Fine Art Prints by National Geographic

BHUTAN:THE LAST SHANGRI LA 2: A Buddhist monk enters the formidable doors of Trongsa Dzong, the Ancestral home of BhutanÕs monarchy. The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has sat in isolation for thousands of years and only recently has been thrust into the glare of modern times after centuries of solitude. Bhutan is a tiny, remote, and impoverished country wedged precariously between two powerful neighbors, India and China. Violent storms coming off the Himalaya gave the country its name, meaning "Land of the Thunder Dragon." This conservative Buddhist kingdom high in the Himalaya had no paved roads until the 1960s, was off-limits to foreigners until 1974, and launched television only in 1999 .

I am honored to have my work represented as exclusive limited editions by National Geographic | Fine Art Galleries. The galleries are places of learning where conservation of natural resources, the importance of natural places and the wildlife that inhabit the world come to life with every photographic creation. Behind every one of the iconic images is an amazing story.

“I took this photo at the end of the day in a tiny village in the far east of Bhutan. My motto is: I’m the first there and last to leave. I am up before sunrise and I’m the last one to go to bed. My key to success is patience. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m not taking pictures. I’m asking questions, listening, exploring, waiting and watching, and getting to know people so they will let me into their world. 
On that particular day, I was walking around this village with a gaggle of kids, who all spoke perfect English. Normally when I travel around the world, people are always asking for things like candy or money. Tourism leaves a mark, and it’s not always a good one. These kids just wanted to show me around, though. I was about to call it quits when I passed this temple and saw this young monk closing the door to the monastery.
Later that night, when night had fallen, I heard a tapping on the door of the room I was staying in. It was those same children bringing me a lovingly, hand-knitted textile, along with a photo of themselves and a sweet note saying, “We don’t want you to forget us.” I still have that note and the gift and will never forget them.”

Instagram takeover for The Nature Conservancy

This week, I will be taking over The Nature Conservancy’s Instagram account (@nature_africa) with photos of Loisaba Conservancy (@loisaba_conservancy) in Laikipia, Northern Kenya. Loisaba is an important elephant corridor, with more than 800 elephants spending significant time there, and it plays a critical role in maintaining ecological connectivity between Laikipia and Samburu. I am excited to be able to share this special place with you. You can follow along on my Instagram, @amivitale, and with @loisaba_conservancy and @nature_africa.

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.

COFFEELAND: Images from Ethiopia in Afar Magazine

Check out this month’s issue of AFAR travel magazine and the story “COFFEELAND” by writer David Farley. This was an epic journey across Ethiopia tracing the origination of coffee that goes back to the thirteenth century. Legend says that a herder named Kaldi noticed his goats “dancing” after nibbling bright red berries. Kaldi brought the berries to a nearby monastery where holy men declared they must be the work of the devil and threw them into a fire. Yet, the aroma was too tempting and they quickly raked the roasted beans from the embers, ground them up, and dissolved them in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee.

This journey did not involve dancing goats but I did travel with brilliant coffee expert Geoff Watts from Intelligentsia coffee and the incredible people from TechnoServe who taught me more than I could ever imagine about my favorite beverage. I also got to meet farmers who showed me what they believed was THE ORIGINAL COFFEE TREE. This happened  in two different villages and there seems to be some debate over which one holds the original tree. Wherever the truth lies, I do know that the culture around coffee in Ethiopia is a serious affair. Its much more than gulping bottomless cups on the go. For those who’ve been invited to a coffee ceremony, it the highest possible gesture of respect and friendship. If you are attending an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, be prepared for a long wait. A traditional ceremony can last a couple of hours and it feels like a spiritual ritual as incense is burned and the grounds are brewed three times.  The first round of coffee is called awel, the second kale’i and the third bereka which actually means ‘to be blessed’.

The experience and knowledge changed the way I will ever think about coffee. Here in the USA, we sling it back but after witnessing first hand the tremendous energy and love it takes to get the best beans to market,  I came back a changed woman. And on the advice of these coffee experts, my french press is now sadly sitting in the back of the closet and we are brewing coffee by hand with the best roasted Ethiopian coffee. Here are some of the images from the trip but pick up a copy of Afar to see the whole story.

National Geographic Channel in Sri Lanka

The cameras have been turned and I’m on a new National Geographic Channel tv show called “Mission Covershot” shot in Sri Lanka!  The show captures the journey of eight photographers as they compete to get the perfect covershot  and the chance of having their photo on the cover of National Geographic magazine. I had the pleasure of being a lead judge on an esteemed panel that included leading Indian director Nagesh Kukunoor and National Geographic Magazine Traveler photography editor Ashima Narain. The lovely and charismatic Shibani Dandekar joined us as the host of the show.  I hope the series will not only be entertaining but also educate audiences and aspiring photographers about what it takes to make powerful photographs and stories. It may look easy to carry a camera and make beautiful images but there is a lot of hard work behind each photograph. And most of the time, working hard is much more important than raw talent. Millions of people can take nice pictures but you need to also have intelligence, ethics, sensitivity and know how treat people with respect. So tune in on the Nat Geo channel Monday nights at 10 pm from March 25. Click HERE to see a promo video.

Workshop in Sri Lanka August 9-18, 2013

Join renowned photojournalist Ami Vitale for an enlightening photography workshop on the island nation of Sri Lanka. She just finished a ten part TV series with National Geographic Channel that is currently airing in Asia. This summer she will lead a small and intimate workshop to “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” with its abundant wildlife and ancient culture.  During the trip, you will have the opportunity to photograph and get daily critiques from Ami as she guides you to take your passion for photography and make a difference in your life’s work.  The workshop will focus on how to take strong still images and turn them into compelling stories that make a difference. CLICK HERE for a full itinerary.

One of the highlights of the trip will be exclusive photographic access to theKandy/Esala Festival. At this impressive festival, Buddhist traditions are performed in costumes with extravagant decorations and elegant detailing. In addition to front-row views for the festival processions, we will have private access to the dancers and performers as they prepare for the festivities.

We will also enjoy  exclusiveaccess in the Pinnewala elephant orphanage. A conservation project for orphaned and injured elephants, it is the only shelter of its kind in the entire world.  We will also visit Yala National Park, undoubtedly the best place to spot leopards in Asia, if not the world. We will meet locals, visit the centuries old Dutch Galle Fort and photograph the iconic stilt fisherman that Steve McCurry made famous.

If you are a photographer interested in how to create memorable photographic stories and multimedia presentations, make sure you attend Ami’s powerful and timely workshop. The location and knowledge gained will make this a once in a lifetime experience.

Madagascar

I’m back from Madagascar where I spent a month before the holidays,  discovering the island for a TV show called “Maritime Africa”. It will be a five-part documentary series about the islands around Africa.  SWR/ARTE (German and French public TV) and twelve other European stations will air the show that will be about the islands, their people and the distinct cultures as I document it for a coffee table book.  It was a privilege to work with this incredibly talented group  of people. Check out their website: http://www.filmquadrat-dok.de/ Images will follow soon!

Return to Sierra Leone

I am leaving tomorrow to Freetown, Sierra Leone filled with feelings of anxiety as well as hope. The last time I was there was just a few months after the brutal civil war ended in 2002 that claimed tens of thousands of lives and left more than a third of its population displaced. Yet it is the unspeakable atrocities that are so haunting. I remember back in 1999, Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora, a friend and extremely committed journalist, who was later killed covering the conflict, told me stories of rebels offering their victims the choice between a “long sleeve” or “short sleeve” just as they were about to hack off their victims’ arms. When I arrived, three years later, I saw faces devoid of expression, weighed down by these horrific memories. The goal was not just to kill people but to terrorize an entire population.

Today security and the politics are steadily improving but there is a quieter battle still going on.  One in eight women are dying giving birth. The government recently announced free health care to pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children under five beginning on April 27. With only about 170 doctors for more than 5 million people, this will be a daunting task.  I hope this documentary can raise awareness, promote change and help. The doctors, health workers and government are working hard to change the statistics.

If you are interested in learning more about this or want to donate, the following links are to organizations working there.

Unicef

Marie Stopes International

Doctors Without Borders

Amnesty International

Flight for Survival: How it happened?

rhino

They are huge but gentle, lumbering beasts and there are only eight left on the entire planet. Scientists believe the magnificent Northern White rhinos are nearly extinct. There are rumors of some, a few at best, in Southern Sudan but none have been seen for many years now. These eight, two in the San Diego Zoo and six in the Dvur Kralove Zoo in cold, snowy Czech Republic are all we know of the second largest land animal on earth.

In a last ditch effort to save this species from extinction, the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya cut a deal to airlift the last four breeding age animals from the Czech Zoo to live “free” on the savannas of Kenya, not too far from Mt. Kenya. The hope is that Africa, the temperance of the climate and the room to roam will entice them to breed and establish a nucleus for the future re-population of their former Central African range. If that does not work, then breeding them with Southern Whites can help preserve their genes.

I heard about the plans and immediately visited them while I was in Prague for a workshop last October. The story captured my heart instantly. It is a story of hope and of a second chance, something rarely seen in the environmental movement. Surprisingly, no one was interested because it was not a visual story. The rhinos would be in wooden crates for the entire journey and to most editors, it justifiably was a lot of expense for a story that would be difficult to tell. In today’s economic climate, no one can afford to risk investing in a story that might not work.

Yet, I could not let go and wrote another more impassioned appeal for help to get me there. This move was a last ditch effort for saving this entire species and I did not want to miss the opportunity to document it. It was more than a story of flying rhinos 4000 miles across the globe. It was a story of conservationists feeling confident enough with Africa to bring back a critically, endangered animal. The animals are getting old and they would not live long in the Eastern European zoo, under smokestacks and snow. I could not imagine a more poignant picture.

Thankfully, several organizations pitched in. None could afford the entire costs but each was willing to help. Organizations like National Geographic, MSNBC.com the Knight Center for International Media and The Nature Conservancy supported me to tell this great story of hope and reversals. I am so grateful to them and the people that allowed me access, specifically the wonderful, generous people of Dvur Kralov Zoo and Ol Pejeta Nature Conservancy. There are so many people to thank and the woman who made it all possible is Elodie Sampere of Ol Pejeta. I am eternally indebted to her for her persistence and generous spirit. Berry White and Pete Morkel are the veterinarians who were incredibly patient as I followed them in what must have been one of the more sleep deprived moments of their lives. There are so many people to thank for allowing me the privilege to witness this incredible moment.

On my last day, moments before I was set to drive back to Nairobi, the skies darkened and it felt like a monsoon in the middle of the savannah. Within minutes, the rhinos responded like children, running as fast as they could and then flopping their 2 ton bodies into a belly dive in the most glorious mud bath. Sure I don’t want to be too anthromorphic about such things, but they looked like they were smiling. That moment alone was worth all that it took to be there. The fact that this is the beginning of a renewed interest in keeping and repopulating parts of Africa with this magnificent species, whose only curse was to be born with a price on its head, is all the inspiration I need.

The rhinos are doing well and adapting quickly. If you want to keep updated on how they are or find out how to visit them, go to Ol Pejeta’s website.

Flight for Survival: Rhinos go back to Africa

View the story at msnbc.com

They are huge but gentle, lumbering beasts and there are only eight left on the entire planet. Scientists believe the magnificent Northern White rhinos are nearly extinct. In a last ditch effort to save this species from extinction, the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya cut a deal to airlift the last four breeding age animals from the Czech Zoo to live “free” on the savannas of Kenya. You can read more about the trip in my blog.