Best Photos of 2016

“So it’s pretty safe to view the lava, right?” I emailed my good friend Carl right before the trip, imagining a relaxing time sipping Mai Tais next to the ocean in my Hawaiian shirt.

“You will need a mask. When the poisonous gas blows your way, put on your mask and close your eyes. There will be acid rain too,” Carl said.

What had I gotten myself into?

The morning of our tour, our group met up with Bruce Omori, our team leader, at 3:30am. We took a quick stop at a gas station, and then headed to the boat loading area an hour away.

“The boat ride will be choppy. One participant puked the whole way last time,” Carl said.

I pride myself on being immune to seasickness, and boat rides at night reminded me of my childhood trips to visit my grandma. I always looked forward to it. Those were the nights when my parents gave me sketch books to draw animals while watching the lights from the houses in distant mountains.

The captain greeted us with a big smile.

“It’s gonna be a good day. I’ve never seen the sea so calm this whole month,” he said.

Once the five of us got into the boat and sat down facing the side, it took off at full throttle. It was still so dark I couldn’t see my fingers. 

Within the first minute, I counted five hydroplanes, meaning that the boat skimmed over the surface of the waves at such a high speed that it would drop a few feet every so often. I almost got bounced off the seat.

Uh oh. I shouldn’t have eaten the whole spam and egg musubi at the gas station!

Immediately, I grabbed the handle tightly, with my feet pressed against the gunwale.

I turned to our co-captain on my left.

“How long is the ride?”

“About an hour.”

It was gonna be a long ride.

“Look,” the co-captain said after five minutes, which distracted me from my deep focus on my breathing (so as to avoid puking).

I looked outside the boat.

“What the…?”

I saw waves glowing a bright and eerie ultramarine blue, four feet high, on both sides of the boat. From the absolute darkness surrounding us, they looked like a tunnel filled with blue LEDs.

“Those are the bioluminescence,” the co-captain said.

I remembered a scene in the film Life of Pi, where the ocean was filled with this natural phenomenon. I never imagined I would witness it in real life.

The shape of the waves kept changing like a silk cloth.

I felt as if I were looking at a hypnotizing clock, slowly losing myself.

Then, 20 feet away from the boat, I saw something flying.

It must be a hallucination.

I turned to my left.

“Yes, you saw the flying fish,” the co-captain said.

I looked again. A big fish, at least four feet long, with a long tall fin like a marlin, leaped into the sky like a slow-motion movie, leaving a curtain of crystal-like water dripping down. The fish was also illuminated a light blue color. Every second or two, another one porpoised, all swimming next to our boat, as if welcoming us to another world.

Blue waves and blue fish in the darkness. It must be a dream.

I looked up, and that’s when I realized I could see a sky full of stars. I could almost see the Milky Way.

Something immediately caught my attention.

“Is this the famous…?” I said as I pointed to the several stars, with a particular bright blue one near the horizon.

“Yes, that’s the Southern Cross (南十字).”

The blue star is called Acrux, part of the constellation of Centaurus, and is 10 million years old. I had heard so many stories of the different stars. Orion’s Belt. The North Star. We all try to add meaning to things we don’t understand. But what is the meaning of meaning?

[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal, “More than a rock” ” type=”left”]Trapped on a small planet. Ninety million miles from an ordinary star; one of more than a hundred billion stars in an unremarkable galaxy; itself one of a couple of hundred billion galaxies in a universe that may well be one of a great many other universes. Who cares if I make a photograph? I care, and you care, and that is enough.

[/x_blockquote][cs_text]I took a deep breath. There was really nothing to fear. I loosened my grip on the handle and relaxed my feet, and I no longer bounced. Maybe I had become one with this surreal world.

An hour passed by like a split second. I finally saw a faint orange glow in the distance. Then I heard the sound of boiling water times 1000, the roaring waves, the sizzling sound of a cast iron skillet. Then I saw the 200-foot-high plumes. The hair on my neck stood up. This was what primal fear felt like.

Yet the boat was not slowing down. “It’s way too close,” I screamed silently to myself.  

The boat finally stopped just a few feet away from the plumes. Instantly it rocked back and forth, due to the big waves created by the lava flowing into the ocean.

“Holy shit,” I couldn’t help but exclaim, almost at the same time Carl and the other two guys said the same thing.

The power of nature was so immense it caused my jaw to drop.

There were explosions after explosions inside the smoke.

“Are you guys ready?” the captain asked.

Ready for what? Just when I was wondering, the boat moved forward, right into the smoke.

My vision was blocked by the smoke. I could feel the heat, as if I had arrived at the surface of the sun. Then I saw it. I finally caught a glance at the face of the 2000-degree lava, like a red-hot blade, so bright it blinded me. It instantly sent a chill down my spine.

[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]I was shaking. My heart was pounding. Yet it felt like Déjà vu. It felt like I was home. It was the beginning of everything, the beginning of life. We all came from here. Our ancestors must have seen it. The experience has been deeply imprinted in our DNA. As I realized this, all my worries went away. All the nonsensical pride and ego of the human world was gone. In that moment, I realized that we are all so insignificant in the grand scheme of thing.

[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]All art and all people are ultimately forgotten. Civilizations fall; species come and go; planets and stars and galaxies disintegrate. Art may endure a bit longer than its creators, but nothing is forever. The power of art is the power of the present: the power of life encountering and seeking to understand something about the world and about itself. Art rewards not because it, or anything else we do, matters in the long run, but because it matters right then and there when we do it. Nothing that is within our power will prevent the universe from unfolding over eons and distances that are beyond our ability to even imagine. My existence— the entire span of my life— will not even merit a footnote in the history of this nameless little canyon. [/x_blockquote][x_blockquote cite=”Michio Hoshino” type=”left”]We all die and go back to nature eventually. When we are in the city we tend to forget – we don’t really think about it. But nature reminds us it’s not a sad thing. It gives us energy. Nature has a kind of power to encourage you to live because Nature teaches – you are going to die.[/x_blockquote][cs_text]Here are a few more pics I took in Hawaii. (Not the best pics of 2016 yet. But I absolutely love them.)[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text class=”cs-ta-center”]”The big toes”, Lava surface flow.[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text class=”cs-ta-center”]Lava explosion at ocean entry, long exposure.[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][x_feature_headline level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ icon=”lightbulb-o”]Best photos of 2016[/x_feature_headline][cs_text]Many of us take wildlife photos because we want to capture the beauty of nature. However, with so many people owning digital cameras, the world is now filled with beautiful photos of animals. The world really doesn’t need another pretty picture.

Instead of merely capturing something beautiful, we want our photos to tell stories, to evoke emotion. I focused a lot on that in 2015 and before. But 2016 was a year of solitude and reflection.

I was frustrated about my own photography. I despised most of the previous photos I had taken. I was feeling totally lost, as I yearned to express my emotion through photography and I wanted to master the visual language.

I purchased Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color by Arthur Wesley Dow, which helped me understand image harmony. The book then led me to learn more about Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stiegliz. I got more interested in self-expression thru O’Keefe’s works.

Then my obsessiveness kicked in, and I purchased the last 20 years of Wildlife Photographer of The Year Portfolio and read every single word — which led me to all the books published by the chief judge Jim Brandenburg. I learned more about the objective of that contest (to promote wildlife photography as high art), which helped me understand a small number of the harder-to-understand winning images that were blurry, blue-ish and out-of-focus in previous years. I was particularly inspired by the book Chased by the Light by Jim Brandenburg, where he talked in depth on his vision and emotion.

While in a heated photography discussion with my buddy Carl, he recommended to me a new book by Guy Tal called More Than a Rock. The book was geared more towards landscape photographers, but I found it profoundly inspiring, and it helped answer many of my questions. Though some of the points may be different for wildlife photography, mostly applied. No one has said it better or more poetically than him. It is a big book and I have read it cover to cover three times. It is definitely THE BEST photography book out there, and has become one of my all-time favorite books together with The War of Art by Steve Pressfield.

Buy Guy Tal's book More Than a Rock NOW!

You can't afford to not read it if you ever want to be a great photographer.

Here are my favorite moments from 2016, together with some quotes I liked from Guy Tal's book.

[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]I’m a photographer because I place the highest value on the experiences I seek, rather than their lesser byproducts— images. If getting a “better” image requires diminishing the experience of wildness, flow, peace, and reverence, then to hell with the better image. If a “great” composition requires endangering the subject, or compromising the experience of others, then to hell with the great composition. [/x_blockquote][cs_text]This year I went for shots that echoed my own emotions.

I understand that less people will like these shots, but it doesn't really matter, as it helps me understand who I really am. I started to hate the concept of being a documentary photographer. I don't want to photograph a lot of species all in similar pose and lighting, or have a portfolio of only one species in different poses, but all in similar lighting and setting. Those kinds of photos annoyed me, but I couldn't put into words why. Later, I found out the why in Guy Tal's outstanding book. [/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Oscar Wilde” type=”left”]Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist. [/x_blockquote][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]In order for photography of natural things to enter the realm of the fine arts, it must first be acknowledged that, before assuming any meaning, photographs are products of machines; that natural phenomena are products of forces independent of, and oblivious to, the emotions and significance ascribed to them by human beings; and that art is a manufactured product of the human mind. Therefore, the photographic artist’s task is to find a way to relate these notions to one another in a balanced and meaningful way.

Perhaps the greatest mistake in approaching a personal style is that of adopting a style first and then trying to force work into it for consistency. This often happens when unseasoned photographers first master an aesthetic technique, such as High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging, blurring effects, black-and-white conversion, night or aerial photography, etc., or when they accomplish a sufficiently broad body of work around a given subject and wish to become associated with it. Having garnered some praise for a successful image or body of work, some will be tempted to continue repeating the formula, calling it their style, whether the work truly expresses the person behind it or not.[/x_blockquote][cs_text]And then there are portfolios of some photographers where every single shot was taken by a super-wide-angle lens. Or pictures of different animals in the same kind of sunrise or sunset.[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]In so many other cases, it seems, the goal simply is to command visual interest by shock value— surprising or jarring the viewer, with no other intent or greater purpose than to satisfy the artist’s craving for attention. It would be futile for me to challenge anyone’s personal taste, methods, or motivations, but as one who is also a consumer of art I do make the distinction between images carefully crafted by an artist to express a personal visual message, and with the goal of enriching and inspiring their audience, and those created merely to command popular appeal. [/x_blockquote][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]I took this photo on the first morning of 2016 at Volunteer Point, Falkland Islands. It has a special meaning because I was side by side with my dad at that moment, both of us stunned and in awe of what was in front of us. I immediately saw the opportunity a few minutes before sunrise, when the water had just receded, leaving a thin layer on the sand that reflected the color of the sky, which completely abstracted the sand into a surreal place in purple and blue. It was as if my dad and I had became the two penguins at the middle left of the image, joining the other penguins moving towards the sea. There was no need to focus on a specific penguin in this scene because its so rare to go to a beach that has no humans, but instead another species that also walks upright just like us, enjoying their time at the edge of the earth. [/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][x_blockquote cite=”Elisabeth Kübler-Ross” type=”left”]But when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.[/x_blockquote][cs_text]The dim light in darkness always remind me of my childhood trips to visit my grandma. This photo also has special meaning for me because Mom had a flu, fever, and ear infection, and was sleeping in the lodge. I didn't want to venture far out, so I stayed near this Gentoo penguin colony not too far from the lodge. As the sun was setting, I saw Mom walking out from the lodge. She wanted to breathe some fresh air. At first she was taking videos of the penguins in direct sunlight. But I took her hand and walked around the penguins to this spot, and the last ray of light lit up the side profile of this family. Everywhere else was black — the ultimate minimalism I love. With over a hundred penguins in the colony and all of them running around, I waited patiently for the moment when the foreground and background were clear of distraction, and I moved around to find a viewpoint where the whole family aligned parallel to my camera so that they were all in focus. The penguin chick on the right was leaning on his sibling, and the sibling wanted the parent penguin to feed him. I felt so lucky to share this sweet moment with mom. Canon 1DX, 100-400mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 1600, handheld.[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]“The important thing is: you must have something to say about the world.” To be proficient in expressing narratives and emotions in photographs, however, is still a fairly useless skill without also having narratives and emotions worth expressing. I don’t need to flex my creative muscles just to prove to the world that I have “range,” or to compete for popularity or awards. These seem like shallow and arrogant reasons for practicing art. Instead, I want my work to express my own narratives and moods, or those I find worth aspiring to. [/x_blockquote][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]It had been raining nonstop for a few hours, so when the sky cleared up, Dad and I and a new friend immediately walked a few miles from the lodge to the beach. We were the only three humans on this edge of the planet, but were surrounded by thousands of penguins. I low-crawled for a while but couldn't find my composition, and I lost sight of where my dad and another friend went because it was backlit behind me and I could see nothing when I looked over my shoulder. I remember my back pain finally acted up, and it felt like a knife pinched into my lower back. I couldn't get back up, so I started rolling slowly in the poop-filled field. Then, all of a sudden, this penguin pair got curious and walked away from their colony and came to check me out. I whispered to them, “Wait a sec please,” as I quickly switched to my wide-angle lens. The moment touched me deeply because it showed that our wildlife brothers and sisters were inherently unafraid of humans. It pained me when I found that out we humans had killed millions of them in the 1940s for their oil. Yet here they lived peacefully, full of curiosity.

I had always wanted to convey depth in wildlife photography, but its hard with a telephoto. Here, the distant penguins had a repeated pattern, from these two in the front and the rocks in the front, and those in the back that also showed size difference and depth, not to mention the last purple color in the sky before it turned all dark. This pair of penguins stayed for quite a while to make sure I was okay. Canon 1DX, 24-105mm, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 1600.[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]Philosophers such as Seneca, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche proclaimed life to be full of tragedy and misery, requiring conscious effort to, in a sense, deceive ourselves into finding meaning in it. In truth, existence is neither cruel nor virtuous, but indifferent. It is what we make of it; and what a great privilege it is for a living being to have the freedom and the wisdom to assign such values as good and bad by measures founded in intellect, rather than necessity, within the brief span of our own existence. [/x_blockquote][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][x_blockquote cite=”Henry Beston” type=”left”]They are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth. [/x_blockquote][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]My parents and I were all exhausted, having just hiked across the steepest slope in Saunders Neck in gusty wind, on our way back from the albatross colony. Near a creek, I felt a strong commotion not too far from me. From a dark corner, I saw them. With the hundreds of rockhopper penguins, some jumping around — some fighting with each other or fighting against the Straited caracaras who wanted to steal their babies and eggs — it was a chaotic scene. Yet it was as if this mating pair had zoned out from all the noise of their hectic surroundings. They moved in sync, not in a rush at all, as if the whole world belonged to them as they started to cuddle with each other.

I immediately saw a composition where everything except their highlight and the tips of their feathers were abstracted into darkness. The long feathers on the sides of their heads caught the last ray of light, just like how they were electrified by love. And it brought warmth to me in this cold and windy human world. [/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]Embrace and nurture the things that make you unique as a person, and your art inevitably will be as distinctive as you are. Be yourself and your style will follow. [/x_blockquote][x_line style=”border-top-width: 1px;”][cs_text]During my solo exhibit in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2015, I spent an hour or two wandering inside the gallery like other visitors, as I wanted to see how they reacted to my photos. To my surprise, one of the photos attracted a lot of attention. Visitors tended to stand in front of that photo, and stayed much longer than with the other photos. They would tilt their heads looking at the photo, at times engaging in long discussions. At first I didn't understand, but later I asked some of them. As it turned out, they said the photo made them think. They had to think about what they were looking at. And they really liked that feeling. Here's that picture, a wild barn owl diving, taken in 2013.[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]When a photo has some ambiguity to it, it makes people think. Typically, people wouldn't expect a bird to dive towards the ground. And in 2016, without realizing it, I fell in love with searching for abstract shots that speak to me more and take people longer to understand. [/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]The more factual and readily understood an image is, and the less cognitive investment is required from the viewer, the larger its potential audience pool is. Conversely, the larger the audience an artist wishes for, the lower the common denominator they must abide by, and the more restricted they are in expressing their own creative voice. This is an important consideration. If you are driven primarily by sales, accolades, or popularity, and want to maximize your audience, the less likely it is that your work will successfully communicate complex personal narratives. Likewise, the more personal, metaphorical, or complex your work is, the smaller your potential audience may be.

[/x_blockquote][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]In my dream, I climbed a rock cliff that was made of pure metal. They warned me not to fall, as the knife-like rock could instantly cut my hands and knees open. Was I on Krypton? Scrambling up the uneven ground, through occasional acid rain, I had to put my gas mask on. Poisonous ash filled my hair with black pulverized rock. I finally reached the top and peeked out. Beyond what looked like a ghost forest of frosty trees, similar to what I'd seen in Yellowstone in the winter, the mist was rising, blocking my view. But for a split second, the sky cleared up a bit. Through the mist, she showed her magnificent reddish yellow face for a brief moment — the sea of molten lava roaring. It was how all life had begun. My eyes filled with tears. I'd never felt so scared and happy at the same time.

This was actually a shot taken from a helicopter, flying just a few feet above a lava tube “skylight.” The frosty trees were not trees. They were lavacicles.

Canon 1DX, 100-400, f/8, 1/1000s, handheld.

[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]After climbing some steep terrain in gusty wind with my folks, we arrived in an otherworldly place with a species that could live for 70 years and mate for life. The mating pairs would dance and demonstrate mating rituals for hours and hours, full of enthusiasm, totally focused on their partners. We humans have a lot to learn from them. I could feel the wisdom in their eyes. I think they are the only birds that have human-like eyes. They are probably smarter than us. In the three days we spent with the albatross, I exhausted all the angles to capture their eyes, and I am only happy with this one shot. [/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]New-born mountain goat kids are playful and brave. They can run and jump up and down on steep slopes up at 14,000 feet elevation within a few days of birth, and that has always inspired me. This year, I dreamed of taking pics of them in back-light, as I thought it would be fun after photographing them many times in direct light. This particular evening, when other photographers were photographing another group of mountain goats in direct light, I started a nice conversation with a lady who happened to be standing near me. I told her I wanted to get some backlit shots, which was not easy.

Coming from Los Angeles at sea level, walking a few steps at 14,000 was tough for me — not to mention walking a mile up and down. We walked together, and soon the crowd was far behind us. We saw a mountain goat nanny and her kid appear behind a big rock near us. The nanny goat walked a bit further forward, while this goat kid stopped. Then, like a fairy tale, she started to stand on her hind legs and dance in front of us like there was no tomorrow, with the last ray of light illuminating her new coat. I felt a strong emotion of joy from this goat kid. She kept jumping up and down, testing her new feet. It was the love of life and the energy that moved me. After two minutes, she bounced up and down and chased her mother. I looked up at the sky and said, “Thank you, God.”

Canon 1DX Mark II, 100-400, f/8, 1/2000s, ISO 1600.[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]With the generous help of a good friend, I got to meet this burrowing owl family: two parents and eight chicks. The place where this adorable family lived in was full of dust and mosquitoes. At times, there was even a sand-storm warning. I wanted to capture the feeling of the sand-storm so I got down into a very low angle, which blurred the lower part of the owlet while showing the purple sky. With that angle, the owlet, which was just a few inches tall, looked larger than life. She turned her head and looked into the distance, like a poet in deep thought. I just love to create scenes with colors that look surreal, like a fantasy. [/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]To feed all the eight owlets, the owl parents were busy those first few weeks. Can you imagine how many insects they had to catch for the chicks? But the parents seemed to have good composure. One of them would stay with the eight chicks while the other would fly away to look for food. And they seemed to take turns, though I couldn't tell the female from the male.

Burrowing owls take flight without any hint or warning, and they can fly any direction at random, so it's hard to prepare, especially when hand-holding a heavy super-telephoto lens. At that location, sunset was always ruined by the clouds near the horizon. But on this particular day, the sun penetrated through some leaves and shone on a small patch of sand far away from the owl burrow. Just when I saw that golden glow in the distance, the owl parent took flight. I thanked my lucky star I was able to get a sharp picture with the glowing background in the frame. What I feel from this picture is the determined look of the parent owl. Even after hundreds of flight each day to find food for their chicks, they always looked determined and focused, just like many human parents who sacrifice so much for their children. I particularly liked the golden habitat and the rocky ground, which looked like it was from another planet.

Canon 1DX, 600mm f/4, f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 1600[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]After days of observing this burrowing owl family, I started to get delusional. I would see their round heads and big eyes as curves and shapes, and I wanted to isolate them with a super-telephoto lens and a 2X teleconverter, to create a certain feeling in my heart.

In early morning, when these owlets just woke up, they tended to like to stay close to each other for a while before wandering further away in their training to catch insects. The moment came when the owlet in the front tilted his head. Their curiosity touched my heart. The six eyes and three heads created an interesting pattern. And I saw something extraordinary. I saw implied lines and extended edges that interlocked the images to create directional movement across the photograph, from the edge of the belly of the middle owl to the “neck” of the owlet in the front, and from the line on the neck to the wing of the owlet in the back. And the owlet in the back of the picture added depth.

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm, 2X, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 3200, tripod. [/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]The short-eared owl had eluded me for a long time. To me, they feel so mysterious. And with their eyes so beautiful, as if they have put on eye shadow, it looks like they can see into your soul. I always dreamed of such an encounter, in an otherworldly environment, with black and gold colors, their translucent wings illuminated like a messenger from a secret world, patrolling into the human world to send a message. Backlit birds-in-flight photos are possible only when the sun is low near the horizon. Otherwise, the contrast would be too great. For four days it rained nonstop, but I finally met him, just like in my dream. He flew by and suddenly turned his head in mid-air, looking right into the deepest of my soul. I immediately surrendered.

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm, 1.4x, f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 1600, handheld. [/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]When photographs are appreciated in terms of technique, technology, or aesthetic appeal already inherent in the subject, the photographer’s role is reduced to that of a recorder, rather than a creator, of images. Their images appear just as they would to any random observer who happened to be there at the time, thus requiring no special insight or creative skill. “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”[/x_blockquote][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]I am forever thankful for this encounter, which would not have been possible if it were not for a good friend — and, in an interesting twist of events, also another person who would later become my good friend. I would have never even dared to dream I would encounter a wild bobcat kitten in my life. I didn't even want to count how many times I had failed over the years. With more than 500 hours driving, sleeping in remote places, trekking, and waiting, it was the toughest wildlife exploration, but also the sweetest. I vividly remember one morning I drank eight gallons of water while also pouring two gallons of water over my head to cool down in the extreme heat, looking at my friend next to me, both of us wondering if we were nuts. And the countless hours I was in solitude, walking and walking, and at times having to stop because my back was killing me.

Anyways, I digress. During this encounter, I saw the chaotic twigs blocking my view of the bobcat kitten. But I liked that habitat because the chaos intensified the beauty of the bobcat, and gave me a feeling of curiosity about the innocent animal. I wanted to know how tiny the kitten was inside the vast and messy habitat. When the kitten decided to turn her head in my direction, the whole world seemed to have slowed down. “Be careful out there and don't trust humans, bobcat kitten.”[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]It made me worry when I saw the look on the bobcat kitten's face. She was unsure and seemed a bit scared, leaning towards her mother. I cropped the body of the mother bobcat this way, to give a feeling that they had just entered into the frame, into the big forest. I wanted to convey the size difference, the tension between the kitten and mother. I chose a low saturation, as the scene looked poignant to me. [/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”Guy Tal” type=”left”]As an artist, I find places such as this irresistible. Here, I have the chance to experience things never before experienced, to see things never before seen, and to tell stories never before told. I get to be the only human being to witness it, to participate in this singular moment in the history of this rare and remote and fascinating ecosystem on what for most people would be an ordinary Thursday night. [/x_blockquote][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][cs_text]It was a slow weekend. I was all by myself, walking and walking, and couldn't find anything. Absolutely no sign. Maybe they had already moved on. Maybe they had sensed some danger. Were they killed by coyotes? Waking up at five a.m. and searching for hours, I was just about ready to give up. It was only a few minutes before sunset. I stood there, debating whether to put my lens into my backpack and leave. But where should I go? Was there anywhere better in this world than to spend my time in nature? Then, like a spirit, she showed up out of nowhere, without a sound. She walked towards me from afar. I didn't dare to breathe. My heart was pounding. She then stopped and gave me this look. A few seconds later, she even sat down, but with her front legs still straight up. “Are you trying to talk to me?” I said to her. We shared a few seconds together, which felt like an eternity. I blinked my eyes. And then she was gone.

Canon 1DX Mark II, 600mm, 1.4x teleconverter.[/cs_text][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][x_blockquote cite=”Michio Hoshino” type=”left”]I often think that one of the most important things in our life is the rich living things surrounding us human beings. Their existence not only heals us, but most importantly, they let us learn and understand what we human beings really are. I believe that only very few people would ever see a wild wolf in their whole life. But, whether we would meet a wild wolf or not, it’s not important. It’s the fact that the wolves and us both live on and share this earth, and that we understand and be grateful of this fact— that’s the most precious thing for us. Not only wolves, but the meaning of all lives in our eyes should be the same.[/x_blockquote][cs_text]The experience of photographing bobcat kittens taught me to treasure and live in the moment. When I saw them, I knew they would disappear at any moment, and there was nothing I could do about it because they were just so agile, fast and elusive. I probably get less than one minute with them for every 50 hours I spent looking for them. Yet that's what makes the encounter so special. It was perfectly clear to me that each encounter may be the last, and that I might never see them again in my life — just like our loved ones. Everything could be gone in the blink of an eye.

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