I’m kind of looking forward to heading back to Alaska next week. I say kind of because of the terrible June weather we have had here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure that it will be quite similar during most of July in Alaska which is kind of depressing. Oh, well. That is the price to pay for beautiful images in the 49th state. As I have recently finished editing my backlog of photos, I rediscovered this spectacular sunset image from my visit to Denali National Park last July. I had a professional photographer’s permit which allowed me to drive the Wonder Lake Road in my own vehicle for 9 days. It was an amazing experience that allowed me to create some fantastic wildlife and landscape images. The beautiful sunset light illuminating the virga in the distance caught me by surprise. I quickly jumped out of the van and ran down to this tundra pond next to the side of the road. It’s moments like this that I need to be confident in my abilities to set up my camera very quickly and efficiently.
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.
This is one of my new images from my July visit to Denali National Park. I had a professional photography permit to drive the Wonder Lake Road. I’d had no ambition to photograph Denali as I had already done so in 2005 and 2006 when the weather was horrible. Since it is typically very cloudy, I was mostly planning on photographing wildlife near the road. However, when the weather improved and the clouds parted, I switched my goal back to landscape photography. This tundra pond is one of thousands located near Wonder Lake. This sunrise was gorgeous as alpenglow illuminated the summit at 20,000 feet while the clouds clung to the lower flanks of the mountain. There were a lot of water bugs disturbing the surface of this pond, but otherwise the reflection was as close to perfect as possible. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII, Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE lens, Singh-Ray LB Warming polarizer, and 4-stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density filter. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
On my first day in Denali National Park, I encountered a large group of Dall sheep up the side of a mountain. I grabbed my camera equipment, including my 500mm lens, and hiked over 1500′ up to them. As I approached the group, they became aware of my presence but did not run away. I was unsure how close they would allow me to get, but they seemed unconcerned by my presence and continued foraging for grasses. I got close enough to photograph individual animals isolated against a clean background. Eventually, I moved in close enough to photograph this nice head-on portrait of a big male looking down on me. I created this image with my Canon 7D, Canon 500mm f4 IS lens, and Canon 1.4X tele-converter. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
During my recent visit to Denali National Park, I had a professional photography permit for the first time. The permit allowed me the unique opportunity to drive the Wonder Lake Road in my own vehicle and spend as much time taking pictures as I needed. The week started out with terrible weather, but quickly improved and kept getting better every day. I honestly had no ambition to photograph Denali based on how difficult it was to even see the mountain during my previous visits in 2005 and 2006. However, with all the clear weather that I experienced, I took advantage of every moment that the summit was visible. I created this spectacular image on the last day of my permit. After staying up all night for several days and barely sleeping, I had lunch at the Kantishna Roadhouse. After lunch, my intention was to start driving back to Anchorage, but as I was nearing Wonder Lake the mountain was again entirely visible. So much for driving that afternoon. I had scouted several nice patches of fireweed during the week, so I decided to set up my camera for the rest of the day and see what would happen. Not only was it sunny and warm with almost no wind, but the mosquitoes disappeared entirely. This allowed me to comfortably sit at the side of the road while working on my tan with my shirt off. Anyone who has ever been back to Wonder Lake during the summer will appreciate how incredible this sounds. Over the course of 6 hours waiting for the sunset, I listened to some of my favorite music, waived at the occasional bus passing by, and waited for the clouds to part again in order reveal Denali. Everything came together perfectly about 1 hour before sunset. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII, Carl Zeiss 35mm f2 ZE lens, Singh-Ray LB Warming polarizer, and 3-stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
During my recent visit to Denali National Park, I photographed this rare portrait of a Canadian lynx. I had been exhausted from driving all night from Wonder Lake back to the park entrance, when a lynx crossed the road in front of my van. At first, I was unsure whether it was real. However, as soon as I pulled up alongside of the lynx, it laid in the bushes next to the road and proceeded to watch me for what seemed like an eternity. I reached for my big lens on the floor behind me and quietly rolled down the window to grab whatever picture I could before it ran away. The lynx seemed unconcerned by my presence, so I got out of the car. In order to minimize the bushes in front of the lynx’s face, I had to lay on my stomach on the road while balancing my camera equipment with one hand. I was less than 30′ away from this beautiful creature the entire time. It was an amazing encounter that I will always cherish. I created this image with my Canon 7D and 500mm f4 IS lens. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
This image of Mt McKinley is from the sunrise flight that I did over the Alaska Range in September. I had a lot of fun flying with the doors removed; the only downside was that I had to wear so many clothes to stay warm. I got a deal from pilot Don Lee to fly in his small Piper aircraft, but I forgot to consider that a smaller plane might not be able to reach the altitude that I like to shoot from. We only managed to coax the plane up to about 9000′, rather than the 12,000′ elevation that I normally shoot from in a Cessna. However, if I had been up any higher, the glaciers and ridges would not have provided as much depth leading up to the summit. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII and Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE lens.
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.
During my recent Alaska trip, I was able to see Mt McKinley almost everyday due to the perfect clear weather. To see the mountain even 1 day is very rare, let alone for 10 days straight. My normal landscape images from the ground were just not very exciting, so I hired a small plane 3 times with various friends in order to fly over the Alaska Range at sunset and sunrise. I did not get the sunset image that I was after on my first flight, but I figured out exactly where I wanted to return to shoot on my second flight. I liked this location because I was slightly back from Mt McKinley (left) and Mt Foraker (right) and able to line them up with these repetitive ridges giving the image some depth rather than just a simple mountain portrait.
I created this image while hand-holding my Canon 5DmkII and Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE lens with the airplane’s window open so that I could shoot without the glass obstructing my view. My camera body shoots 4fps. If I hold down the shutter release button I get about 12 images before I fill-up the camera’s memory buffer. With my Sandisk 16GB Extreme CF memory cards, I can photograph almost 600 images before my card is full. That comes out to only 2.5 minutes of actual shooting before I fill-up the card! Over the course of almost 3 hours of flying that is a minimal amount of time. There is a lot of teamwork and communication involved between me and the pilot in order for me to create an aerial image like this. Of course, when I am back home I then have to edit 3000 images of the exact same thing looking for minor variations to find the image with which I am happiest.
I just returned from almost 2 weeks in Alaska and had fabulous weather the entire trip. In fact, it was so nice that shooting conditions were less than ideal because there were no clouds in the sky for landscape or wildlife photography. The few times that there were sunrise/sunset clouds were on the days that I was driving long distances and did not have time to shoot. Fortunately, I made the most of what was available to me and that included photographing a beautiful appearance of the aurora borealis. Some friends of mine in Talkeetna told me the northern lights were out very late one night while I was sleeping, so I checked the aurora forecast the next day on spaceweather.com and decided to stay up that night to shoot. Though I was getting over a cold and exhausted from lousy travel sleep, I drove up the Denali Highway and stayed up until 3 am. Fortunately, the lights made an appearance and were at their best around 1 am. I set my camera on ISO 1600 and used my Carl Zeiss 35mm f2 lens set at f2.8 and 12 seconds to record this image. The aurora was more interesting off to the left of the frame, but I really liked these trees to make the entire composition, rather than just an aurora picture of the sky.