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A Year In Review, A Year In Anticipation – Part 1

Nikon Ambassadors Ron Magill And Robin Layton Share A Favorite Image of 2014:

For photographers Ron Magill and Robin Layton, 2014 brought each a favorite photo through a simple glance into their own backyards. In this two-photographer post we share musings from the past 365 days—including creator notes on how those most memorable images came into being, courtesy an assist from Mother Nature.

Each visionary also shares predictions for 2015, which foretell global travel, exploration and continued communion with nature.

Ron Magill
Robin Layton

Ron Magill

“My mission is to inspire people, especially children, to want to learn more about our amazing natural world and in turn protect it for generations to come. Short of being able to see an animal face-to-face, I feel that sharing images of the intimate encounters I have with some of our world’s most beautiful wildlife is what makes the greatest impact and can encourage more people to care. My camera provides windows to the natural world, and the images I am able to create can play an invaluable role in preserving our world.”

Ron Magill has worked with wildlife for more than 35 years. An internationally recognized zoological authority, he has travelled the globe extensively to explore the wonders of our natural world. As an award-winning photographer and documentarian, his work was appeared in numerous publications, as well as galleries around the world including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Looking Back On 2014

2014 was an incredible year. I was able to travel to some of my favorite places, including the majestic plains of East Africa and the enchanted isles of the Galapagos. As always, these travels provided me with unforgettable photo opportunities.

I watched hundreds of thousands of wildebeests, zebras and other hoofed stock navigate the Masai Mara and cross the great Mara River-all the while navigating deadly currents, massive crocodiles and hunting lions. In the Galapagos Islands, I was privileged to swim with sea turtles and sea lions as they were being hunted by massive killer whales. I walked amongst thousands of Nasca and blue-footed boobies as they courted and nested. I experienced special moments among giant land tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.

Yet for all of my travels and exotic experiences, it was a moment in my own backyard that provided me with my most memorable image of 2014. I am based at Zoo Miami. There, we have been extremely fortunate to experience (for the first time in the zoo’s history) the birth of a lion. It was a first birth for the mother and unique in that she had only one cub; lions often have two to four cubs. But the delight of the new cub soon turned to concern: lioness “Asha” was not producing enough milk to adequately nourish her baby, “K’wasi,” so zoo staff had to supplement with round-the-clock feedings through a bottle.

Nikon - At the heart of the image

Anxiety continued as K’wasi met with several challenges and infections that brought him close to death. Despite the hurdles, we were able to help mother and son pull through. The day finally came when we could introduce the pair to the public. This turned out to be a huge day covered by Miami media.

Unfortunately sadness struck again, just a few days after the debut: Asha suddenly died of a congenital heart defect leaving K’wasi an orphan. This was one of the most difficult and emotional times I have experienced during my 35 years working with animals. Each day after her death we could hear K’wasi crying for his mother. What were we going to do?

As it happens, Asha’s sister “Kashifa” had given birth to a litter of cubs three months after K’wasi had been born. Her four offspring were well cared for and we noticed she was having no problem producing enough milk. The thought entered our minds, “Could we introduce K’wasi to Kashifa? Would Kashifa and her cubs accept him?” Since lions are the only truly social cats, this was a possibility but it would take a great deal of patience and luck to realize success. We had to try. It was imperative that the orphan cub be socialized as a normal lion or his future looked very bleak.

So for several weeks we housed K’wasi in an adjacent pen, separated by a metal grate that allowed each to see and smell one another. There was some initial apprehension from Kashifa, but she eventually warmed and demonstrated behaviors that indicated to us perhaps she would accept the cub. We decided to try. The day came and we allowed them to be together. We watched as Kashifa went over to K’wasi and gently licked him, then brought him over to her family. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

We watched as Kashifa went over to K’wasi and gently licked him, then brought him over to her family. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.. Photo by Ron Magill © 2015

We watched as Kashifa went over to K’wasi and gently licked him, then brought him over to her family. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Photo by Ron Magill © 2015

Favorite Photo Of 2014

The day we permitted the public to view this new family was also the day when I captured my most memorable image of the year. Kashifa and her four cubs sauntered out without hesitation, but K’wasi held back. Kashifa looked back and saw him standing alone. She slowly came over, then lifted her massive paw. She gently placed it over his shoulder and brought her head close to his, hugging him as if to say, “Don’t worry, I will always take care of you.”

It was a partly cloudy afternoon when I created this photograph. As the lioness walked toward the cub, I hand held the D4s with my favorite lens attached, the AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II, and fired off several frames at 1/800 second. The ISO was set at 1000 and my f/stop at 4.5. Thanks to the ability of this camera to shoot at relatively high ISO, and still get incredible images with little or no noise, the result is truly magical and sharp. This was a moment I will never forget and one that I feel incredibly lucky to have preserved for generations to come.

A Glance Forward To 2015

As I plan trips to Malaysia and the Canadian Rockies in 2015, I can only hope that my new adventures will continue to provide me with exciting encounters. I am counting on capturing my very first photographs of orangutans in the wild, as well as the curious looking proboscis monkey with its huge bulbous nose.

Through my images I want to show the challenges that both animals and people are facing in remote places of the world. The goal is for my photographs to help educate us so that we may provide solutions to those challenges. In 2015 I also look forward to truly utilizing video as part of my presentations, and can’t wait to see what my newest acquisition, the Nikon D750, can do. These new cameras have the ability to expose a whole new world, and I’m ready to begin exploring.

Robin Layton

Artist, photojournalist and filmmaker Robin Layton has lived in Seattle, Washington, for the past 19 years. She says moving here was one of the best decisions she has ever made.

“As an artist, being in nature is a natural high. It bestows a sense of connectedness, meaning and purpose. It feels as if I’m on vacation every day—surrounded by mountains, trees and water. There is an abundance like no other city. It’s the most magical place to live.”

Looking Back On 2014

2014 was a great year for me. I held my first solo art exhibit at the prestigious Winston Wachter Fine Art Gallery in Seattle, Washington. I consider it an honor to have the opportunity to exhibit my work there. I exhibited 17 pieces of artwork: five landscape images and 12 images from my “hoop the american dream” book. A second wonderful thing to happen in 2014 was that another of my short films aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) channel (Layton’s other films, among them “Believe,” “Listen” and “Meditate,” have been shown). For the past four years I have been photographing the lake behind my house, Lake Washington. I get up early and race out of the house with a cup of coffee, plus all my gear. There’s nothing like being out early in nature with hardly anyone around. Depending on the day, I may shoot just stills or just video. I try to do both; it depends on the light and the subject matter. One day I decided to put together a film. I sent it to the producers at OWN and they responded, saying that my creation would be featured on the Easter broadcast, and that Oprah Winfrey herself would introduce it. She even says my name. Who could have imagined that?

In this image I am drawn to the pattern in the water--something I have only seen twice in all the times I’ve been around the lake.  Photo by Robin Layton © 2015

In this image I am drawn to the pattern in the water—something I have only seen twice in all the times I’ve been around the lake. Photo by Robin Layton © 2015

Favorite Photo of 2014

A favorite photo of 2014 comes from my Lake Washington body of work. In this image I am drawn to the pattern in the water–something I have only seen twice in all the times I’ve been around the lake. This special pattern happens in one particular spot on the lake. I am amazed that light and water can create this texture. To me, the photo looks like a Navajo blanket weave. It represents something that is abstract and contemporary, yet it’s been here since the dawn of time. This was taken with a Nikon D800, handheld at ISO 320, f/16 and a AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens.

A Glance Forward To 2015

In 2015 I will be preparing for two fine art shows, one of which is a return to the Winston Wachter in January. The show is called “12.” This exhibit will highlight my art of the 12th Man/Seahawks; it’s an impressionistic view of the 12th man. I like shooting photos that look like impressionistic paintings. There is no image manipulation. The photos come straight from my camera to paper. This project started when I witnessed the love Seattleites had for their team during that magical season winning the Super Bowl.

Nikon - At the heart of the image

I have a second showing slated for 2015 where images from my latest book, “hoop the american dream” will be exhibited at the Winston Wachter Fine Art Gallery in Chelsea. Having an art exhibit in New York City is a dream come true. Myhoop book started when I had an idea to drive across the United States and look for unique basketball hoops and childhood hoops of some of the most revered basketball players and coaches of our time. I traveled across 35 states, photographed the original basketball rules of 1891 (the rules recently sold at auction for more than $4.3M), and I even photographed the White House hoop. I had the opportunity to also interview 31 players and coaches. Aside from these shows, I have many additional goals for 2015. One of which is to start teaching comprehensive workshops in my studio. Sessions will be held for those interested in building a career in the wedding and event photography business. A second thing is to find opportunities where I may do more public speaking. I truly enjoy this, especially connecting with people. And lastly, I’d like to spend more time creating fine art, shooting stills and video. I love photographing nature the most. That is truly when I’m the happiest. What are some of your photographic resolutions for 2015? Tell us all about them in the comment section below!

Gear Used by Ron Magill:
Gear Used by Robin Layton

About The Contributors


Robin Layton

During her 25 years as a photojournalist, renowned photographer, Robin Layton, has produced countless notable photographs and earned a place among the world’s top photographers. By age 24, she was honored by LIFE magazine as one of the eight most talented photographers in America. Her photo story on runaway teens in downtown Seattle was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Sports enthusiasts will remember her iconic photograph of Ken Griffey Jr. from the 1995 American League playoffs (“The Smile at the Bottom of the Pile”). In 2013, she was honored to become a Nikon Ambassador. After an award-winning career in newspapers, including key positions with: The Virginian-Pilot, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Robin embarked on a freelance career that has taken her on documentary assignments around the world. Along the way, she has photographed prom queens to actual kings, street people to presidents; personalities from Oprah Winfrey to Shaquille O’Neal. She has also expanded the boundaries of traditional photography, combining her images with vintage found objects to create critically acclaimed and highly sought art pieces. What pictures do best is capture a moment in time. Robin’s work illuminates the life within that moment. She compels you to take a second look, a new view of the world around us. Her work has earned her industry accolades and legions of fans. You can see more of Robin's work at her website www.robinlaytonworkshops.com.


Ron Magill

Ron has worked with wildlife for over 35 years and has had the privilege of having “hands-on” experience with a tremendous variety of animals. As Zoo Miami’s “Goodwill Ambassador,” he has made frequent television appearances on many programs including, “National Geographic Explorer”, the Discovery Networks, the “Today Show,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “CBS’ This Morning,” “Dateline” and “CNN”. Ron is also a regular guest on several Spanish language television programs including international hits “Sabado Gigante” and “Despierta America.” In addition, he has written and produced many wildlife articles and award-winning photographs that have appeared in publications and galleries around the world. He has traveled extensively throughout Africa, India and Tropical America while developing and directing conservation projects and Emmy Award winning documentaries focusing on the wildlife of those regions. As a Nikon Ambassador, Ron considers photography his most important tool in his efforts to inspire people to care about wildlife and hopefully help to protect it for generations to come.

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A Year In Review, A Year In Anticipation – Part 2

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  • Roger David Krug

    sometimes traveling I take more then one lens and tri-pod!

  • Terry Barker

    I have a few photos of Asha and K’washi and a few of all the kids together with Auntie! Some shot with a D300 some with the D5200 and D7100.


    • Ami Wallace

      those are great – nice work!

  • Diver-Dags

    If these magnificent photographs that tell such a wonderful story of family and love doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, I’d be surprised. Thank you Ron Magill and Terry Barker for the follow up.