LYNNWOOD — Last summer, out of the blue, Kevin Ebi received an email. A company that works with the U.S. Postal Service was inquiring about a spectacular image on Ebi’s nature photography website.
“Who says no to that question?” said Ebi, 42, who launched his photo business in 2003 and a year later left his work as a radio broadcaster.
On April 15, the National Park Service announced that Ebi’s photo of a rainbow over the crater at Haleakala National Park on Maui is the 10th of 16 Forever Stamp images being revealed this month to celebrate the agency’s centennial. A striking look at star trails over Mount Rainier, previewed Wednesday by the National Park Service, is also among the centennial series.
A first-day-of-issue ceremony for the National Parks Forever Stamps is scheduled for June 2 in New York, and dedications will also be held at parks shown on the stamps.
“This is certainly a career high. You hardly ever see a nature photograph on a stamp,” Ebi said this week.
The photographer’s good fortune comes at a time of personal hardship.
Ebi’s wife, Jennifer Owen, is in need of a kidney transplant. She is now being treated with dialysis five days a week at their home.
Owen, also 42, began having kidney problems in her 20s. In 2004, she had transplant surgery at the Virginia Mason Transplant Center in Seattle. Her cousin was the kidney donor.
Ebi said she is on a waiting list for a kidney. Their hope is that a living donor will be found. Doctors, Ebi said, have told them a kidney from a living donor could last 25 years.
As Owen waits and undergoes nearly three-hour dialysis treatments, she works full time for Bio-Rad Laboratories, a medical and science equipment company. Dialysis, Ebi said, “keeps you alive, but it doesn’t give you the life you had.”
Owen can’t travel overseas like she once did with her photographer husband. She did accompany him to Los Angeles in January. That trip was for the opening of a “100 Years of National Parks” exhibit at the G2 Gallery, which specializes in nature and wildlife photos and has often displayed Ebi’s work.
Ebi remembers the cold, wet wait for his lucky moment in Hawaii. The image on the stamp was shot with his Canon 1Ds Mark III camera on a stormy day in November 2008. “It was nasty weather, a horrible thunderstorm,” he said.
“You land in Maui and it’s sunshine. You get the rental car and drive higher and higher. The top of this mountain is a little over 10,000 feet,” he said.
He wanted to capture a sunrise to illustrate one of a series of stories he is doing on native legends. His plan was to scout out Haleakala National Park’s crater a day ahead of taking the sunrise shot. But the storm didn’t let up. “I couldn’t see anything,” he said.
As tourists in the visitor center ran for their cars, Ebi huddled outside in a jacket waiting for a break in the weather. When a rainbow appeared, he also saw the reds and purples of the old volcanic cinder cones. “I wanted a rainbow falling on the rainbow of the cones,” he said.
With the rainbow off to the side of the crater, he started taking pictures. In 90 minutes, the weather allowed just a few moments for the shot he wanted. “The image on the stamp was next to the last of those opportunities,” he said. “One shot and it was gone.”
By chance, he found something beautiful that day. Ebi’s transition from radio to photography also happened almost by chance. From 1997 to 2004, he was a financial news anchor at KIRO radio. He worked 5 a.m.-1 p.m. because of the hours of financial markets in New York. “There was plenty of time to go hiking every afternoon,” he said.
He began taking a camera on his treks. Ebi majored in economics and communications at Pacific Lutheran University. His photography education was self-taught.
“My pictures got better and better, and I started putting them up on a website,” he said.
Soon, editors were contacting him. Ebi’s photos have been published in National Geographic books, National Wildlife magazine, a National Park Service guide and with articles on the Smithsonian Institution website. His work was featured in a 2014 Pennsylvania gallery show marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
His photos of Mount Rainier’s Emmons Glacier and of the Cowlitz Chimneys are displayed on two huge murals at Rainier’s Sunrise Visitor Center.
For the stamp photo, Ebi said he was fairly but not richly compensated. “The postal service is broke,” he quipped. “It was a fair price, but I’m not buying a boat.”
Photography has taken Ebi to exotic locales around the world. “I love taking pictures,” he said. For many of those trips, Owen was at his side. “She was incredibly active. We traveled all over Iceland and New Zealand. We were riding bikes for 20 miles on a weekend,” he said.
They now work to raise awareness of the need for organ donors. Ebi waited out the rain to capture a rainbow. Now, he and his wife wait for another kind of miracle.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information and how to help
Find Kevin Ebi’s Living Wilderness Nature Photography at www.livingwilderness.com.
Information about the National Park Service and U.S. Postal Service Centennial Stamps is at www.nps.gov/subjects/centennial/postage-stamps.htm.
For information about how to help Ebi’s wife, Jennifer Owen, with her need for a kidney transplant, call the kidney donation line at the Virginia Mason Transplant Center at 206 341-1201.