold and Cameras

We are doing our best with the equpiment. My clothes and shirts have molded. It is the wettest dry season in many years. The leaves are supposed to be crackling and it rains at least every two hours. The nights have been downpours. The river is as high as it was in March at the end of the rainy season. I have an entourage of 50 mosquitoes that follow me everywhere. The conditions are no picnic but the wildlife we are seeing makes all the annoyances worth it.

A few days ago we found a group of social caterpillars. They can be found on the sides of tree trunks gathered together for protection from predators. During daylight hours they bunch together for protection in numbers and create beautiful patterns. I checked the same tree at night and they were all gone, presumably to forage for food. This image is of a small section of their group.

- Gabby

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lake Day (Gabby)

Today we took a boat out on the lake to look for the giant river otters which are a highly endangered species. They are large and not quite as cute as the cuddly otters in the US. We did not see the otters but went around the lake looking for birds and finally approached a white-winged swallow. It was a lovely morning and in the evening we ventured out to the palm swamp which is a blackwater lake. The blackwater is full of sediments and nutrients because it floods into the forest during the rainy season. We saw a blue dacnis but were not able to get any great images. The image above is of the white-winged swallow.

More later.

- Gabby

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Water Scorpions! (Nathanael Gass)

Thought you had to go to Africa or some other exotic locations to see amazing creatures? Wrong. You can find some really bizzare and awesome animals in your own backyard.

This is one of the weirdest animals I have ever seen. It is an aquatic insect called a water scorpion. They resemble a praying mantis, but they live in the water. The long tube that comes out of their back it a snorkle that allows them to breathe underwater, and their long "arms" allow them to grasp fish and other prey items. They are pretty rare, and hard to spot. They rarely come out on land, so when I found this one out of water, I rushed to get my camera.

These guys can deliver a very painful bite, so I had to be careful. They aren't aggressive, but like any animal, if they are picked up they will bite.

Rainforest Visions (Gabby)

When I first dreamed of visiting the Amazon basin I dreamed of jaguars ducking behind buttress roots and sloths climbing slowly up the trees. I think this vision and fantasy came from a children's book I read about a great kapok tree when I was little. It was about one kapok tree and the many animals that called it home. When I first visited Amazonia I must admit that I was suprised by how few animals I saw - the snakes were elusive and mammals were nowhere to be seen. I read that the best way to see things was to actually use the bathroom in the woods and wait for insects (such as dung beetles) to arrive. Dung happens to attract many animals within the forest. I have tried this experiment and it does work, but I must say that despite the difficulty of finding things, when you do find them, they are like nothing you've ever seen. Moths hang upside-down to camouflage themselves and grasshoppers look like twigs. Many critters can only be seen with a keen eye. And, yes, it is the most incredible place.

- Gabby

Monkeys (Gabby)

Monkeys are one of the very first things people want to see upon coming to the jungle and one of the neatest things about the Los Amigos Station is the high occurence of the emperor tamarin. As you will see in the picture above this particular species has a very cute moustache. They are small and they are very fast at hopping around in the trees. They are often hanging around the station during the day and can be seen eating fruit from the ground. This tamarin was a bit more cooperative then some of its relatives. There are also squirrel monkeys, saki monkeys, and capuchins nearby. The howler monkeys have been making a racket but we have yet to see them. The capuchins actually try to pee on you sometimes and are quite agressive about throwing things from the trees.
- Gabby

Above the Canopy (Gabby)

Today it is raining again, but a few days ago I visited the canopy tower here at the station for sunrise and saw one of the most spectacular sunrises of my life. The sky turned a bright red and was covered in beautiful clouds. Then the light poured through the mist over the river creating a stunning show of rays through the fog. I was at the top of a 180 foot tower and it was a bit shaky becuase of the height. We climbed up a ladder that went straight up using harnesses to catch us if we fell. It was a very difficult climb with the camera equipment but totally worth it.

Using image stabilization I was able to get a few sharp shots. See below.

- Gabby

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Adventure (Gabby)

We are still in the Amazon basin and have been seeing many species of butterflies and insects. There has been tons of run despite the fact that it is not the rainy season. This has made it difficult to shoot because of the lack of light and because the humidity is really affecting the equipment. Yesterday we had quite an adventure - my companion Rick was stung by a wasp and ended up having a severe allergic reaction to the venom despite the fact that he is not allergic. He actually turned blue at one point and we had to take a team of 6 men to carry him out of the forest on a ladder/stretcher. He is fully recovered now but the symptoms ranged from a swollen tongue, lack of motor control, to a severe 6 hour headache. There are some scary things down here.

More soon!

- Gabby