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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Wildlife Photojournalist

With a doctorate in biology and an eye for rich biodiversity, Tim Laman’s extraordinary wildlife photography is captivating and raises awareness about the complex ecosystems he shoots

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An adult male Bornean orangutan eats ginger stems while keeping an eye on the female he has been following. Laman’s experience and patience were rewarded in this expressive image.

A rhinoceros hornbill male carrying a mouse to the nest.
New England-based photographer Tim Laman has climbed to the top of his field both figuratively and literally. His pioneering research in the rain-forest canopy in Borneo led to a Ph.D. from Harvard and, in 1997, his first of many articles for National Geographic. His training as a field biologist has allowed him to go deeper into his subjects’ lives. He believes that awareness through photography can have a positive impact on the conservation movement. In recognition of his efforts, in 2009, NANPA presented Laman with the prestigious Outstanding Nature Photographer Award.

Outdoor Photographer: What’s a “day in the life” like on an assignment?

To get the shot, one needs to know the habits of the animal. Here, a tarsier enjoys a meal of a cockroach at night.
Tim Laman: Let’s assume I’ve already made the four- to five-day journey from home in the U.S. to my field location in a rain-forest camp in New Guinea somewhere. This might have involved two days of international travel and another day of domestic flights. Then after a day of buying food and repacking, a Cessna flight to a remote airstrip is followed by a hike in with local porters to a field campsite. Let’s also assume we’ve already spent several days scouting, and my biologist colleague or local guides have helped me find the display site of the bird I want to photograph. I also spent a day shooting a fishing line over a tree near the display site with a bow and arrow, pulling up climbing ropes and working for several hours in the canopy, building a blind. When it came time for shooting, this would typically involve waking up at around 4:00 a.m., having a quick bite to eat and hiking a half hour in the dark with perhaps a couple of porters helping carry gear to my blind tree. Then after climbing my rope with ascenders in the dark, hauling a bag of camera gear below me, I would get in my blind and get set up before it gets light and the birds start arriving around 6:00 a.m. Now let’s say this is a species that just displays in the mornings. I’d spend three or four hours in the blind, which is really nothing more than a frame of short poles or a couple of boards lashed between branches that I can sit on with a pad, surrounded by camouflaged cloth and netting. I get lucky, and the males actually come and display that day and I get some shots, but unfortunately, no females come. I really want to get a female visit, so I’ll be back for several more days. Since this is a morning displaying bird, I head down the tree in the late morning after the activity dies down. Then in the midday and afternoon, I usually have other plans.

A cormorant flies near a cliff at sunrise. Not all wildlife photos need to be tight portraits. This dramatic silhouette shows the cormorant in its environment.
Once an expedition is in full swing, I usually have three or more blinds for different species going. I have local scouts working with me and I check on their scouting reports from the morning. During the midday, I hike around to look at the photographic potential at different locations and decide where to construct blinds. One of the bird species I’m trying to photograph is also usually active in the afternoon, so on my typical day, after lunch and perhaps a short nap at camp, I’d hike out to another blind and spend several more hours photographing. Heading back to camp at dark, I’d have a wash in the river, eat some dinner and download the day’s take on my laptop. I usually hit the sack by 9:00 p.m. An example of an image shot like this is the Red Bird of Paradise doing its inverted display.


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