Saving the New Mothers of Nepal

Toward the end of 2012 I got to go on a grand adventure to Nepal with writer Jesse Seiver to do a story on maternal mortality rates.  We were privileged to join a group of American doctors on their trip to Ilam.  Here is the story on the National Geographic Assignment Blog.

 

A Nepali woman receives an ultrasound while a Nepali nurse learns to operate the machine.

A Nepali woman receives an ultrasound while a Nepali nurse learns to operate the machine.

 

 

2011 – Looking Back

As a self proclaimed “nomad” I tend to get antsy when I haven’t been on a major adventure in a few weeks. To keep myself appreciative of the kind of life that I’ve been able to lead thanks to a well chosen career and great friends like Lou Lesko helping me along the way.  I sometimes have to reflect on the last year and outline the best parts. Here’s how 2011 shaped up for me, and some of my favorite projects of the year.

Manatee

I got my start shooting for National Geographic in the underwater world, and although I’ve since moved on to mostly shoot above water, it’s one of my passions. I’m slowly but surely continuing my work on manatee, and hope to take it to the other side of the world and continue shooting dugong, a much more difficult subject that is a close relative of the manatee. This project was at first a way for me to start learning how to shoot the animals in an interesting way, but once I arrived in Florida I saw that most of the animals were covered in scars from the boats, and were nearly constantly pestered by the tourists. Expect to see more work from me on Manatee in 2012.

See my manatee photos on National Geographic Stock

Manatee in Three Sisters Springs, Florida.

Haiti

Haiti was a chance for me to start working with a wonderful photo editor named Leah Roberts.  Lou Lesko sent me to Haiti for the National Geographic Assignment Blog – See those stories here, and here.  It was also a chance to bring something new to photography.  I worked with Tomnod, a crowd sourcing group out of San Diego to put together a way for people to join me vicariously on the expedition.  Using satellite imagery to follow my ground based photography the viewer could not only see where I was, but they could see before and after images from the Haiti earthquake.  It was a huge hit, and quite possibly the first time this has been used in photojournalism.  I hear that Time magazine did something similar a few months later, I hope they got the idea from Tomnod but I don’t know.

A boy in City Soleil, Haiti.

Mongolia

Mongolia was one of the few projects that I did this year for National Geographic that narrowed my role down solely to the photography.  The project is headed by Dr. Albert Lin and was heralded as a huge advance in the field of archeology.  Dr. Lin took new tools into the field and used modern science to aid his search rather than the antiquated trowels and brushes that we associate with archeology.  We also used the predecessor of the Tomnod format as a way to crowdsource the search for ancient tombs by having millions of citizen scientists search through the satellite imagery for anomalies.   Here’s a link to the National Geographic page on the project.

Of course, besides the National Geographic photography that I was doing, I made my living shooting fashion, commercial, and adventure photos.  Here’s a gallery of favorites from this year.

I also got to try my hand at filming and producing television!  This was an entirely new angle for me, and I enjoyed (some of it) immensely.

Here’s a teaser from the Mongolia special I helped put together.

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/specials/in-the-field-specials/expedition-mongolia.html

After this I filmed for Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” in Alaska, when that comes out be sure to Check out footage from the “Kodiak” to see my work.

Check out some of the personal video that I put together this year at http://www.youtube.com/user/Benhorton83?feature=mhee

I also wrote a number of articles, reviews, and blog posts for other websites and magazines, had my photos published in editorials around the country, I produced a new portfolio book from Blurb, and of course, have a grand personal project that I am not ready to tell anybody about. So 2012 if we manage to live through this coming apocalypse (I am not a believer) will be my best year yet.

One of the Longest Days of my Life – On National Geographic

I’m not a Videographer

I’m not a videographer, at least I don’t claim it even though I do it, there has been some interest in seeing how the video footage from the Zeiss lenses came out though.  Maybe it would be better to say that I’m not a video editor, a good editor would have been able to do a much better job, I don’t even know how to use the programs.  I will say, all of the things that make these lenses great for stills make them amazing for video.  Specifically the precision focussing.

Seeing Eye to Eye

A few years back I was guiding a safari for the TED conference, and helping teach the attendees about photography while giving lectures at night.  We’d spend the days driving around the African wilds, photographing this and that, and all the while I was getting more comfortable with my surroundings.  One day, while photographing some elephants that were a short way off, I decided the best vantage point was from the hood of our land rover.

Out of the bushes not 15 feet away, a huge elephant appears and wanders between our cars as if from thin air.  I could hear the whispers of the clients, “BEN, get back in the car!” I wasn’t about to move.  I had a second camera body with a wide angle on it, so I slowly raised the camera to get a shot right as the elephant approached me and stood staring me eye to eye for just a few seconds.  Satisfied, it turned and made for the nicest bush to eat.  I turned around and got back in the car.

It’s nothing, I’ll be Fine…

One of the byproducts of being in remote locations, devoid of any medical care, surrounded by bacteria, biting bugs and animals, and dangerous landscapes is your body just tends to wear down.  I was on Cocos Island, the first time, and I was walking across the beach after swimming out a half mile to photograph sharks when I was bit by a tiny little ant right on top of a blister.

As the days progressed, the blister turned from clear, to white, to brown, and was edging it’s way toward black.  My foot had swollen to at least twice the size it should have been, and of course, I thought it was nothing so I kept shooting.  Within a few days though, I’d dug into my personal medical kit, and found a hypodermic needle to begin draining the infection myself.  Had I left it, I surely would have lost my foot to a raging staph infection.  By the time I got back to the mainland about seven days later, my whole leg was swollen, I was sick to my stomach and had a raging headache.  It was time to go to the hospital.  Things weren’t looking up for me once I got there, the doctor said it was likely that they would have to keep me in the hospital for 10 days on antibiotics (that we had to go buy somewhere else) and then I would still probably lose my leg.  Screw that.

I told them to clean it up as best they could and then I was getting on a plane to the USA.  What followed was one of the most painful experiences of my life.  The hospital couldn’t afford anesthetics, so they began tearing into my foot with all kinds of tools that are better left in torture chambers.  Imagine a scalpel scraping the tissue off of your bones.  That’s exactly what they were doing.  In that maelstrom of pain, I managed to snap a few shots off of the gaping hole that they were putting into my foot.

The next day i was on a plane, and next to me the other passenger kept mentioning something about smelling rotting meat.  I didn’t let him in on my little secret that it was in fact my foot he was smelling.

In the USA, at a decent hospital, I went in to the ER and the doctor said, “Well they did a good job, they did it like we would have done it in the 50’s, but they did a good job.”

In the end, on a month long shoot swimming with sharks, it was an ant that almost killed me.   A tiny, little ant.

My foot with a gaping hole in it.

Cougar Trap – The Results

There seems to be this idea that to get great photographs you need to travel to the ends of the earth.  Every once in a while though, something comes up right in your back yard.  That’s what happened to me right here in Colorado about a week ago.  I get a text message from my brother with an attached photo of a half eaten cow elk that he’d found hiking just a few miles from our house.  In this area, the most likely culprit is a cougar.  As quickly as I could, I got my gear together, and hiked back up there with my brother to set up a camera trap.  Camera traps are an interesting tool, they allow you to put the camera in places where you would never be able to get a shot in any normal circumstance, then you leave it for a week, or a month, and come back and see what you’ve got.   We set up the camera, and began the two hour hike out of the woods in the dark.  Not fifteen minutes from where I’d parked the car, my headlamp illuminated two sets of green eyes reflecting back at me.  Maybe I should have set up the trap right there.  A week later, it was time to go collect the trap and see what we’d caught.  I couldn’t wait any longer, and by now the elk would be less than appetizing to the cougar.  This time we did the whole hike in the dark, and let me tell you, hiking into that field at 9:00pm in the dark to a cougar’s food source is a little eery.   Right away I checked the camera to see what I’d gotten.  Alas the cougar had managed to drag the kill most of the way out of the frame, and I only had half a cougar in my photo.  The lens was iced over from a fall storm, and the image, though interesting isn’t something I’ll be sending in to National Geographic.  The lesson learned though, is that maybe I should be working a little harder in my own back yard.  I did after all get a photograph of one of the more elusive creatures to grace the Colorado highlands.

 

Camera Trapping a Cougar

Usually when you find out that there is a mountain lion lurking in the area, you get out of there as quickly as possible.  When my brother told me that he almost tripped over a lion kill about three miles up a rough trail behind our house in Colorado and suggested that we set up a camera trap on it I got all excited.  Here we were, doing something to get our blood pumping yet again.  Two brothers, one brain between us.  In all honesty I’m not worried about getting attacked by a Mountain Lion, I’ve seen them a number of times while hiking, and once even spotted one watching my brother while he was working on something in the driveway.   However, messing around with a lion’s food seems to be a little bit more exciting for me.  When you consider that this is the time of year that a female lion might have some nearly full size cubs following it around, then the blood really starts to pump.  This isn’t the kind of opportunity I am going to miss though.  So we trudged up there laden with gear, and quietly got to work setting up the trap.   Before we went, I contacted Joe Riis, another National Geographic photographer that has been doing a lot of work with camera traps and got some advice from him on the best way to set up the sensors.  It only took us about 20 minutes to set the whole thing up, and I’ll be leaving my camera up there for a week or so in hopes of either catching a photo of a lion, a scavenging bear, or something else lurking around in the tall grass.  I’ll be excited to get back up there sometime next week and see what I get.  For now though, check out this video to see for yourself what the whole process looks like.

Read About My Nadam Horse Race on National Geographic!

Check out some of the other posts on the blog, we’ve got some great medical stories, and I put up another blog about one of the longest days of my life!

Mongolia

It’s always been a dream of  mine to ride a horse across the Mongolian steppe.  Slowly just plodding along, letting the land reveal itself.  On trips like those it seems the real heart of the land doesn’t reveal itself until you put in a good amount of time.  I don’t know how much horseback riding I’ll be doing on my upcoming trip to Mongolia with National Geographic emerging explorer Albert Lin and his team of hardened adventurers , but I know that I’ll be experiencing this land in a way that few people have, ever.  We’ll be traveling through remote areas that are rarely explored, and my job will be to capture this story with my cameras.  It’s a huge honor being invited along on an expedition like this one, and I’m viewing this as an opportunity to show my ability to take photos above water.  At the National Geographic headquarters I’m known as an “underwater guy” but in truth I’ve only shot underwater a fraction of my career.  As you can imagine, I’ll be working my butt off to get the shots they need, and I have plans for some content that I think will surprise, using new technology to its fullest. I don’t know if I’ll be able to blog on this expedition or not, I’ll be in the field the better part of a month.  But that’s half the fun, not knowing what to expect.