Visionary Wild, LLC • 2200 19th St. NW, Ste 806, Washington, DC 20009

E-mail: info@visionarywild.com    •    Tel: 1-202-558-9596 (9am to 6pm, EST).    •    Justin Black’s iPhone: 1-202-302-9030

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Safari Update

Sikio, Morani, and Scarface (from left to right). Photo by Justin Black (Nikon D4, 400mm f/2.8 AF-S)

 

On our recent safari in east Africa’s Maasai Mara / Serengeti ecosystem, we encountered three very special lions – Sikio, Morani, and Scarface (as viewed left to right above). These powerful brothers are the leaders of the Marsh Pride, made famous in BBC’s Big Cat Diary documentaries. They had crossed the Mara River to follow the bounty of the wildebeest herds, and made most of their foray into “foreign” territory by mating with the lionesses of the Oloololo Pride.

One morning, we spotted Morani returning to a tree they seemed to use as a rallying point, carrying a young wildebeest that had likely been taken down by one of three lionesses that followed close behind him.

Morani struts and scent marks after stealing a wildebeest from the lioness in the background.

 

After setting his stolen prize in the shade of the tree, Morani strutted, scent-marking the tree with an expression on his face that gave the impression of immense self-approval. One of the lionesses used this moment of apparent distraction to sneak in and attempt to snatch the kill away, but Morani chased her off. While the big male continued carrying on, she sat across a small ravine, glaring at him.

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To watch this drama unfold just a few meters away was a tremendous honor.

In June 2015, Visionary Wild returns to this incredible savannah ecosystem for Serengeti: A Dream of Wild Africa – an all-inclusive luxury photo safari led by Roy Toft and Justin Black. We hope you can join us! 
All photos © 2014 Justin Black, made with Nikon D810 and D4 cameras, Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 and 70-200/4 lenses

Special Trips: High Sierra and Africa

Moonset at sunrise over Moonlight Lake and Picture Peak, High Sierra, California, by Justin Black

On occasion, we offer special photo expeditions outside of the “regularly scheduled programming” listed in the Workshops section of this website.

High Sierra Mule Pack Trip

This September 20-26, we are offering a photo trip into the beautiful alpine High Sierra backcountry west of Bishop, California, for a small group of nine participants. The instructors on this trip are renowned Sierra Nevada landscape photographer Jim Stimson, and Visionary Wild’s Justin Black. Our good friends Mike and Tess Anne Morgan of Bishop Pack Outfitters will support the trip with expert mule packing service to carry all our gear into and out of the mountains, and guided riding mules to carry us! Our expert backcountry chef and camp manager will take care of meals so we can focus on photography. CLICK HERE for more information from our online newsletter.

“The Sierra Nevada has been my backyard and playground for over 35 years. There are few landscapes on the planet that are so gloriously appointed with soaring granite spires, crystal clear lakes, vibrant green meadows, rich beds of flowers, and autumn splashes of color, so I consider myself very fortunate to call the Range of Light my home. I enjoy the inspiring challenge of photographing the grand landscape or the intimate details at my feet. It’s one of the best places I can think of for an adventure with a camera.” –Jim Stimson

African Safari: Etosha – Chobe – Victoria Falls

June 3-20, 2013, we are offering a wildlife-oriented African Safari led by Justin Black for an even more intimate group of five photographers to visit Etosha National Park in Namibia, Chobe National Park in Botswana, Victoria Falls, and cheetah and white rhino preserves in South Africa. As of June 30th, 2012, only two spaces remain available. Our group will work with some of the best guides in the business and will use new, heavily customized safari vehicles at Etosha, and a highly specialized six-seat photo boat on the Chobe River. These platforms offer the best photographer positions available anywhere in Africa, with each photographer having his or her own 360-degree rotating photo chair with 360-degree revolving camera mounts that make working with big lenses a breeze. To top it off, we’re providing loan of big glass through Nikon South Africa, so you don’t have to lug it to Africa with you. CLICK HERE for more information.

Expedition Report: Arizona Overland

Around the campfire, Visionary Wild Arizona Overland Expedition. © Justin Black

 There is nothing like exploring sublime landscapes with a group of friends who share a love for photography and wide open spaces. Immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday, Jack Dykinga, Jeff Foott, and I led a week-long overland photo expedition with nine other passionate photographers, visiting some stunning backcountry areas in northern Arizona. As the guest of a gracious Navajo elder, we first explored and photographed a very special location characterized by dramatic red rock sandstone hoodoos and dinosaur footprints 200 million years old. We then traversed over twenty miles of sandy 4WD jeep trails to one of our very favorite Colorado Plateau locations, a photographer’s paradise of swirling petrified sand dunes, intimate abstract designs, and grand vistas overlooking the Grand Staircase leading down to the Grand Canyon. Our merry band was joined by Chris Collard, Editor-in-Chief of Overland Journal magazine, Laurie Rubin of Nik Software, and Tom Hanagan of Four Wheel Campers.

Visionary Wild photographers, Arizona Overland Expedition. © Chris Collard

 The days were so full of photographic opportunities that many of us had to force ourselves to take a break in order to get some food and a nap, and the photography didn’t end at dusk. Working by the light of our headlamps, we set up Nikons with MC-36 intervalometers to shoot five-hour multi-exposure star trail images, the results of which can be seen in Jack Dykinga’s stunning image in the gallery below.  After a week of intense photography and fulfilling camaraderie, we exchanged hugs, said our farewells, and set off toward home.

The Arizona Overland Expedition was a prototype, testing a model for more overland adventures to come. Stay tuned for exciting overland trips in 2012.

–Justin Black

Here are some highlights submitted by the group.

Evening light on hoodoo garden, Navajo Nation, Arizona. © Julie Furber

Colorado Plateau, northern Arizona. © Sean Stuchen

© Sean Stuchen

© Ed Kenney

"The Beast." © Laurie Rubin

© Wally Reichert

Teamwork while photographing 200-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. © Chris Collard

Dilophosaurus dinosaur tracks, 200 million years old. © Jack Dykinga

Hoodoos beneath the Milky Way. © Jack Dykinga

Colorado Plateau details. © Jack Dykinga

Petrified sand dune sculpture, Colorado Plateau, Arizona. © Justin Black

Morning on the Colorado Plateau, Arizona. © Justin Black

 

Hoodoos in last light, Navajo Nation, Arizona. © Justin Black

Moon over hoodoos, Navajo Nation, Arizona. © Justin Black

Sandstone sculpture, Colorado Plateau, Arizona. © Justin Black

Petrified sand dune detail, Colorado Plateau. © Jeff Foott

Eroded sandstone "fins," Colorado Plateau. © Jeff Foott

Visionary Wild Arizona Overland Expedition. © Chris Collard

Iceland Expedition Video

Visionary Wild instructor, Polar explorer Chris Linder produced this stunning video featuring his photographs from his latest expedition to Iceland this past August with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute researchers. Chris and landscape photographer Justin Black will lead a photo expedition for nine passionate photographers August 12-19, 2012, which will visit Iceland’s puffin colonies, coastal landscapes, glaciers, iceberg-filled bays, and dramatic volcanic interior. Click here for more information about this exciting expedition!

Jack Dykinga Interview Slideshow

Jack Dykinga on Mark Godfrey Selects

Nature Conservancy Director of Photography Mark Godfrey recently interviewed Visionary Wild instructor Jack Dykinga for this multimedia slideshow featuring some of Jack’s best work.

Iceland: Expedition Scouting


Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) at Laetrabjarg in the Westfjords

Polar explorer and photographer Chris Linder traveled to Iceland In mid-August with a group of fellow Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute associates, in part to scout locations for next year’s Visionary Wild expedition, tentatively scheduled for August 19 – 26, 2012. In the following report from the field, Chris has kindly shared his thoughts and a few images from the trip. Watch for details about the 2012 Iceland Expedition in the coming weeks.

Misty mountains in Snaefellssnes National Park

Scouting Iceland

or… In the land of Gore-Tex and Speedos

by Chris Linder

As I lounged in a geothermally heated river watching the last rays of sunlight play across tan and maroon rhyolite hills in the Icelandic highlands, I pondered how to characterize a workshop here without resorting to the “fire and ice” cliché.  Even after multiple visits to Iceland’s most photogenic destinations over the last ten years, I was about to concede defeat: the cliché has its merits.

Rhyolite hills at Landmannalaugar

Iceland sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart.  This causes the “fire”—geothermally active areas comprise nearly a third of Iceland’s land area (including the soothing pool I was relaxing in).  This geothermal activity, manifested in steaming fumaroles, spurting geysers, and bubbling mudpots, is one reason why the Icelandic landscape has such an otherworldly beauty.  Couple this heat with the “ice”—sprawling glaciers like Vatnajökull (the largest ice cap in Europe) and iceberg-filled lagoons, and there you have it…  In my humble opinion, one of the most photogenic countries in the world.

Crevassed glacier ice at Kverkfjall

This scouting trip was an intensive journey through nearly all of Iceland’s landscapes, from puffin-encrusted cliffs in the Westfjords to the remote and rugged Highlands.  With our trusty Jeep Cherokee, my companions and I drove many kilometers of two-track and forded more rivers than I can count – most routes through the Highlands are not bridged.

Crossing a river on the way to Landmannalaugar

14,000 photographs later, I’m ready to plan out an adventure in August 2012 for a select group of photographers to my favorite places in Iceland.  Stay tuned to the Visionary Wild site for more details.

Lake Öskjuvatn in the Askja caldera

So what to do about the cliché?  As I watched bathers scamper across the boardwalk to the hot spring under a spattering of cold rain, a thought came to mind: land of Gore-Tex and Speedos?  I think I’ll have to keep working on it….

Bioluminescence on the Sonoma Coast, by Jerry Dodrill

Bioluminescence

For years I’ve heard unbelievable stories about people’s surreal night time experiences in the ocean with glowing plankton blooms, but until recently I’d never seen it myself. The tip off came from Ellen Cruz, a friend from Bodega Bay who sent a note about an experience she’d just had on the Sonoma County coast: 

…the ocean was illuminated as if under a black light…so awesome, cannot describe in words…no need to drop acid on this one…every white particle of wave was iridescent, florescent, glowing like you can’t believe…step on the sand and your footprint glows and sparkles… there were banks of waves coming in, white caps in the distance just glowed, and when the waves connected it was elongated strips of fluorescent green stripes across the water… whew…

This strange oceanic occurrence is likely the root of ghost stories told by early sailors who saw the mysterious green fire in the water but failed to comprehend what they were seeing. Documented as far back as 500 B.C., most bioluminescent light occurs in tiny plants called dinoflagellates which live in the sea and gain energy from the photosynthesis of sunlight. In darkness they emit a blue light in response to movement within the water. The intensity of the light peaks about two hours after dark and is simply amazing to watch. During the day they turn red and can be the source of the neurotoxin that poisons shell fish during Red Tides.

After receiving Ellen’s note, and being somewhat fascinated by natural optical phenomena, my mind immediately began pre-visualizing how I could make an interesting photograph. I often try to imagine best-case situations that might occur in nature. The trick is to carefully consider the conditions which would be necessary for a scenario to occur and then consciously reverse engineer it and attempt to put yourself on location at just the right time while being prepared to capture the moment. Something magical often ends up happening, even if it is somewhat different than what you had imagined.

As I pondered the complexity of making an evocative image of the psychedelic tides I felt that the images would look very alien if there wasn’t an earthly land form with which the viewer can easily identify. I started piecing together two ideas that I thought I could achieve in the same night. I’d seen the first sliver of a moon the night before, just after sunset, and knew that the next day it would be about fifty minutes higher in the sky. So I wanted to first make an image of the crescent moon setting at twilight above the breakers and Arched Rock near Jenner. The second image I was visualizing was a long exposure at the cusp of night where I would have just enough light to see the arch, and enough darkness for the dinoflagellates to show up in the water.

I checked the wunderground.com weather satellite which showed crystal clear skies, then double checked the angle of the moon relative to the arch by using a very useful software for such things called The Photographer’s Ephemeris. All the elements seemed to align and it looked like a promising evening.

I pulled up at Goat Rock Beach in Sonoma Coast State Park right about sunset, (which-oops!- is when the Park closes), geared up in rubber boots and wind gear and headed south down Blind Beach in gorgeous light that I would normally have been shooting. This time I was on a mission for something more mysterious than a sunset but at one point I did stop and made a few exposures of boney rocks protruding from the sand with crazy beams of light coming over the horizon. This was an early and unexpected bonus shot. As the light diminished I came to where the convergence of the setting moon and the sea arch were just perfect.

The first set of images were exactly what I expected. In years past I’d made similar images here with the full moon setting at sunrise into the Earth’s shadow. What I didn’t expect this time is that my camera’s sensor was picking up the Milky Way directly above the Arch! This added a layer of intrigue to the image that was far beyond what I’d imagined. Soon the starry night was fully visible to the naked eye.

If the moon had been larger or higher I believe its light would have polluted the clear, cold night sky and blown out the reflection in the water. But it was just slight enough that the relative contrast between the starlight and reflections fell into a range which could be handled if I was careful. But it was the bioluminescence that was most incredible. Each waved rolled in looking like a million neon glow sticks had been dumped into them. The blue-green light shot across the breakers as they crashed, the more wave energy released, the more light emitted. The backwash on the beach left momentary trails of light which resembled a million little galaxies.

I was in “the zone” watching wave sets, adjusting exposures as it got darker and darker, moving south down the beach as the moon traversed to the north, trying to keep my juxtaposition with Arched Rock in alignment. It was a bit ridiculous to realize a shot like this had come together: crescent moon shining through the arch under the Milky Way with the glowing ocean. Then as if in a nod to affirm all was okay in the universe, I watched in awe as a brilliant shooting star streaked across the sky above the arch while I had the shutter open. All the while I was very aware that I should not have parked my car in the heavily patrolled parking lot.

The moon was finally setting so I packed and hiked across the beach toward the car, arriving just as two park rangers stepped out of their cruiser with spot lights on. “Hello!” I called out of the darkness in attempt to not get myself Tazed as I stepped into the blinding beams with a big tripod on my shoulder. I received the full lecture from them (the park closes at sunset…we don’t want to have to come looking for you…) and apologized sheepishly. They wanted to know what I was doing out there. Still buzzing from an incredible experience, I pulled out the camera and offered to show them. The three of us huddled in the wind with our heads close to the back of my Nikon’s LCD and looked through the entire image set frame by frame while dispatch ran my plates and ID. The officers have one of the best office views in the state out their front windshield and were excited to see my photographic interpretation of what they see every day. As it turns out we share mutual friends and a deep connection for preserving California’s wild coast. I didn’t get a ticket that night. Instead I walked away with a couple of new friends, some images with which I’m really happy, and the good info on where to park the car for my next outing.

-Jerry Dodrill

Sebastopol, CA

Visionary Wild instructor Jerry Dodrill will co-lead two workshops on the California coast with Justin Black in 2012, at Point Reyes National Seashore in March and on the Sonoma Coast in September. We hope you can join us.

http://www.jerrydodrill.com

More info:

Bioluminescence: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioluminescence

Sonoma Coast State Park: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=451

 

On Assignment: The Dragon Run

by Justin Black

 

The Dragon rippled as I slid the kayak out into the swamp’s caramel-brown water. The still quiet of pre-dawn was broken only by the song of a prothonotary warbler, a croaking bullfrog, the sudden splash of a jumping sunfish. Gliding along on the glassy surface past lush swamp plants – arrow arum, water lilies, swamp rose, the lovely purple poker-like blooms of pickerelweed – and under the spreading branches of bald cypress, their conical “knees” emerging from the water in rows like the Dragon’s teeth, I felt completely removed from the Tidewater Virginia farmland that encircled me beyond the forest. Entering this place was like time-travel.

View Full Record

The other México

In January 2012, Jack Dykinga, Alfredo Medina, and I will lead a Visionary Wild expedition for a small group of six photographers that will focus on photography of the cenotes of the Yucatán peninsula. These water-filled caverns and sinkholes are tremendously beautiful and mysterious, and exploring them is a mind-blowing adventure. We will also visit the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal, and spend two days among the flamingo colonies, mangroves, and white sand beach at Celestún. You can read more about the workshop here: Yucatan Expedition

The Mexican state of Yucatán is distinct in many ways from the rest of the country. For those who are turned off by the over-development and tourist kitsch of Cancún in the neighboring state of Quintana Roo, Yucatán is authentic, safe, and welcoming. The horror stories in the media about crime and violence south of the U.S. border are not at all the case here (nor is it the case in many other parts of Mexico for that matter). The Yucatecan capital of Merida is a charming and historic city full of friendly people who are happy to help visitors, and the Maya people who inhabit the countryside are among the most hospitable and gracious folk you’ll ever meet.

Anecdotally, while I was attending the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Merida in November 2009, I accidentally left my wallet in a taxi. A pair of state police nearby noticed as I frantically searched my pockets and shoulder bag to no avail, and asked what had happened. The police immediately initiated a city-wide search for our cabbie. Back at our hotel, a crowd of police, cab drivers, and hotel staff on radios and cell phones were trying to track the guy down. About fifteen minutes later, he returned to the hotel. A passenger had found my wallet in the back seat and notified the driver. He was only too happy to return it, cash intact, and he wouldn’t accept a reward.

I look forward to going back to the Yucatán, and I hope that you will join us. – Justin Black