Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Flowers don't last forever

Buttercup Meadow, Bothell, Washington

This week, I said goodbye to Buttercup Meadow. Most of the time, the name sounds prettier than the actual meadow is, but for a few weeks a year, it is a truly glorious place. Or at least it was.

The land — all land — is changing constantly. It’s something I’m well aware of and actually celebrate as a nature photographer. I strive to create images that capture one unique moment of time, whether that’s because of weather, changing seasons or longer term geologic effects.

A few years ago, Outdoor Photography magazine used one of my images of Mount St. Helens to illustrate this. On May 17, 1980, the Cascade volcano had a perfect cone. One day later, a third of the mountain was missing. Change happens.

Buttercup Meadow is now also an example of dramatic change. As I drove by it this week, backhoes and dump trucks were on it, reshaping it, covering it.

On some level, I’m not surprised. While I’ve called it a meadow, more people see it as an empty field between a chain drug store and a stormwater retention pond.

I’m a little sad, but I also understand. Over just the next decade, the world’s population is forecast to grow by 1 billion people, the fastest growth rate we have ever seen. It took about 200,000 years for the Earth’s human population to even reach 1 billion. In barely 100 years, we’ve grown by 6 billion more.

These new people need housing. They need places to buy groceries. They need drugstores. I get that an isolated meadow in the middle of a rapidly-growing area is a luxury we can no longer afford.

I don’t want this to be a sob story, however. Instead, as I saw the crews at work, I was reminded of that Outdoor Photographer article that I mentioned earlier. The point that author made was that things are always changing and we need to learn to appreciate today. What’s here today may not be here tomorrow.

I had driven by the meadow numerous times before I stopped to make the image at the top of this post. And this image is from the only time that I’ve ever photographed it.

While the buttercup flowers are a nuisance in one’s lawn, I think they are absolutely gorgeous when they form a golden carpet that stretches across the land. But the first few years I lived nearby, I drove by during the bloom, even though I knew this would be a great place to photograph. Maybe the weather wasn’t right. Maybe I was rushed for time. Maybe I just didn’t feel inspired that day.

On the day I made this image, though, I do remember being inspired. I was on my way to the grocery store and I saw clouds forming over the meadow. It looked like there was a break on the western horizon and I was hopeful the towering clouds would turn vivid red at sunset. The bright yellow flowers were at their peak. Add in the greens and the blues, with such intense, contrasting colors, I knew there was a stunning image to be made there.

I did my shopping, went home, grabbed my camera and returned to make this image. It was even better than what I imagined.

As I watched the crew digging up the meadow a few months before it would have bloomed again, I considered myself lucky — lucky that I eventually stopped making excuses and photographed it while I still had a chance.

The meadow may be gone now, but I will always have this image. And I hope it will always be a reminder to me that if I’m inspired by a scene, but am wondering if I have time to stop, the answer should always be, “yes.”

(Learn more about Kevin Ebi's newest book, Living Wilderness, the first comprehensive portfolio of his fine-art images and download a free preview. Follow his photography on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The legend of Crater Lake

The Legend of Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

There have always been stories about the origin of the land and the life that calls it home. Before there was science, those stories came from imagination and spirituality. In this series, I have created contemporary nature photography to illustrate those early Legends of the Land. Read more about the series here.

 

The spirits of the Earth and Sky used to be closer to us than they are today. While they lived deep below ground or way beyond the clouds, they would visit us from time to time. We could see them, walk with them, talk to them.

They are powerful gods, but we usually had no reason to fear them. They were friendly and often used their power to help us. But they were still sometimes controlled by their emotions. One of those emotions — jealousy — led to a particularly dark time.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Announcing my next photography project

Typically when I share a project with you, it’s nearing completion. Or at least I’m sure it will be completed. This time, I’m bringing you into a project early, although in some ways, this isn’t exactly the early stages.

I’ve been working on Legends of the Land for going on 10 years now. It was to have been my very first photography book. Today, I’m not even sure it will be my fifth.

It’s not that I’m not fond of this project. In fact, I find it even more interesting and inspiring than I did 10 years ago. The issue is that it has required far more time and resources than any other project I’ve ever attempted. Keep in mind I spent three years watching a bald eagle nest.

The idea is this:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hands on with the Canon 100-400 IS Mark II

Spotted Towhee on Branch, Spring, Snohomish County, Washington
Captured with a Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L Mark II, and a Canon Extender EF 1.4X Mark III

I spend relatively little time on this blog talking about equipment — I’m drawn more to the art than the mechanics — but there’s no denying that equipment plays a critical role. The wrong equipment can limit your creative vision. Bad equipment can cause you to miss the shot entirely.

With that in mind, I thought I would share some of my thoughts about the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, which I’ve been using for about two months now. You won’t find test charts and studio comparison scenes here. There are plenty of those already that are produced under very controlled conditions. This is a Canon 100-400 Mark II review in the context of how it has performed for me as a professional nature photographer in real-world situations, which includes handling and other features that make a difference in my work.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

That's not art, or is it?

Beam, Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

There’s been a lot of talk lately in nature photography circles about what constitutes art. This discussion comes up every so often, but this latest round was spawned by what seems to be an absolutely amazing accomplishment from one of our own — not that many of his fellow nature photographers want to claim him.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best images of 2014

As another year draws to a close, it's time to look back on my favorite images of the past 12 months. It's an exercise I've been doing in some form or another for virtually my entire time as a nature photographer. When I'm down, looking back can be inspiring. It can also help me see if I'm in a rut and challenge me to go in a more creative direction next year.

This year, it's an especially interesting exercise, given that I spent much of the year looking back over my entire career. My new book, Living Wilderness, is a fine-art portfolio of all my work so far. To produce it, I had to comb through nearly 15 years of work to select fewer than 150 standout images that could still work together.

I also traveled less than I usually do. But that just made me work harder close to home. In fact, two of my favorite images came from the yard around my house.

So here they are, my 10 favorite images and why (you can click or tap on any image to enlarge it):

Night Sky Over Palm Trees, Makena Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Brainstorming on ice

Oak Leaf Impression on Ice, Snohomish County, Washington

People say one key difference between the amateurs and the professional photographers is that the professionals take a lot more pictures. That may be true, but there's another difference. The extra images are typically part of a creative exercise; they aren't random shots.

Ansel Adams once remarked that every now and then he arrived on a scene "just when God's ready for someone to click the shutter." I've had my share of images like that, but more often, I have to work at it.

For me, the process works a bit like this: Something strikes my eye, and I keep refining the composition until the image consists only of the essence of what drew me.