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Behind The Shot: “Bear Into The Light” By Mario Davalos—Cape Douglas, Katmai National Park, Alaska.

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“I arrived before dawn to Antelope Island State Park and stayed pretty much all morning. It reminded me a little bit of Yellowstone. Not much, but just enough. It was cloudy and foggy. It was very silent. Lots of ducks, rabbits, bison and some deer. Also coyotes, pheasants, chukars and robins. I did not see any antelope that today. The air was cool and crisp. It reminded me how much I love winter, the test of winter, the challenge of winter. I may have been born in the wrong latitude. The Caribbean lacks winter as much as it lacks autumn. As I drove back to Park City I crossed the bridge that separates the island and across the lake. Two figures walked in the distance. Their heads down, slowly walking over the frozen ice. I was surprised to see hunters in a State Park. I stopped the car and took a some shots. They looked at me. Not angry for taking their picture, just curious. They kept walking and I went home after some pizza at Little Caesar’s. It was a great day for me, and hopefully for the ducks as well.”

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

Dancing Elephants by Heinrich Kley Dancing Elephants by Heinrich Kley

What nobody tells you as an artist is that every project starts at the beginning. Not just the blank page, the empty stage, but that you have to re-establish your credentials and your quality every time. You can coast on reputation a little, but it doesn’t last long if you don’t deliver.

What nobody tells you is that praise—a standing ovation, a good review, your teacher’s approval—makes you feel good for a day, but one line of internet criticism from a stranger reverberates in your skull forever.

Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

(I tried to feel bad when that critic killed himself the next year, but I didn’t.)

What nobody tells your boyfriend is that writing 3000 words in a calm, soothing, supportive environment still leaves you too tired to call home at the end of the day. So does…

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I’ve been ask the same questions many times, so I’ll try to answer the top 5:

1. Who is your favourite photographer?

Many are on the top of the list, but if I had to choose only one it would be Vincent Munier. (www.vincentmunier.com) His sensitivity towards photography is outstanding.

2. What is the best photograph you’ve ever seen?

I think it might be “Black Woodpecker” by Markus Varesvuo. It takes my breath away every time. (http://www.wild-wonders.com/the_photographers_featured.asp)

3. What is your favourite place to photograph?

Again, very hard to tell, but it would be a tie between Serengeti in Tanzania, Barrow in Alaska and Sierra de Bahoruco in Dominican Republic.

4. Why do you use Canon?

No particular reason really. Canon makes amazing equipment, but so do other brands. It is the brand I used as a teenager and I stuck with it. I wouldn’t change it.

5. Why do you photograph wildlife and not people?

I’ve always been interested in nature, specifically animals. There is a permanent sense of awe when facing the marvellous creatures and places of the natural world. I like the fact that I am a stranger when facing wildlife, rather than part of the subject specie.

www.mariodavalos.org

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1. People love to make rules. It’s ok to listen, but it’s also ok to totally disregard them.

When I first started making nature photos, I ran into many rules and rule keepers. Everything was already laid out: – this is not allowed, this is allowed.. if you want to be one of us that is – . I did not understand what was all of about nor why. Trained as a contemporary painter I was taught to break all the rules, as long as you knew why you were breaking them. In other words, know the theory but in practice try to achieve your own voice, your own artistic statement. When I looked around at all the photos I was exposed to back then, they all looked similar to one another. Luckily I was eventually exposed to great wildlife photographer (Vincent Munier, Markus Varesvuo… ) that were doing whatever they felt like and doing it in an amazing way. I don’t think I have achieve a unique voice… yet. But I’m on my way!

2. Loving and respecting nature is more important than getting the award-winning shot.

I have met wonderful people traveling the world, but I’ve also met people willing to do anything to get a shot, including destroying nature or disturbing it. I love nature first, I love photography second. Is that simple. The end does not justify the means, not in life and certainly not in nature photography.

3. There is natural beauty all around us, you just have to learn to observe.

I now walk any street, anywhere, at any time and I see beauty. Just as a lawyer sees liabilities anywhere he goes or an architect sees design in every corner, once you learn how to see, things pop-up everywhere: bird songs, tree roots, rainbows in oil stains, fungi in the sidewalk… you name it! Learning to really “see” the world is the most valuable thing I learned in art school.

4. The decisions you make editing your images are as important as the decisions you make taking them.

Lately I find my self spending almost as much time in front of the computer as getting the shot. Editing your images is a second stage in the creative process. As photographers, our format is predetermined by our camera’s sensors, so within certain boundaries, you can be very creative when it comes to editing. I never add anything o remove anything from my photos, I think ethics are a big part of my love and respect for nature and my craft… but I think cropping can be a great way to tell a story within the story. I mean, photography in itself is the art of cropping.  I also think playing with your white balance can create atmospheres to enhance the narrative in your image. So go ahead, play around.

5. There is too much information out there. Learn to filter.

Wow!! Every where you look there is a guy telling you 10 things he learned by being a wildlife photographer!! WTF!! Anyways, read, but filter… no one has an absolute truth. If you pay attention to everything you read you’ll never have time to make photos. Get inspired, not psycho!

6. Dare to try different things.

Sometimes is an image that was incorrectly exposed or an egret that was blurry in your shot.. All I’m saying is, do not become an expert in your own style, do not set your self too many personal rules or boundaries. Experiment! Try to feel uncomfortable by trying things you thought you would never try (and I only mean that in photography, do not come blaming me if you apply this rule to your personal life and wake up in a traveling circus wearing flippers and spooning a clown).

7. The story behind an image is usually greater than the image itself, so savor the moment and become a good story teller. 

Being out in the big outdoors is the most rewarding feeling I can think of. The only reason I take nature photos is so I can be out there as long as I can and try to capture a little bit of that feeling in an image. Do not obsess over the perfect image, but rather over enjoying the place and the moment.

8. There are two kinds of wildlife photographers: those who focus on collecting species and those who focus on the beauty of an image. Both are correct!

I know examples of both. Personally I am more on the second group, but I think either one is fine. I have a lot of very good friends and fine photographers that enjoy what I call photo-birding; keeping lists of species and obsessing over growing that list… just as birders do, but by taking the image, not just the note. I rather make a beautiful image in a beautiful moment of a very common bird than to capture a rare species in an ordinary moment and an ordinary image. Photos are a tool to tell stories, and I like to tell stories, not to keep lists.

9. Traveling is one of the best ways to learn how to love nature.

What can I say? Traveling is the most enriching experience a human being can have. It will make you smarter, it will make you more humble and grateful. Traveling feeds the souls. Traveling expands your capacity to be amazed and enjoy the natural world. There is no other activity in life that contributes more to making you a better human being that to travel. And by travel I mean to take a journey into the place but also into the culture.

10. No, the eye does not have to be sharp and the background does not have to be totally clean to make a great photo.

Ah! This rule… I couldn’t leave it alone could I? I was so close!!!!

I hate this rule. I really really do. Every one obsesses about getting eye contact and a sharp eye. You will read this over and over again on forums and photography groups:

– Great eye contact -, – Very sharp eye.. congrats, great capture –

I don’t know who made that rule, but it is stupid and arbitrary. An image is an image, it may be well crafted or not, it may be beautiful or not, it may be inspiring or not, it may be provoking or not… but trust me, there is no body part that HAS to be sharp to make it any of those things. Do not let rules kill your voice!

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Since I can remember I wanted my own small cabin up in the mountains. I think it’s a desire that has always been in my DNA, like the need to breath or drink water. I am certain I get it from my mom and my early childhood weekends at San Cristobal: the treehouse, the hunt for eggs, the camping trips… I always pictured this small wooden house, golden retriever and fireplace included and magnificent  view to the mountains. In my dream the weather was cooler than the Caribbean hot air and there were orange and pine trees. Maybe snow… When I first got my drivers license, I immediately drove towards the Cordillera Central and started to look for land to acquire. I saw plenty of places in plenty of counties. I drove all over the place with a Pear Jam cassette playing and the will to get my dream. I did find very nice lots, but I could barely afford the gas to get back… it was a hopeless search but a fun one.  Once I had to exchange a couple of swimsuits and t-shirts for a few gallons of gas to get back to the city.

Finally in 2009, after 13 years of driving and dreaming, I had enough dough and courage to afford a decent piece of land and so Quinta Rosa was born. This place is my refuge and my haven. Most of my expeditions and adventure start and end here and is the only place I feel whole. One of my kids love it. The other hates it. My wife tolerates it. But I’m a happy camper with a realized dream but the snow.