Over the summer, while out in California visiting family, we made a side trip to Catalina Island to do a few days of diving. I hadn’t been diving since the pandemic began, so it was great to get in the water, and get back to doing some underwater photography. As always, it was a great pleasure to explore a new natural area with my family. My son Russell has an internship with the diving organization Boston Sea Rovers this summer, and was working on his own underwater photography. And it was great to see Jessica, a newer diver, feeling super relaxed even in these chilly waters in a full wetsuit, marveling at the kelp forest and its inhabitants. Unlike on land, where we are stuck on the ground, (and climbing trees takes so much effort), being weightless and swimming among the underwater kelp forest is a truly amazing feeling. If you haven’t done it, I highly recommend it!
It’s been an eventful spring and I feel like I’ve barely had my feet on the ground. As I write this I’m on a plane headed back toward one of my favorite parts of the world – the mega-diversity country of Indonesia for two full months of filming and photography. I’ll be pursuing birds-of-paradise once again in Papua, working on underwater coverage in Raja Ampat, and then heading to Borneo to continue documenting orangutans at Gunung Palung, especially the female Walimah, who has just had a baby. So exciting times ahead, and I’ll share images and stories as I can here and on social media.
Back in May I had the opportunity to co-lead another wildlife safari to Tanzania with my good friend and former professor Eldon Greij, for the Hope College Alumni Global Travel Program. Every safari leads to amazing wildlife encounters, but I’d like to share a few images from a truly extraordinary day that we experienced.
Featured Image: Mortal Enemies – Lions and Buffalo[Read more…] about Newsletter #6
2019 is off to a roaring start with an amazing voyage to Antarctica. I’ve been sharing images on my @TimLaman Instagram feed, so I hope you have been enjoying those. A real highlight of the trip was spending New Year’s Eve cruising down the Lemaire Channel in perfect calm conditions as the sun set, and then watching it rise a few hours later. I’ve shared one of my favorite images from the trip below.
Helmeted Hornbills have been a major focus of my wildlife photojournalism efforts these past couple years, and in addition to the National Geographic story published last September, I’m pleased to report they are featured as a cover story in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s magazine LIVING BIRD. This remarkable species is critically endangered, is still hunted for its casque, and we really need to increase awareness among consumers to not purchase hornbill products. If you’re not a Lab member who gets the magazine already, you can read the story here: Helmeted Hornbill Story.[Read more…] about Newsletter #3
Here is a recent interview I did for a Singapore newspaper. Since I get many questions about my background and my photography, I thought I would share it here. Hope you enjoy it!
- What is your earliest memory of travelling? How did it inspire you?
My earliest memories of traveling are going by ship across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Japan with my family when I was 4 years old in 1965. My parents lived and worked in Japan when I was growing up, so we traveled a lot back and forth from Asia to the States and to other places my whole childhood. Traveling was just normal to me growing up. I think it inspired me in the sense that I never felt there were any limits to going anywhere in the world. All you have to do is make up your mind, find a way to get that plane (or boat) ticket, and go.
- When did you realize you had an interest in photography?
I started playing around with an old camera of my Dad’s when I was in 7th or 8th grade, and I bought my own camera when I was in high school. So my interest started early. I just kept getting more serious about my photography as time went on.
- Have you gone completely digital? Are there differences?
Yes, I’ve been completely digital since late 2004. A big advantage to digital is getting immediate feedback in the field. This makes a huge difference since I am often in remote areas where I can’t process film. The other huge advantage has been the improvement in low-light performance of newer digital cameras. This helps me out a lot because I like to shoot animals early and late in the day and am often working in the rain forest where light is very limited.
- You like going to wild locations. What draws you to these places?
I love exploring the little known areas of the world. It is exciting to go to places few people have been, and to see things few people get to see. It is the opportunity for real exploration that I find the most rewarding, and scientific research projects and photography are the ways that I get to do these things.
- What is challenging about getting to those places? How much do you rely on local guides?
The most extremely remote places can be very expensive to get to because almost by definition, they don’t have good access or transportation available. So raising funding for expensive transportation like helicopters or boat charters can sometimes be the first challenge. With regard to local guides, it varies tremendously by location. Some of the most remote locations, like uninhabited islands, or remote mountains, have no inhabitants and thus no local guides. We go in with a small team and are on our own. In other cases, when local residents are present, I rely on them a lot. I definitely try to take advantage of local knowledge and so I am often hiring local guides to help out when they are available.
- Patience is probably a virtue when it comes to shooting wildlife. How long have you had to wait out a shot?
Patience is definitely very important. It’s all a matter of motivation and if you want to be doing it. I can go crazy in a 30-minute traffic jam. But I can sit in a blind all day to try to capture an image of a unique bird-of-paradise display. I’ll say it again, it’s all about your drive and motivation. I’m not sure exactly, but I’m pretty sure I have put in more than eighty hours in a blind over a ten day period for some shots.
- When you go to remote locations, how much time do you spend there? What are conditions like usually?
It is really variable and depends on what I am after and how easy it is to go back. But for example, when I got dropped off by helicopter in the remote Foja Mountains of Papua, Indonesia with a team of biologists, we stayed for three weeks before the helicopter came back to this completely road-less area to pick us up. We camped in a very wet rain forest. It rained every day, and was incredibly muddy. It wasn’t exactly a picnic.
- What has kept your interest in photography buoyant?
The thing about photography is that you can never take a perfect picture. There is always room for improvement, something to strive for, and to keep trying to get better. With gear improving all the time, there are always new ways to make images that weren’t possible before. And in my field of documenting rare and endangered wildlife, there are so many important stories to tell. I will never run out of subjects or ideas.
- What are some things an aspiring photographer should do?
Here are some suggestions:
– Find out what you really love photographing, and put a lot of effort into that. Passion for your subject matter and for photography is so important, that you need to make sure you discover what you have a passion for.
– Realize that you can do a lot with even the simplest photographic equipment. The creative process of conceiving and capturing the photograph is more important than the equipment. So don’t get obsessed with gear or always having the latest. Camera’s and lenses are our tools of the trade, but the photographer makes the pictures. So work with what you can afford and put your energy into developing your craft, not your equipment collection.
10. What is the biggest lesson you have learned through all your travelling and photography?
There is a big world out there! There are still plenty of poorly known places and animals to photograph and make discoveries about. What I am saying is, this idea that the world has been explored, and there is nothing left to discover is just completely wrong. For example, I pursued a project for many years to photograph all 39 species of Birds of Paradise in the wild for the first time. Even in 2011, there were members of this famous group of birds for which the male courtship behavior had never been described, and few if any photographs existed in the wild. There are countless species, especially in the tropical regions of the world, both in the rain forests and underwater, that remain poorly known and poorly photographed. So go out and explore the world. That’s one of the greatest things about being a photographer. Your camera becomes your passport for exploration.
In this post, my wife, orangutan researcher Cheryl Knott, wraps things up from her perspective. It has been an amazing summer working in the field with my wife and her team of students and research assistants in Gunung Palung National Park, in Indonesian Borneo. As we have for many years, we also took our kids Russell and Jessica with us and they had a great time at this unusual summer camp. This year, National Geographic invited all four of us to contribute stories to their PROOF blog about our adventures.
Here are links to all six of the blog posts our family members published on National Geographic:
Postcards from Borneo: A Family Adventure Begins Anew (by Tim Laman)
Postcards from Borneo: The Boat Trip Upriver (by Russell Laman)
Postcards from Borneo: Chasing Orangutans (by Jessica Laman)
Postcards from Borneo: The World’s Stinkiest (But Best) Fruit (by Russell Laman)
Postcards from Borneo: The Best Swimming Hole in Gunung Palung (by Jessica Laman)
Postcards form Borneo: My Rainforest Family (by Cheryl Knott)
To learn more about research and conservation of orangutans in Borneo, visit www.saveGPorangutans.org.
For many months of each year, I am in the field on my own. But most summers in recent years, I have traveled with my wife Cheryl Knott, who is a Boston University professor and orangutan researcher, to her field site in Gunung Palung National Park in Borneo. And we have also been taking our children with us. This year I have been working on a new orangutan project for National Geographic, and NatGeo asked us to also cover the family angle. So we have been writing a series of blog posts for their PROOF blog.
See the latest post from my daughter Jessica at: Postcards-from-Borneo-the-best-swimming-hole-in-Gunung-Palung
To learn more about conserving orangutans in the spectacular Gunung Palung National Park area, visit saveGPorangutans.org