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Pterochroza ocellata displaying prominent eyespots in response to threat.

Yesterday the tire flew off my minibus, I cut the head off a pit viper and I was banned from a commercial flight by associating with a narco-trafficker. Today I am bushwhacking through the jungle in the remote trail-less backwaters of Guyana, waist deep in water and praying to make it through the rest of the day alive. What will tomorrow bring? God only knows. The adventure starts HERE

Ecuador 

Green vine snake (Oxybelis brevirostris) displaying defensive gaping.

I scream for help from my mule driver as I sink calf…knee…hip deep into the mud. He continues walking ignoring my frantic pleas. And then I realize…he’s robbing me! Thousands of dollars of camera gear strapped to his mule and he is making the slowest getaway ever! The adventure starts here HERE.

Madagascar

Calumma nasutum

I throw myself off the steep embankment and clutch at the crumbling roots and plants. I turn off my flashlight. Pitch dark. My breathing comes in ragged gasps. And then voices. I cover my mouth to kill all sound. Flashlight beams scan the trail. “They’re walking slowly…too slowly!” cries the voice at the back of my head. I clench my teeth and brace my body but I feel my feet slipping on the wet clay. And then they stop, not 5 metres away. My eyes flicker upwards and I feel the searchlight slowly skinning the hide from my back. “It’s over…it’s all over”. The adventure starts HERE.

Costa Rica

Yellow eyelash pit viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) taken in La Selva biological station, Costa Rica.

The adventure starts HERE.

Thailand

Caterpillar from Khao Yai national park, Thailand.

Indonesia

‘Sunrise’ on Gunung Kerinci, Sumatra, Indonesia.

As we drove up the steep gravelly road, I could feel us losing momentum but the ojek driver urged his bike on until finally it stalled at the road’s steepest point. For a brief moment time stalled as well, and then the bike slid backwards and I could feel myself falling. The camera hit the pavement first, and I wasn’t sure if the harsh crack was the sound of the camera or of my head which followed swiftly after. The adventure starts HERE.

Cambodia

Large eyed pit viper (Trimeresurus macrops) taken in ACCB conservation centre, Cambodia.

The adventure starts HERE.

Vietnam

Camouflaged fungus longhorn beetles mating. Photo taken at night in Cuc Phuong national park, Vietnam. Copyright Paul Bertner 2014.

Philippines

Blue armoured ant (Polyrhachis cyaniventris) an endemic species to the Philippines. Photo taken in Mt. Isarog national park, Philippines. Copyright Paul Bertner 2014.

 

Photography

Tips, tricks and techniques for rainforest specific photography

Post processing

Equipment and Reviews

And some advice on planning your own rainforest trip

Biography

I found a word in Malay which seems to describe my ‘occupation’ – Pengembara. A kind of traveler, adventurer, backpacker, vagabond- all the above.

My background is in Cell biology and genetics. I thoroughly enjoy microbiology and the study of tropical diseases. Though having first traveled to the Peruvian Amazon in 2004, I was bitten by the bugs. And since I’ve been traveling off and on to whatever rainforests I can reach, the more pristine and untouched the better. Being surrounded by the natural biota has led to me to diversify my interests into zoology, rainforest ecology, and the interesting yet challenging disciplines of tropical systematics and taxonomy. Only recently have I gotten into macrophotography, but I find it immensely satisfying and hope to continue traveling and photographing for many years yet, since each new discovery fuels the existing passion.
I have been asked many times how I fund my seemingly endless travels. The short answer is by treeplanting during the summers, and picking up odd jobs like fruit picking wherever I can. However the more accurate response is that I could do any kind of job and travel the way I do, since I travel extremely cheaply and independently. After an initial outlay of costs for camping gear and camera equipment, subsequent trip costs have plummeted so that I can comfortably live a month in the jungle in my hammock for $100, just the amount required for groceries and travel. All that is required is the will to step out of our fixed notions of what we can and can’t do. The moment we let other people’s notions of what we are capable of determine our own actions is the moment that we have ceased living for ourselves and are governed by the standards of others. My lifestyle provokes a variety of responses from people, from the person who thinks it a lofty goal and says “Oh, if only…”, to the somewhat derisive “yes but what kind of a life is that…when will you grow up and settle down…”. For me simply this is what I enjoy, and if I enjoy it, I will keep on doing it…some decisions in life are just…simple.
Others are more complex. Like partway through my travels in Borneo I developed a list of worrying symptoms like a temporary blindness that was complete, yet resolved itself within 5 minutes or so. Upon my return to Canada I was diagnosed with stage III testicular cancer that had metastasized to my lungs and spine. With such concerns it is easy to question one’s life and goals, etc… However, after undergoing a regimen of chemotherapy and surgeries I am again traveling, trying to put those hard months of recovery behind me and enjoying with renewed enthusiasm what the natural world has to offer. Traveling to rainforests all over the world is my goal and passion with no desire to stop in the immediate future.
Subsequent trips will no doubt include:
Africa (2014-2015)
Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam/Laos (2013-2014)
Colombia
French Guiana
Papua new guinea (2015-2016)
*If you plan on visiting any of these places or on traveling to some of the places I’ve already been to, I would be happy to trade experiences.*
Gear is slowly evolving:
Started with a Pentax K200D and macro Pentax 100mm f/2.8 DA lens.
Currently using a Canon 5D II, 7D and 5D III.
(2)MT-24EX twin flash, 580 EX, 580 EX II
Zeiss  f/2.8 100mm makro planar T*, Zeiss Luminar 16mm, Zeiss Luminar 40mm,  Zeiss ZE 21mm wide angle, MPE-65mm, Canon f/2.8 100mm USM IS L, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS L, Canon 1.4X extender, Canon 2.0X extender, Schneider-Kreuznach 40mm enlarging lens
Olympus 65-116mm telescopic extension tube, Nikon PB-6 Bellows, Canon 12mm extension tubes
Gitzo tripod, ArcaSwiss Z1 monoball, RRS macro-focusing rail, Newport linear stage
For a more in-depth list of the equipment that I use you can check out my equipment and reviews which gives a brief synopsis and overall opinion of most of the equipment that I use.

15 Responses to Home

  1. Adam Falshaw says:

    Hi Paul

    I wrote to you yesterday on World Photography Forum after being blown away by your Macro photos. YOu kindly invited me to look at your website and read more on your adventures and im not disappointed, i am in fact in awe, particularly after what awful things you have been through! There are not many people i look to and respect but im telling you, you are now one person who gets exactly that from me. I have lived a fairly sheltered life but your notion about not conforming to one state of mind but in fact being open minded and challenging yourself to a new way of thinking is what we all need. Your an inspiration to me and hopefully many more!

  2. pbertner says:

    Hi Adam,

    Your words are very appreciated! I’m constantly in a struggle to find balance and such comments help. It’s the unfortunate thing about our culture, that if it isn’t sanctioned or understood by the majority (or vocal minority) then it somehow becomes less valid. In this way I’ve been held back by the opinions of others, despite my enjoyment in my current pursuits. It gets a little easier with time; however, reinforcement always helps.

    Best regards,
    Paul

  3. Han Overman says:

    Hi Paul,
    we met at Shirley’s Bar in Lethem, before and after your trip into the Kanuku Mountains, and you left me some copies of your pics. Can you please get in touch with me on using some on a new tourist map of Lethem and Rupununi region? Thanks.

  4. Jessie Henshaw says:

    Hey Paul! Your work and your findings are breathtaking. I would love to one day be able to travel alongside you and see the world through your eyes. You are an incredible photographer and an inspiration to me, and I am sure many others. And the strength you have to continue through certain situations is brilliant. If there is one thing you have said that will stick with me, it is:

    “All that is required is the will to step out of our fixed notions of what we can and can’t do. The moment we let other people’s notions of what we are capable of determine our own actions is the moment that we have ceased living for ourselves and are governed by the standards of others.”

    Thank you for simply expressing who you are.

    Jessie Henshaw

    • pbertner says:

      Hi Jessie,

      Many thanks for dropping by and leaving such kind words. It is always uplifting to hear that people derive some interest or joy from my work. I sincerely hope that you get a chance to realize some of your aspirations.

      Best wishes,
      Paul

  5. Joe Warfel says:

    Hi Paul,
    Always enjoy your writings of your travels! I also specialize in macro photography, particularly in arachnids (opiliones especially). Am planning to travel to Malaysian Borneo by end of 2012 and in my research on visiting the national parks/reserves it is always mentioned the requirement of an official guide on trails.
    Was this true in your experience or did you “sneak” away on your own? I have been to most continents (though not as traveled as you) and not new to the tropics on my own. Nothing is more frustrating/annoying than to have even a patient “guide” looking over my shoulder while I obsessively “work” a photo subject!
    Thanks in advance for any info and experiences you can share.
    Cheers,
    Joe Warfel

    • pbertner says:

      Hi Joe,

      I was there in 2009 though I don’t expect too much has changed since then. The only places where a guide was required was in Maliau basin, climbing Mt. Kinabalu and some of the caves in Mulu. Apart from that I was free to wander in Bako, Gunung Gading and many other national parks. Unlike Madagascar there was no need for sneaking. Danum Valley might say that guides are needed but I never had any problems.

      Best wishes and if you have any other questions don’t hesitate,
      Paul

  6. Joe Warfel says:

    Paul,

    Thanks for your info. I will have only a month or so in Borneo and possible locations I am considering includes Bako, Mulu,and Maliau. Most important to me is to minimize in country travel time and ensuring a week or more at main points of interest for more exploration and photography time.
    Did you visit Imbak canyon? Was Maliau comparable/better/not as worthwhile as the other more established popular parks?
    One last question, did you make arrangements from home before hand or impromptu plans as you went, while in country?
    Thanks again.
    Joe

    • pbertner says:

      Hi Joe,
      Bako, Mulu and Maliau were all wonderful places but I would say that Mulu was probably the best of the three and merits the longest stay. It had trekking, caving, the pinnacles, and great night walks and trails. Bako is great for being very close and accessible to Kuching. It can be done in a day, but with over 12 trails it really deserves more time. Maliau is great for trekking but less so for photography. It is quite established with a huge visitor’s center and wonderful facilities that belie its remoteness. The travel time to get there is pretty long, figure on a day in and day out with set up and take-down times. Also the larger animals are difficult to find. A much more accessible option is Danum Valley which has tons of trails, regular sitings of deer, orangutangs, elephants and a friend of mine even saw a sumatran rhino.

      One of the most underrated parks is Gunung Gading which is very close to Kuching and which has the Rafflesia flower. I actually even saw a leopard cat here (Felis bengalensis). You can phone in advance to see whether or not it is in bloom. I didn’t make any plans before leaving but that was because I stayed there for 7 months and because many of these parks it is so much simpler to make plans when you are actually there as opposed to phoning from phone (That is if you plan on dealing directly with the park rather than some kind of tour group or agency.) For flights into Mulu you should organize at least of few weeks in advance. Depending on group size you can manage treks/walks/caving within the park or tag along with another group to defray the costs. I never visited Imbak canyon so can’t comment unfortunately.

      Cheers, and let me know if there’s anything else you’re curious about. I do answer some other questions in the Q & A section in the header of the page if you’re curious.

  7. helene says:

    awesome

  8. Jurgen Otto says:

    Hi Paul,

    I had no idea you were such a world traveler, I’m jealous ! If your travels take you through Sydney please drop in for a chat – Jurgen Otto

  9. pbertner says:

    Thanks Helene and Larryhbern.

    I’d love to Jurgen! Don’t know when that would be. I’m hoping to make it to PNG next year for seven months or so. It’s a pretty short jump from there to Australia so hopefully then. Australia definitely has a lot going for it in terms of endemics and interesting species I’ve been meaning to photograph for a while. Thanks for the invite!

    Best wishes,
    Paul

  10. Maurizio Benelli says:

    Hi Paul, I’m an Italian entomologist. I have to ask you something :) How can I contact you?

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