The Santa Cruz area is always worth a visit; there is a lot to explore down there, from its beautiful forested hills to its wonderful and dramatic coast. It's raw, natural beauty beckons visitors from near and far to come out and play. But it's also attracted many to settle down here, including a sizeable community of artists who come here to create, inspired by the diverse and dramatic landscapes.
You may not know Frans Lanting by name, but if you've ever flipped through the pages of a National Geographic, Life or any number of nature magazines, chances are you know his work. He is, by any account, one of the world's leading nature and wildlife photographers, and he has created some of the most extraordinary wildlife images ever captured.
From Africa to Australia to the Arctic, Frans's work has taken him virtually everywhere in the world, but for about 30 years he's lived in Santa Cruz and he always loves to come back home. "I began my career on these beaches," Frans says. "We're looking at the landscape where I became a photographer. And I found inspiration in the shore birds and the sea otters and the butterflies. And it took me on a trip around the world that is still continuing."
Some of Frans's favorite places to photograph are right here in Santa Cruz County. He offered to show Doug a few of them, starting as his days often do, very early in the morning.
One of Frans's frequent photographic haunts is just a few miles north of Santa Cruz at Three Mile Beach. At sunrise, the beach is illuminated, revealing a dramatic and softly lit scene. Frans likes photographing in this type of light when shadows and highlights are minimized and colors are more pure, and he’s excited to begin shooting.
Initially, Fran's eye is attracted to a pair of cypress trees perched at the far end of the beach. Frans pauses to capture a few images, and then he's off, heading toward the tide line to see what’s at the water's edge.
He and Doug are the first human visitors of the day, but they are, by no means, alone. They share the beach with a myriad of creatures - curious harbor seals bobbing in the surf, and hundreds of birds of all shapes and sizes. Photographing wildlife is tricky business. According to Frans, you need a little bit of luck, a lot of patience, and you have to understand animal behavior. "So if we sit here for a while, then they habituate to us. Yeah, they habituate real fast. They’ll differentiate between people who come straight at them and those who sit here on the beach and become part of the scene. At least that's my theory. It's worked for me, yeah."
Frans spends some time capturing images of the creatures all around him at the water's edge. The longer he stays, the more animals arrive until the sky and the water churn with life. After a few hours on the beach, the light conditions begin to change and Frans suggests a change of scenery. Frans brings Doug just a few miles inland to a 7000 acre stretch of open space called Coast Dairies, a formerly privately owned piece of property that is now being developed for public access.
Frans likes to come here to photograph, and to experience the many different environments all within a short walk. Frans walks from an arid, exposed grasslands into a cool and shaded forest. And within a few steps the environment changes again and he head into a cool, dense redwood grove.
It is a photographic treasure-trove, but today Frans has left his camera behind to take it all in with both eyes. Most of the time Frans keeps his camera close by, capturing images during his daily travels before heading back to his Santa Cruz studio where the real work begins with his wife and business partner, Chris Eckstrom.
They met at National Geographic where Chris worked as a staff writer for 15 years. Now they run every aspect of their business together, from sorting and selecting photos, to packing gear and equipment for field shoots, to writing and editing their many books and articles, to screening video from assignments abroad.
And over the years, Frans and Chris have had some amazing stories to tell - traveling to some of the most extreme and remote pockets of the earth, documenting their experiences in pictures, video and words and sharing them with the rest of us.
The gallery is open 5 days a week, where we are all invited to stop by to see the extraordinary fruits of their labor. Both Frans and Chris take great satisfaction in sharing their passions and their pictures with others, inspiring us all to see the world in new ways and to appreciate the boundless beauty that's all around us.