Bruce’s conservation photography was recently featured by Livebooks in San Francisco, the leading content management platform for working professional photographers. Their custom sites offer photo sharing, e-commerce and print-on-demand solutions including websites, mobile applications and other digital storefronts for the photography and design industries. Their sites have elegance in design and simplicity of user experience that carry across the full spectrum of offerings for the professional, consumer and enterprise markets.
Jorge Rivadeñeira, elder of the Añangu lowland Quichua community, peers from a traditional hunting blind woven of palm branches from their rainforest. While the Añangu Quichua rely mostly on fish as a meat source, they conduct limited hunting of common rodents and wild pig in their forests.
The Añangu community is boosting conservation of the globally significant Yasuní National Park & UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve. By managing their own communal reserve situated within Yasuní National Park, they provide additional protection to the core of the reserve and, as elders patrol beyond Añangu lands, they extend the reach of government park rangers. With only a half-dozen official park guards to monitor the sprawling 2.5 million-acre park, their work of behalf of Yasuní is tremendous.
Surprisingly, in a region with several wealthy and established ecotourism lodges, the Añangu community’s Napo Wildlife Center has been the only lodge to consistently collect Yasuní park entrance fees from tourists ($25/person) and transfer them to the Ecuadorian National Park Service or INEFAN. These funds are important to the daily administration of Yasuní. The Napo Wildlife Center is one of the best examples of indigenous community-based ecotourism in the new world tropics.
To learn more about the global significance of Yasuní National Park, please read this great study.
This has been a favorite quote of many an environmentalist. Dr. Ehrlich also wrote the foreword for the upcoming book Human Dependence on Nature: How to Solve the Environmental Crisis (Taylor & Francis, September 2012 release) for which I contributed the cover image.
This image is part of my current Blue Earth conservation photography project. It’s a nice image with which to pay tribute to Dr. Ehrlich’s work — much of it with butterflies — with an image of the Rothschild’s or Saturn window moth (Rothschildia erycina). I made this photograph in Ecuador’s Jatun Sacha Reserve. With it’s eight-inch wingspan, it is one of the largest moths in the tropics. In fact, I have a photo-essay planned with a friend in Perú who’s been very busy rescuing animals orphaned during illegal rainforest logging (tinkering). I want to photograph in close detail the extreme biodiversity that is found (and lost) on a single single old-growth tree in upper Amazonian rainforest.
Making Natural Light Close-ups of Butterflies & Moths
Natural light can reveal many subtleties in texture. Harsh flash would not do this moth justice. I found this individual perched about ten feet up in a sapling in the dark forest understory. I wanted to record the beautiful textures of the wing surface and the ladder-like antenna (the antenna are a diagnostic feature of moths). What really excited me was to show the translucency of the Rothschild’s wing panels. Notice how the leaf on which it rests is visible through two of those “windows.”
If the moth was ten feet up, how did you photograph it? Very carefully!
I will go to great lengths to work in natural light. First of all, I set up the camera on tripod with 100mm macro lens attached. It was set about eye level, with exposure settings ready. Next, by reaching up the trunk in a very slow hand-over-hand motion, I was able to bend the sapling over enough to bring the butterfly to eye level. Since I always have some gaffer’s tape and nylon cord with me, I was able to tie off the sapling to an adjacent tree and photographed it under natural light. Just as carefully, I returned the sapling to it’s normal position and left the moth to continue “sleeping.”
How does one achieve sharpness when working in natural light like this?
First of all, I used a macro lens for good “flat field” sharpness, a rigid tripod (solid connections between camera, head andtripod legs) and a remote or cable release. Before making the photographs, I made sure that the camera’s “film plane” (now replaced by a digital sensor) was parallel to the wings of the resting butterfly. For this, I needed to step away from the camera and check the alignment of the butterfly and lens face from the side. I set a small aperture of about f/11 for two reasons. First, I wanted to be sure I would have enough depth of field to ensure good focus on the the upper surfaces of the moth’s body. A second advantage of the small aperture was a long shutter speed of about two seconds. Two seconds?! Yes, with the very long shutter speed, provided your subject is essentially motionless, a moment’s breeze or movement will occupy a small fraction of the entire exposure time and will not record as a blur. ”Faster” shutter speeds of 1/8-1/2 second should be avoided in natural light close-ups. At these speeds, slight subject movements are more likely to be recorded as a blur and vibrations created in the camera during the exposure can affect sharpness.
Please contact me if you have an education or conservation campaign underway in the upper Amazon regions of Perú, Ecuador and Bolivia. There may be great opportunities for collaboration within the context of my current Blue Earth documentary project Amazon Headwaters: Locals Working for the Global.
I’m pleased that author Hadyn Washington and the folks at Taylor & Francis chose my image for the cover of Hadyn’s new book Human Dependence on Nature. The foreword is written by Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Director of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford.
I made this image while hiking with lowland Quichua friends near Ahuano, Ecuador in the transitional slopes of western Amazonia. A young lowland Quichua boy sits beneath a large “Chuncho” tree (Cedrelinga cataeniformes), one of several species that pierce the local rainforest canopy. Its hard wood is preferred for the making of traditional dugout canoes.
I had joined a reconnaissance hike with community elders to inspect the site of this tree. The men were eager to form a work party or “minga” which would involve community members young and old in a month-long process of making the canoe. Canoe-building begins with a shamanic ceremony at the base of the tree to be harvested. This cultural event – a story to be featured within my Blue Earth project - is vital in reinforcing family and social bonds within the community, while reinforcing their dependence on nature’s raw materials. A single tree is taken infrequently, serving many years of use in transport, cargo, recreation and linking families across the many rivers and tributaries of the region.
As it turned out, this tree was rooted just a few feet onto the neighboring community’s land and so another would ultimately be selected. This boy enjoyed some time within the tree’s spreading roots, as if contemplating his role one day to find, carve and pilot a Chuncho.
This image is part of my current Blue Earth documentary project ”Amazon Headwaters: Locals Working Toward the Global.” The Blue Earth provides fiscal sponsorship and manages donations to this 501(c)(3) tax-deductible project that promotes the unsung efforts of local communities involved in rainforest conservation in the upper Amazon basin.
Human Dependence on Nature, at Taylor & Francis
A lowland Quichua man casts his hand-woven “ataraya” (Spanish name) into the Arajuno river of Ecuador’s upper Napo river valley. The traditional dugout canoe is carved from the local rainforest hardwood “Canelo” (Nectandra sp.).
He and his community already knew something tropical biologists have found through modern research. Canelo trees uptake silica (which is in solution in the soil) at a much higher rate than most plants. As a result, traditional canoes carved from canelo resist decay in this region of 300 inches annual rainfall. Since the canoes last longer, fewer trees need to be cut. The lowland Quichua cherish mature trees, and the cutting of a large tree is major community event initiated with shamanic ceremonies.
This image is important for another reason. Established lowland Quichua communities — as representative of other indigenous communities across the Amazon — favor traditional selective fishing methods such as the cast net and single hook lines over dynamite fishing or poisons. Invading fishermen in the tributaries of the Napo have recently used the pesticide Methavin which impacts whole fisheries.
These are just two examples of how traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and practice confirms modern science and sustains healthy rivers. Please support the Blue Earth documentary project “Amazon Headwaters: Locals Working Toward the Global” with a tax-deductible donation on this website to bring these stories to a larger audience.
These “Panama” hats are woven by local lowland Quichua women from the fibers of common rainforest plants. The lighter fibers are from a “Bird of Paradise” plant (Heliconia vellerigera) while the darker fibers come from the bromeliad (Aechmea strobilaceae).
Sustainable micro-business can provide alternative sources of income for rural and indigenous communities who are geographically (and politically) isolated from the highly-centralized governments of the Amazonian and Andean nations. However, these local artisans need access to markets with the help of distribution channels and agents who will ensure they are paid fairly for their work and their art. In the tourist boutiques of Avenida Amazonas in Quito, Ecuador, I’d like to see more indigenous works and fewer copies made by contract artists. These hats were woven by women near the community of Ahuano in Napo Province, Amazonian Ecuador.
Conservation groups in the western Amazon and Andes are supporting micro-economies. While the hats featured here draw their color from the natural fibers, textiles of Andean Quichua communities are famous for their vibrant colors. Andean communities now receive technical assistance to cultivate dye-producing plants via local nurseries, learn new methods for dying alpaca and sheep wool and, on the demand side, are finding institutional partners and improving links for marketing.
On the Anzu River, Ecuador, at the western edge of the upper Amazon basin, an American Peace Corps volunteer and a young lowland Quichua boy switch vehicles in a display of cross-cultural interaction. The 10-year old boy and his brother used palm leaves to lash the Balsa tree saplings (Ochroma pyramidale) together, before the boy piloted the raft downstream to the site of his family’s new home construction.
Since 1999, I’ve enjoyed my relationship with RICANCIE (Network of Indigenous Communities of the Upper Napo for Intercultural Exchange), a network of nine Kichwa communities in the Upper Napo river region that encourages opportunities such as these. One of my good friends is Salomon Licuy, leader of the Chuva Urku lowland Quichua community, one of RICANCIE communities devoted to grassroots development through tourism and cultural exchange. Salomon and I “facebook” regularly. I enjoy helping him and other RICANCIE members with their community-based tourism enterprises, be it with website content, translating, images or other assistance. and other member communities with their tourism enterprises.
Lately, I’ve been helping Salomon select some “digi-scoping” equipment for the Chuva Urku tourism operation, a member community of RICANCIE. Digi-scoping involves connecting a compact digital camera to a spotting scope for low-cost high-magnification photographs of birds and other wildlife. The community of Chuva Urku has gorgeous rainforest, and I encourage you to contact Salomon and arrange a visit. Salomon’s a sweet man, a superb canoe pilot and an awesome guide. Check out “Chuva Urku Turismo Comunitario” on Facebook or Chuva Urcu’s page on the RICANCIE indigenous tourism site www.ricancie.nativeweb.org
From the RICANCIE English-language website (Scroll down to “Chuva Urku” to see their programs)
…The communities have established a unique ecotourism program based in traditional respect for their cultural and ecological inheritance, and have done so in search of an alternative path of development for the current and future generations of the communities. Money from the tourism program improves the lives of families, offers youth a future within their own communities, and reduces immigration to the large cities and abroad. It also the entire community – men and women alike – to play a role in the tourism program. The efforts of RICANCIE were recognized at the international level when the organization was invited to participate in EXPO 2000 (Hannover, Germany), in an exposition titled “Indigenous Communities.” We invite you to participate in a unique experience with us in our community tourism programs.
I’ll be presenting at the 8th Annual International Globalization, Diversity and Education Conference in Vancouver, Washington on February 23. The event is organized by the Washington State University College of Education.
My presentation, entitled “Documentary and Conservation Photography: Building Bridges in Educational Research and Grassroots Educational Development in Upper Amazon Rainforest Communities,” will focus on my research into conservation photography and empowerment through the visual narrative. It will also be the official launch of the Amazon Headwaters project website and an opportunity to establish common ground between documentary photographers and like-minded sponsors/partners in environmental education, social justice, multicultural and internationalized education. Educators wishing to engage their students and research audiences more deeply on the applications of environmental photography, or those wanting to incorporate documentary photography in educational grant work and grassroots development will find this presentation engaging.
National Geographic magazine chose one of my spadefoot toad images to open Visions of Earth this month. Glad to spread the spadefoot magic. These are Western spadefoots (Spea hammondii).
Life is getting tough for these guys, a keystone species of southern California’s coastal sage scrub ecotype. Just as metamorphs become mature, their natal and breeding ponds begin to dry. They burrow deep into the soil with cartilaginous spurs on their hind feet. During the dry summers and fall, the spadefoot shuts down, literally shriveling into something like a dried prune as it survives only on its metabolic water.
Awakened by the first winter rains—triggers may be a combination of increased humidity and the sound of water percolating down into the claypan soil—they wiggle and carve their way to the surface. Each year, with urban sprawl and unregulated off-road vehicle use where ephemeral ponds tend to collect, they are finding fewer places to breed once they get topside.
There’s no doubt these spadefoots deserve their “close-up.”
In the magazine & online at Nat Geo: — at Moreno valley, California.