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 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.
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.
My buddy Paul and I went up to Nanaimo last week for a few days. I have been wanting to do some cold water diving for awhile. I also just bought a new 8″ dome port for my Ikelite housing that I wanted to try out. Paul has the same boat that I do, a 22′ C-Dory, so we took it on the ferry with his big truck and wasted a lot of gas. After all of the expense and effort to get up there, the underwater visibility was less than 5′. It sucked. I managed to get this one image (which is not that great in my opinion) of a harbor seal staring at its reflection in my dome. Even when the images are not that great, it is always amazing to swim with marine animals. I will have to try again when the visibility is better next winter. Please visit more of my Harbor Seal Photography.