It has been awhile since I posted to my blog or shared my photography on social media. I did a lot of traveling in 2019 and have wanted to share my new images, but the timing just did not feel right until now. This past March, I traveled to Alaska to photograph the aurora borealis. I flew from Honolulu to Anchorage and connected up to Fairbanks. My best friend who is a non-photographer joined me. He and I can have a blast simply driving to the dump together, so we had a lot of fun. We rented a pickup truck to drive up the Dalton Highway to Wiseman where we rented a cabin for the week. I had not been in any winter conditions since moving to Kauai 5 years ago, but was pleased with how quickly I adapted to -15° Fahrenheit at night. I felt comfortable in my down expedition parka and pants that have been stored in hanging garment bags in my closet. I timed my trip to coincide with the spring equinox for statistically optimum northern lights viewing, as well as the full moon. As it goes on any landscape photography adventure, the sky was cloudy or the aurora was barely visible most of the nights. Luckily, I found some clear skies and incredible aurora activity a few days before the full moon. As beautiful as this image is, it does not fully convey the intensity of what I experienced with the aurora erupting into strange twists and colorful shapes. For a less than 3 minutes, we howled with delight at the sky all alone in the Brooks Range.
This past July, I lead my only photo tour of the last 2 years. It was a pleasure to be able to spend time searching for humpback whales with my friends Tony Wu, Steve Levi, and Doug Perrine. Unfortunately, we had to search longer and farther for whales than anytime since I first started visiting Southeast Alaska over a decade ago. Eventually, we located a group that was cooperatively bubble-net feeding in Frederick Sound. During the evening that I photographed this scene, the ocean was calm and the sunset light was prolonged. I love the dark clouds and tree covered hills in the background as the golden light illuminated this whale’s breath. If you look closely, there is also a faint rainbow visible near the base of the blow. It took luck and skill built up during my years of experience in order to compose this image while also piloting the skiff and shooting at the same time.
This past July, I returned to Alaska to lead my semi-annual humpback whale photography tour with Tony Wu. I have been photographing in Alaska for over 15 years and specifically humpback whales in Southeast Alaska for 11 years. When I first started, I never imagined that I would witness such a calamitous decline in their population, but that is exactly what I observed this summer. One of the research papers that I have reviewed clearly showed that the population increased from 2006 to 2014, but that the number of sightings has dropped since 2015. That also coincided with the “blob” of warm water off the West Coast during the same time period. How has this impacted the whales, let alone the plankton and small fish? All I can share is that I normally expect to see dozens of whales each day. This summer, I had to spend most of my time searching for any whale. Over 3 weeks, we eventually counted a total of 35 whales which was quite sobering. Still, I eventually had luck at finding some groups of humpbacks that were cooperatively bubble-net feeding for my guests. This image was from the morning of one of my scouting missions when Tony & I had set out in the fast skiff to locate the bubble-netters north of Kupreanof Island. We came across this adult that was repetitively breaching and were able to capture a few images of this exhilarating behavior. The overcast light might not have been the most dramatic, but I like this image because of the angle of the whale with the small island in the background.
Today, I was supposed to be flying to Australia for the first time to visit Lord Howe Island. Unfortunately, I broke my left little toe last Friday and can barely walk. So, instead I now find myself at home for a few extra weeks with plenty of neglected work to get caught up on.
One of my humpback whale images from Alaska is published in the current issue of Ranger Rick. My image is the smaller inset in the bottom right. I was delighted to see that my friend and photography tour partner Tony Wu‘s underwater image was the main double page spread. Congrats, Tony! It is admirable that in this current age of everyone being a photographer and the competitive nature of the business that the two of us have worked together so effectively for almost a decade. I look forward to our next 10 years of adventures and friendship.
Last July, I lead two back-to-back expeditions in Southeast Alaska in search of humpback whales bubble net feeding. I co-lead these trips with my good friend and regular partner Tony Wu. I have been photographing the whales doing this exciting and dramatic behavior since 2007. Man, it really was a decade ago that I purchased my little C-Dory and set off for Alaska without a clue. After my initial struggles, I became very good at finding and photographing the whales while they are bubble feeding. Still, it is never easy to do. I often have to spend several days searching for them by covering hundreds of miles of shoreline combined with the nearly constant bad weather, but when I find them it is incredible! I am looking forward to returning to Alaska with Tony in July 2018. Who wants to join us?
Over the last decade, I have focused much of my travel and photography on Alaska. However, my only trip up north this year was in early August when I lead a small group tour in search of my favorite subject, humpback whales bubble-net feeding. There were some ups and downs associated with this particular trip that I do not need to get into, but it was definitely my most productive tour photographically for bubble-net feeding. I told my clients that they should be proud of what we accomplished. The exhilaration of photographing over a dozen humpback whales cooperatively hunting and feeding on schools of herring never gets old. It does get frustrating, but never boring. This image shows a very close encounter where I had to zoom back to 70mm as the whales erupted above the surface with their mouths about to slam shut. If you look in the mouth of the whale on the right, you can even see a silver herring flying through the air about to be engulfed.
I am happy to share my first Alaska photo cover! This image of a humpback whale breaching straight out of the water happens to be one of my personal favorites, so I am pleased that it is being published so prominently. I was fortunate to be able to photograph this amazing moment in July 2010. The weather was perfect and my father was also with me. We were in my small inflatable north of the Brothers Islands in Southeast Alaska when this whale started repetitively breaching for over an hour. It was one of my most memorable days as a photographer.
My image Humpback Whales Bubble Feeding 110 is featured in Outdoor Photographer’s June 2013 article “Pro Tips For Summer Hotspots”. In the article, I describe what it is like to observe humpback whales as they cooperatively feed in Alaska, as well as how to photograph this incredible behavior. Also featured in the article, is one of my personal favorite images Tonquin Valley Sunrise 3 along with a description of how to photograph this dramatic scene located in Jasper National Park.
Aww! I photographed these two cute polar bear cubs during my Alaska Polar Bear Photography Tour last October. They are so adorable I just want to hug them, except for the fact that they would probably eat me. During our tour, we work with local Eskimo guides who take us out in their small boats to the barrier islands to photograph the polar bears. The moms and cubs are usually resting during the day, but become more active in the afternoon. They can often be photographed at the water’s edge like this. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkIII and Canon 300mm f2.8 IS II lens, and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6.
I’m finally home long enough to start editing my images from the last 6 months. Dang, have I been busy and time flies. This is my favorite image that I photographed while co-leading the Alaska portion of Tony Wu and my dual hemisphere Humpback Whale Tour last summer. See how sunny and perfect the conditions were? I kept telling our clients that the weather never got this nice in Southeast. It was an ideal day to spend with a large group of humpback whales that were bubble-net feeding. As this glorious day progressed, the whales stopped feeding and did what whales do best. Absolutely nothing! However, we decided to work on our tans and patiently stay with the whales hoping that they might do something. Eventually, they all started to breach at the same time. It was insane watching all of these enormous animals launch themselves out of the water, let alone positioning the skiff so that everyone could photograph this behavior. I love how the water cascaded off of this whale, plus there is a small rainbow behind it from its blow. I’ve seen this multiple breaching behavior happen enough times to consider that it is some kind of goodbye gesture. Sure enough, after all this breaching was over, the whales swam off in separate directions. I created this image using a Canon 1DmkIV with my 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6.