Why indulging in family pet portraits is a smart move


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There are some things that may seem extravagant at first, but become more valuable than we can imagine when we look back on the purchase years later. Having professional photos done with your furry family members is one of those things.

This month I had a chance to photograph a friend and her pack of dogs for their holiday cards. She wanted something that showed her family off in a fun way, and something better than the usual point-n-shoots that fill up the storage space on smart-phone cameras. We met at a park where she hung baubles and a banner, and of course brought bows for each of her dogs. We played around for awhile with different poses and different locations and had a wonderful time.

Afterward, we went on a hike and I learned so much more about the history of her dogs, and how they've formed a deeply bonded unit. Listening to her talk about her dogs, about how they've changed over time and their different quirks, got me meditating on the amount of emotional connection a person can have with their companion animals.

To so many of us, pets aren't just animals we live with. Rather, they carry as much influence and importance as our human best friends, siblings, even children. To many people, a companion animal is who centers them in the world, who is a constant, steadying presence in the busy, stressful, often turbulent days we live through.

My friend is someone who has countless photos of her dogs. She snaps photos every single day and so many of the images are absolutely adorable. But there's something different about having a professional portrait session done, particularly when you are included in the shoot. It is an opportunity to capture that intensity of emotion, of the connection that you feel with your pet. Professional portraits are a chance for someone else to reflect back to you the bond you have with your companion. And you get to keep copies of that reflection and hang them on the wall, to look at the visual evidence of that bond and feel it again every time you see at the photo, even when years or decades have passed by.

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Years ago I had a black Labrador retriever named Topper. My wife and I adopted him when we were very young, 18- and 19-years-old. It was an impulsive decision, but that's how teenagers are. We went into the local animal shelter and saw him curled in the back of his kennel, his deep brown eyes looking up at us with confusion and kindness. He was nine months old, dropped off by a family who said he'd destroyed too much furniture to be worth keeping. We looked at each other, figured we had nothing valuable anyway so that wasn't a problem, and said he was coming home with us.

We had Topper for 10 years, and we filled that decade with countless adventures and misadventures, hikes and road trips, laughter and stories. Some of the best memories of my life so far include that dog at my side. But what I don't have from those years are quality portraits of him, of us as a family. We had Topper well before I learned to be proficient with a camera. And while we have hundreds of photos with him, photos that I cherish, they don't quite have that intimacy that comes with professional portraits -- the candid affectionate glance, the sudden burst of laughter, the light that flashes in their eyes when the words, "Let's go!" are said. These are things so difficult to catch, and impossible when you are the one behind the camera.

When Topper passed, one of my biggest regrets was not having polished portraits of us as a family. Something beautiful to frame; something that was both our family at our best and a work of art. So, when I adopted my current dog, one of my priorities in the first couple years was scheduling a family portrait session with a pair of pet photographers who are incredibly good at what they do. We set up a session at sunrise and my dog, my wife and I played on the beach as the sun came up, the light all pink and gold, while the two photographers worked their magic.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when we got the images back. I was positively giddy at the ordering session while looking over the proofs, seeing what they managed to capture. Everything I feel about my little family was there, in those photos. Everything that was in my head and heart was actually printed on pieces of semi-gloss paper.  These are photographs that even now I simply could never capture myself because I need to be in them, to be in sync with my family rather than directing where to stand and getting the dog to hold a pose while I trigger the camera's shutter.

I could go on with more stories, but I will just say this: Since having those personal experiences, and since being part of those experiences as the photographer, I couldn't recommend more highly taking advantage of the opportunity to hire a professional for a portrait session with your pet. Especially now, during the holidays when everyone is thinking about family, love, and of course personalized gifts, it seems like a wonderful chance to remember the importance of quality portraits as an experience and indulgence worth having.

Whether it is to celebrate the arrival of the newest family member:

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Or honor the years of joy brought by the oldest family member:

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Whatever the occasion, or no occasion at all, I promise you will have no regrets about creating beautiful, intimate photos to look back upon, and that help to trigger joyful memories. There are talented photographers all over the place, and I encourage you to look up who is local to you, strike up a conversation, and see about setting up a session with them. You'll be happy you did.

Many thanks go to Pe'ahi, Leilani and Nalu for being such adorable and festive models.

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Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

5 days of thinking in black and white


Coyote, Canis latrans © Jaymi Heimbuch

Coyote, Canis latrans © Jaymi Heimbuch


A friend recently tagged me on Facebook to take part in a 5-day black-and-white photo challenge. The premise is simply to post a new black-and-white photo each day, but what you choose to do with the opportunity is up to you. You can show off some of your favorite images again, or you can create a new photo each day specifically for the challenge. I did something in-between. I searched through my archive for photos that would really stand out in monochrome, and I focused on wildlife species most meaningful to me.


Day One:

Just before dawn, I was up on top of a hill looking down at a lagoon searching for a group of river otters that I know live there. I spotted them at one corner of the lagoon and so drove down the hill to where they were. When I came around a bend in the road, a gorgeous coyote was standing in the middle of the road. She (or he) was smelling the air and getting a whiff of the ducks and great blue heron that I knew were at the bank just below a drop and out of sight. Cool as a cucumber, she just glanced at me in my car, barely caring I was there. I, on the other hand, had a rush of adrenaline burst through my veins, since the coyote is my number one favorite species and every sighting of one is exciting to me.

I opened the door to my car and pulled out my camera. The sun had barely come up and we were in a shaded valley so there was hardly any light, and my lens had trouble focusing on her. She crossed the road and went under a barrier to a grassy area, and knowing I was a road hazard, I got back into the car to go find a safe place to park. She went off down between some scrub and I walked another way around the area with the hopes of spotting her again.

As I came down a little way off the trail, up popped her head from behind the bushes. She gave me about 45 seconds of her time, before having enough of me and disappearing into the scrub. With weak early-morning light, and hand-holding my 500mm, I didn’t get many frames but it was a wonderful moment with my favorite species.

Coastal brown bear, Ursus arctos horribilis © Jaymi Heimbuch

Coastal brown bear, Ursus arctos horribilis © Jaymi Heimbuch

Day Two:

There was that one time when a curious grizzly got so close he filled the frame, and kept on coming. I'm not someone who gets nervous easily, especially around wildlife. Animals are fairly predictable; follow some basic rules about body language and respecting distance, read the cues and know how to respond, and you're usually safe(ish). This gorgeous grizzly never gave me a reason to fear, but did give me a reason to second-guess.

There seemed to be a bit of a lull in the number of fish coming upstream while our small group was watching the bear go about catching lunch, and so he turned his attention to his audience. He lumbered past us, perhaps 30-40 feet away from our small rain-soaked huddle with cameras pointing out at every angle. Then turned, and decided to take a closer look.

It was awe-inspiring to watch this huge bear amble toward us, no concern and no threat in his body language, but enough curiosity for me to watch carefully. When he kept walking directly toward us, filling my frame to the point that I stopped bothering looking through the camera, I turned to the guide just to see what he thought about this approach. He gave me a head-nod meaning, "We're still good, stay chill." So, I just stood there watching one of the greatest predators on the continent walk a matter of yards past me, small black eyes roving over our group with interest.

Then, in a thankfully anti-climatic end to the moment, he plopped down on the beach, yawned, and drifted off into an afternoon doze. I’ve chalked this up as of the best moments of my time among wildlife so far.

Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis © Jaymi Heimbuch

Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis © Jaymi Heimbuch

Day Three:

Though the Laysan albatross may be a far cry from coyotes and grizzlies, this bird is dear to me in many ways.

A couple years ago I had the extraordinary opportunity to go to Midway Atoll. While technically on assignment for the environmental website I was writing for, I was there entirely for me. I’d pitched the trip, pushed to get it approved, and finalized plans to travel to one of the most remote places I’d ever had the honor of visiting. I was told that Midway would change me, but I figured that was just poetic talk from people who wanted to build up the place. By the time I left a week later, I realized how right those people were. The tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific ocean really had altered who I was as a person and my heart expanded to include two bird species that I will always think of as magical. One of them is the Laysan albatross.

By turns elegant, comical, stoic, clumsy, romantic, and feisty, this species is always one thing: extraordinary. Laysan albatross go from sitting for months in a single place as chicks to taking flight and staying on the wing for five to seven years before returning to land to begin the many-year process of finding a life-long mate, a process that requires learning a complex courtship dance and searching out the one partner with whom they dance best.

I could say so much about these pixar-film-worthy characters, but I'll save that for an upcoming blog post. Instead, I'll just say that hearing the calls and bill-clapping of Laysan albatross in videos transports me right back to that small rise of sand in the middle of the ocean, and with it a deep longing to be there again.

North American river otter, Lontra canadensis © Jaymi Heimbuch

North American river otter, Lontra canadensis © Jaymi Heimbuch

Day Four:

I spent an hour or so on the morning of day four looking through photos of Sutro Sam. This North American river otter made a splash in 2012 when he took up residence in the ruins of the Sutro baths on the northwest edge of San Francisco for about 5 months. The fascination with him came from the fact that he's the first river otter to be spotted in San Francsico in about five decades, and his arrival is a sign that the conservation efforts that have been going into restoring the bay area's watersheds are working.

Sutro Sam’s temporary return -- he likely came from and returned to Marin -- had people visiting the baths in droves for a chance to spot him, and he wasn't shy. He had a knack for posing for the cameras, and was by turns curious about and oblivious to his adoring fans. This made him perfect to watch since he wasn't easily scared off. However, the interest had its downsides. People have a way of loving things too much, ignoring posted signs as well as common sense about watching wildlife. In this case, onlookers did everything from stomping down the reeds along one of the banks (read: destroying habitat) to actually letting their dogs interact with the otter. Thankfully, advocates did a great job reminding overenthusiastic visitors to keep their distance and respect the creature they were there to see.

In March, Sutro Sam left the baths for good, most likely heading off to find a mate. In his brief stay he was a fantastic ambassador for the species and an opportunity for people to learn about river otters and, hopefully, appropriate ways to view wildlife. He also was the first river otter I'd ever seen in the wild, and I've been fascinated by and in love with the species ever since.

White terns, Gygis alba © Jaymi Heimbuch

White terns, Gygis alba © Jaymi Heimbuch

Day Five:

This 5th and final photo in the 5-day black and white challenge is dedicated to Brian Skerry who solidified my confidence that I picked the right image for the day.

In searching for my last photo, I knew I wanted to post something on white terns since my theme has been species that are special to me. These birds are so full of vim and vigor; they're loving and tender, elegant and playful. I searched through all the shots I have of this species, trying to find one image that would show the personality, the spunk that I think of when I think of these terns. I had a handful of great portraits, and a couple pretty shots in flight, but nothing that showed who they are to me and that was also a perfect shot. There was always a problem -- a stray branch here, or a wing clipped out of the frame, or too much blur. I finally decided on this shot, which is imperfect in ways but is still a keeper to me because it speaks to how I know the species. I edited it and saved it to post in the morning. It's not perfect, but it's right.

Before posting it that morning, I had a call with Brian to talk about weighing content versus quality, on knowing when an image is worth keeping despite (or because of) flaws. During the conversation he told a story about evolving from wanting the ideal shot of a fish entirely in frame with perfect light and without any particles and so on, to understanding and using the impact of noise, grit, blur, cropped out portions of the subject and other things that might break rules but in fact make art. When he talked about this, I thought of my choice for this last photo. Despite what I may want to change to make it a technically perfect shot, I'm still really happy with this image because it speaks to me about who these birds are, not about how they were posed.

If you take part in this 5-day challenge, please let me know about it with a link in the comments. It would be great to see what everyone else posts!

Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

Model behavior: The joy of photographing well-trained dogs


Ruby, a Belgian Malinois, Cybil, a Dutch shepherd, and Cash, a pit bull, pose together in the training field of Tug Dogs in Sacramento, California. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Ruby, a Belgian Malinois, Cybil, a Dutch shepherd, and Cash, a pit bull, pose together in the training field of Tug Dogs in Sacramento, California. © Jaymi Heimbuch


A little while back I had a wonderful afternoon photographing the dogs of Tug Dogs, a boarding and training facility in Sacramento. The owner and lead trainer is one of those people who just has a way with dogs. They simply want to listen. While you know it mostly comes down to years of experience and practice in reading and using body language and energy to keep a dog's interest and lots of techniques to keep up obedient behavior, it still looks like magic when she turns toward a room of barking dogs, says "Enough," and they actually quiet down.

In my volunteer work photographing shelter dogs up for adoption, I come across a wide range of personalities and behaviors. I only have a few minutes, maybe 30 minutes at the most, to spend warming up to a dog and getting portraits to use in adoption profiles. The purpose of the portrait is to draw in potential forever homes, and the more effectively we play match-maker using love at first sight, the more dogs can be homed. So it is important to capture a dog at their best, highlighting their heart and soul in a single photo. When a dog is nervous, over-stimulated, shy, or just plain doesn't have any commands down yet, it can make the session a bit difficult.

Sometimes I have a string of dogs who want nothing to do with me out of nervousness or boredom, or won't stop moving long enough to pose. While I enjoy the challenge of capturing a dog at their best despite the constant movement or lack of eye contact, it also makes me crave time with dogs that have basic commands down, or better yet, who know much, much more than the average dog. I got that in spades with my session at Tug Dogs.

The group of trainers and their dogs met me and my own dog in Old Town Sacramento for some fun group shots. We drew plenty of stares from onlookers not only because we had a motley pack of nine adorable dogs trotting around but because those dogs did a great job posing in groups on railroad tracks, benches, crates and pretty much anything we pointed at. Each of them worked well on their own and as a group, even though several had never met one another before, and there were five different handlers and a photographer all milling around. It was sheer joy to come up with an idea for a group shot, get all the dogs situated, and have them hold the pose until we got a good image.

After our in-town session, we headed back to the training field and photographed everything from agility to protection work, from playing fetch and tug to balancing on barrels, from leaping fences to leaping over each other. Seeing what dogs are capable of in the hands of people who want to train them, who want to keep their brains engaged and interested, who want to help them work through whatever behavior issues they're having, is endlessly inspiring. This photo session was a blast, but more importantly it renewed my patience with other dogs I work with. It reminded me that their hearts and minds are made of gold and we just need to wipe off the grime.

As an extra special treat at the end of the afternoon, we all got to enjoy the cuddles from a new litter of Belgian Malinois puppies. Just weeks old, the little tumbling, tottering, playful pups joined us on the grass for a romp. Knowing these pups' parents and the trainer who would raise them and place them into homes, there was little doubt when looking at each of them that they would have a big future ahead of them -- filled with plenty of joy and training! Spending time with these cuties was the perfect way to end an afternoon spent with an amazing group of dogs.

Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

A nod to nene: How Hawaii's native goose is returning from near extinction


A pair of nene, the Hawaiian goose and state bird, forage in the grass near Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A pair of nene, the Hawaiian goose and state bird, forage in the grass near Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. © Jaymi Heimbuch


Driving through the misty rain and afternoon sun, that rainbow-making combination that makes Kaua’i such a well-loved place, the color contrast between the lush green grass and damp red dirt lining the roadside is striking. Moving at the border between these two contrasting colors is a small group of geese, equally striking in their contrasting colors of black and buff. Slowly making their way down the edge of the grass on the road leading to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, plucking here and there at the ends of the tallest blades and stripping seeds from stalks, five nene wander the shoulder of the road. I pull over about 20 yards up, grab my camera, and watch the meandering flock as they approach.

This is one of the few times I’ve seen nene, the goose species unique to the Hawaiian archipelago. During my two previous trips to the island I had spotted one or a couple here and there near the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. This time, however, I spied twos and threes along roads, on levees, on hillsides and in the skies. The species holds a few titles; it is Hawaii’s state bird, but it is also the most endangered goose species in the world and the sixth most endangered waterfowl species in the world. And yet, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At least, it doesn’t have to be. The fascinating evolutionary history of the nene is rivaled by another story, that of its return from near extinction. This species was a mere 30 individuals away from being known only through the fossil record, and yet it is now poised to possibly return to self-sustaining numbers, and Kaua’i has been the place where numbers have been rising the fastest.

I sit down in the grass, my shoulder angled and eyes averted enough to encourage them to keep moving on their path toward me. Only one shows nervousness and takes a longer route around me, stopping for long moments to stare quizzically at the clicking noises I’m making as the mirror flips and the shutter flaps inside my camera. The other geese continue as if I weren’t there. I listen to them talk, making soft nasal sighs at each other, what I’ve come to call a goosey cooing. Calm and confident, they continue their grazing in the deep, lush grass.


Nene have a vocalization that sounds similar to their relative the Canada goose, but it is softer, almost more like a moo. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Nene have a vocalization that sounds similar to their relative the Canada goose, but it is softer, almost more like a moo. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Unlike the typical experience you might have with geese at the park or a barn yard, who move with a wariness that always borders on aggression, the nene move with a self-assured gentleness that comes with not being harassed or preyed upon for millennia. Evolving on an island chain that lacks predators results in a calm demeanor, though one that can be a species’ demise when predators do arrive. But we’ll get to that later. While the nene look so unique from other goose species, they have an ancestor who is abundant and familiar to anyone in North America.

Somewhere around 500,000 years ago, a group of Canada geese took wing and headed south and west. During their flight they spotted a small chain of islands, one of which was only just born. Here they landed, perhaps to rest, perhaps to breed. Whatever the reason, they stayed, and they began that relentless and beautiful procession of evolving to fill a niche in one’s new home.

Because there are hardly any wetlands on the Hawaiian islands, the geese evolved away from living around the edges of marshes and lakes and instead took to the grasslands and shrub-covered hills of the rocky isles, even thriving up on the rugged and rocky sides of volcanoes.

Nene forage everywhere from coastal lowlands to rugged hillsides. Their preferred habitat has an abundance of native plants and grasses. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Nene forage everywhere from coastal lowlands to rugged hillsides. Their preferred habitat has an abundance of native plants and grasses. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Over centuries and millennia, they became smaller and their wings shortened since they had no need to make long migration flights to warmer or cooler climes depending on the season, nor did they have much need to fly to escape land-based predators since none existed on the islands. Meanwhile, their legs lengthened and the webbing of their feet shrank as they swam less and scrambled over lava rock beds more. Perhaps the most notable change is their coloration. Doing away with the all-black neck and hood, the nene evolved a signature buff-colored neck with a black stripe down the back and deep furrows of black within the buff along the sides of the neck.

The unique markings of nene make them easy for anyone to identify in an instant. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The unique markings of nene make them easy for anyone to identify in an instant. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The signature markings of nene include a buff-colored neck with deep furrows revealing black underneath. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The signature markings of nene include a buff-colored neck with deep furrows revealing black underneath. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The nene was not the only goose species to evolve from the Canada goose ancestors. Several other species evolved, though they went extinct quite some time ago. The nene is the only species left to demonstrate what has occurred in the half-million or more years since those ancestors landed on the archipelago. Now, it is the most isolated, and one of the most threatened of all waterbirds.

While the nene evolved on an archipelago that was free of land-based predators, that Eden didn't last. Eventually, humans discovered the islands. Though the people who became native Hawaiians did hunt nene to some extent and introduced predators including dogs and pigs, it is estimated that the nene still numbered around 25,000 on the Big Island alone when Captain Cook landed in 1778. But when the westerners arrived, hunting and egg collection, as well as even more introduced predators including cats and mongoose, all took a devastating toll. Hunting nene was finally banned in 1907, but the damage was done. By the time conservation efforts began in earnest, there were only around 30 nene left in the entire world, all on the island of Hawaii.

The number of nene left in the world dipped to a low of 30 individuals before measures to protect the species were implemented. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The number of nene left in the world dipped to a low of 30 individuals before measures to protect the species were implemented. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The captive breeding program began in 1949 when the last 30 wild nene were captured, representing the only hope of the species’ survival. However, the program focused primarily on breeding and release, and not on habitat restoration and protection. It is difficult to find success with the former if the later is neglected. So, the nene released back into the wild struggled to thrive. After several decades, more research was focused on figuring out how to help the nene become self-sustaining once again.

Looking into issues of habitat degradation, food shortages, predation by non-native mammals, and other factors all helped the captive breeding program identify strategies for success in later years. Since the breeding program began, over 2,800 nene have been released on four islands. Some populations still require supplemental feeding to get through the lean times, but the population of nene on Kaua’i — accidentally released there after Hurricane Iwa in 1982 — have found particular success, thriving in the lush lowlands and on the edges of pastureland where they enjoy plenty of food and far less pressure from predators.

Wild and captive nene are banded to allow easy identification by biologists. This allows researchers to know where the geese originated and track the movement, health and behavior of individuals. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Wild and captive nene are banded to allow easy identification by biologists. This allows researchers to know where the geese originated and track the movement, health and behavior of individuals. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Though more than 60 years have passed since captive breeding programs began, and nene now number around 2,500 total, the nene living wild on the Hawiian islands are still not self-sustaining. New individuals born in the breeding programs still need to be introduced to the wild to keep populations on the rise. However, there is encouraging progress being made in recent years. The nene may have the smallest range of any living goose species, but it is beginning to make use of that range once again. Not only is Kaua’i showing a rapid growth in numbers, but for the first time in 300 years, a pair of wild nene have nested and hatched young on the island of Oahu.

In March of 2014, news broke that a pair of nene set up home at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, and successfully hatched three of their four eggs. The mild-mannered pair were first spotted in January hanging out at the 5th hole at a golf course, wandering up to visitors close enough for their bands to identify them as K59 and K60, which means they are from Kaua'i. By mid-March, they revealed their three goslings. It was expected that when the goslings were big enough to fly, they would likely return to Kaua'i. But they provided high hopes that wild-born nene will return permanently to Oahu, coming back after centuries of extirpation. 

Nene eat a variety of vegetation, including leaves, seeds, fruit, flowers and grasses. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Nene eat a variety of vegetation, including leaves, seeds, fruit, flowers and grasses. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Hawaii has a long history of non-native species displacing native species, and this is true with the grasses and plants that nene have evolved to eat. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Hawaii has a long history of non-native species displacing native species, and this is true with the grasses and plants that nene have evolved to eat. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Food shortages are a primary problems for establishing a toe-hold in historic ranges. Because the Big Island offers habitat primarily up in the high elevations where food is less abundant, nene come down to the lower grasslands to feed and nest, but this makes them more susceptible to predation. Kauai’s nene population is the exception. It is growing the most rapidly and it is likely due in large part to the abundance of grassland and the fact that the island is mongoose-free. Predation on the islands is most serious for goslings who cannot fly until they are several months old, while car-strikes of adults feeding along roadsides is one of the biggest threats to adult nene.

Because the species survival is so tied into the availability of grasses — which is affected by human development as well as the spread of non-native species choking out the native grasses and plants — and predation, conservation efforts still need to revolve around protecting prime habitat, making it safe for nene geese to nest and providing plenty of food for foraging.

Currently, the only wild nene on the archipelago are found on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Kaua’i and Molokai -- and of course the pair that showed up this year on Oahu. Perhaps, with time and continued dedication, more than the single breeding pair will return to Oahu while numbers of nene thriving in the wild on their other native islands continue to rise. 

One of the biggest threats to adult nene is being hit by cars. Frequent mowing along roads attracts nene as it provides easy foraging, but it makes them more likely to be hit by vehicles. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the biggest threats to adult nene is being hit by cars. Frequent mowing along roads attracts nene as it provides easy foraging, but it makes them more likely to be hit by vehicles. © Jaymi Heimbuch


A pair of nene break off and cross the road to forage. I quietly follow them, staying a good distance away but in the direction they are traveling, and sit down in the grass. They wander closer, pulling at the blades of grass left and right and making their low calls to each other. The calls sound like they swallowed a harmonica and are softly sighing through it. They eventually get within about ten feet of me, to a spot where the grass is low and thin. They take turns resting and grazing. One hunkers down and naps while the other keeps watch, nibbling on grass or stretching. Then the one that was resting rises, coos at the other a few times and begins to graze, and the other lowers itself down to the ground for its turn at 40 winks.

Though these nene are well habituated to humans, it still feels like a small honor to be trusted by them enough to have them nodding off next to me, taking long yoga-pose stretches with their back legs and talking softly to each other without a care in the world. We sink into a meditative calm together. A familiar honking sounds in the distance and gets closer, and the two geese cock their heads to look up, watching a flock of five nene fly overhead. The pair vocalize, talking to each other with a little more excitement about whoever just flew by above us. Which of them are related, which are youngsters and which have been here for a decade or more? To think all of them came from some 30 or so individuals captured around a century ago, the last of their kind brought into safety with the hopes that they would once again thrive across the Hawaiian islands. To think, they are on the cusp of returning in earnest, and these geese on Kaua'i show the most promise for the species as a whole -- a species perhaps, just maybe, saved from extinction. In an era with few success stories, the nene offer us a truly special dose of hope.

Their gossiping done, the two geese settle down again, eventually both of them lying down to take an afternoon nap. I replace my lens cap, and leave them to their quiet island paradise.


This pair of nene approached me, then settled into the grass for an afternoon nap. © Jaymi Heimbuch

This pair of nene approached me, then settled into the grass for an afternoon nap. © Jaymi Heimbuch

From 30 individuals back up to more than 2,500, the conservation efforts to bring nene back from the brink of extinction are hopefully reaching a tipping point, where wild nene will once again thrive on the main islands of the Hawaiian archipelago. © Jaymi Heimbuch

From 30 individuals back up to more than 2,500, the conservation efforts to bring nene back from the brink of extinction are hopefully reaching a tipping point, where wild nene will once again thrive on the main islands of the Hawaiian archipelago. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

What to do when your photo goes viral


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I mean that as a question. What to do when your image goes viral... What to do, what to do? I've had to ponder this recently, and I think I have my solution.

It happens sometimes that a photo becomes so widespread that tracking use of it is an exercise in futility and frustration. This photo is my first experience in it. Sure I've had photos used without permission quite a few times in the past. You can't put something online without running that risk. But they are usually one-off instances. This photo, though, has been another thing entirely.

I photographed my dog for an article with recipes for baking a dog birthday cake. We went down to the store and picked out party favors for decoration, and he got to dive in to a couple pup-cakes. I posted the photo along with some others on Instagram and included them in the published article. And off it went.

It ended up being submitted by random people (representing it as their own) to some major animal social media accounts for Facebook and Instagram. It took off like wildfire, being shared all over the place, being uploaded to blogs and websites and people's personal pages. It has ended up everywhere from tech blogs to cute-overload-style sites to a producer working with MTV asking me to use the photo (of course, when I gave him the link to license it, I never heard back). My wife even saw it printed out as a birthday card on a co-worker's desk. When she asked how they got a photo of her dog, they said they just Googled "birthday dog." And yep, sure enough, this photo is at the top of the Google search results.

I have not made a single penny off of this photo. There is a decent chance I will never make an income from it, not with people able to save it or print it for free after finding it in a two-second Google search. I also could never possibly hope to contain all the misuse of this image anymore. But I can stop it when I see it. Or can I?

When I see someone using a photo of mine, I look at whether or not they are using it commercially and if there is credit. If credit is given then I usually write it off. If it is on a non-commercial website, or is not being used for branding or drawing in new users to a site and so on, then I write it off. But if a site is using it without credit and for gain or for branding, then I feel justified in asking for it to be taken down.

Much of the Internet, however, doesn't agree. Most people seem to think that anything on the Internet is theirs to take and use. But it isn't. So often I hear, "Once it's on the Internet, just expect it to be stolen." Well, yeah. To an extent. But it is never okay. Or worse, I hear, "You should watermark it," or, "You should disable right-click-save." Yes, these are mildly helpful deterrents but it puts the blame back on the photographer if their image is stolen, not on the person who took without asking. And none of these perspectives mean a photographer shouldn't stand up for their rights as the creator and owner of a photo when it is taken.

Fitting a request to take down an image in 140 characters on Twitter looks like this: "Hi. Your profile photo is a copyrighted photo that I took. I have not given permission for it to be used. Please remove it." The second warning looks like: "Ur profile pic is my copyrighted pic.Using it violates Twitter's TOS & my rights.Pls remove it so I don't have to report it." Pretty average language requesting someone stop using my photo as their profile photo or background photo (as in, using it for their branding). I could go straight to Twitter or whatever social media site and submit a report of copyright infringement. But it's nicer to ask first before putting someone's account at risk.

Yet that simple request has earned me backlash, especially with followers of one of the people whom I have pinged. Their profile said they were 96-years-old -- and I thought it was a character, an act. Nope, turns out she really is a 96-year-old woman (go figure, some unbelievable Twitter bios are actually true. Makes me wonder about that Bronx Zoo snake...) and with a mini army of followers ready to hate on anyone who isn't perfectly kind to her. And apparently sending a take-down request is beyond the pale. Well, that one was a whole can of worms. Had I researched the account and back-story first, I probably would have put two or three pleases in there rather than just one. But frankly, why would I research every person using my image before sending a calmly worded take-down request? After figuring out she was a real person (and a total sweetheart, hence the angry horde ready to overreact on her behalf) who recently had a scary experience thanks to social media, I told her she can go ahead and use my image for free.

Anyway, age aside, it's the same story: If the site or account responds (and often I am completely ignored), they typically take it down while saying they didn't realize it shouldn't be used.

I just don't get this. It seems so simple. Is it yours? Do you know whose it is? Did they say you could use it? Just like with every other thing in this world, if the answer is "No" to these questions, then you probably shouldn't use it. Sharing is one thing; linking to a source and sharing a photo, video or article via social media is of course desired. You're sharing the source of the photo and providing credit that way. I'm not knocking that. But uploading an image and using it for anything, from a birthday card to a profile photo, without permission is another thing entirely. Then it's not hard to stop and ask those three questions, to consider that someone spent time and energy creating that image and perhaps their income relies on sales of their work. If you can't find who created the image, it still isn't yours to use as you wish.

But too many people don't stop and think about this. So what happens when your photo goes viral? For me, in this case, the answer I've landed on is: donate it.

See, it's not just my photograph but also my dog. My fur-kid. It's jolting to see his face somewhere I didn't authorize it to be, especially a profile photo. The sheer number of times this photo has been taken without permission, without credit, has sapped the joy out of it for me. What do you do when you don't want something taken from you? You give it away.

So, I'm donating this photo to nonprofits who want to use this image for fundraising. If you are with an organization, from animal welfare groups to health awareness organizations to child welfare and anything in between, please contact me with a link to your nonprofit's website, a description of the work you do and how you would like to use the photo. I will donate a high-quality print-ready file to your organization. I will also provide design work if you want your logo or message on the image. You can use it for anything from marketing material to cards to calendars to key chains.

For the most part, I can't control where or how people use the images that have gone up already. But I can at least improve the quality of the photo when it is used. Perhaps that will bring back some of the joy I had in making and looking at this photograph.

So, if you're wanting to use this photo in a real way to do some good in the world, then please get a hold of me so I can get you set up with a free high-quality file.

And if you're a for-profit business or website who wants to use (or has used) this photo on your site, or if you're someone who wants prints or a license for personal use, please throw us a bone and license the image from here or email me to order prints. It's not only the right thing to do but also we'd literally be able to buy more bones. This little guy loves them.

jaymi-heimbuch-birthday-dog
jaymi-heimbuch-birthday-dog
Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

Urban coyotes learn how to navigate roads


Urban coyotes have learned to use roads to their advantage, and that means following safety procedures! © Jaymi Heimbuch

Urban coyotes have learned to use roads to their advantage, and that means following safety procedures! © Jaymi Heimbuch


It’s no great revelation that coyotes are smart. These crafty, clever creatures have figured out how to spread from their original range in the American southwest to every corner of North America and into Central America, from California to Maine, from Alaska to Florida, from Canada to Costa Rica. They thrive in rural, semi-rural, suburban and even the densest of urban cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

An omnivorous diet, the ability to increase their litter sizes relative to territory and food availability, and the natural desire for young coyotes to disperse and claim new territories, certainly all play a role in the species’ spread across the continent. But to not just be able to survive, but flourish in places crowded with humans, where other predators have been extirpated, well, that takes smarts. And one of the most important skills is learning road savvy behaviors.

Car strikes are the number one cause of death for urban coyotes. Road collisions account for as much as 40-70 percent of all deaths for the coyotes studied by Urban Coyote Research in Cook County, Illinois. Finding food and patrolling a territory necessitates crossing dozens, sometimes hundreds of busy streets. Only the most alert, careful, and car-savvy coyotes make it across road after road, year after year.

Road savvy has to come early for coyotes. This coyote pup, only a few months old, sadly lacked the skill and luck it takes to avoid cars. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Road savvy has to come early for coyotes. This coyote pup, only a few months old, sadly lacked the skill and luck it takes to avoid cars. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Despite the risk, coyotes still take advantage of roads for travel. It makes sense, considering that pack territories in urban spaces can range from less than two to a little over four square miles, and the territories of solitary coyotes can average as much as 10 square miles. There isn't a whole lot of choice involved.

For coyotes in semi-rural and suburban areas, getting from point A to point B can be quite a bit faster and easier if using a road rather than navigating through dense plant cover. At least, that was the choice of one coyote I witnessed using road-smart behavior on a foggy road one morning.

I was on my way to photograph birds in a bay just on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, traveling on a road cut into a hillside with dense scrub on either side. I was day dreaming a little about the morning’s weather conditions and where the tide might be when I got there, when out of the corner of my eye a flash of an image hit me: a coyote looking right at me from out of the scrub brush not 10 feet away. I hit the brakes, but was going around a curve without a shoulder so couldn’t stop without becoming a hazard. I hurried to the next possible spot to turn around and hoped with all my heart the coyote would still be there.

As I rounded the bend back to where I’d seen the momentary flash of a canid’s face, sure enough there she was, trotting up the road in the same direction I was now heading. Her ear twitched back, listening to my approach, and she hopped back up into the brush, seeming to wait for me to pass. I did, and pulled off to the side a little way up, rolled down my window, pulled out my camera, and waited.

I had hardly waited any time at all before she appeared, sticking her face out of the scrub brush, checking the all-clear. She hopped back down into the road and began trotting along on her merry way, passing right next to my vehicle. She went on a bit, slowed and hopped back into the scrub brush — and sure enough a moment later another car rounded the bend coming in her direction. After it passed, out popped her head, she checked for more cars, and hopped out to continue on a much easier, faster path than if she were to scramble over the scrub-covered hillside.

A young female coyote pokes her head out from the scrub brush, checking for cars. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A young female coyote pokes her head out from the scrub brush, checking for cars. © Jaymi Heimbuch

After checking the coast is clear, the coyote hops out of the brush and back onto the road to continue on her way. © Jaymi Heimbuch

After checking the coast is clear, the coyote hops out of the brush and back onto the road to continue on her way. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The coyote checks in both directions, her ears twitching forward and behind, listening for any oncoming vehicles. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The coyote checks in both directions, her ears twitching forward and behind, listening for any oncoming vehicles. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Roads can help coyotes navigate more quickly, but they're a hazard to be taken seriously. Car strikes are the primary killer of urban coyotes. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Roads can help coyotes navigate more quickly, but they're a hazard to be taken seriously. Car strikes are the primary killer of urban coyotes. © Jaymi Heimbuch

As she trotted up the road, I decided to follow, just to see what would happen. As I pulled up behind her, she sped up, breaking from a trot into a lope, but interestingly she stayed on her route on the opposite side of the road. I passed again, pulled to the side, and waited for her to catch up.

The little dance went on several times, with her trotting along the road, listening for cars, passing me, and then me passing her again, the two of us traveling along the road together, or as together as I could hope to be with this clever and confident coyote.

As long as I stayed in my vehicle, the coyote took little notice of how close she got to me -- though she did take care to stay on the opposite side of the road. © Jaymi Heimbuch

As long as I stayed in my vehicle, the coyote took little notice of how close she got to me -- though she did take care to stay on the opposite side of the road. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Young coyotes have to figure out how to safely deal with cars. Depending on their territory's location, urban coyotes need to cross dozens, sometimes hundreds of roads when patrolling home turf. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Young coyotes have to figure out how to safely deal with cars. Depending on their territory's location, urban coyotes need to cross dozens, sometimes hundreds of roads when patrolling home turf. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Listening for cars, moving on and off the shoulder of a road, and timing their dashes across busy highways are skills urban coyotes have to use to survive. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Listening for cars, moving on and off the shoulder of a road, and timing their dashes across busy highways are skills urban coyotes have to use to survive. © Jaymi Heimbuch

In trying to get a different angle, I decided to hop out of my car after pulling over yet again. Even though I hid around the edge of the car, she knew perfectly well something was different, and she came to a full stop while checking me out. I’d pushed too far and broke the magic. Now I wasn’t just a benign vehicle that would continue on, something she deals with all the time. Now I was vehicle plus human, which is another story entirely. She watched me for a bit, came a little closer, but decided to head down into the scrub brush with such purpose that I knew she was not going to pop back out. At least, not any time soon.

When I got out of my car to get a different angle, the coyote became much more wary of me. A car is one kind of danger; a human walking around is another entirely. © Jaymi Heimbuch

When I got out of my car to get a different angle, the coyote became much more wary of me. A car is one kind of danger; a human walking around is another entirely. © Jaymi Heimbuch

While I was sad, and kicking myself, for ruining the moment by getting out of the car, it did encourage me that this brave girl was smart enough to stay well clear of humans. The key to this species’ survival has been invisibility, knowing when and how to stay out of sight.

Urban coyotes are proving every day the incredible skill set it takes to hide in plain sight, to thrive in places where the streets, parks, and wildlife preserves are crawling with humans. Some coyotes are living in territories where there is nearly no natural space at all, where it is nearly 100% concrete, buildings, parking lots, strip malls, and busy streets. And they’re doing it with hardly anyone realizing they’re even there most of the time.

Reports of coyote sightings are becoming more and more common. They are usually reported by people who are scared of seeing them in their parks or front lawns, who are frightened of the risk they seem to pose to pets or small children. However, coyotes have been living alongside humans long enough that we should be aware that they are of no real risk. That is, unless we give them reason to lose their natural fear of humans and make them overly brave. By providing habitat and food sources in our own backyards, we welcome them in. Some people openly feed coyotes, turning them into a true risk. A fed coyote is a dead coyote, as they say, since a fed coyote can become overly confident and even aggressive toward humans, and that leads to being trapped and killed.

There is much, much more to say on the topic of urban coyotes. In my ongoing project of documenting their natural history, I’ll be providing more examples of their trials and triumphs in living near and within cities. But for now, I’ll leave you with this: admire a wary coyote, and don’t do anything that might make them less so. There is great information on coexisting with coyotes at Project Coyote, including how to avoid attracting them to your yard and what to do should you encounter one. And perhaps also admire how much skill they exercise in utilizing what we humans have created, including roads.

Coyotes are here to stay, including in urban areas. We need to stop fearing them and start learning better ways of coexisting with this beneficial canid predator. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Coyotes are here to stay, including in urban areas. We need to stop fearing them and start learning better ways of coexisting with this beneficial canid predator. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

A study of jellyfish in black and white


jaymi-heimbuch-jellyfish

There is something deeply meditative about watching the jellyfish tank at an aquarium. I have two favorites: Monterey Bay Aquarium (at which the jellyfish exhibit is, understandably, the most photographed exhibit at the aquarium) and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

I could spend hours in front of these tanks, watching the slow, graceful, swirling motions of the purple-striped jellies and sea nettles, or the comical but determined pulsing flutter of the blubber jellies as they cycle around the tank. It's clear I'm not the only one, too, since the Monterey Bay Aquarium has launched a Jelly Cam, letting people watch sea nettles from 7 am to 6 pm every day. Nice.

Their dance-like movements, especially as they twirl around each other, their tentacles seeming like they should become impossibly knotted but never do, is as fascinating as it is beautiful.

Jellies are amazing creatures and their ever-changing shape is a joy to photograph.

Though the exhibits have striking blue backgrounds that set off the pinks, golds, reds and other vibrant colors of the jellies, I like best to focus on their shape, on the movement they convey even in a frozen image. So, I most enjoy processing images in black and white. Black and white is perfect for pulling away the distraction of color and zeroing in on the meditative, contemplative mood that watching jellies brings me.

Calling to my mind both a dream-like surrealism and a reminiscing of our primordial beginnings, jellies will always fascinate me.

Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.

Modeling Ruffwear gear above a San Francisco sunrise


My heeler's heart is as light as the sun when we're on the trail together having fun. ©Jaymi Heimbuch

My heeler's heart is as light as the sun when we're on the trail together having fun. ©Jaymi Heimbuch


While I was writing an article about how to train your dog to wear a backpack, Ruffwear sent me a fantastic pack test out with my dog, Niner. The company makes great gear that is well-designed and durably constructed, and we were thrilled to get a new pack to put through its paces. So, we woke up one workday morning, waited impatiently for first light, then booked it out the door and up to a little preserve near our apartment, which gives a gorgeous view of the bay and San Francisco at sunrise.

It is a bit of a hike to get to the top of Corona Heights, but the view is well worth it. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It is a bit of a hike to get to the top of Corona Heights, but the view is well worth it. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the greatest parts about this tiny preserve, apart from the view, is the rocky outcrops. They afford the opportunity to get some exercise and balancing practice while scrambling around on them, as well as that "I'm the king of the mountain" feeling that come with standing atop them and getting a 360-degree view of the city.

We love to watch the sun as it rises up over the east side of the bay, and washes the water and city of San Francisco in pink and gold light. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We love to watch the sun as it rises up over the east side of the bay, and washes the water and city of San Francisco in pink and gold light. © Jaymi Heimbuch

After pausing to take in the extraordinary sunrise -- well, Niner enjoyed the view while I enjoyed shooting in the pick and purple light -- we got down to work and focused on why we were there in the first place: showing off the goods.

We got down to work, first making sure Niner's Ruffwear pack fit properly © Jaymi Heimbuch

We got down to work, first making sure Niner's Ruffwear pack fit properly © Jaymi Heimbuch

We love that the Ruffwear pack comes with collapsible water bladders so we never have to worry about how to bring along water. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We love that the Ruffwear pack comes with collapsible water bladders so we never have to worry about how to bring along water. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We also love that this model is removable from the harness. Easier to put it on and take it off during breaks. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We also love that this model is removable from the harness. Easier to put it on and take it off during breaks. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Scrambling around on the rocks to figure out new shots is always a bonus. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Scrambling around on the rocks to figure out new shots is always a bonus. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Just when we thought the light couldn't get prettier, pink gave way to brilliant gold and orange. Sunrises often pack a colorful surprise. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Just when we thought the light couldn't get prettier, pink gave way to brilliant gold and orange. Sunrises often pack a colorful surprise. © Jaymi Heimbuch

When we had enough shots for the article, we started a game of chase up and down the rocks. There's always time for a game of the zoomies. © Jaymi Heimbuch

When we had enough shots for the article, we started a game of chase up and down the rocks. There's always time for a game of the zoomies. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Something that has evolved from this partnership of a dog-centric photographer and a really smart heeler is that Niner has learned how to be an ideal model. He's learned how to strike a pose, hold a pose, take commands from a distance so I can get him in a good position for a shot up on a hill or even in a tree, and he looks right at the camera when he hears "focus."

We've worked together on tricks specifically for modeling, such as targeting, bowing, and holding or balancing objects. When he knows he's earning treats, he has extraordinary patience with staying in one spot until released. And he certainly earns plenty of great treats. How could he not? I mean, look at that face:

Over the years, Niner has learned just how to model, looking right at the camera and holding a pose. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Over the years, Niner has learned just how to model, looking right at the camera and holding a pose. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It has helped to teach my dog to take directions at a distance, so I can compose a shot with him a ways away. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It has helped to teach my dog to take directions at a distance, so I can compose a shot with him a ways away. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A great recall has two benefits: getting my dog back at my side, and getting a shot of him with that joyful face. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A great recall has two benefits: getting my dog back at my side, and getting a shot of him with that joyful face. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Watching the sun rise, scrambling over rocks, sprinting through puddles, and climbing in trees -- there's not many better ways to start a day. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Watching the sun rise, scrambling over rocks, sprinting through puddles, and climbing in trees -- there's not many better ways to start a day. © Jaymi Heimbuch

I think that photography has in some ways helped increase our bond. He loves to work, I love to photograph him, and we both love being out on a trail together, starting out the day with a hike just us together. Whether it's a tiny trail in the middle of the city or driving out of the city at 5 AM to get to the hills on the other side of the bay for sunrise, it is time that we spend deeply aware of the other's presence. Photography adds in that extra element of paying attention to each other. I'm constantly inspired by him to create new images, which leads to even more time logged on trails and walking paths, which leads to even more quality time together.

He has taught me a lot about patience, creativity, sensitivity to a dog's mood, and how to roll with whatever happens because you never know what will lead to a beautiful shot you didn't plan for. I cherish these opportunities with him, whether work-related or not. Three cheers for sunrises in nature with your four-legged best friend!

I get so much joy from seeing a happy smile on my dog's face. © Jaymi Heimbuch

I get so much joy from seeing a happy smile on my dog's face. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Photos © Jaymi Heimbuch. All rights reserved. Most photos on my site are available for purchase as prints. If you see an image in a blog post that you’re interested in, please send an email. I’d be happy to work with you to create a print you’ll love.