I always say that if I could photograph only one thing, that it would be whales. Unfortunately, they are the most difficult and expensive subject that I photograph. I have swam next to these gentle giants and watched them repeatedly breach into the air, but the most amazing behavior I have documented is humpback whales bubble-net feeding in Alaska. This phenomenon involves a group of whales diving beneath a school of fish and blowing a ring of bubbles underwater to effectively form a net as it rises to the surface. The ring can be up to 100′ in diameter. The fish get scared by the bubbles and become concentrated in the center. At the last second the whales swim up from beneath the school of fish with their months open swallowing everything they can in one enormous gulp. Research has shown that the individual whales repeatedly take up the same positions as they come out of the water during each attack. The best photographs include the most dominant whales in the center positions as they burst above the surface and slam their mouths closed. An incredible amount of patience and luck is involved in anticipating where the whales are going to form a bubble-net. If I am close enough and can see the bubbles rising at the last second, I have to react fast enough to capture the moment as they lunge out of the water. Magnificent!
In September, I took advantage of a week of spectacular weather in Alaska, and did some aerial photography of the Alaska Range. My primary ambition on this flight was to photograph Mt McKinley at sunset, but I departed Talkeetna airport early enough to also do some “sight-seeing”. As the small plane I chartered approached the mountains, we first flew up the dramatic Ruth Gorge. Back when I used to climb, I read a lot of mountaineering stories about the granite spires of the Ruth Gorge, so it was nice to finally see these monster walls for myself. I was particularly impressed with the Moose’s Tooth. Sunset light never penetrates this location due to the mountains above the Ruth Amphitheater, but in this image the clouds clinging to the summit ridge added a layer of drama. Since I no longer climb, I am unlikely to summit this granite myself, but I had an amazing experience flying so close.
When I shoot aerials, there are a few things that are required in order to create the images that I want. First, I need a pilot who is competent and knowledgeable of the local geography. Next, the window of the airplane must lift up or the door must be removed in order to have an unobstructed view. I need good communication with my pilot in order to tell him/her where to position the plane. Once on location, I need to decide quickly what is the best composition while the plane is moving and the light is changing. Finally, I use a normal lens like my Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE lens to capture a wide shot that doesn’t include the wing of the plane. During each brief pass at my composition I take 10 to 20 photos at 4fps with my Canon 5DmkII. Once I’m back home editing my images, I look for the image with the strongest composition, nicest light, and, hopefully, a level horizon.
I was recently interviewed by the Gesellschaft Deutscher Tierfotografen (Society of German Nature Photographers). Previously interviewed photographers include Andy Rouse, George and Verena Popp, Norbert Rosing, and Kevin Schafer. My interview is currently featured in their triannual magazine Forum Naturfotografie. It spans 14 pages and showcases 12 of my favorite photographs. The double page opener is my image “East Pond Vent 1”, taken in Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. You can view the entire article here, however, it is in German.
My image “Spray Park Wildflowers 1” is featured as the double page opener of the hiking feature in the June 2010 issue of Seattle Met. Spray Park is my favorite alpine location at Mount Rainier National Park and is the closest side of the mountain to my home in Seattle. During the brief summer hiking season, I depart my house in the early afternoon, drive for about 3 hours, and hike the 3 miles up to the wildflower meadows to photograph the sunset. It is both a blessing and a curse if the wind is not blowing, a blessing because the fields of lupine and paintbrush are not blowing around in the wind, but a curse because of the swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes that rival any that I have seen in Alaska or Canada. Spray Park is higher than Paradise on the south side of the mountain, so the wildflowers peak about 1 week later, typically mid-August. Based on the cold summer that we are having, I estimate that the wildflowers are going to be a little late this year, which is similar to the year that I created this image during the last week of August.
One of my underwater humpback whale images appears on billboards in New Zealand this month. (Anyone in NZ able to send me a picture?) When I first set out to make a living as a professional photographer, I initially found success selling fine-art prints through galleries & art shows. That business model ceased being effective with the down-turn in the economy, so I turned my focus to my website. Many of my modest sales now come from having good SEO. This sale is a perfect example. A design firm contacted me a few weeks ago after searching the web, offered me a reasonable usage rate, I emailed them the file, and they wire-transferred the money to me. How easy was that?
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!
This is my favorite wildflower image that I have created so far during my visit to Death Valley National Park. I photographed this enormous field of desert sunflowers near Ashford Mill at sunrise on Friday April 9. The interminable wind all weekend has made it impossible for me to shoot this type of big depth-of-field scene since. However, the weather forecast optimistically predicts calm winds after today, so I will here with my fingers crossed for a few more days. The display is especially brilliant between Mormon Point & Ashford Mill. If you still have time to visit this week, you will not be disappointed.