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Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Saving Wildlife & Land With A Digital Camera

Carlton Ward uses photography to share Gabon's biodiversity with the world

Saving wildlifeImagine having the opportunity to photograph in wildlife-rich Gabon in Central Africa. You'll be in the company of scientists, specialists in areas including entomology, botany and ornithology. Then, add the chance to create your images using high-end digital SLRs, an assortment of quality lenses and lighting gear. It sounds ideal.

Although photographer Carlton Ward experienced all this, he also contended with unpredictable weather and elusive wildlife. He faced flash floods, time constraints and agitated gorillas. Finally, he dealt with scientists who couldn't understand why he was taking so long to take a picture. Yet this complex mix of opportunities and challenges resulted in a compiled digital library of more than 10,000 photographs, 600 of which were published in The Edge of Africa (Hylas Publishing, ISBN: 1-59258-040-8), a documentation and exploration of one of Africa's most biodiverse environments.

The Digital Difference
"Digital photography revolutionized the process," says Ward, who explains that although film was used in the project, digital technology expanded the possibilities of what could be achieved. "We used it to publish weekly illustrated field notes that were distributed by e-mail around the world to collaborators and scientists who were abroad. In addition, I tethered my Nikon D1x to my laptop using Nikon Capture software and was able to instantly view the results on the screen."

The ability to quickly download and view the images served as more than confirmation that Ward had gotten the shot. The data in the software provided important technical information that allowed for adjustments in exposure, white balance and lighting. It also was a means for communicating with his scientific collaborators.

Says Ward, "This was helpful for my technique, but more importantly, it allowed the scientists to confirm whether or not I had captured essential characteristics for the identification of the animals." It turned out to be especially important because huge amounts of data needed to be compiled in a limited amount of time.

"Instantly seeing beautiful pictures was a morale booster in camp," adds Ward. "It made it possible to create engaging slideshows for the local communities."


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