Meet Michael Ready, expedition photographer

By Tyler Stiem

Javan gliding frog (Rhacophorus margaritifer), West Java, Indonesia.

Javan gliding frog (Rhacophorus margaritifer), West Java, Indonesia.

As we prepare for our expedition to Danajon Bank, Philippines over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to the photographers and scientists on the team. First up is iLCP's Michael Ready, a naturalist and photographer based in San Diego, California. 

From vanishing amphibians to bioluminescent squid, Ready’s collection of images seeks to reveal the diversity of life and particularly its smaller and lesser-known forms. Ready’s field expeditions have taken him to locales around the world, including the Amazon Basin, Central America, South East Asia, and Japan, where he was honored to swim in mountain streams and photograph giant salamanders as old as him.

We sat down with Ready to talk nature photography and hear the story of one of his favourite images. 

Mike, what made you decide to join Expedition: Danajon Bank? 

I was inspired for many reasons.  First and foremost, I believe in the core mission of iLCP and I know the good that powerful images can bring. By raising the general awareness of ecologically rare and sensitive areas like Danajon Bank and others, we inspire a connection to the beauty and diversity of wildlife and the people that it sustains.  I have also long admired the work of Project Seahorse, and am excited to have an opportunity to assist in fulfilling their important mission.

What are some of the challenges of nature photography? Tell us the story of getting one of your favourite images. 

A Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) faces the current in a river pool. This ancient amphibian grows up to 56 inches (142 cm) in length and is believed to have a lifespan possibly over 100 years.

A Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) faces the current in a river pool. This ancient amphibian grows up to 56 inches (142 cm) in length and is believed to have a lifespan possibly over 100 years.

Nature photography is not so glamorous!  For every beautiful image there is usually a lot of stress and strain behind it, slogging through mud, insect bites, and myriad other environmental hazards endured — and many failed attempts… 

One of my favorite places to be is in the water. Sometimes that water is the vast expanse of the ocean, and sometimes it is a shallow woodland stream.  When I worked on capturing images of the giant salamanders in the mountain streams of Japan, I learned very quickly the power and deception of flowing stream water.  

After a day of searching, I was thrilled to discover a large salamander under a gentle waterfall.  Little did I know it would take me several hours of  fighting a cold strong current just to get close enough to photograph the ancient amphibian. When, however, after all the effort, you finally get to see the animal in its element and get the photograph, it’s always worth it.    

How does your approach to conservation-focused assignments differ from other nature photography you do?  

With nature photography in general, there is an emphasis on capturing a singular, stunning moment in time—untouched by the human hand and revealing the intrinsic beauty of an animal, or an animal within its environment.  My approach to capturing these images necessarily differs from an assignment with a conservation focus.  

In this case, I capture the essence of the story with images of the animals in their habitats and the people living alongside them, but it is equally (if not more) important to document the threats to the existence of the entire ecosystem.  The entire story cannot be told without images of both the beauty and the destruction of that beauty.

What are you most looking forward to about the expedition?

The photographer at work.

The photographer at work.

Getting in the water in what is thought to be the epicenter of the marine biodiversity of the Pacific Ocean.  I am also looking forward to working with such an amazing team of like-minded people — the other photographers and the Project Seahorse researchers.

How have you seen your work past work make a difference to conservation? 

As a result of the Flathead River RAVE in British Columbia, governments on both sides of the Canadian-U.S. border collaborated to establish protections for the area from the threats of coal mining and other types of extraction.  I was proud to contribute my images of the last known genetically pure strain of cutthroat trout and stream invertebrate fauna to this effort.

I also collaborate frequently with amphibian conservation groups and my images are used to further an awareness and understanding of the most threatened group of animals on the planet.

For more images, check out Michael Ready’s portfolio at www.michaelready.com.