Through The Eyes of Dale Morris
As a child growing up in a Welsh slum beneath an ever-present drizzle of rain, Dale Morris suspected there might be more to life than collieries and damp sheep. He had seen glimpses of a wider, vastly more wonderful world in wildlife documentaries. Steamy jungles full of glamorous primates. Arctic ice flows where white bears made red messes of seals. And of course, the African savannah, full of animals and void of shopping malls.
All of it beautiful, and all of under threat of extinction and disappearance. This outraged him (still does), and so, when his parents kicked him out, aged 16, he did a stint working as a zoo keeper, saved up enough money to buy a one way ticket to the world, and then commenced with a life dedicated to conservation. Most of it voluntary.
For fifteen years, he travelled the globe and worked in the field of scientific research, animal welfare and wildlife rehabilitation. “I got to hang out with amazing animals,” says Dale “and I also met inspirational people who were working tirelessly to better our knowledge to protect the natural world. I wanted to play my part by telling their stories and helping their causes.” And so, armed with a love of writing (his mom once told him he was quite good at it) he decided to try his hand at freelance magazine journalism.
“I quickly learned that if I wanted my pieces to be published, I would need to provide engaging photos as well as words.” With a camera earned through the sale of a kidney (not really, he got paid once to help a documentary film crew out in Costa Rica) he taught himself how to take pictures by studying photography magazines.
“When I look at a subject, I want to convey something magical about it,” says Dale, who has now been a professional photographer for the past 13 years “I want to show off that subject in new and possibly unique ways and to inspire people to care about nature”
A natural extension to Dale’s story telling approach was to become a guide, which he now does in partnership with ORYX Photo Tours. In a typical non-coronavirus year, Dale leads photo safaris to Brazil, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Borneo, Antarctica, East Africa and India. He doesn’t go to Wales though.
The eye of a chameleon
An eccentric entomologist once told me to get over my size hang-up. ‘Dale,’ he said ‘When you start seeing small animals as no less impressive than the bigger ones, you will find yourself in a much more bountiful world.’ He was right, of course, and now I tend to look at the tiny details in a scene, such as this alluring eye of a chameleon, which was taken on a Madagascar photo tour.
Old ways die hard
Like ladies everywhere, the lasses from the Omo Valley spend an inordinate amount of time decorating themselves. There they don’t do it with lipstick and eyeliner. Scarification with razor blades, beer bottle caps and eagle feathers pierced through the lip are the norm. As for the tone of this photo; grey skies can be turned into bright clean ‘studio’ backdrops by overexposing, which is what I did here.
We are so used to seeing and imagining birds laterally that we hardly ever picture them straight on. They just look plain weird and somewhat comical to me, and I love it. I strive for unusual angles that show off the subject in a different way from that which we are used to seeing. This toucan during a Pantanal photo safari was curious to me and gave me the perfect opportunity.
A mother’s warning
Ethiopian Geladas live at high altitudes where it is typically cold. You often find them huddling together on the ground for warmth. Primate faces remind me of my origins. They carry the same expressions and the same subtle meanings as us. We can understand each other easily without words. It’s clear this mother is telling me to “back away” from her baby.
The fruit bats were gearing up for a night of foraging. Swirling around their roost tree, they filled the sky with a flurry of high speed action. This is the shot I had in mind. A clean white sky, intentionally overexposed, a backlit flurry of wings, and a pleasing composition. The reality is, I got lucky. Most of the 800+ shots I took during this session were a compositional mess.
We are intrinsically attracted to spirals. Who knows why. They show up all over the place in nature. In the shape of a shell, the twirl of a vine, the eye of a storm, a galaxy and the flush of a toilet. I am fascinated with patterns and shapes and the mysterious forces of nature. Here is a millipede, shaped by those same enigmatic powers.
This is a very young Verreaux’s Sifaka, photographed at Berenty Reserve on a Madagascar photo tour where many of the lemurs are super habituated to the presence of humans. Whilst the adults of the family were resting high in the trees, this curious youngster came down to check us out. He was very playful, bouncing from branch to branch and seemed to want us to join in with the game. When we didn’t start bouncing around with him, he soon got bored and went off to harass his mother.
A fisheye lens and a flash is one of my favorite combos. The results are often distorted and comical. To get this image, I lay on my back in an ostrich farm paddock and had my wife sprinkle feed pellets all over me. I was half pecked to death and also received quite a few kicks, but this photo made it worth it!
How to find unusual angle or exposure of something that has been photographed a million times before? I try to think that way whenever I’m taking pictures. It was getting dark at Madagascar’s avenue of the Baobabs, and my shutter speeds were too slow for hand holding. So, I tried something off the cuff. Flash, zoom out, pan up, flash again, with a ½ second exposure.
The old man arrived at the temple grounds, a sack of mangoes slung over his shoulder. He was intending to sell them but the temple monkeys had other ideas. I was supposed to be focusing on cultural and archeological subjects at Ranthambore Fort in India, but the resident thieving cheeky Languars caught my attention instead.
When searching for composition and patterns amongst this colony of king penguins during an Antarctica photo tour, I was hoping that one of them would stretch its neck or flap its wings or start a fight with its neighbor: something to make it stand out from the crowd and create a focal point. But after hours of trying it just didn’t happen. This photo was my consolation prize. I imagine it as a jigsaw puzzle for those with OCD.
I often wonder how many Brazilians come to Africa and get taken from river banks. Unlike us, they have little to fear from crocodilians because their exceptionally common Pantanal Caimans are as chilled as hippies. I went for what I like to call ‘The White Canvas’ look with this scene, overexposing the water for a clean and simple setting whilst keeping the composition somewhat abstract.
A devil in disguise
The head of this little Madagascan Satanic leaf tailed gecko is only about a centimeter wide. When photographing small animals, I try to get down at eye level with them. This tends to make them look bigger, and brings the viewer’s attention to the exquisite beauty and detail of things. You no longer see it as small and inconsequential. Instead, it’s a mighty beast.
I love to look for textures and patterns. Often you find these in macro form, but this one (water erosion in sand) was spotted whilst taking a scenic helicopter flight over the Namib desert. I had just come from a photo session in Deadvlei (a dried out pan full of dead trees) and this scene was very reminiscent of the same shapes and forms I had seen there.
Seems to me every time I go to Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, the ladies there are trying to outdo each other with the size of their lip plates. Usually, it’s a circular clay disk, painted with bright colours and patterns, but this village elder had decided to change things up a bit by using what to me looked like a kitchen chopping board. For this uncluttered portrait, I used a pitch dark hut and a headlamp for illumination.
Most longer zoom lenses suck when compared to a prime. If you can afford the cost and the weight, go for prime lenses. They are invariably sharper.
When using a wide-angle lens on a close up subject, I love to use flash directly into the sun. The best of the modern DSLRs have very high ISO capabilities. Because of that, these days I often use a headlamp to illuminate a subject rather than an expensive flash.
If you use a flash, learn how to fire it remotely off camera. Having a light source coming from an angle rather than straight on can make your photos look more ‘professional.’