Meet Claudio Contreras Koob, expedition photographer

By Tyler Stiem

California sea lion swimming in a kelp forest.

California sea lion swimming in a kelp forest.

For the second in our series of Expedition: Danajon Bank photographer profiles, we spoke to Claudio Contreras Koob, a Mexico City-based photographer and naturalist. 

Claudio studied biology in the National Autonomous University of Mexico but decided to work as a nature photographer instead. He has spent the last 23 years travelling and documenting nature and wildlife in Mexico. During that time he has become ever more involved in conservation-related projects both in his home country and abroad. He joined iLCP in 2009 were he is currently an associate fellow. Also works as a picture editor for conservation and nature-related books.

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

Close-up of an octopus.

Close-up of an octopus.

As a teenager I became involved with the science faculty diving group in my university. Part of our duties were to gather scientific data in the field that in time translated into the scientific information used to establish marine protected areas we now have in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. So I do understand the power of this team effort and more recently I have been able to see the power that photography has to advance important conservation causes like the Danajon Bank. It’s a privilege to be a part of this effort with Project Seahorse and iLCP.

What are some of the challenges of nature photography?

Salt and humidity kills the electronics of the equipment, and bugs and other little critters make it hard sometimes to maintain sanity… but sadly in more recent times the hardest thing to overcome is the fear of human violence we are experiencing in Mexico.

Military macaws in flight. Tehuacan, Mexico.

Military macaws in flight. Tehuacan, Mexico.

Tell us the story of getting one of your favourite images.

Well, the photo of the military macaws made some time ago is still probably my most well-known image. It was a runner-up in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Back then this place [Tehuacan Valley, Mexico] was completely unknown and macaws had just started to be monitored by biologists. Although inside a Natural Protected Area, there was a risk that these creatures could be lost to pet traders. I was sent there to document them and our work aimed to promote awareness and protection to the site. 

Standing at the edge of the cliff as macaws passed flying by with their raucous voices was an unforgettable moment, I’ve never been back to that canyon but as far as I know, the nearby community has taken pride of their macaws and have established ecotourism visits to view the macaws.

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

Sacred Headwaters, Northern British Columbia.

Sacred Headwaters, Northern British Columbia.

I participated in the iLCP’s Sacred Headwaters RAVE expedition in northern British Columbia, Canada. It’s a sacred place to many First Nations people. It is also the region were three undammed salmon-bearing rivers are born.

Wade Davis made a book with the images we were able to obtain and handed a copy to all the members of the Canadian Parliament. It was just one more step in the hard struggle that local people and NGOs  are making to protect that prisitine region they call home. 

What are you most looking forward to about the expedition?

I sincerely hope that as a team we will be able to produce a portfolio strong enough to convince the Filipino government of the need to increase protections for Danajon Bank.

To see more of Claudio's photos, visit

Documenting the 'Cradle of Marine Biodiversity'

By Tyler Stiem

Photo courtesy Luciano Candisani/iLCP

Photo courtesy Luciano Candisani/iLCP

Over the next few weeks, the Expedition: Danajon Bank team will be blogging over at National Geographic Newswatch. Here’s the first post:

“Long term and meaningful conservation success really is only possible if NGOs and photographers work together – very often also working with scientists. If you can get those three sectors working together, you’re pretty much a non-stoppable force.”

— Thomas Peschak, Conservation Photographer and iLCP Fellow

The International League of Conservation Photographers has pulled together an unstoppable force to launch a conservation campaign on behalf of a rare and threatened double-barrier coral reef called Danajon Bank. Four iLCP photographers, including Thomas Peschak, will travel to the Philippines in April to visually document this 90-mile reef system. More than a year in the making, our two-week photo expedition is a collaboration between NGOs, photographers and scientists, all of whom are interested in conserving this unique marine ecosystem – one of only six double-barrier reefs in the world.

iLCP is teaming up with Project Seahorse to reveal for the first time the full beauty of Danajon Bank and the imminent threats it faces. Pictures will be taken by Peschak and another three of the world’s finest marine photographers: Luciano Candisani, Claudio Contreras, and Michael Ready. This international team hails from South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and the United States (respectively). Joining our photographers will be pre-eminent marine biologists Dr. Amanda Vincent and Dr. Heather Koldewey of Project Seahorse and the Zoological Society of London.

Read more over at National

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