I was traveling all of December, so forgive me for not having posted any new blog updates for awhile. However, I am excited to share that Outdoor Photographer published my “Discover Alaska Wildlife” article in the February issue! In my article, I give lots of advice about where and how to photograph many of Alaska’s most sought after animals. I especially like the opening full page image of the lynx that I encountered while leaving Denali National Park last July. I have dedicated most of my last 5 summers to photographing Alaska, and look forward to another productive summer up north starting in May. Please let me know if you read that article and what you think.
Over the Labor Day weekend, I wrote an article for one of the big photography magazines about how to photograph Alaska’s wildlife. It is scheduled to be published in the upcoming January issue. I want to share an excerpt from the article and a new harbor seal image that I created in Tracy Arm in July. I hope that you look forward to the complete article, but for now, please enjoy this teaser:
Most of the tidewater glaciers in Alaska support communities of harbor seals resting on icebergs, but it is difficult to approach these skittish animals. My best photo opportunities have happened by drifting amongst the icebergs in my inflatable in order to quietly observe the seals. You will need to have a long lens in order to get in tight. I own the Canon 400mm f4 DO IS lens, which when combined with my 7D becomes a very hand-holdable 640mm equivalent. I prefer my images to be as close to eye-level at the water as possible, so try to get down to the lowest part of the boat. It looks much more intimate from a low angle than when shot down on them from up high. If you are unable to get in close enough for a frame filling shot, look for complimentary iceberg patterns around a seal in order to show it in its environment. Also, remember to over-expose your image at least +1 stop when you are photographing bright subjects like icebergs!
When I visited Tracy Arm a few weeks ago, I was dismayed to see the decrease in ice from my previous visits. My 2007 images of the harbor seals took place near the North Sawyer Glacier which has drastically retreated and is now almost out of the water. In the past, I could not get anywhere near the South Sawyer Glacier, but this time I was able to even though it was calving huge pieces of ice. There were hundreds of harbor seals resting on the ice flows, but they were very skittish, thus difficult to photograph. I have spent enough time photographing wildlife that I am very conservative about approaching any animal. Harbor seals see my red inflatable coming from several hundred yards away and typically decide that they don’t want anything to do with me. Fortunately, I found this one critter that was not disturbed by my presence. In fact, this seal was so unconcerned, that it barely opened its eyes to look at me and repeatedly turned its back so that it could go back to sleep. I really appreciate the moment I captured in this image of the seal blissfully resting in its environment, unconcerned about the guy in the red boat with the big telephoto lens going click-click-click.
I have mixed feelings about photographing tidewater glaciers in Alaska. They are beautiful to visit, but I also know they will never be in the same position in my lifetime because of glacial recession due to climate change. During my previous visits to Tracy Arm, it was very difficult and dangerous for me to get close to the North Sawyer Glacier and impossible to approach the South Sawyer Glacier. The lack of floating ice during my recent visit might have been for a variety of reasons, but there is no denying that I would not have been able to stand on this recently exposed granite ledge when it was covered by the glacier a few years ago. After dedicating my last 4 summers to photographing Southeast Alaska, I have adapted my shooting style from always chasing dramatic sunset light to appreciating the subtle colors of the consistent overcast conditions. I was drawn to the red color of this ledge system and the patterns reminded me of Native American rock-art in the Southwest. There was no safe place to land my inflatable, so I had my dad drop me off for a few hours so that I could do my thing. He patiently floated amongst the ice and watched harbor seals until he saw me start waving like a mad-man wanting to get picked up. I wonder what the people on the handful of tour boats thought of the guy in the red jacket and bibs standing on this lonely ledge taking pictures?
I am pleased to announce that my article about using my own boat to photograph Southeast Alaska is in the May issue of Popular Photography! The opening double page image is of a humpback whale swimming along with its mouth open after bubble-feeding. My article features 10 landscape & wildlife images from my last 3 summers in Alaska. I look forward to working with Popular Photography again in the near future.
Coincidentally, it is almost summer, which means it is time for me to photograph Alaska. My summer plans include using my boat for several weeks in May-June to visit Icy Bay on the south side of Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Russell Fjord in the Tongass National Forest. Later in the summer, I will photograph humpback whales, and in August I am shipping it to Whittier where I will base it on Prince William Sound for the next few years. Wish me luck!
I first visited Tracy Arm Fjord in Southeast Alaska during the summer of 2007 with my friend and fellow photographer Florian Schulz and his wife Emil. We tried to photograph harbor seals and their pups resting on the floating icebergs without success. The seals would not let us get close to them since they were easily startled and saw us coming from far away in my bright red inflatable. All last winter I thought about how to photograph them and came up with the idea to cover my pontoons with white shower curtains to disguise my boat as an iceberg. In June, I returned to try my new plan and was successful! I initially tried to cover the entire boat and hide underneath the blind I created, but this did not seem to work, so I eventually only covered the pontoons, got down low in the boat, and slowly drifted towards the seals. My goal was to not disturb them in anyway, and most of the time I successfully drifted past sleeping seals that occasionally looked up. Most of the images I’ve seen of harbor seals on icebergs are taken from long distances from high angles on large tour boats. What I like most about the images I created was that I was down so close to the water. It makes me feel more like I am part of their world. I also really like the nice blue background of this image. I used my Canon 5D, 400 mm f4 DO IS lens, 1.4X tele-converter at f5.6 and 1/400 second.
2008 was not my most productive year for landscape photography. I spent most of the summer getting rained on in Southeast Alaska. It was not the kind of weather that allowed me to create the spectacular images that I am known for. However, it was still an incredible experience navigating my small boat around in the ocean wilderness and into the fjords that few other photographers are able to visit. I typically move Serenity, my 22′ C-Dory, into a remote location and then spend a week or more using my 12′ inflatable to motor around in search of wildlife and unique landscape scenes to photograph. During a particularly wet solo trip in June into the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, I visited Fords Terror several different days before I finally got the right amount of bad weather and low hanging clouds to capture the spirit of the place. My image “Fords Terror Mist” was created in the pouring rain using my Pentax 67II camera, 45mm lens, Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer, Gitzo Basalt tripod, Acratech Ultimate ballhead, and Fuji Velvia 50 film at f22 and 8 seconds.
I visited Tracy Arm for the first time in 2007. I had wanted to try and photograph the harbor seals and their babies on the ice flows, but was not successful. I knew that I would have to come back and spend more time, as well as figure out how to get closer without spooking them. I thought about it all winter and new that I was going to have to conceal my red inflatable in order to use it as a blind. I bought a couple of white shower curtains that I cut in half and used to cover my boat’s tubes. The other thing I did was I let the wind blow me in the right direction while laying down on my boat’s floorboards. My plan worked exceptionally well this time and I was able to capture some very beautiful portraits of the harbor seals without disturbing them. Please visit more of my Harbor Seal Photography.
This mother harbor seal was very tolerant of my somewhat concealed presence. I must have looked very funny and out of place. I was a big white thing floating by like any other iceberg, but with my big lens held up to my face. This mom kept glancing in my direction, but couldn’t figure out what I was, and not feeling threatened, she went back to resting with her newborn baby. Note the umbilical cord on the baby’s stomache. Please visit more of my Harbor Seal Photography.
This is one of the most relaxed images of a mother harbor seal that I photographed. She could tell that something was unusual about the iceberg that I was appearing to be as I floated by her, but again, she was relaxed the whole time and went back to resting with her newborn. Please visit more of my Harbor Seal Photography.