Dolphins in the Trees

Amazon River Dolphin underwater, Brazil

KUOW, the Seattle NPR affiliate, is running a ten-minute piece today on my Amazon River Dolphin story for National Geographic. I will talk about the assignment, the highs, the lows, the challenge of story-telling - and the scary things that swim in the water. As a photographer, I find it a little unsettling not to have pictures available when I talk, so we will have to see how it translates to radio! Have a listen at:

If you miss the initial broadcast, don't worry - it will be archived at this site forever, I'm told...

This image, meanwhile, was the opening shot of the NG story, largely because it encapsulated the entire notion of dolphins living in the treetops. It was NOT an easy shot to get, since it involved keeping the camera housing half-in and half-out of the water, and composing both for the trees in the background and a dolphin that was constantly in motion. I probably took a hundred similar images, but none worked as well as this. In the end, it was the slight curve of the body, and the little curl of the wave that made this one stand out. The best pictures often hinge on the smallest, unplanned detail.

Nikon D200 in Sea & Sea Housing



    This is a beautiful image. I really enjoy wildlife images that include a bit of the animal’s native habitat. I think too often we get those familiar tight shots of an animal’s face. Those can be interesting as well, but I feel as if the environmental shots are better at telling a story not only about the animal, but about the world in which it lives.

    I also appreciate it when you post the gear used for your images. By today’s standards, the D200 would be pretty “primitive”, yet the quality of this image from both a technical and artistic standpoint speaks for itself. It’s something people should keep in mind as they quibble about, nitpick at, and lust after the latest and greatest gear. Good technique, artistic vision and perseverance are what matter most of all.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Paul, which are right on target on several counts. First, when I got the NG assignment, the editors made it VERY clear that they wanted to see habitat: no good doing a story about “dolphins in the trees” without showing those trees, especially because this is what sets these animals apart from all other cetaceans. As a result, I worked long and hard to find ways to show the dolphins in context. This one worked so well that it ended up leading off the final story in the magazine.
    As for the equipment, I used the D200 (despite owning newer cameras) simply because I had the housing for it. I simply cannot afford to go out and buy a new housing for every new camera model that comes down the pike; it’s hard enough to avoid buying a new camera body every six months. My strategy is to skip a model # or two and use the cameras I have until there is a MAJOR breakthrough in technology. (I bought the D3 when it came out because the high ISO capability made pictures possible where they were not before.) Yes, the new stuff is always seductive, but you’re right – it’s rarely the model of camera that makes a picture sing.

Leave a Reply

Main Menu