Photographers' Blog

Gear for a gecko portrait shoot

Rochester, New York

By Adam Fenster

When I got a call from one of the publicists in University Communications a couple of weeks ago asking whether we should try to find stock art or make our own photos to illustrate a recent paper by University of Rochester PhD student Daniel Scantlebury, I immediately jumped at the chance. I had read that the paper, which describes a slowdown in the rate at which species form on Madagascar, involved obscure gecko species and, as an occasional photographer of frogs and other critters, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make some interesting studio photographs, push my photography skills and at the same time help to publicize a critical scientific study.

GALLERY: MADAGASCAR GECKOS

I emailed Dan, explaining what I wanted to try and emphasizing that the comfort and safety of his geckos was critical. I had been told he had a collection containing some of the animals in the study but was distressed to learn upon meeting him in his office later that he had given them away. Fortunately, as someone with close ties to Rochester’s “gecko community”, he was able to put me in touch with Thomas Wood, a local expert and aquarium store owner who possesses a large collection of the same leaf tailed gecko species that were part of the study.

After we set up a time to meet at Tom’s house I tried to figure out how I wanted to photograph these animals. I had long been inspired by the work of National Geographic contributor Joel Sartore, particularly this photo. But when I saw the stunning gecko photos of Shikhei Goh I knew exactly what I wanted to try (minus the kung fu part). I sourced a piece of black plexiglass from a local plastics company, then made some test shots in our office combining the plexiglass on a small table with a black backdrop and two lights: a Paul C Buff Einstein with 35” gridded octobox, placed camera left and another Einstein with a grid spot at upper back right. Gridding a light source minimizes light spill and maximizes directionality, which was important in getting everything to go solid black to create contrast to set off the unique features of the geckos. If I were to do this again I’d use even smaller light sources as there was still a bit of spill, or I’d move the backdrop a little farther back. I triggered the lights using the newer Pocket Wizards (radio transmitters) that allow for power adjustment on the fly with a little gadget that clicks into the camera’s hot shoe. This proved helpful as some animals frequently changed their distance to the lights in addition to having various hues that required more or less light to photograph suitably. The results were about what I had hoped for so I packed everything back up and waited for our shoot day.

I drove with Dan to Tom’s house and after introductions were made I was led down to the “Gecko Room” in Tom’s basement. I had been expecting perhaps a handful of old cages containing a small sampling of species but was greeted instead by the sight of literally dozens of vivariums filled with live plants inside which held some of the most fantastical animals I have ever seen in person: bizarre-looking, bearded and bumpy, and almost invisible with their perfect camouflage. I’ve been to zoos and pet stores that do not have the equipment and species variation in that room. After more introductions to the various species we settled on five or six that we thought might best lend themselves to being photographed. After that I set up my little studio in Tom’s living room upstairs, did a few tests and we then began to methodically photograph them. Tom and Dan handled and positioned the geckos while I photographed, manipulated lights and made species IDs using voice tags on the back of the camera. After about three hours (and a growler of local microbrew) we were done. Tom and Dan did a masterful job in selecting and handling the creatures and I can say with complete authority that no geckos were harmed in the creation of these images.

As far as camera gear goes, we’re a Nikon shop here at the university and we just took delivery of a D4 earlier this year. It’s a great camera with speedy autofocus and a beautiful file. We also have a D800 which offers a bigger file but doesn’t seem to do quite as well with autofocus speed and accuracy, which proved critical for this shoot as some of the animals like to move around. Many are also very small which required macro equipment and the resulting focus tolerances are very narrow, even at the high apertures I was using and again rendering autofocus accuracy critical. For the first animal — an 8-10” Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus henkeli) — I was able to use a 70-200mm lens but for all the others I reverted to a 50mm 1.4 coupled with my personal Canon 250D closeup lens. While not ideal for this sort of work, the combination did just fine.

Entering “Reborn Baby” paradise

La Louviere, Belgium

By Yves Herman

“I would like to adopt please,” “I would like to buy a life-like baby”, or “I would love to adopt Mathilda or Stefy” are sentences you hear from clients entering the workshop of Belgian artist Beatrice Van Landeghem in La Louviere in the south of Belgium. “La nurserie des Tis Lous De Bea”, which can be translated as “The nursery of Bea’s babies” (Bea for Beatrice) is a very atypical store, situated in the small town, a 45 minute drive from Brussels. Welcome to the Belgian “Reborn Baby” paradise.

Everybody can buy a “Reborn Baby”-kit and try to make their own life-like baby but not all of us have the skills to make them appear real. Belgian artist Beatrice Van Landeghem knows how to make her customers fall in love with a beautifully made doll. You have to see it with your own eyes. It’s hard to believe how realistic it can be. Lying in his cradle, “Loan”, a one month-old baby doll, carefully crafted in vinyl and wonderfully hand-painted by the artist looks as if he is far away and sleeping.

“Let’s adopt him, he is ours!” The customers seem to think as if preparing themselves to become virtual parents.

The parents left behind

Warsaw, Poland

By Peter Andrews

I remember my mother taking me to the airport on June 10, 1981. In theory, everyone knew I was leaving for three weeks, but both of us really knew that I would not be coming back. I was nineteen at the time and wanted to see a different world, a world outside the so called Iron Curtain.

My mother didn’t show sadness but I could see tears in her eyes when she said good bye to me. I saw her twice in ten years. Once after four years, when she visited my new home, Canada, and later in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down. Our contact was scarce. In those days, it was very difficult to call out of Poland, especially after martial law was introduced. Later, when martial law was lifted, it was a bit easier, but still there were only land lines. No mobile phones, no Internet, no Skype – only written letters put inside envelopes, with a postage stamp and sent from the post office. It was only when the Soviet Union collapsed and the so-called evil empire ceased to exist that I was able to see her freely. It is only when you are not able to see your parents often that one notices how age works on people.

At the time when I was leaving Poland no one knew that ten years down the road the world’s geo-political situation would change and that eastern European countries would join NATO and later, in 2004, the European Union would allow many young people to travel freely, without any restrictions or prosecution.

Five days with my North Korean minders

Pyongyang, North Korea

By Jason Lee

From stepping on to the Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang on the evening of July 24th until my return on the 29th, I didn’t stop taking pictures. Our group from Reuters, visiting the secretive state of North Korea for its celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, often found ourselves with no time to eat. It was only in the taxi on the way home from Beijing airport that I had time to think back on my trip.

GALLERY: INSIDE NORTH KOREA

It was the experience of a lifetime, a nation of 22 million people showing a depression and weakness of spirit that I tried my best to interpret through my cameras.

But it can also be seen through my experience with the closest North Korean people to me during the trip – the minders, the name we gave to the “guides” deployed by the government to accompany foreign media.

Swimming by Seatrac

Alepochori, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

In Greece, with its hundreds of islands, one of the longest coastlines in the world and a great climate, people are lucky enough to enjoy the beach for nearly half the year. Swimming in the sea is a way of life for many Greeks and a habit they’ve grown used to from their earliest years. With tourism being the country’s biggest industry, almost all visitors plan at least one “touch” with the sea during their holiday.

But for some, things are not so simple. Those with kinetic disabilities have always had to ask for help to enjoy the simple pleasure of swimming in the sea as wheelchairs cannot be driven on the sand or over pebbles. Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual in a country where access facilities for the disabled are in general very poor, even at the most basic level. A lack of infrastructure by the state and hostile behavior by many locals is a cocktail poisoning the daily life of those who depend on wheelchairs to get around.

In such a difficult environment, a team of university students and professors developed a solar-powered device which enables autonomous access to the beach for people with kinetic disabilities: the “Seatrac”, an innovative project covered by European and U.S. patents but faced with Greek reality.

Woodstock 2013

Kostrzyn-upon-Odra River, Poland

By Tom Peter

It was a sweltering hot day and already late in the afternoon when I reached the small Polish border town of Kostrzyn-nad-Odra, home to the Woodstock Station rock festival. As I made my way along a forest road towards a military base on its outskirts, I passed scores of bare-chested men who lay dotted around in the shade, having clearly succumbed to a mixture of heat and hard liqueur. I approached the throbbing roar of guitars beyond the forest with some apprehension, believing I was in for a night of testosterone-induced aggression. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I stepped out into the clearing I found myself at the edge of a mud mosh pit the size of a tennis court, with a few dozen boys and girls in swim suits going absolutely bonkers to the sound of a Polish punk band. Beyond it there was the main stage towering over a billowing cloud of dust thrown up by thousands of dancing metal-heads who were going equally off the rails.

Those in front of me chased one another through the knee-deep murky water, tipping each other over (girls were the preferred targets), and rolling around in the sludge in what looked like Mad Max fighting scenes. Every so often groups would be overcome by a communal fit of exercise mania and organize themselves in circles to do push-ups or crawl, military style, across the pit.

Derby days

Augusta, New Jersey

By Mike Segar

When I was growing up I remember each summer looking forward to visiting the Barnstable County fair in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where my family spent the summer. A tradition from coast to coast, the summer county fair is a purely American event and my family never missed it.

GALLERY: JERSEY’S DEMOLITION DERBY

What I also remember fondly from the fair after the cotton candy, rides and games was going to see the evening demolition derby races – watching as groups of salvaged and homemade cars called “beaters” or “wrecks” slammed into each other over and over on a dirt track until the last car still moving was declared the winner. It was always a fun event with lots of laughs.

As a Reuters staff photographer based in New York I am always looking out for quirky, uniquely American events and stories which can bring with them their own set of characters and atmosphere that make for interesting images and the opportunity for visual storytelling. Demolition Derby is certainly one of these events. When I found out that the Nation-Wide Demolition-Derby company was holding a two-day competition, one of the largest on the east coast, I knew I wanted to shoot it.

Little angel Niuniu

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

“Mom, can I touch the stuffed steamed bun? I won’t eat it, just touch.” Four-year-old Wang JiachengNiuniu, nicknamed Niuniu, said to his mother while desperately eager for a bite of the steamed bun stuffed with meat in front of him. Half a year ago, Niuniu was diagnosed with late stage neuroblastoma. Since then, he has undergone chemotherapy treatments which cause him to vomit constantly and make it almost impossible to eat anything, especially meat. Yan Hongyu, Niuniu’s mother, cast a bitter smile at her son’s naive request. She was still struggling to believe that her boy had to suffer such a great deal in his childhood.

GALLERY: A CHILD’S STRUGGLE

I came across Niuniu’s story while doing research to find a family for an in-depth picture story on China’s healthcare policy. Before I met them, I did some searches and found out there weren’t many treatments available in China for neuroblastoma, which is a neuroendocrine tumor arising from any neural crest element of the sympathetic nervous system. This cancer has a more successful treatment rate if the patient is less than two-years-old. But in Niuniu’s case, the risk is much higher. Nonetheless, Niuniu had surgery to remove the tumor. After that, he would have to completely rely on chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells.

Knowing the chances were slim, Niuniu’s parents committed to the treatment with 100% faith. Yan quit her job in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, and took her son to Shanghai for better medical services in early 2013. They rented a 10-square-meter small apartment near the hospital, and since then have been rushing between the two places. Niuniu’s father, who used to own a small company in Yancheng, recently sold the company in order to pay the bills. He was still taking some jobs in their hometown to make ends meet, but whenever he had a chance he would go to Shanghai to help his wife. “Nowadays, people just cannot afford to get sick” Yan said as she chatted with other patients’ relatives in the hospital. Before Niuniu fell ill, they were a happy upper-middle class family. But now the estimated cost for the entire treatment is over 300,000 yuan (48,991 USD), and the insurance can only cover as much as 80,000 yuan (13,064 USD). A huge financial burden, restless nights while taking care of Niuniu and mental anguish – none of this matters to Yan. “Nothing is worse than seeing my son suffer everyday,” Yan said. “I would rather myself being sick.”

Inside Mongolia’s Ger District

Ulan Bator, Mongolia

By Carlos Barria

As the sun tucks behind the hills near the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, Baljirjantsan Otgonseren, 32, walks out of her “Ger,” a traditional Mongolian tent, looking for her daughter. The girl is watching the last sunbeams of the day stretch over the settlement known as the Ger District — a sprawling residential area that has grown so fast in ten years, it has evolved from a transient slum to a legal residential zone.

Like many other residents, Otgonseren and her family migrated from the grasslands to the capital looking for better opportunities. They left behind a traditional nomadic lifestyle in favor of city life and a shot at participating in their country’s rapid economic growth. Recent natural disasters have played a part too. For example, the 2010 “Zud,” a Mongolian term for an extremely snowy period, helped convince many to settle in one place for good.

According to a 2010 National Population Center census, roughly 30,000 to 40,000 people move to the capital every year. As a country, Mongolia is considered the world’s least densely populated nation; with 2.8 million people spread over 1.5 million square kilometers (580,000 square miles).

The choice for Mali

Timbuktu, Mali

By Joe Penney

As Mali went to the polls July 28 for the first round of presidential elections meant to restore peace and stability in the vast, landlocked West African country, I traveled from the capital Bamako to the dusty northern city of Timbuktu.

Elections in northern cities like Timbuktu, the storied Saharan trading post and scholarly center around since the early 14th century, were always going to be difficult to organize. The city is roughly 1000 km (620 miles) by road from the capital Bamako, but it takes 20 hours along dirt tracks and extremely potholed pavements to get there. During the rainy season, flooding renders the dirt track from Douentza to Timbuktu nearly impassable.

Since French and Malian forces took back control of the city from militant Jihadists in late January, electricity has been running only five hours a day, from 7 pm to midnight, provided by aid organizations and not the Malian government. Economic activity grinds to a halt during daytime hours, when scorching temperatures reach 45° C (113° F) at midday and not a fan moves among the 70,000 residents. Drinking water becomes like drinking tea without the tea bags, but that doesn’t matter much to the population of Timbuktu, the vast majority of which is currently fasting for Ramadan.

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