Recovering with Love in Haiti for Kenneth Cole Productions

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Haiti and witness the inspiring work of St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, NPH Haiti and the Kenneth Cole Foundation.

The St. Luke Foundation team, a Haitian run organization, is one of the only organizations able to work in the “forbidden” areas, like Cité Soleil, an impoverished and densely populated area described as one of the “worst slums of the western hemisphere” because of the notorious violence. Until 2007, the area was ruled by a number of gangs who roamed the streets and often terrorized the neighborhood. It originally developed as a shanty town and grew to an estimated 400,000 residents, the majority of whom live in extreme poverty.

Learn more about their important work in the story, “Recovering with Love” for Kenneth Cole’s “For Good” magazine.

Read more: Kenneth Cole Foundation: For Good 

Covering the Bakken Oil Boom for National Geographic

I had the extraordinary opportunity to explore Eastern Montana for National Geographic where the Oil boom from the Bakken region is impacting tightly-knit farming communities. While the discovery of oil has created newly minted millionaires and enormous opportunities, it has also brought complex problems and forced locals to ask important questions about the destiny of their landscape.

For now, the explosive growth looks like it will continue and for many, the oil and gas are a blessing. I met families who are able to create a better life for their children and are grateful for the opportunities. Despite the sudden influx of wealth, the oil has also strained these communities. A two bedroom trailer can cost more than an apartment in New York City. Crime has risen dramatically. Roads have been destroyed by heavy loads of equipment and the water needed for extraction. And with the exorbitant wages paid by oil companies, the county cannot find workers to help maintain the infrastructure. There are dire environmental consequences too. The implications are already reverberating far beyond North Dakota and Montana.

This boom has far reaching global economic and political consequences. Read more HERE.

The Price of Poaching for The Nature Conservancy

Five years ago, I heard about a plan to airlift four of the last Northern White Rhinos from a zoo in the Czech Republic back to Africa. It sounded like a storyline for a Disney film but in reality, it was a desperate, last ditch effort to save an entire species. There are only seven of these rhinos left in existence. When I saw these huge, hulking gentle creatures surrounded by smokestacks and factories in the zoo outside of Prague, it seemed so unfair that we have reduced an entire species to this.

In December 2009, the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya airlifted the last four breeding age Northern White Rhinos from Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. As of 2014, there are only seven of these rhinos living in the world.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya worked hard to make the move possible and the rhinos were flown on a cold, snowy night in December, 2009. They landed and were brought to roam “free” on the savannas of Kenya at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The hope was then, and now, to breed them. The air, water, and food, not to mention room to roam, might stimulate them to breed—and the offspring would then be used to repopulate Africa. Failing successful breeding, they will be cross-bred with Southern White Rhinos to preserve the genes.

Recently, I had the opportunity to go back to Kenya on behalf of the Nature Conservancy to visit the four rhinos who had been airlifted to Kenya: Sudan, Suni, Najin and Fatu. It warmed my heart to see them nuzzling on the open plains, but I was reminded of a tragic truth by the team of armed guards who are there to protect them from poachers. Poaching is not slowing down, and it’s entirely possible, even likely, that if the current trajectory of killing continues, rhinos, along with elephants and a host of lesser known plains animals, will be functionally extinct in our lifetime. Organized by sophisticated heavily armed criminal networks and fueled by heavy demand from newly minted millionaires in emerging markets, poaching is devastating the amazing mega-fauna of the African plains.

Much needed attention has been focused on the plight of wildlife and the conflict between heavily armed poachers and increasingly militarized wildlife rangers, but very little has been said about the indigenous communities on the frontlines of the poaching wars and the incredible work that is being done to strengthen them. These communities may hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals.

The Nature Conservancy has been helping the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) form “community wildlife conservancies.” These conservancies benefit the indigenous communities, and help locals understand that high-end tourists are far more valuable to them over the long term than the short-term gain of poaching. The hope is that if their welfare, education and livelihoods are being jeopardized when a rhino or elephant is killed, local communities won’t let it happen.

We can often forget that the best protectors of these landscapes are the local communities themselves. Their efforts to preserve community cohesion is ultimately the best immunization against forces that threaten both their wildlife and way of life. See more HERE.

Shooting Around a Campfire for National Geographic

I wrote up some advice for National Geographic Readers on how to shoot around a campfire. Let me know if it’s helpful.

Sitting around a campfire and telling stories with my friends is one of my favorite things to do on summer nights in Montana. I believe that storytelling is at the heart of what makes us human and is at the heart of what every photographer strives to do.

Campfires also make for interesting images, and it’s a fun way to experiment with slow shutter speeds. The biggest challenge is getting the images sharp and the exposure right, since the light source is always changing.

Photo tip: Focusing at night can be difficult. I shine a flashlight on a person’s face to help my camera focus and once its sharp, I turn the camera to manual focus, taking care not to bump the camera or move the focus ring. Then I measure the exposure of the peoples’ faces around the fire while the flames are still going strong.

In this case, a tripod was essential because the ambient light in the sky was already gone and I wanted a long exposure. I wanted to emphasize the movement of the burning embers so I shot this frame for one second. I would suggest shooting between one and ten seconds, depending on the mood you want to create.

Here I used the Nikon D4S, which has the best sensor for shooting in low light. I shot this image at 1600 ISO and it’s still tack sharp, as if it were shot using 100 ISO. I wanted the long exposure while my friend Amy blew embers to create movement and mood.

Make sure to monitor the strength of the fire. As it dies down, you will need to lengthen your exposure or open your aperture. Shoot as many frames as you can, because each one will look different.

My Top 10 Rules of Travel Photography

I took some time to write up a list of tips on travel photography for B&H Photo’s Explora Blog. Let me know what you think.

Photography is not about the camera. It’s not even about the beautiful images we create. It is about telling powerful stories. Photography is a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities, and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share. I believe the way to find common ground is by seeing yourself in others.

A lot of my work involves traveling to foreign countries and living in remote places. My job is to become invisible and get close to people and wildlife, so I can bring their stories to life. It’s no different being in my home state of Montana than it is being in a country ten thousand miles away. For me, the intimate moments always matter the most.

Photography has been my passport to meeting people, learning, and experiencing new cultures. I want to talk about the methods and sensibilities I use to bring back powerful, story-telling images without getting hurt in the process. Here are the top ten rules that I live by.

 

1. Research

Read everything you can about the place you’ll be visiting, especially local newspapers and social media. Local stories that may not reach the large international papers give me clues about what’s really happening in a place. Establish relationships before you even get on the plane. Make a point of befriending other photographers and sources. Nothing is as valuable as another photographer who has been there. I like to use social media to meet people, or through websites such as lightstalkers.org, where there’s a forum to connect and ask questions.

In this case, the story was about China releasing the first female giant panda back into the wild. With careful planning, we were given access to create a more powerful story that showed humanity's relationship to the Giant Panda. With some thinking ahead and planning, I acquired a more unique image.
In this case, the story was about China releasing the first female giant panda back into the wild. With careful planning, we were given access to create a more powerful story that showed humanity’s relationship to the Giant Panda. With some thinking ahead and planning, I acquired a more unique image.

 

2. Go deep

I don’t view travel photography as solely an adventure. Although I get to witness extraordinary things, it’s not simply about jetting off to exotic places. The magic really begins when you stay in a place and give yourself enough time to gain insight and understanding. It requires tremendous persistence and patience, but I would rather spend more time in one place than try to see it all. One way to get beyond surface images is to plan a trip to one location, several times, if you can. Below are two anecdotes about how I gained access and went deeper into a story.

I spent a couple of days with Subita and her family. At no time were we alone; around us hundreds of digital cameras were firing away. Before dawn broke, as we huddled around a fire, at least a half dozen people were looking at her only through their lens. The only time any of them acknowledged me was to ask me a technical question, like what ISO would work best in the stingy light.

Later, Subita would tell me how dehumanizing the impact of eager tourists and their cameras were on her. They made her feel like an animal―this is how she expressed it. No one even said namaste, or hello, to her. Those who surrounded her were after only one thing—what they considered a great shot. It was a hunt and she was simply the prize.

If some of the people who surrounded Subita had taken the time to spend even a few hours with her, learning a bit more about her life, they would have had a story and not just an image.

 

Nikon044

 

3. Be authentic and sensitive

The easiest way to make compelling, real photographs of people is by being authentic. Making candid images of people is not a trick. It’s a skill a photographer can develop, which requires respect for the subject and building a relationship in the time you have together. Successful pictures of people almost never happen from a distance. Put away the telephoto lens and become part of the moment.

Talk to people. Whether it’s simply a nod of acknowledgement, a greeting, an explanation of what you’re doing, or a long involved conversation, connect with the people you are photographing. Remember, we have more in common with each other than you might think. Don’t look at people as different or exotic. Rather, focus on the things that unite and bind us.

 

Children are one of the most universal themes that unite us all. This is a group of children who were displaced by conflict in the state of Gujarat, in Ahmedabad, India.
Children are one of the most universal themes that unite us all. This is a group of children who were
displaced by conflict in the state of Gujarat, in Ahmedabad, India.

 

4. Know your equipment

If you exude apprehension or tension, people pick up on it and cannot relax with the added element of a camera. Know your equipment so that you can focus on relating to your subjects. Your confidence in yourself will instill confidence in them. For me, simplicity is the key to success. I never bring new gear on an assignment or a trip, it’s always tested at home first, and I bring backups on the real trip. Simple is always better. It’s okay to use the latest and greatest technology, but know how to use it before you start your trip.

I’ve been using Nikon equipment for many years. I test my cameras and lenses thoroughly, as soon as I get them. I want to be so comfortable with them that I could operate the gear in the dark. This image of the wrestlers had beautiful but extremely tricky lighting. I had to adjust my settings quickly to capture this shot successfully before the light was gone.
I’ve been using Nikon equipment for many years. I test my cameras and lenses thoroughly, as soon as I get them. I want to be
so comfortable with them that I could operate the gear in the dark. This image of the wrestlers had beautiful but extremely tricky lighting.
I had to adjust my settings quickly to capture this shot successfully before the light was gone.

 

5. Keep good notes

You think you will remember everyone you meet, but time and age fade the memory. In the past, I used to take down people’s names and a short description of what they were wearing, or some distinguishing feature about them. I would get back home, start looking through my notes and discover many of the girls I was photographing wearing similar-looking pink dresses. Now I carry my phone, loaded with a model-release app called EZ Release, which allows me to take pictures and get their consent at the same time. I also make a habit of writing captions and labeling images right after a trip ends, and not procrastinating.

 

Use your phone to take notes, get releases, and remember the people you meet on your travels.
Use your phone to take notes, get releases, and remember the people you meet on your travels.

 

6. Dress appropriately

Fit in with the scene. Understated is always best. Again, sensitivity for the mores and norms of where you are goes a long way to being accepted. A female photographer may want to wear a scarf to cover her head in some cultures. It’s one of the most visible ways to show respect for local sensibilities. I also avoid looking like the stereotypical photographer (black cargo pants or vests with lots of pockets).

 

When the first female panda was being released into the wild, I dressed myself up as a tree so as not to scare her. The director of the panda program was touched. He came running up to me, hugged me, and exclaimed, “You get to hold two baby pandas! President Obama, he only held one baby panda." The doors opened and we got excellent access for the rest of the story, and got far stronger images because of it.
When the first female panda was being released into the wild, I dressed myself up as a tree so as not to scare her. The director of the panda program was touched. He came running up to me, hugged me, and exclaimed, “You get to hold two baby pandas! President Obama, he only held one baby panda.” The doors opened and we got excellent access for the rest of the story, and got far stronger images because of it.

Later, we all dressed as pandas so we could get behind-the-scenes access to the panda training center where they train captive-born pandas to go back into the wild.
Later, we all dressed as pandas so we could get behind-the-scenes access to the panda training center
where they train captive-born pandas to go back into the wild.

 

7. Meet the leaders

Whether you’re in a slum or a city, there’s always a hierarchy. If you take the time to explain why you’re there and get the blessings of the leaders or elders in any community, it will keep you safer than wandering around aimlessly. As a woman, I also take time to meet the women leaders in a community, too.

One evening, after photographing angry protesters, a rogue group of young men decided that they wanted to use me as an example to show their anger towards US policy. I had spent the day with the women leaders in the village, and they came to my rescue when they saw the mob scene developing around me. After that, I always spend the first day of any trip meeting local leaders wherever I’m working, and get their blessing. I’m always amazed at how quickly the news of my project spreads in a community. Everyone knows why I am there and doors open.

 

Getting close and intimate with people requires time and understanding. Building relationships is the most important aspect of what we do.  This is an image of a mother being consoled by her family at her daughter's funeral, in Kashmir, India. I spent four years documenting this culture, and because I took time and built relationships, I was invited into people’s lives and was able to reveal the sometimes difficult, yet always intimate moments.
Getting close and intimate with people requires time and understanding. Building relationships is the most important aspect of what we do.
This is an image of a mother being consoled by her family at her daughter’s funeral, in Kashmir, India. I spent four years documenting this culture, and because I took time and built relationships, I was invited into people’s lives and was able to reveal the sometimes difficult, yet always intimate moments.

 

8. Trust your instincts

I rely on the kindness of strangers everywhere I go. It is real and out there—most people are lovely and kind. It’s a wonderful world out there, but remember to be on guard, as unfortunately, bad clouds can form and tensions can escalate. Trust your instincts and don’t ever assume or be lulled into a false sense of security. Even if it feels safe, don’t let your guard down. I have found that establishing relationships in advance is the best way to prepare.

 

Just like this man built trust with the camel, you need to trust and work on the relationship on the other side of the lens.
Just like this man built trust with the camel, you need to trust and work on the relationship on the other side of the lens.

 

9. Give back

Your subjects are giving of themselves. Don’t abuse their gift of sharing their lives. Don’t treat them like models. Send back some prints, cherish the moment, and treat them well. Don’t promise if you don’t intend to deliver. In this age where many people are digitally connected, it has become easier than ever to email a jpeg to an address for your subjects to share.

 

Whether you bring back prints or simply spend time talking to people, it's important to make photography not just about taking images, but giving back, too. This is Subita and her sister as I am teaching them how to use my camera.
Whether you bring back prints or simply spend time talking to people, it’s important to make photography not just about taking images,
but giving back, too. This is Subita and her sister as I am teaching them how to use my camera.

 

10. Have fun

Yes, getting the shot is important, but be thankful that you have the opportunity to even be where you are. Pinch yourself and enjoy the moment. It relaxes everyone, and the pictures and stories are better for it.

 

Literally dive in and immerse yourself wherever you are. Find ways to connect with people. This is in Madagascar, and I'm just having fun.
Literally dive in and immerse yourself wherever you are. Find ways to connect with people. This is in Madagascar, and I’m just having fun.

 

If there is only one thing you take away from this, I hope it’s the understanding that all of us are not only photographers, but we are storytellers. There is a beautiful, universal truth everywhere and, if you peek under the veil, you’ll find a wondrous commonality between us. I hope that in your travels, you use your camera not just as an extension of your eye but also as an extension of your heart.

If there is only one thing you take away from this, I hope it’s the understanding that all of us are not only photographers, but we are storytellers. There is a beautiful, universal truth everywhere and, if you peek under the veil, you’ll find a wondrous commonality between us. I hope that in your travels, you use your camera not just as an extension of your eye but also as an extension of your heart.

Gear talk: Nikon’s Coolpix

My workhorse cameras have been the Nikon D4 and D800 but recently, I picked up Nikon’s compact P7800 Coolpix and it has reignited my passion for photography. Normally I carry big lenses and heavy gear on my adventures but have found its really not that practical in a lot of situations. For example, when I’m on horseback or on the slopes, dangling lenses can get knocked around pretty badly.  But I never have wanted to sacrifice image quality for the convenience of a small camera. Now there is a solution and the optical quality is impressive for such a small and light camera.

I’m not an engineer and can not get into the nitty gritty details of the technology but this little camera is a gem. The bright F/2 lens and well designed shooting modes make it possible to shoot hand-held in my favorite situations when its dark and moody and there is not a lot of light available.  The Nikon optics are sharp and the sturdy build allows me to take it into all kinds of crazy situations. The image quality allows me to publish these images as double spreads in magazines. Im also shooting some sweet, short videos.

Whether you are telling a story about your family, a vacation you took, a wedding or you are a professional photographer, the heart of what we do is always about story telling. And I’ve learned the best cameras and the best technology never gets in the way of great storytelling. That’s why I love this little P7800.

 

IndieVoices Campaign a Success!

Thanks to the generosity and support from an extraordinary community, my IndieVoices crowd funding campaign has been successful and we are on our way to creating a very important project! I am grateful to everyone who contributed and shared this story.  The New York Times and National Geographic Proof also featured it on their websites.

Commercial poaching organized by sophisticated heavily armed criminal networks and fueled by heavy demand from newly minted millionaires in emerging markets is devastating the amazing mega-fauna of the African plains. It is entirely possible, even likely, that if the current trajectory of death continues, rhinos, elephants and a host of lesser know plains animals will be functionally extinct in our lifetimes.

Much needed attention has been focused on the plight of wildlife and the conflict between heavily armed poacher and increasingly militarized wildlife rangers. However, the compelling story of indigenous communities caught in the cross-­hairs of the poaching wars, and who may hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals, is largely untold.

If you’re still interested in supporting this, its not too late. Please get in touch with me personally. Your contributions will go back into these communities and these majestic creatures.

You can also help by contributing directly to the powerful work of The Lewa Wildlife ConservancyNorthern Rangelands Trust and The Nature Conservancy in Africa who fight everyday to protect the natural world we all share.

Thank you so much!

In the photo above, Yusuf, a keeper at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in central Kenya, slept among three orphaned baby rhinos. The calf he rested his head on was orphaned when poachers killed his mother 50 miles away.

 

The Aftermath Project

The Aftermath Project is a non-profit organization committed to telling the other half of the story of conflict — the story of what it takes for individuals to learn to live again, to rebuild destroyed lives and homes, to restore civil societies, to address the lingering wounds of war while struggling to create new avenues for peace. The Aftermath Project holds a yearly grant competition open to working photographers worldwide covering the aftermath of conflict. Deadline is typically in November.

Alexia Foundation

The Alexia Foundation provides grants and scholarships to photojournalists, enabling them to create work that gives voice to those who go unheard, fosters cultural understanding and exposes social injustice. It annually provides a $20,000 grant for a professional photographer to produce a substantial story. The Foundation also provides grants and scholarships for six students. Students must be enrolled full time in an accredited college or university. Photographers from anywhere in the world are eligible.