Tag Archives: tropics

The Road to Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park

Red dirt cascade descending from the Waimea Canyon area, Kauai.

On the Friday morning before Thanksgiving, I had a feeling my brother was trying to talk us out of going to Waimea Canyon. It was a long drive, he noted. Time on Kauai was precious, and Varenna — our 8-month-old daughter — would be facing backwards for the whole ride. Poipu had a baby beach.

But I acted like the typical younger brother: the more he discouraged it, the more determined I was to go. This was a verdant miniature Grand Canyon, and at the end of the road was a window to the Na Pali Coast. Yes, time on Kauai is precious. But for me, that meant not letting a week slip by without seeing this magnificent sight.

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Kauai Through a Tilt-Shift Lens

Hanalei Valley Lookout, Kauai, Hawaii (tilt-shift)Hanalei Valley Lookout; Canon 45mm TS-E, ISO 400, 1/3200 sec, f2.8

I’d hesitate to say I’m “into gear.” I’d rather read a personal finance blog than the Digital Photography Magazine Buyer’s Guide. In writing, gear is just not interesting.

Where things get interesting for me is when gear enables new techniques. Last year, I used BorrowLenses.com to rent a 200mm prime lens and a 24mm tilt-shift for Holy Week in Mexico. To have two new weapons in my bag made the week’s imagery 100% better. The 200mm allowed for more intimate candid shots during the processions, while the tilt-shift opened up hundreds of doors of creativity for my cityscape and architecture. It was like shooting in a third and fourth dimension.

For Kauai, I once again rented two lenses: this time, a 24mm–105mm zoom lens (a must for the helicopter tour) and a 45mm tilt-shift lens. Once again, the tilt-shift rocked.

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The Moment: Hanalei Valley, Kauai – 8am

We are in Kauai right now, and it … is … awesome. So far, I’ve photographed sunrise from ‘Anini Beach, lunch at Hanalei Juice & Taro Company, Haena Beach Park, the Kilauea Farmer’s Market (where I ran into a college friend who is now a farmer on this island), and this morning, sunrise on Kalihiwai Bay and morning over the magnificent taro fields of Hanalei.

I’ve always touted that I am not a beach person (as if its something that distinguishes me), and so far, that is only holding up true in one sense, and that’s my favorite two places on this island (at least in the first 48 hours). One, is a bend in the highway between Princeville and Kilauea, where massive, ornate, flat-branched trees rise up over a curve in the highway, and transport the driver to a whole different place, like Japan, China, Taiwan, or the end of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It is startling and devastatingly beautiful.

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What the Hell is a Tanager, Anyway?

So the other day I was looking at my WordPress dashboard, seeing my traffic, seeing where people were clicking and how they found the blog. One of the items it gathers is how people found the blog through search engines, and what those search engine keywords were. That’s when I saw this bizarre search request: “sexy tanager photo.” M’kay. It got me thinking: maybe I should do a post on tanagers so people can get it.

This was paired with a strange dream last night in which I was walking around a meadow with someone (just who slips my mind) and we spotted a black, gold and red songbird flying by. “Hey!” I said. “That’s a western tanager. That’s where Tanager Photography gets its name.” The other person simply said: “That’s lame.”

Anyway, lame or not, Hailey and I opted to name our photography business after a family of extremely colorful birds that migrate between the Americas. Most of them don’t go further north than Mexico, but one visits us here in Colorado — the aforementioned Western Tanager — and it is in my opinion the prettiest bird we get here.

So, do you get it? Colorful, migration (i.e. travel), beauty. OK….moving on.

The above collage is from our trip to Ecuador in 2007. Everyone of these birds are tanagers, with the bay-headed tanager (upper center) being the most ridiculous.

We were visiting a place in the Andes west of Quito called the Mindo Valley. It was a family reunion of sorts — Hailey and I, her parents, her brother Jason and his wife Ali — and we were spending most of our time birdwatching.

Now birdwatching and photography are like oil and water. They simply don’t mix. I have yet to get the hang of juggling binoculars and camera gear, and furthermore, most of the prettiest birds we’ve chased congregate in the tropical rain forests of Latin America. The environment is dark, wet, cluttered with tree branches, the birds are small, far away, and the highest any of my lenses goes to is 300 mm. It just doesn’t yield good photo results. If I had the Canon 40D I now own, I probably would shot in a completely different way since it does so much better with low light.

The tanagers and the pale-mandibled aracari (a small toucan) were all photographed in the span of five minutes at a restaurant in the town of Bancos. They were coming in to feed and I was basically in a blind. Hailey got the best shot, the one above of the toucan. It was the only time we got good results. The rest of the time in Mindo, I was getting shots of rain clouds moving along ridges, and the peculiar habits of birdwatchers:

That’s Hailey’s dad, Michael, smiling for the camera. He’s seen more than 2,600 bird species around the world. We did see some amazing wildlife on the trip…just few of them were photographed.

On our last day in Mindo, before crossing the Andes to the Amazon watershed to visit the hot springs at Papallacta, we rose at 4am, drove an hour to a rural farm, and were led to a blind where we watched — don’t laugh, don’t laugh — the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. It is one of those Holy Grail birds for birders, a bright red rooster-kind-of-pigeon that squeals like a pig to attract its mate.

Yes, we saw it. No, I don’t have pictures to prove it.

But afterward the farmer’s wife served us balones, a traditional Ecuadorean breakfast dish consisting of shredded meat served in a plantain ball. They were absolutely delicious.

Perhaps another day I’ll dip into the archives and do a post on Papallacta in the Andes, or the Napo Wildlife Center in the Amazon. Both yielded better landscapes and images. But until then, at least you now know what the hell a tanager is, and this whole thing can stop haunting my dreams.

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