Gray Line Alaska 2011 Cover

Gray Line Alaska 2011 Cover

A few months ago, Gray Line of Alaska contacted me about licensing my image of a brown bear surrounded by lupine for the cover of their 2010 brochure. Here is what the cover looks like. You can also download the brochure here. I photographed this brown bear during my week-long visit to Lituya Bay on the remote outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in June 2009. You can read how I created this image in my original blog post.

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Mt Fairweather Lenticular Aerial 1

Mt Fairweather Lenticular Aerial 1

BLECH! That is exactly what I felt like doing during my recent aerial shoot of Mt Fairweather. My pilot gave me ample opportunities to back out of the flight. He told me that even though the weather was clear in Haines that it was going to be a bumpy ride over Glacier Bay National Park to the outer coast. I repeatedly assured him that I was an experienced photographer who was not afraid of anything. I was wrong.

While the initial flight went smoothly, the enormous lenticular cloud over the summit of Mt Fairweather in the distance was indication that it was going to get a lot more interesting. I was disappointed that I was not going to photograph the summit, but my compensation was this dramatic multi-layered cloud. I also anticipated that my earlier photos were going to have the best light since the sunset was going to be prematurely blocked by marine clouds on the horizon. As promised, the flight eventually became much rougher as we flew over the highest mountains en route to the outer coast. As we worked the small plane into position to start taking pictures, I looked down 14,000 feet to Lituya Bay and reminisced about the week that I spent there photographing wildflowers in June 2009. I opened the window every few minutes, but the combination of cold air rushing in and turbulence made me regret not having taken a Dramamine earlier. The prominent ridges and shadows beneath the mountain appealed to my vision of how I wanted to photograph the mountain. I had to concentrate like never before in order to open the window and use my camera through the hard-banking and bumps. Physically, this was one of the most challenging photos that I have created, but I am pleased with the results.

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Popular Photography May 2010 Alaska Article

Popular Photography May 2010 Alaska Article

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!

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Lituya Bay Tufted Puffin

Lituya Bay Tufted Puffin

This is a cute tufted puffin that I photographed last June in Lituya Bay on the remote outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. During my visit, I used my inflatable boat to explore the sea bird cliffs on the south side of Cenotaph Island. There were thousands of kittiwakes but only a few breeding pairs of tufted puffins. The puffins constantly flew back and forth from the tops of the cliffs down to the water to fish. Through my persistence, I was eventually able to drift close enough to this puffin to take its picture with my 500mm lens. I like the dark green water and pink reflection of the cliffs on the water behind it.

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Torch Bay Sea Otters 6

Torch Bay Sea Otters 6

Most photographers do not appreciate how difficult it is to photograph sea otters in Southeast Alaska. Plenty of people, myself included, have photographed the approachable sea otters in California, but the “wild” ones in Alaska see you coming from a mile away and want nothing to do with you. This is probably a good thing, since sea otters were previously hunted for their fur almost to the point of extinction. I have watched rafts of hundreds of sea otters in Glacier Bay National Park, near Cape Spencer, and in Frederick Sound, but none of them have allowed me to get close enough for a decent picture, even with a long lens. After being frustrated so often by their elusive nature, I was surprised to find this cooperative mother & baby during my brief visit to Torch Bay last June while returning from my amazing Lituya Bay visit. It was pouring rain, but fortunately I was able to set up my 500mm lens & tripod underneath the rain canopy on the back deck of my 22′ C-Dory while my friend Dominik Modlinksi manned the helm. The mother repeatedly dove to the bottom to catch some food. When she returned to the surface, it was all she could do to grab a bite of her catch before her little one voraciously snatched it away from her. (It was kinda like me trying to eat ice cream around my daughters.) After stealing mom’s food, the baby would climb on top of her for comfort & bonding. It was a beautiful wildlife experience in a unique setting and I am happy that I came away with a few images.

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Lituya Bay Brown Bear

Alaskan Brown Bear in Lituya Bay

I’ve been meaning to share this nice brown bear that I photographed during my visit in June to Lituya Bay on the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. My buddy and I spent several hours following this gorgeous bear as it worked its way along the shore eating grass. We kept moving my inflatable to position ourselves to be able to shoot into the nicest sections of flowers, in case the bear happened to walk through them. I really like the eye contact that I got in this image. The bear was only about 15 meters away from us. I tried to keep my 15hp outboard engine idling, just in case the bear decided it did not want to be photographed. However, the engine died a few times, which made my nervous. Whenever I am around bears I am always surprised how disinterested they are in me. It is hard to convey that feeling to people who have never seen a bear in the wild. I used my Canon 5D mkII, 500mm f4 IS lens, at f4, 1/160 sec, at ISO 400. I was also hand-holding it, which gets hard with that big heavy lens.

One more note. I will be at Glazers Camera in Seattle this Saturday from 10-2 as part of their Gitzo Days promotion. I will be giving a free short presentation at 11. Please stop by and say hi.

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Lamplugh Glacier Lupine 1

Lamplugh Glacier Lupine 1

On my recent trip to Glacier Bay National Park, I returned with my boat to my favorite anchorage in the west arm of the bay at Reid Inlet to spend a few days exploring the beautiful scenery. One of my favorite photographic locations in the park is the Lamplugh Glacier. During my previous visits, I created some of my favorite landscape images on the moraine bar in front of the glacier at low tide. I have also seen photos of lupine in bloom with the glacier in the background, but had never been there at the right time to see it for myself. This time I was very fortunate that the lupine was going off! I spent one overcast afternoon patiently sitting with my camera set up and my finger on the remote trigger waiting for the wind blowing off of the glacier to stop. I was trying to shoot at something like f22, 1/6 sec, and ISO 200-400, but the wind just never completely died down to allow the flowers to sit still long enough for the picture I was after. (I have zero tolerance for wide angle flower shots with flower movement.) So, I came back the next day and was rewarded with a few long pauses in the wind that allowed me to create this beautiful photo.

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Torch Bay Sea Otters 1

Torch Bay Sea Otters 1

After spending 5 days in Lituya Bay, we headed back towards Cape Spencer and Elfin Cove in very calm sea conditions, but heavy overcast clouds. My cruising guidebook said that there were a lot of sea otters in Torch Bay, so since we were passing by we stopped to have a look. Normally, sea otters in Alaska disappear when they see you coming from 1/4 mile away. (This is probably a genetic trait of some kind from the few sea otters that survived the fur trade!) We found some super friendly/mentally challenged sea otters that let us follow them around for a few hours. I usually hand hold my 400mm f4 DO IS lens on the boat, but I had let another photographer borrow it. Instead, I had his 500mm f4 IS lens. This lens is not meant to be hand held for 3 hours. Dominik was kind enough to pilot the boat while I set up my tripod and gimble head on the back deck. I was also fortunate that my boat has an enclosed canvas back deck because it was raining while I was trying to shoot. This is one of my favorite images. The momma kept diving down to forage and when she returned to the surface she had to eat pretty fast before her baby came over and demanded its share. Kids are all the same, aren’t they?

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Lituya Bay Sunset 1

Lituya Bay Sunset 1

After trying to visit Lituya Bay the previous 2 summers, I was finally successful last week! My friend Dominik Modlinski joined me for a 12 day cruise that included the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park. My boat Serenity is a 22′ C-Dory, which is a pretty small boat for cruising in the Gulf of Alaska. I needed a perfect weather forecast to insure our safety, and this time we got it. After departing Juneau and cruising to Elfin Cove, we began the 60 mile journey up to Lituya Bay in calm seas, but low visibility. We joked that we were cruising on a lake, rather than the North Pacific Ocean. The National Weather Service didn’t predict any big storms, so I knew that we were going to be able to safely run up and back within a week.

Lituya Bay is a spectacular location that few people visit. It has a long dark history that culminates with the July 9, 1958 mega-tsunami that yielded the largest recorded wave in history. The wave was initiated by an 8.3 magnitude earthquake which caused the mountainside at the head of Crillon Inlet to collapse into the bay. The resulting “splash” sent a wall of water up the opposite mountainside to a height of 1,720 feet. As the wave turned and continued, it destroyed every tree in it’s path up to 100 feet about the water before exiting the bay.  Three fishing boats were anchored near La Chaussee Spit at the time, and only 1 boat and its crew survived.

The native Tlingit people were afraid of Lituya Bay. The pre-European Tlingits had a horror of death by drowning, which interrupts the soul’s cycle of cremation and rebirth, giving rise to baleful beings called Land Otter Men. Lituya Bay had many, and when angry they were known to shake the bay and flush it clean of living things. Russians of the Bering expedition found the bay in 1741, but lost 15 men there in the vicious seas. In 1786, the explorer La Pérouse also lost 21 of his men in the extreme tidal currents at the entrance to the bay. In 1853 or 1854, a great wave swept the bay and killed all of the native inhabitants. Other recorded waves came in 1899 and 1936, but by this time, no one lived in the bay any longer due to its fierce reputation.

With all this dark history on my mind, why then did I want to visit Lituya Bay you ask? I have always been an adventurer whether it was extreme alpine climbing or swimming in the deep blue with whales & sharks. I strive to visit places that are just a bit on the edge.  I am bored otherwise. While in Lituya Bay, I definitely felt a bit uneasy by the history of the place. I always felt the presence of the bay’s tragedies in my mind like a guillotine ready to drop at any unsuspecting moment. However, the pure beauty of the place and the incredible amount of wildlife that I saw while visiting convinced me that it is a primeaval paradise. These lupine in bloom along La Chaussee Spit at sunset one night are a testament to life’s eternal cycle of death and rebirth. Lituya Bay for me was a dream realized. I do not know if I will ever be fortunate enough to go back, but I hope to some day.

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Fern Harbor Sea Otter 30

Fern Harbor Sea Otter 30

I got my copy of the May issue of Alaska magazine the other day with this sea otter image featured on pages 20-21! I took this photo last July while spending a week near Taylor Bay on the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park. It was raining and terrible weather, but at least I was stuck in a secure anchorage called Fern Harbor. I spent several days in a row following this sea otter around the bay in my inflatable. In the shallow water, I could sea him foraging underneath my boat and anticipate where he was going to come back up to the surface to get this shot. It was a lot of fun.

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