Wildlife Photography

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Welcome to my web page for nature and wildlife photography. For over the last 30 years I have been taking people on trips and photographic workshops (we call them fun shops) around the world. This page has some of these trips, with a veterinary perspective. My veterinary degree has opened up doors on these trips that the average nature and wildlife photography does not. This has given me access to unique photos and a profound understanding of the nature world. I would like to share that with you.

Dr. P in Katmai National Park Alaska viewing coastal brown bears

Enjoying some brown bear viewing in Katmai National Park

If you ever join us on a trip you will learn advanced photography and get to use my professional Canon equipment on occasion. We have a ball, take tons of photos, eat like royalty, have a photo contest, give a prize to the best photo of the trip, and learn about a different culture.

I make a web page for the people that go on my trips so they can show off their photos to their friends.  Its not just a bunch of disparate pictures, its a travelog that explains each trip in detail (with a good dose of humor and laughing at ourselves sometimes). This is my version of photojournalism, and how I share my photography with others. Its a good way to educate people on what is going on in the world, particularly from the conservation point of view. You are always welcome to join us and get that special keeper you can print out and hang on your wall, or brag about at your next party.

Dr. P giving a slide show on his recent Africa trip on his big screen tv

For the people that go on my trips I put on a slide show showing off their trip to their friends on my large screen TV. This makes the pictures come to life, and when embellished just right, their friends who did not go on the trip wish they had.

I also give many presentations to public at libraries, community centers, and restaurants. Check our Facebook page for dates and locations

This page has detailed slide shows on the following trips we have already been on. There is lots here, so pace yourself. When you scroll down the page you can click on the links and see many more pictures:

  • Nomads of the Summer and the Golden Eagle Chicks
  • Mongolia and the Golden Eagles
  • Africa’s Lake Ndutu and the Selous
  • Photographer’s Africa
  • Orangutans of Borneo (2nd time)
  • Arctic trip for polar bears
  • Rwanda for gorillas
  • Serengeti National Park (3rd time) for the big cats
  • Hadzabe people of Tanzania
  • Galapagos
  • Tanzania
  • Antarctica
  • Wildebeest migration in Africa
  • Kodiak bears of Katmai National Park
  • Maneless lions of Tsavo National Park
  • Orangutans of Borneo
  • Black Rhino of Zimbabwe

Animals on the Decline

If you are a wildlife photographer you need to think about getting to Africa soon. The abundance of wildlife and the predator-prey relationship is the best on the planet. It is changing dramatically though, so you cannot wait and expect it to stay this way much longer.

A preview of what you can see on an African trip

A day in the life of a safari vehicle- 2 minute video

We start off at 6 AM, once the sun rises our guide, speaking in Swahili, calls other guides to see where the action is. For those of you not versed in Swahili, our guide is calling the other guides and asking if they have seen any lions this morning. They reported nothing so far, so he is telling them I need to find something interesting to show the guests, so keep me posted.

Eventually our vehicle spins out, one of the occupants shows how bouncy it is, we watch a video of the Serengeti while in the Serengeti, help another vehicle stuck in the mud, drive through a flooded road, and make it home before the sun sets. A typical day in the life of  safari vehicle.

Future Trips

Our next trip Africa trip, in September of 2017, will be to Botswana, with an optional add-on to Capetown to dive with the Great Whites. Contact me at vet@lbah.com if you are interested in joining us. Here is a Brochure!

 

Nomads of the Summer and the Golden Eagle Chicks

After our winter trip, which you can learn about below, we went back in the summer to continue filming of our documentary movie called “The Twelfth Eagle”

Kazakh nomad with his golden eagle

Mongolia-Land of the Golden Eagles

We are making a documentary video on the Kazakhs and their golden eagles

Kazakh nomad with his golden eagle hunting for fox

Africa’s Lake Ndutu and the Selous

Our 8th and best trip yet. Click on the photo below and enjoy the show.

African elephant in the Selous Tanzania

Photographer’s Africa

My 7th time in Africa, this time working hard finding those cheetah in action. Click on this female cheetah intent on dinner and watch her and her offspring in the age old conflict between predator and prey.

Female cheetah on the prowl in Serengeti National Park Tanzania

Back to Borneo

In October of 2012 I went back to Borneo after 21 year absence. I spent time at the Care Center working with orphaned baby orangutans and also went back to Camp Leakey.  Click on the photo below to see much more, and don’t miss the dozens of pictures of the babies.

Camp Leakey with orphan baby orangutan with Dr. P in Tanjung Putin National Park Borneo at the Orangutan Care Center Centre and Quarantine

Svalbard Polar Bears

The Arctic trip to see the polar bears and other marine mammals in Svalbard, Norway is one of the best wildlife trips on the planet. Put it on your bucket list. Click on the cute and cuddly guy below for lots more info on this trip.

Polar or ice bear smelling for seal food in Svalbard Norway above the Arctic circle

Rwanda and Serengeti

The Rwanda/Serengeti trip was my 6th to Africa and my first with gorillas. Click on the Silverback picture below to learn about this trip. There is also a link to my Serengeti trip with the big cats and my Tanzania trip with the Hadzabe hunters. 

Male silverback gorilla in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos trip was in March of 2010. Its a must see for anyone interested in the history of Charles Darwin and unique wildlife found no place else. Click on the picture to learn more.

Dr. P with giant Galapagos tortoise in the Galapagos Islands Ecuador reptile

Tanzania

In July of 2009 twenty of us (two groups of ten on sequential trips) went to Tanzania. Its the same trip I took 23 years ago, and it was tremendous to see it over again.

Click on the picture below for all the particulars.

Resting lioness female on a log in Serengeti National Park Tanzania

Antarctica

Our Feb 2008 Antarctica page is up and running- Click on the penguin photo below to get all the details.

Young Gentoo penguin chick molting in Antarctica

Kenya

Here are pictures from our Masai Mara trip in October of 2007. We have a detailed page on this trip. click on the wildebeest to get a detailed account of our trip.

Herding wildebeest blue gnu during migration in Masai mara Kenya and Serengeti National Park Tanzania

Bears of Katmai

This trip was in August of 2005. This coastal brown bear weighed over 1200 pounds according to our guide. We decided it was best not to bother him while he was dining. We went back in August of 2011, and plan on going back to Alaska every few years.

Male coastal brown bear grizzly at Halo Bay in Katmai Alaska fishing for and eating salmon

Lions of Tsavo

This was a research trip in Tsavo National Park. At the end of the trip we went to the Masai Mara. This is a maneless lion protecting his kill from us

Male lion with cape buffalo kill in Tsavo National Park Kenya railroad killers man eater

Orangutans of Borneo (1991)

This unbelievably interesting trip was in 1991. Back in those prehistoric days there was no concept of digital photography, so all of these photos, and the black rhino slide show that follows, are from slides that were scanned.

This orang had no problems showing us how she felt about our presence!

Camp Leakey Tanjung Puting National Park Borneo feeding rice and milk giving the finger

Black Rhino of Zimbabwe

This slide show gives you a good idea of the poaching problem and why it is impossible to stop. The problem is even worse now because of the rumor in Vietnam and China that powdered rhino horn cures cancer.

Endangered black rhino Hwange National Park Zimbabwe

Yellowstone National Park

 Click on the coyote picture below to learn about our trip in December of 2010 to see the wolves.

Coyote in Yellowstone National Park Wyoming in winter

Practice, practice, practice

If you want to get better at your photography you need to practice with your equipment and become very familiar with it. You might also want to join us on one of our trips or go on one of our wildlife and nature workshops (oops, funshops). People commonly ask me if they should purchase the new Canon 1Dx Mark II, Mark IV, 5D Mark III, 7D Mark II, 5Ds, 5D Mark II, Rebel, or Nikon D4, D3S, D3, etc. The most important thing though is not this equipment, it is to practice with the equipment you already have so its use becomes second nature. You need to be quick on the draw to get those wildlife photos, and that only comes with familiarity with your equipment.

Following are examples of practice photos I have taken at the Rose Bowl,  in my backyard, in a Harbor Springs in northern Michigan, and a wildlife refuge near my house called Bolsa Chica. I shoot frequently to keep my skills up, and nothing keeps your skills up better than to shoot fast moving birds (called birds in flight- BIF). They are a great way to practice your focusing skills and can be hard to expose properly when they are dark against a bright background.

Can you identify the following birds from Bolsa Chica?

Great blue heron resting in Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Anna's hummingbird feeding chick at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Grebe at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Female belted kingfisher eating a fish at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Great blue heron eating a gopher at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

The real challenge is catching the birds in action- this is called Birds in Flight (BIF)

Soaring female kestrel at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Yellow feet of snowy egret landing at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Black skimmer with fish in mouth returning from fishing at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Nesting great blue heron in palm trees at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Norther harrier with pigeon in talons at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Diving California brown pelican at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

Diving California brown pelicans at Bolsa Chica Conservancy Huntington Beach California

If you have a friend that is a falconer you can practice on these fast and erratically flying birds. Click on the photos to see a larger version.

Harris's hawk soaring over rabbit prey

Harris's hawk looking for prey of rabbits

These shots are from northern Michigan in a town called Harbor Springs.  It is oh so quaint (think of a Norman Rockwell painting),  and an outdoors and wildlife mecca

Snow in October at Hamlet Village condos in Harbor Springs northern Michigan

Autumn fall colors in downtown Harbor Springs church steeple northern Michigan

Autumn fall colors at horse barn in Harbor Springs northern Michigan

Male kestrel with mouse in Harbor Springs northern Michigan

Adirondack wooden chairs at sunset in downtown Harbor Springs in northern Michigan

Wooden adirondack chairs on a dock overlooking Lark's Lake Harbor Springs northern Michigan

Beautiful fall colors at chairlift at Nub's Nob ski area in Harbor Springs northern Michigan

Beautiful fall colors from the top of Nub's Nob ski area in Harbor Springs northern Michigan

Click on the following photos for a larger version

Whitetail deer buck partially hidden in bushes at the edge of the Maple river in Harbor Springs northern Michigan

Female elk staring at us surrounded by fall colors at Pigeon River State Forest in northern Michigan

Sandhill crane feeding in tall grass in northern Michigan

Extreme close up of great blue heron flying past us

Chipmunk feeding on rock in northern Michigan

Gorgeous white horse with fall colors in background in northern Michigan

Gorgeous fall colors surrounding lark's lake in northern Michigan

I recently came across a fox den with three kits. We will be setting up a trail cam to monitor their activity through the night.

Here is one of the little guys. Click on the photos to get a better look.

Fox pup staring at us from his den

Its parent kept an eye on me while it was getting enough food to feed 3 hungry stomachs

Adult red fox on the prowl in northern Michigan

Click the Osprey picture below to see lots more wildlife and scenery of northern Michigan

Osprey with fish in talons returning from a successful hunt


I have been invited to assist Peter Read Miller and his fellow Sports Illustrated photographers at the Rose Bowl. He is a Canon Explorers of Light member, along with other famous wildlife photographers like Art Wolfe, Frans Lanting, and Paul Nicklen. He has been on my African safari, and of course he brought back some awesome photos.

One of his more unique shots from the Masai Mara

Tawny eagle chasing Nubian vulture away from its nest

Here I am at the 2010 game hours before the fans show up. This is some of the equipment Peter uses during a game.

Dr. P sitting and smiling at the camera in the end zone with his camera equipment 4 hours before the Rose Bowl game

Things get a wee bit more crowded when the game starts

Professional photographers in the end zone shooting the Rose Bowl game

A few Rose Bowl shots I have taken over the years
USC's John David Booty with his arm cocked ready to throw at the Rose Bowl

University of Michigan safety trying to stop USC receiver from catching the ball at the Rose Bowl

Vince Young scoring a touchdown at the College Football championship game vs USC at the Rose Bowl

My Equipment

My current wildlife camera is the Canon 1Dx Mark II.  So far the autofocus and frame rate have convinced me that this is the camera for me.

These photos from this camera are some of the thousands I took in Mongolia working with the nomads and their golden eagles (click on them for larger versions)

Kazakh nomad riding his horse while training his golden eagle

Kazakh nomad riding his horse while training his golden eagle

Kazakh nomad riding his horse while training his golden eagle

Golden eagle soaring after rabbit after being launched from his Kazakh master falconer

Golden eagle soaring after rabbit after being launched from his Kazakh master falconer

Golden eagle soaring after rabbit after being launched from his Kazakh master falconer

Golden eagle soaring after rabbit after being launched from his Kazakh master falconer

Golden eagle hovering over rabbit after being launched from his Kazakh master falconer

The ultimate test for autofocus and freezing wildlife in action is fast flying birds (BIF). They don’t get much faster and erratic than a black skimmer returning from feeding as it streaks past your vantage point on a windy day at Bolsa Chica.

Click on the photo for a larger version

Black skimmer streaking by at Bolsa Chica Conservancy in Huntington Beach CA

I use the Canon 7D Mark II as a backup camera and when I need more reach.. The 1.6X FOV crop factor will be highly beneficial in adding focal length to my 500 mm lens. I also have the Canon 400MM D. O. version II lens. Its light weight compared to my 500 will be highly advantageous.

My friend Les took this bear shot with the 1Dx and 500mm

Face shot of coastal brown bear in Katmai Alaska tearing into a salmon

I also use the Canon 5D Mark III. I took it to the Arctic for the polar bear trip and also the Borneo trip. It does not have the frame rate or autofocus of the 1DX, but is suffices in almost all situations except for the wildlife moving at a high rate of speed in an erratic manner. For the price it is a winner.

Here it is with the 100 mm macro lens I use at work for our surgery pictures. In most cases I use it with the 24-105 mm f/4 IS lens.

Canon 5D Mark III with macro lens

Lenses

The most important part of your purchase in a digital SLR camera setup is the lens. You should budget for a high quality lens before the camera body. All too often a nice camera is used with a mediocre lens, negating the potential of the camera. Canon makes a series of nice consumer grade lenses. The 75-300, 100-300, 28-135, 55-250, and the 18-55 all give you a nice picture.

If you want to get the most out of your expensive camera you need to upgrade to Canon’s L series of lenses. This is their professional lens series, and will give you pictures of better quality. You will notice the following lenses all have a red ring around the front of the lens. This denotes Canon’s professional series lenses, and are also called “L series” lenses in the Canon world. When it comes to lenses, the axiom “you get what you pay for”, certainly applies.

If there is a green ring around the lens it is one of Canon’s DO (Diffractive Optics) lenses. This makes them lighter. I have the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II lens. It is awesome, and I use it when weight is a factor. It works especially well with my Canon 7D Mark II, because I get the equivalent of 640 mm due to the 1.6X FOV crop factor with the 7D Mark II.

Lenses can be a fixed focal length or a zoom.The fixed focal length lenses (also called prime lenses) sometimes produce a higher quality photo. An example of a popular prime lens is 300 mm. This is equivalent to 6x binoculars. It is not a zoom, it is fixed at 300mm, and you have to personally move farther or closer to your subject if you need to change the composition.

Sometimes this is easily remedied by changing the fixed focal length lens rapidly to one of more or less magnification. This  assumes you have the money to purchase several lenses, the inclination to carry them around, and the time to change them on your camera. In a dusty environment like Africa, removing the lens from the camera when you are changing it can cause problems for the camera by letting dust inside. I must admit to missing many a good picture while changing one of these lenses because the wildlife action does not stop while you are changing lenses.

The zoom lenses are more flexible, and you won’t miss as many photos because now you can zoom in and out and not have to personally move to change the composition. Since most of us are not shooting for professional publications and don’t need that extra minor difference in quality, the quality of the zoom lenses will more than suffice and will yield amazing photos.

The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS USM
Canon 70-300mm zoom lens

This has the potential to be an outstanding wildlife lens, although you might need more reach at times. This has the advantage of being able to travel  lighter and still get great photos as compared to bringing several lenses. It is a compromise at the wide angle side and the telephoto side, but it focuses instantly, produces a tremendous quality photo, and has the latest image stabilization. You might want to give it a test before you get too involved with lots of expensive and heavy wildlife lenses. This is not the lightest lens in the Canon arsenal. Don’t underestimate the importance of weight when you are trudging for hours with heavy camera equipment in rough terrain.

 

Canon 200-400 f/4  Image Stabilized (IS) with built in 1.4X teleconverter

It is a popular lens with professional wildlife photographers. If you don’t mind the expense, this one lens can cover a wide range of possibilities. Its big and heavy, so start doing your arm exercises before you purchase one.

Canon 70-200mm f/4  Image Stabilized (IS)

This lightweight and relatively inexpensive zoom lens will cover a wide range of photographic needs. It is  recommended for general travel photography and takes great photos. If you can only purchase one lens for all your photographic needs this is the one if weight is important and you are not shooting wildlife at a distance.

The lens can keep an aperture of  f/4 all the way from 70 mm to its maximum of 200 mm. This differentiates it from a consumer grade lens, and is consistent across the Canon line of “L” series zoom lenses. It does not have enough focal length for wildlife photography in general, it is a compromise for someone needing a lens for general purpose photography and the above Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS USM is too heavy and expensive.

The f/2.8 version of this lens is even better, as long as you are OK with the added weight and cost. This is the one I bring on my trips.


Canon 24-105mm f/4 Image Stabilized (IS)

This relatively lightweight wide angle zoom has great image quality when you need to get a wide field of view. I used it often on my Tsavo trip, Antarctica trip and in Galapagos. Whenever I am shooting I always leave the house with this lens, no matter which camera I have or my subject matter. It is awesome on the 5D, 5D II, 5DMark III, and 1Ds Mark III because it gives you a wide angle, yet it can zoom to 105 mm.


Canon 135mm f/2.0

This very high quality prime lens is used when you want pictures of tremendous sharpness. I use it for many of my portrait shots. It excels in low light situations because of its f/2.0 aperture. When you are using flash at night the big aperture gives it more power to illuminate further in the distance. If you are photographing wildlife with a cluttered background this large aperture lens allows you to blur the background and eliminate the distracting clutter.

The  photo at the top of this page with the lion over the cape buffalo was taken with this lens. It was a night shot, and since we didn’t dare get too close to this lion and his kill, I had to shoot from a distance that was at the maximum range of my flash.

Having the larger aperture (f/2.0) of this lens gave me enough flash power to get the photo properly exposed. Many of the gorilla shots were with this lens because we were in the darkness of the jungle and were not allowed to use flash. This lens saved the day on this trip. It is also great at concerts, museums, churches and plays when flash is not allowed.


This is a good time to touch on flash photography. If you are interested in wildlife or sports photography you need a good external flash. I keep mine available at all times when I am shooting, even in daylight. I use professional external flashes (also called strobes) on all my workshops and will teach everyone how to use it in daylight and evening. When you want additional reach, and are using a lens of 300mm or longer, the Better Beamer will help extend your reach.

The primary flash is use is the 600 EX. It has significant power to reach those elusive animals that hide in trees and bushes

One of those elusive night creatures you can surprise with a flash like this and a good lens.  Do you know what this creature is?

Night shot of Genet cat in a tree in Africa


Canon 400 mm f/5.6

This prime lens has great image quality and is relatively light for 400 mm compared to the other telephoto lenses. Its a great wildlife lens when you are walking around and weight is a factor. When coupled with the 20D / 30D / 40D / 50D /  60D / 7D or Rebel series it is equivalent to a 640 mm lens on a 35 mm camera. It is not image stabilized, which might be a problem in low light if your camera does not take noise free pictures at higher ISO’s. It goes with me on all my trips and workshops because of the image quality and light weight for 400 mm.

Here is an example of a handheld shot with the 400 capturing a Forster’s tern streaking by

Forester's tern soaring over fish at Bolsa Chica Conservancy in Huntington Beach CA


Canon 300 mm f/2.8  IS II

Optically speaking professional photographers feel this is the finest lens in the Canon arsenal. It is highly prized for outdoor sports photography because it focuses rapidly, the large aperture can blur the background and the pictures it produces are outstanding. Version II of this lens is possible the best lens Canon manufacturers.

Lenses like this one, and the following one, take practice to learn how to use them properly. They are larger than the lenses most people are used to, and need steady support like a tripod or monopod in many cases, although you can hand hold the 300 mm easily for short periods of time. Keep in mind that 300 mm is oftentimes not enough power for wildlife, and this lens is commonly used with the 1.4X teleconverter to make up for this deficiency. I used this lens on the Antarctica trip to take the picture of the whale tails.  I also used this lens to take the hummingbird picture above.

Reddish Egret taken with this lens and a 1.4X TC

Reddish egret looking for fish in the water at Bolsa Chica Conservancy in Huntington Beach CA


 

Canon 500 mm f/4  IS II

This is my current wildlife lens of choice, sometimes used with the 1.4X teleconverter.  It will set you back over $10K. Prior to this, and for most of the photos on this web page as of 2012, I used version I of this lens. I used the 500mm it for all my wildlife work when I am was not hiking, in which case I used the 400 mm f/5.6 described above. I also purchased it so all of the attendees of the Yellowstone and Africa trips and workshops can get a chance to use such a superb wildlife lens.

If you are going to Africa and want to come back with outstanding photos this is a great lens, not matter which version you use. I sometimes use it with a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and a Wimberely or sidekick head. This tripod is light, very strong, and can easily hold the weight of this lens. The Wimbereley head makes the lens “float” on the tripod, and is a joy to use. When I travel with it I bring a lightweight Gitzo tripod and use an Arca Swiss ballhead and the Wimberely Sidekick.

Canon also makes a 600 mm lens, which some would argue is the wildlife lens of choice. Plan on spending $13K for a new version! To me the 500 mm is a much better compromise in size, weight, power, and cost. Don’t forget how important weight can become as they day goes on, especially if you are walking with this lens, a heavy camera, and even a tripod over your shoulder.  Canon also makes an 800 mm f/5.6 lens. I have used it and it is awesome for wildlife. I used it extensively for the polar bear photos. A new one is $13K, a used one goes for $11K.  Since most people find this just a little bit outside their budget, we will stick with the 500 mm.

I brought the 500 on all my Africa trips for everyone to use. It has Image Stabilization (IS) so you can hand hold it on occasion, although a tripod or steady support are recommended. We will almost always be using it from the Land Rover without a tripod since we can easily steady it (as long as the other people in the vehicle are not moving around) with a bean bag. You can see this if you link to the 2007 Masai Mara page.

Striped Kingfisher taken with the 500

Close up of striped kingfisher in Africa


 Canon 100 mm f/2.8 macro

For closeup (called macro) photography you need a specialized lens. I use the Canon 100 mm f/2.8. You will need to practice with this lens because focusing can be difficult due to the limited depth of field. A tripod is highly recommended.

Here is my 5D Mark III with a macro lens attached to a ring flash

RIngFlash1

Flash is important in macro photography. One of the best ones regarding portability, ease of use, and cost, is a ring flash.

RingFlash2

This type of lens lets you bring to life a world we rarely notice. With the flowers swaying in the wind and the insect constantly moving you need to practice if you want any keepers.

Macro photography can be lots of fun

Close up of baby frog hanging on to a human thumb

I use the macro lens for most of my photography at the Long Beach Animal Hospital.