Friday, 8 November 2013

Window on the world - Beautiful aerial images taken on commercial flights

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As a director of BBC Natural History films, I spend a lot of time flying around the world, and it isn't long before I've exhausted all of the onboard movies. To keep myself occupied I've taken to aerial photography. All of these images were taken through the windows on commercial flights. It's all down to a bit of planning and a lot of luck...

Somewhere over British Columbia

Before I arrive at the airport I think carefully about choosing my seat. I check out the path that the flight might take, consider which side will give me the best view, what time of day and where the sun will be, and most importantly make sure that I am as far away from the wing as possible - my favourite seat is a couple of rows from the back. 

Onboard, I wear dark clothes to limit my own reflection, clean the window with a damp cloth and then try to get a good angle through the cleanest spot - which often involves half standing and squashing my head to the glass. I'm very selective about what and when I photograph, and other than that it's mostly down to luck, weather and post production. 

I use Adobe Lightroom. There's always a blue haze but I remove much of that by increasing the blacks and contrast, and increasing clarity, sometimes to 100%. I decrease saturation on the blues and warm up the temperature. Usually I need a grad to darken the top of frame, the point furthest from me, as this is where the haze is most apparent. I've found that actual camera filters just don't work for this sort of shoot and so I use a digital grad and fix it in post. I also tend to sharpen the images by up to 40%. Finally, I clone out any marks resulting from shooting through a dirty window.

 Somewhere over New Mexico

Somewhere over Java

 Somewhere over The Alps

 Landing back in Britain

Australia from the air

My favourite continent to fly over is Australia. The sky is usually cloudless offering a clear view, it's often sunny and it's always spectacular. It's like flying over the surface of Mars and I find myself captivated by the vivid expressions of the underlying geology. Patterns of red and orange, dry lake beds and giant sand dunes. Australia is one of the oldest and most stable continental landmasses, the mountains have been worn down, much of the soil has been blow away, and with little vegetation able to survive in the arid red centre it reads like a living geological map. The folds and layers of the ancient sediments stretch out on one enormous flat canvas, dissected by ribbon-like rivers such as the Murchison, the countries second longest. You can fly for hours without seeing any sign of human life, but then slowly the landscape evolves.

From Mars to the Modern World

I recently flew from Alice Springs to Perth and as the red desert waned, the vast angular blocks of the wheat belt came into view, like a yellow chequer board stretching to the horizon. It covers 155,000 square kilometres, larger than the whole of England and only where ancient lakes are found does the land remain untamed. Scattered across this patchwork of monoculture are thousands of abandoned old quarries, like painpots, some blood red, others yolk yellow. As Perth drew closer the fields became smaller and houses started to appear, clustering closer and closer until I reached the modern world, the towering metropolis of downtown Perth on the banks of the Swan River.



'Desert Seed'. Dry for most of the year, it only takes a small amount of rain for these salt lakes to fill and become a magnet for life.





Uluru, at the geographical and spiritual heart of Australia. A rare monolith in an otherwise flat landscape.



Patterns of red and orange, dry lake beds and giant sand dunes. Australia is one of the oldest and most stable continental landmasses, the mountains have been worn down, much of the soil has been blow away, and with little vegetation able to survive in the arid red centre it reads like a living geological map. 


The giant parallel dunes of the Simpson desert - aligned with the path of the winds



'Desert Veins' - a dried river tributary resembles the veins on a leaf





The folds and layers of the ancient sediments stretch out on one enormous flat canvas, dissected by ribbon-like rivers such as the Murchison, the countries second longest. 



The wheat belt, like a yellow chequer board stretching to the horizon, covers 155,000 square kilometres.


'Earth's Footprint'. Only only where ancient lakes are found does vast area known as the wheat belt remain untamed.


'Desert Egg'. Scattered across this patchwork of monoculture are thousands of abandoned quarries, like paint-pots, some blood red, others yolk yellow. 




Perth drew nearer the fields became smaller and houses started to appear, clustering closer and closer. 



 The modern world, the towering metropolis of downtown Perth on the banks of the Swan River.

Rama and Rob the baby squirrel - How the squirrel got it's stripes.

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An adaptation of the Hindu tale Rama and the squirrel...
featuring Rob the baby palm squirrel!


Many years ago the 10 headed demon king Ravana kidnapped Sita, the wife of Lord Rama and took her to the island of Lanka.


To rescue her Rama visited the temples and the mountains to enlist the help of the bears and monkeys of the Varana army.


Shouting with excitement, and happy to be helping Rama, the monkeys and bears ran around, looking for the biggest stones they could find. They carried huge boulders, and even hills, on their shoulders, and dropped them into the ocean to build a bridge.




The smaller animals also wished to help Rama – the fish and the other sea creatures helped the boulders to rest in the right place, while the birds brought smaller rocks to fill the gaps.

The squirrels, too wished to help but the boulders were too big for them to move. 



Then Rob, a baby squirrel, had an idea. He started collecting small pebbles lying on the shore, and dropped them into the ocean. But after a while, he was too tired to even carry those tiny pebbles. He took a nap.


Whilst he was asleep he had a dream about how he could help.


When he woke he ran to the beach and rolled in the sand, he then ran to the water and washed himself. He ran back to the shore and rolled again, and more sand got stuck to him. Again he ran to the water to wash himself. The small grains of sand which stuck to his body were all he could contribute to the enormous task of building a bridge across the ocean but he was happy to be helping.

However, Rob rushing to and fro on the shore was now getting in the way of the monkeys who were carrying huge boulders, and they started shouting at him, asking him to get out of the way.


“Brothers, I too want to help. These small grains of sand are all I can throw into the ocean. Please do not shout at me” said Rob.

The monkeys laughed out aloud, and shouted, “Of what use are these tiny grains of sand, which can scarcely be seen among the huge boulders and hills we are bringing. Get out of the way and let us do our work!”

Rob was unperturbed, and continued rolling in the sand and washing it into the sea.

 Finally one of the monkeys, picked up Rob in anger and flung him far away from the shore.

Rama, who was watching this, caught Rob before he fell.


Rama then addressed the other animals  

“you are brave and strong, and are doing a wonderful job bringing all these huge boulders and stones from far and dropping them in the ocean. But did you notice that it is the tiny pebbles and stones brought by this small squirrel and some of the other smaller creatures which are filling the small gaps left between the huge stones? they bind the whole structure and make it strong? Yet you scold this small creature and fling him away in anger!”


Hearing this, the big animals were ashamed and embarrassed, they lowered their heads.

Rama continued, “Always remember, however small, every task is important and everyone who makes an effort should be appreciated!”

Rama then turned to Rob and said softly, “My dear squirrel, I am sorry for the hurt caused to you by my army, and thank you for the help you have rendered to me. Please go and continue your work happily.”

Saying this, he gently stroked Rob's back with his fingers, and three lines appeared where Lord Rama's fingers had touched it.


This is how Rob the palm squirrel got the 3 stripes on his back, as a blessing from Lord Rama, to remind us that everyone has a role to play and every contribution should be appreciated.


The bridge from India to Sri Lanka can still be seen from space. Whether it was built by a squirrel and an army of monkeys and bears, or formed through a natural geological process, is open to debate.



Sunday, 3 November 2013

The worlds cutest vampire - The Spectral Tarsier #CuteoftheDay

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#CuteoftheDay - The Spectral Tarsier. What's cuter than 1 tarsier in a tree? 2 tarsiers - the worlds smallest primate.


I took this photograph at the famous tarsier tree in Tangkoko, Sulawesi. Resembling a cross between a gremlin and a tiny koala, the spectral tarsier emerges before dusk and spends the night jumping from tree to tree on the hunt for food. It has eyes larger than its brain, a head that can rotate 180 degrees, ears that can detect the twitch of an insect from as far as 10 metres away, extended 'tarsus' leg bones to enable it to pounce up to 40 times the length of its body, and vampirish teeth for stabbing and crunching invertebrate prey.


 Inside a tarsier tree. The hanging, tangled roots of the fig provide plenty of places for tarsiers to hide during the day.