Tag Archives: Photography

Photographer Q&A – Geert Weggen Communes With Squirrels

red squirrels sitting in a camping bus

We recently sat down with Geert Weggen, nature photographer based in Sweden, to discuss his “naturally staged” tableaux of wildlife, usually focused on red squirrels. You can see more of his  fantastical, yet real, work here!

red squirrel on a chair holding an umbrella with nut in mouth

Aurora Photos: You have been featured on the internet a number of times (here, here, here…you get the picture) for your wonderful captures of, “squirrel lifestyle,” let’s call it. We have to ask. Why squirrels?

Geert Weggen: The amazing thing about squirrels is that they can do many things similar to humans. Their front legs are like hands and they can stand on two legs, like us. Besides all that, they can do even more…they’re very acrobatic! With those talents, I can capture photos where people can imagine themselves in the scenes: Driving, riding horses, cleaning, opening doors, holding umbrellas etc.

I live in nature, with the forest literally next to my house. I built an outside studio where animals can come and go. With all the wild squirrels visiting me every day they are the perfect subject to take photos of.

red squirrel standing on moped with yellow orchids

Au: Can you describe your process and technique?

GW: My studio is about 30 square meters and has a half open roof and 2 open sides. The rain and snow can come in, but still my equipment will stay dry. I created a 2-meter square table, which is the same height as my kitchen window from where I can shoot. The flashes are on remote and I use a big reflector. There is always back light, which is why many times only ambient light is not enough. I create scenes on my table and put food in the places where I hope squirrels will come. Sometimes I have to clone away small food buckets or wires from my photos. Sometimes I can do four scenes in one day.

great tit is painting abstract art

Au: Was there a trick you tried to get a squirrel to do that didn’t quite work?

GW: There have been shots which I worked at for 5 days, but in the end I got my result. Like I had the idea that the squirrels were skiing in the snow, and I really wanted them to hold both poles in each hand. I am not a very patient man, but when I have an idea in my head it is hard for me to walk away. Sometime, I have difficulty capturing the squirrels with flowers; most of the flowers come from my garden, and there’s a short window of time where they still look fresh.

I’ve had issues with mischievous squirrels in the past…some love to take props in to the trees and disappear before I can even take a shot. I lost a beautiful tea pot some years ago, though I was lucky then, and was able to capture the images I wanted before it disappeared. In fact, I FOUND IT this year in the forest, after all these years!

red squirrel standing on jumping horse with a hurdle

Au: What’s the one shot you’d love to set up, but haven’t tried yet?

GW: For 4 years now I’ve been photographing the red squirrels and I have literally worked with thousands of ideas, but there are still a few I haven’t tried. It would be wonderful to capture two squirrels kissing, but I have no idea how to get them into that shot. I have captured squirrels sniffing each other, but these situations are impossible to plan.

squirrel with water, light tower, shark and canoe

Au: It’s a common saying in the business, “don’t work with kids and animals”… would you say that’s true?

GW: Well…It can be frustrating. I often find myself cursing. There are many potential issues…Of course there is wind, and weather problems, etc. In the winter days, I sometimes only have 3 hours of light, and it can be so cold that in 5 minutes I cannot feel the buttons on  the camera, but all that is not even the biggest challenge. The animals do exactly what they want, and I have no control. They are always on the move and very quick! Photography is not really relaxing when they are in front of my camera; I need to be alert and very quick to capture those moments! Lucky for me, there are so many squirrels that I have many chances to capture what I hope for.

Red squirrel holding a Mobile Phone in hands

Au: Do you think some of the techniques you use on squirrels would work on kids?

GW: For me, the trick is food and trust. The animals are always looking for food and looking for it in my studio with me nearby. It takes a long time before they feel safe. Similar to deer, they are alert the whole time. However, when they started to trust me they naturally became curious and dared to challenge themselves in new situations. Whenever I set up a new scene, they almost go directly towards it and act like they are familiar with their new surroundings, and behave like I am not there.

I don’t photograph children, but I guess it has a lot in common with how I approach photographing wildlife. Children need to feel safe so they can behave naturally and they like a reward as motivation. When I have a good shoot, and the wildlife cooperates, I will climb out my window to give them a nut, as a reward. I assume child-photography involves rewarding the kids when they cooperate and listen, as well. However, I do think you can guide children in a different way than squirrels.

Here’s a few action shots and behind the scenes of Geert’s studio. You can see more of his furry friends in action here!

man feeding a red squirrel which is standing on a wishing well

man feeding a red squirrel  with a shark in hands with water and canoe

man feeding a red squirrel which is standing on wooden blocks with text happy fathers day

Climate Change: Good News From the Front Lines

Fernbank Forest, Downtown Atlanta, Georgia in the background. Photographed from a drone. Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre urban old-growth Piedmont forest in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
A view above Fernbank Forest, with Atlanta, Georgia in the background. Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre urban old-growth Piedmont forest being conserved and protected near downtown Atlanta.

The news coming out of Washington DC, in the form of the President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, has been disheartening for many who are concerned about the state of our climate and environment. But there is good news, too. On the front lines of the fight against global warming and climate change, much is being done at the grass roots level, at the local governmental level, and through independent scientific research. Several Aurora photographers have been on those front lines covering the stories of positive change and bring us the following good news.

Ice storm experiments in New Hampshire, by Joe Klementovich

Researcher does research on replicated man-made ice storm damage in order to study the effects of ice storms in New Hampshire forests
A researcher from Hubbard Brook Research center examines man-made ice damage from a replicated ice storm in a New Hampshire forest in order to study the effects of ice storms on the environment.

Ice climbing, mountaineering and suffering at cold belays has prepared me well for shooting through the frigid February nights at Hubbard Brook Research center. Tucked back in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Hubbard Brook has been studying the environment on a large scale since 1955. They were the first group that discovered acid rain back in the 70’s. The last two winters, graduate students, scientists, and researchers have been mimicking ice storms to study the effects on the forest, looking at everything from soil change to the impact on birds and insects.

Having a dedicated photography and film crew to capture the process as well as the aftermath allowed the researchers to create a library of images and video that has become critical in explaining and sharing the experiment at a public level and to the scientific community. Photographs and video were picked up on a wide variety of outlets ranging from National Geographic to the Weather Channel to the local paper.

In a day and age where science is under attack from various corners, producing a photographic record will hopefully pushed the climate change conversation into living rooms and cafes, not just the research offices, and help show the real life impacts it is creating. The experiments have been a success scientifically, but it also showed the science community that being able to effectively demonstrate their work to the world visually is just as important as the experiments.

Click here to see more photos of the ice storm experiments by Joe Klementovich

Hubbard Brook Website. http://hubbardbrook.org/overview/history.shtml 

Energy Independence at the Ashram, by Ashley Cooper

The Muni Seva Ashram in Goraj, near Vadodara, India, is a tranquil haven of humanitarian care. The Ashram is hugely sustainable, next year it will be completely carbon neutral. Its first solar panels were installed in 1984, long before climate change was on anyones agenda. Their energy is provided from solar panels, and wood grown on the estate. Waste food and animal manure is turned inot biogas to run the estates cars and also used for cooking. Solar cookers are also used, and the air conditioning for the hospital is solar run. 70 % of the food used is grown on the estate. They provide an orphanage, schools for all ages, vocational training, care for the elderly, a specialist cancer hospital withstate of the art machinary, and even have a solar crematorium. This shot shows students making a portable solar cooker. These lightweight devices were used on an expedition to the Himalayas to cook all the expeditions food.
Students at the Muni Seva Ashram i Goraj, India, make a portable solar cooker. These lightweight devices were used on expeditions to the Himalayas to cook all the expeditions food. Almost 100% of energy at the Ashram is generated through solar and wood grown on the estate.

Visiting the Muni Seva Ashram, in Goraj, India, is like stepping into a haven of peace and tranquility. The Ashram delivers services from the cradle to the grave. They provide an orphanage, infant and secondary schools, vocational training, old people’s sheltered housing, and a specialist cancer hospital with all the latest high tech equipment. The Ashram is 100% powered by renewable energies. They fitted their first solar panels in 1984, long before any one had heard of climate change. Since then they have invested in more and more renewable technologies. Solar panels, provide much of the energy, along with biofuel which is generated onsite from food waste and wood from the estate. 70% of the food is grown organically in the grounds. The two cars used by the Ashram run on biogas, and even the air conditioning in the hospital is solar powered.

Deepak Gadhia had been a successful Indian business man until his wife died of cancer. From that point on he dedicated the rest of his life to supporting the Ashram and has been the driving force behind its conversion to renewable and sustainable practices. His enthusiasm has been infectious, and his dedication to helping his fellow citizens humbling. His proudest moment of my tour was showing me the world’s first solar crematorium, designed by Deepak and built on the estate. Local religion dictates that upon death you are cremated. In the past locals have gone into the forest to chop down enough wood to build a funeral pyre. Long term, this is a destructive process that impacts on biodiversity. The large solar reflector, concentrates the suns rays on a metal box in which the body is placed. It can burn four bodies a day, leaving the local forest intact.

I left the ashram amazed by what I had seen and convinced that this has to be the way forward, it is possible to power our lives exclusively from renewable energy, and if we are serious about tackling climate change it is the only option we have.

Click here to see more photos of the Ashram by Ashley Cooper

Fernbank Forest Restoration, by Peter Essick

Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Fernbank Forest, Atlanta, Georgia
Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Fernbank Forest, Atlanta, Georgia. Delicate amphibians like salamanders are often the first affected by changing climate. Restoring habitat like Fernbank conserves critical biodiversity where urban areas might otherwise encroach.

Fernbank Forest is a 65-arce urban old-growth forest a few minutes from downtown Atlanta. The forest is owned by the Fernbank Museum nearby, but until recently few people were allowed to visit. The forest is an excellent example of a southern Piedmont forest with many species of old-growth trees, animals and native plants. However, in recent years the forest floor was overrun with invasive plants such as English Ivy, monkey grass and wisteria. Through the help of volunteers, donors, ecologists and donors the museum began a program of restoration four years ago. This past October, the forest was opened to the public and restoration efforts continue. It is hoped that over the coming years the forest can be restored to a fully functioning forest that will not only be enjoyed by visitors and wildlife, but also become a valuable asset in the battle against climate change.

I started photographing Fernbank Forest almost two years ago to document both the natural beauty and the restoration efforts. The difference to the forest floor was very evident this spring as many native wildflowers and ferns  began blooming in areas that were once covered in ivy. I hope that my photos will show that urban forests are not only vital green spaces for our environment, but can be a rewarding subject for an photographer willing to walk in the woods with their eyes open and camera ready.

Click here to see more photos of Fernbank Forest by Peter Essick

Clean Cookstoves and Solar Sister Make a Difference, by Joanna B. Pinneo

Mforo, Tanzania a village near Moshi, Tanzania. Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray cooking dinner on her clean cookstove that uses wood. Fatma Mziray is a Solar Sister entrepreneur who sells both clean cookstoves and solar lanterns. Fatma heard about the cookstoves from a Solar Sister development associate and decided to try one out. The smoke from cooking on her traditional wood stove using firewood was causing her to have a lot of heath problems, her lungs congested her eyes stinging and her doctor told her that she had to stop cooking that way. Some days she felt so bad she couldn't go in to cook. Fatma said, ?Cooking for a family, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner I used to gather a large load of wood every day to use. Now with the new cook stove the same load of wood can last up to three weeks of cooking. ?With the extra time I can develop my business. I also have more time for the family. I can monitor my children?s studies. All of this makes for a happier family and a better relationship with my husband. Since using the clean cookstove no one has been sick or gone to the hospital due to flu.? Fatma sees herself helping her community because she no longer sees the people that she has sold cookstoves have red eyes, coughing or sick like they used to be. She has been able to help with the school fees for her children, purchase items for the home and a cow. ?What makes me wake up early every morning and take my cookstoves and go to my business is to be able to take my family to school as well as to get food and other family needs.?
Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray cooking dinner on her clean cookstove in Mforo, Tanzania. Fatma is a Solar Sister entrepreneur who sells both clean cookstoves and solar lanterns.

The most dangerous activity for a woman in the developing world is cooking for her family. More than three billion people worldwide still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels. The simple act of cooking causes roughly 4.3 million premature deaths per year from respiratory and pulminary illnesses from smoke inhilation.  These deaths disproportionately affect women and children who spend the most time indoors in close proximity to dirty cook stoves.

Fatma Mziray, a vibrant thirty-eight year-old Tanzanian woman, raises six children, works on the farm with her husband, runs two side businesses and cooks most of the three meals a day for her family.  Fatma has not always been this healthy and vibrant. Like others in her community she cooked over a traditional three-stone cook stove that is highly smoky. Fatma started having chest pains, her eyes were red and watery and she was always tired. When Fatma heard about an easy to use and inexpensive efficient cook stove from a Solar Sister Tanzanian entrepreneur, she bought one. Not only did she start feeling better immediately, as did her children, but she noticed that she used a fraction of the firewood as the traditional cooking method. Now she is a Solar Sister entrepreneur. herself. Working with and organization like Solar Sister provides her with extra cash to send her children onto secondary school, an opportunity she did not have. She also helps other women in her area to improve the health of their families, simultaneously lessening local deforestation and reducing carbon emissions from traditional stoves.

In 2016 I received a Ted Scripps Fellowship at University of Colorado in Boulder to study environmental journalism and research household air pollution. Through working with Ripple Effect Images, I learned about the devastating effects of household air pollution, especially on women and children in the developing world. Great progress has been made by organizations like Solar Sister to find creative life changing and life saving solutions that also make our planet cleaner and more livable. Although the stoves are not 100% clean technology, they are significantly more efficient and healthier than the three-stone method. The Solar Sister model works because not only do women like the stove, but the peer to peer effort to sell and distribute the stoves makes local women more likely to put the new cleaner stove to use.

Click here to see more photos of Solar Sister by Joanna B. Pinneo

You can  view more stories and images of climate impact, both positive and negative, in our Environmental Photography collection. Through this collection, Aurora provides communication professionals the visual resources to effectively tell the evolving story of our environment and our planet.

New Images for February

A woman hanging upside down as she is lowered from a rock climb.

February temperatures, typically the coldest in the year for us in Portland, Maine, start to give way to warming omens of spring. As the image by Mike Schirf above demonstrates, you’ve just got to hang in there! And what better way to warm you up than looking at beautiful new images?! We’ve got both kids and adults enjoying snow days, how to make friends during exotic travel, and some pretty intense workouts. There’s seaweed farmers, a farming family and the family that camps together, staying together. Perhaps you prefer climbing, high line, acrobatics or running? Or maybe it’s finding new places? There’s exploration by: foot, old-timey bicycle, beat-up truck, sailboat, raft, SUP, and skateboard.

However you choose to explore the great outdoors and the world around you, make sure you enjoy it to the fullest! See what brings our photographers joy with this curated gallery of lifestyle and the outdoors: http://www.auroraphotos.com/result?webseries_id=14734