August 2013

What’s in a Blur (In Search of Creativity)

I recently took a look at my neighbor / wedding photographer’s website (see and thought to myself... “man that guy is so damn creative!” Being far removed from the portrait/wedding world, this type of photography seems as foreign to me as working with clay.

Green Violetear Hummingbird (Colibri thalassinus) - Savegre River, Costa Rica

Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 300 f2.8IS L + Canon 2x mark iii

Rather than art, I often describe my work as conservation photography or nature photojournalism. While I always strive to produce the best possible images, I know “creative” is not the first word that comes to mind. At times my work is technical, compelling or emotive, but the word creative is reserved for the artists of the world.

Flying Capuchin (Cebus capucinus) - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica

To break my current photo-funk, I’ve been on the hunt for creative nature photographs. I know it when I see them, and sadly, this is not what I observe in most of my work. While searching for inspiring photographs of nature, I’ve found many self-described creatives and creativity in post-processing, but the real artists in my discipline seem far and few between. The well-known humanitarian and photo-educator David duChemin is at the precipice of creativity with his portraiture and recent works in nature, but the one I find most compelling is Nick Brandt. Call it retro, but Brandt continues to shoot large negative black & white film while the rest of us toil with our pixels and memory cards. The structure of his images are evocative and expressive in a way that few can extract from their nature and wildlife subjects. There is a depth and emptiness to his images, yet each is filled with the essence of its subject. I call this work creative because Brandt manages to combine the key moment with brilliant technical skills that makes for much more than a journalistic representation of time. I can stare at his pictures for hours.

Lapa Lapa Lapa (Ara macao) - Rio Quatro, Costa Rica

So, what’s with all the burry pics in the blog, you ask? 

During every prolonged shoot, I will break from my tendency towards technical perfection and try to escape from my self-imposed constraints. While I won’t be so bold to call any of these images creative, I might describe each as a purposeful attempt at making art from a bit of nature.


Flying Banana (Ramphastos swainsonii) - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica

©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.


Costa Rica 2013: My Ficus

This giant of the secondary forest began its life after a clearcut, and has meandered its way towards the sky for the past forty years or so.  With buttresses that top out at six vertical feet and a girth of five man hugs, the tree shares all the characteristics of a typical mid-successional species. It’s a nutrient hog that is pre-programmed to strangle its elders in an attempt to fulfill a biological destiny. Much like the cottonwoods and tulip trees of North America, strangler figs (Ficus insipida) grow fast and large in a race to the top. Once there, they bask in the light of day and propagate effusively with a productivity that feeds a complex tropical web.

Giant S)trangler Fig (Ficus insipida) - Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica

Canon 5D mark iii + Canon 17-40L @ 19mm / f16

This particular ficus has been a favorite photographic subject. Located along a mangrove trail in the Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge, the fig tree is a landmark between the lodge and an egret rookery. I am drawn to the curvaceous buttress, asymmetric branches, and its largess. The challenge of capture is my muse. I dream of perfect light that is so rare below a rainforest canopy and am always forced to yield my preconceptions in search of a compromise between what is offered and what I can take. This tree has been pictured here in the past (see “Road-tripping Through Ecosystems #4) and I am certain that I will shoot and show it again. Ok... so it’s not really my ficus, but I wish it were. 

©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

5 Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Your Landscape Photographs

Call this one a tweener... a little something from home in between our Costa Rica 2013 recap.

  • Use a tripod to increase stability, slow you down and permit long exposures.
  • Wake up early, be on site before sunrise and shoot the pre-dawn light.
  • Use a strong foreground element like a rock, tree or color to add balance to the image.
  • Use lines to lead your viewer’s eye into the photograph.
  • Try to expose in a way that stretches your histogram from the brightest whites (at the right) to the darkest blacks (at the left). This offers you the greatest flexibility when post processing. If the exposure range is greater than five stops between the extremes, then shoot multiple images at various exposures. By capturing a bracketed series you can merge the divergent exposures in software like Photoshop, Photomatix, or Nik HDR Effex.

St. Croix River Sunrise - Summer 2013, Stillwater MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + 17-40mm L @ 18mm w/ 6-stop Tiffen Variable ND Filter


These pictures were taken on August 13, 2013 @ 6:10 a.m. Each was from a single exposure where I worked to maximize the dynamic range prior to and after image capture. The photographs were pre-processed in Aperture 3.4.5 and finished for presentation in Photoshop CS 5. 

St. Croix River Sunrise (#2) - Summer 2013, Stillwater MN
Canon 5D Mark iii + 17-40mm L @ 18mm w/ 6-stop Tiffen Variable ND Filter


©2000-2013 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.