Finding the Holy Spirit in Baja: A park is born

Roughly twenty miles off the coast from the Baja town of La Paz lies a desert island no more than ten miles long and four miles wide. For centuries the locals have fished the bountiful waters surrounding Isla Espiritu Santo, or Island of the Holy Spirit. Scores of grouper, snapper, and a variety of fish in the jack family are snagged by locals and visitors daily. However, in recent years, tourists have been flocking to the island not just to fish but to kayak, snorkel, and photograph the diverse array of wildlife that it contains. Up until 2003, there was little regulation for any of the activities taking place on Espiritu Santo and it’s surrounding islands and islets. The tourists that visit, and those that fish the waters, are still trying to come to grips with the island’s new found fame.

According to The Nature Conservancy the island was purchased from the Ejido Bonfil community and then turned over to Mexico. It was designated as a protected area in 1978; the Mexican government acquired the island in 2003. Although all the islands making up this archipelago are now a national park, management resources are scarce.

Spending a week camped out in a sandy bay, I had the opportunity to meet someone with a passion for what happens to this beautiful place, a local guide named Miguel. According to him, as of last year, only two rangers were patrolling the coastline of this 23,383 acre island. As we paddled together throughout the week, I learned more on why the island is struggling.

Large scale commercial fishing is not allowed. Long netting, a form of dredging, is now strictly prohibited as well. Local fishermen have had a tough time coping with the new regulations being passed down to them. As hard as it may be to believe many of these people have no experience with a fishing pole and are using the arduous method of hand-lining to maintain a living. Hand-lining involves dropping a baited hook overboard and pulling a fish in on the line with no rod or reel. After trying this method I can vouch that hand-lining is a tough chore on the hands to say the least.

According to Miguel, the lack of information from authorities initially led to misunderstandings. The fishing community was not exactly pleased with the changes being made when the island went under the wing of the government. Rules included restrictions on certain popular species such as parrot fish. Although dropping explosives in the water or “dynamiting” is outlawed and a thing of the past, fishermen can still be found pushing the limits of the law. Fish are encircled by boats to create a bait ball which makes them easier targets.
Fishermen are allowed to stay overnight on the island in designated spots called “fisherman shacks.” They can use nets to catch bait fish only. Since most fishing boats are equipped with nets and regulation is slim, it is uncertain how many stick to the strictly “bait only” rule for netting.

Although fishing regulations were the main management issue at first, the new threat to Espirtu’s land and waters is unchecked tourism. On Los Islotes, an islet resting just off the rocky shores of Isla Partida, Espiritu’s northern neighbor, the sea lions sun bathe most of the day, awaiting their nocturnal hunt. Snorkeling with these graceful swimmers is a treat for visitors. These dog-like sea mammals dart in and out of underwater grottos, play with starfish and shells, and encircle the odd looking human insurgents to get a better look. While visiting this islet, our snorkel group was not alone. Another tourist boat anchored nearby and within minutes a few of the passengers were on the shore, ignoring the rule that tourists must stay 50 feet away at all times.
In summer, when La Paz receives its annual influx of Mexican and European tourists, the island’s shores become overrun. “There have been times when it was so crowded we couldn’t find a place to anchor when we pulled up to see the sea lions,” Miguel told me. Despite these growing pains park attendance continues to soar, and for good reason. The island’s shores are home to one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water on our planet.

Next: Darwin would be proud (Part 2)

Through the Gadling Lens: photographing skies

Oh, how I’d love to regale you with my brilliant photographic skills in capturing the sky’s majesty!

I’d love to, but I can’t.

For some reason, I’m really, really horrid when it comes to shooting skies. Oh, I can manage to get a good sunset photo here and there, and occasionally my blue skies appear shockingly blue, but the truth is that for the most part, I get by with a little help from Photoshop — bump up the contrast here, deepen a hue there, you know how it goes. My husband, on the other hand, is masterful at shooting sky shots — the image you see to the left was taken by him this past weekend. And that image, by the way, is completely unretouched, straight out of the camera.

He kills me with his sky-capturing ways.

Anyway, I thought this week we could drool over the sky photo porn that currently graces our Gadling Flickr pool, for some inspiration as to how to shoot. This time, however, I’m sitting where you are — looking for any clues as to how to make my sky photographs that much better.

So, on with the show.
1. God rays

My husband calls these “God rays” — the rays of light that appear from clouds when the sun is behind them.

When I asked him how he managed to capture this image (because while he was taking this, I was trying to take the same image with my camera, and failing miserably), and he said, “I set my aperture to a pinhole — about f22 — my ISO was set to about 100, and then I played with the shutter speed to get the shot. It ended up working at 1/500th of a second.”

Okay, so that’s pretty technical. Suffice to say, however, that Marcus — I mean, Alien Hamster — took several shots to experiment with the various settings, to see what worked for him. And really, that’s sort of what photography is all about: experimenting and learning along the way.

Another great God ray shot:

This great shot was shot and shared by othernel, of sunset over the East Village in New York City. Notice how the sun is more golden — therefore, I’m guessing, taken at a later time in the day than my husband’s shot — giving the image an entirely different mood. Notice also in both that the objects beneath the sun’s rays are almost in silhouette: remember that when you’re trying to shoot these God rays, you’re shooting for the rays, not the actual objects in the frame. Well done.

2. Clouds

Clouds obviously also make great subjects for photographs, and the following are pretty stellar:

Now, this amazing shot shared by Patrick Powers has quite obviously been processed; however, it’s been done to great effect. Those clouds — those crazy-white, featherlike clouds — look positively three-dimensional, almost like they could float right out of the screen. The entire scene almost looks artificial, rendering the shot more a work of art, then a documentary image. Really beautiful work.

And how impressive is this shot shared by Bonnie Bowne, taken in the Grand Tetons? Notice all the shades that are in the thunderheads, going from snowy white to dark, foreboding grey. I love how the trees in the foreground are in total silhouette, so that their details don’t compete with the colours of the clouds. If I were to guess (and Bonnie, if you read this, feel free to correct me), she exposed the shot for the white of the clouds, “tricking” the camera into thinking it was shooting in bright sunshine — thus resulting in a faster shutter speed, and making the trees look dark. Amazing.

3. Sunshine.

Of course, the most beautiful subject you can shoot in the sky is sunshine, and obviously, sunrises and sunsets are pretty intoxicating. Here are a couple of really stunning ones.

This sunset, shot and shared by Andy Bokanev Photography is stunning — not just because of the colours of the sky, but notice he also managed to get the light in the lighthouse building, as well as the colours of the flowers in the foreground. That’s some pretty stellar exposure right there. The glow of the light in the windows does so much to set the mood of this image — very well done. I’m guessing that this shot was taken using a very long exposure (that is, a slow shutter speed) and a tripod, with the ISO set to a very low number, to reduce graininess. Absolutely stunning.

In addition, take a look at this sunrise:

PDPhotography, who shot and shared this shot, has revealed one of my favourite ways of photographing the sky: from 37,000 feet. I love shots out of airplane windows, and this one is pretty great. I think we often think that we should only pull out our cameras when we’ve finally arrived at our destination — this shot is a great reminder that there’s some beautiful scenery en route, as well.

4. Silhouettes

Finally, I love the use of silhouette to accentuate the sky. A beautiful example:

This is another shot shared by Bonnie Bowne, taken — get his — in the parking lot of a Walmart store. What makes this shot so effective is that instead of just taking the shot of the sky — which might have been the more knee-jerk approache — she took the shot with the stark, dark tree in the foreground. The black silhouette of the tree has the effect of actually making the colours and light of the sky far more prominent, more impressive. It was an inspired way to shoot the sky.

And finally, this amazing night shot by fiznatty:

Seriously, does this shot not take your breath away? Fiznatty says, “the moon rises above the snowy slopes overlooking the Swedish town of Bjorkliden.” Unbelievable.

Okay, again, taking a guess as to how fiznatty managed this: obviously, no flash was involved, and he likely used a tripod and left his shutter open for quite some time, in order to pick up the light of the stars in the sky. If I’m right, then fiznatty stood still for quite some time — maybe a minute or two? — while the shutter was open, taking the shot. Amazing.

So that’s it. Again, if any of the photographers who took these shots would like to share their expertise here, I’d love to learn from you. And if you have any questions or additional comments, as always, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.

Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Through the Gadling Lens: 5 photography subjects that are the same and different everywhere

Do you remember those Where the hell is Matt? videos that were taking the internet by storm in recent years? I was thinking about those videos the other day, and wondering why they affected so many people, causing the videos to go so wildly viral. And then it dawned on me: the reason we love that video so much is because as different as all of the people featured in the video are, from all over the world, they all held something in common: they loved to dance.

This, of course, is true for more than just dancing: despite how different we all are, we all share or do or having things in common: we all eat, we all wash, we all hope, we all live. And so this week, I thought I’d share some of my favourite subjects that I like to shoot when I’m traveling — things which are so different from place to place, but really, are so often the same.

1. Food. Hey, we all gotta eat. The beauty, of course, is that food varies wildly wherever we go (and frankly is usually one of the great pleasures of traveling in the first place). In fact, there are certainly countries where I’ve been where the highlight of my trip was the food (Egypt? Don’t even get me started. I ate my way through that country. My God, the food was good).

So when you’re traveling, I strongly suggest taking some photographs of your meals — bonus points if you bought your meal from a street vendor. A couple of tips when shooting food:

a) If you have a macro lens (or a macro setting on your point-and-shoot camera), this is often the best way to go. The beauty of good food is usually the taste and the smell; since your camera won’t be able to accurately capture either of these, maximizing your sense of sight can help compensate.

b) Make sure the food is well-lit. Otherwise, the food will likely simply look like an amorphous blob. Not very appetizing.

c) Check your background, colour and texture. Ideally, you won’t want to have anything in the background competing with the food for the viewer’s attention; similarly, when composing your shot, consider looking for patterns in colour and texture, and maximize accordingly.

Some inspiration from our Gadling Flickr pool (both, coincidentally, from Japan):

This great triptych was shared by pixelskew in the Gadling Flickr pool, and is, apparently, of cooked whale. I love how beautifully he captured these images: the food is very well let, the background is simple, and I would guess he used his macro lens, which helps him closely demonstrate the texture of the food. In fact, this is so well done, that while before, I might have said I’d never try whale, these delicious-looking images make me curious enough to consider it.

I mean, I probably won’t. I’m a vegetarian. But still.

Another example: I love this photograph of dyed octopus in Japan shared by FriskoDude. Again, this image is pretty masterful: the background is simple (the green fern leaves), and the repition of colour and pattern by the multiple octopi add for fantastic visual interest. Very well done.

2. Places of worship. One of my favourite subjects whenever I travel is to photograph places of worship — in most countries they’re pretty easy to find, and while the religions may be the same from country to country, often the structures in which the citizens worship, aren’t. Besides, it’s always lovely capturing photographs of structures that are sacred or special or holy. A few tips:

a) Consider capturing your images during the Golden Hour (discussed in last week’s Through the Gadling Lens) — it will make your image seem even that much more magical.

b) Be mindful of worshippers: if there are people worshipping at the time, you might want to consider waiting for another time to take your shot, to avoid being disrespectful. In addition, if you go inside the building, you might want to confirm whether photographs are allowed, and if so, whether you will be required to turn off your flash.

Some more inspiration:

I love this shot of a New Zealand church shared by the world is my wanderlust — the solid, sturdy bulding, almost sombre from the dark, heavy stone, juxtaposed against the light, bright sky, and the white, fluffy clouds. Really lovely.

This shot shared by StrudelMonkey is a classic example of taking a photograph of a place of worship during the Golden Hour — see how the light makes the structure look almost magical? And I love how the simple trio of crosses in the background let you know exactly what you’re looking at. Simply stunning.

3. Doors. I’m not talking about moody 60’s bands, here, I’m talking about actual doors. These are actually my favourite vacation subjects to shoot, because they very so wildly from location to location, plus they always hint to what local life must be like inside the the building, just behind them. The best way to illustrate is to look at the following:

This beautiful shot was captured and shared by Bernard-SD, in Hyderabad, India. The first thing that captures your attention, of course, is the vibrant blue of the door — showcasing one shocking colour always makes for an interesting shot. But there’s more: the fading gold adornment at the bottom of the door, the dried vegetation covering the top of the door, and of course, the scooter parked alongside, making us wonder who’s behind the door. Really lovely interesting shot.

Contrast this with the following:

This amazing photograph of a gate/door shared by was taken in Barcelona, Spain is a wonderful example of a historic door that not only makes you wonder what’s going behind it, it darn near invites you in. A lovely shot.

4. Laundry
. Last month, I was sitting with a well-traveled friend of mine who mentioned how she was intrigued by the many ways in which people do laundry around the world. “Have you ever noticed?” she said. “People do laundry different everywhere. They use a laundromat. They hang their laundry to dry on a line. They leave them lying on rocks. They do their laundry at public standpipes. In the river. It’s different everywhere.” I hadn’t really noticed, but what an amazing observation. And to illustrate her point further, here are some great examples:

This first image shared by Lobelia48 is so compelling because of the movement she capture when she took the shot in Kerala, India. You can instantly tell how hard this woman was working while doing her laundry. And the pop of colour from the clothing and the basin adds so much visual interest.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet:

LancasterTrip captured this lovely shot of Amish quilts drying in the sun in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, United States. The image itself — the still way the quilts are lying on the line, the long shadows cast by the sun, the absence of any person or animal in the image — evoke the peacefulness of the Amish in a beautiful way. Well done.

And finally:

5. Flowers. I admit it: I have a weakness for flowers, particularly because they’re so fun to shoot with a macro lens. But also, I really feel like the flowers of a region often define the region — you can almost tell what part of the world you’re in (or at least what latitude) just by looking at a great image of a local flower.

Besides, they’re just pretty.

Case in point:

This fabulous lotus flower, shared by RedHQ (and capturing a bee in mid-flight!) is exactly what I’m talking about: it comes as absolutely no surprise that this photograph was taken in Thailand. The colours are breathtaking. And that bee — that bee!

And finally, let me blow your mind with this image:

Dude, are you getting a load of this thing? According to LadyExpat, the photographer, this is a Rafflesia flower, which she shot after hiking two hours into the jungle in Borneo to see it. Not only is this thing REALLY funky to look at, it’s apparently also really funky to smell: according to the Wikipedia entry, “the flowers look and smell like rotting flesh, hence its local names which translate to ‘corpse flower’ or ‘meat flower’ … The vile smell that the flower gives off attracts insects such as flies and carrion beetles …”

Ew. EW!

Anyway, I think my point is made.

So on your next trip, consider making one of the aforementioned subjects the focal point of your shots — or if you have any other suggestions, please share them here, in the comments section below. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.

Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Los Angeles trailer park may be home to your next pilot

The photo you see above, is not of the latest rest stop for tired travelers, nor is it the best Los Angeles pick for folks pulling their RV cross country. It is the actual home of countless airline workers, right at the end of runway 25L.

That’s right – pilots, maintenance workers and other airline employees are paid so poorly, that they spend half their month sleeping in a mobile home or camper van at parking lot B of the airport. And it isn’t just the junior staff members either – even first officers and captains save money by sleeping here.

The combination of reduced earnings and horrible commutes forced many of these people to take this route, and some of them are away from their families for weeks at a time.

One of the residents prefers his $60/month mobile home over renting an apartment or making a 12 hour commute each day. Who said being a pilot was a glorious job?

Of course, living at the end of a runway has its discomforts – every couple of minutes, jets pass above them, spewing out the stench of jet fuel.

I’m really not sure what to make of this – on the one hand it seems like a really smart way to save money, on the other – these are the people we trust to fly us, if they are not being paid enough to afford a hotel or apartment, maybe all our cheap tickets come with a horrible hidden cost we were not aware of.


TSA getting serious about luggage theft – arrests TSA agent stealing from luggage

The Transportation Security Administration is in the news a bit too much with stories of their staff stealing from our luggage.

The problems at JFK airport were so serious, that the TSA and Delta Airlines worked together to try and nab the crooks in action.

It didn’t take long till the sting operation turned up its first victims – TSA worker Brian Burton and baggage handler Antwon Simmons were caught on camera stealing a laptop, an iPod and 2 mobile phones.

The very people who are hired to keep our airlines safe are too crooked to be trusted with our valuables, a very worrying statistic, especially since this is by no means the first time TSA workers have been involved in luggage theft.

These two clowns even tried to hide their handywork by swapping tags on bags, which means the rightful owners would not only lose their stuff, they’d get it delivered days later than scheduled as it would be sent to the wrong airport. In the worst case, their bags may never be recovered.

Words like scum, filth and disgusting pop into my mind when I read about this – but I am happy the TSA is taking matters into their own hands. By regularly organizing these sting operations, their staff might start to think twice about robbing the traveling public.

I’m also concerned that TSA workers are able to leave the airport with our valuables. In any normal retail or manufacturing organization, you can only take home what you came in with. Being able to leave the sterile area of the airport with laptop computers and mobile phones that don’t belong to you should not be possible.