This past July, I lead my only photo tour of the last 2 years. It was a pleasure to be able to spend time searching for humpback whales with my friends Tony Wu, Steve Levi, and Doug Perrine. Unfortunately, we had to search longer and farther for whales than anytime since I first started visiting Southeast Alaska over a decade ago. Eventually, we located a group that was cooperatively bubble-net feeding in Frederick Sound. During the evening that I photographed this scene, the ocean was calm and the sunset light was prolonged. I love the dark clouds and tree covered hills in the background as the golden light illuminated this whale’s breath. If you look closely, there is also a faint rainbow visible near the base of the blow. It took luck and skill built up during my years of experience in order to compose this image while also piloting the skiff and shooting at the same time.
My most recent trip was returning to Seattle in early October. The purpose of this visit was that one of my Kauai friends wanted to go to a Seattle Seahawks football game for his birthday, plus my dad was also turning 80 the following weekend and I wanted to celebrate it with him. It had been several years since I had experienced fall, so I also planned on visiting the North Cascades. I drove up to the Methow Valley with my buddy Tom and we spent 2 nights in a friend’s beautiful cabin near Mazama. The weather was ideal with clear blue skies and crisp autumn air. One afternoon, I decided to revisit a location where I had photographed one of my favorite abstract images almost 20 years ago. I found this fallen leaf tranquilly marooned along the river’s shore and maneuvered my camera into position to include the contrasting yellow-orange trees and blue sky reflection. I especially like the water ripples in the reflection that add another dimension to this beautiful composition.
Over the last decade, I have focused much of my travel and photography on Alaska. However, my only trip up north this year was in early August when I lead a small group tour in search of my favorite subject, humpback whales bubble-net feeding. There were some ups and downs associated with this particular trip that I do not need to get into, but it was definitely my most productive tour photographically for bubble-net feeding. I told my clients that they should be proud of what we accomplished. The exhilaration of photographing over a dozen humpback whales cooperatively hunting and feeding on schools of herring never gets old. It does get frustrating, but never boring. This image shows a very close encounter where I had to zoom back to 70mm as the whales erupted above the surface with their mouths about to slam shut. If you look in the mouth of the whale on the right, you can even see a silver herring flying through the air about to be engulfed.
On Tuesday, the weather was overcast, but potentially clearing in the late afternoon, so I took a chance and drove up to Mount Baker for the third time in a month. It is a 12+ hour round trip from my house, so it is a big commitment requiring a lot of optimism. I hiked up to Heliotrope Ridge to look down onto the Coleman Glacier and was surprised to still find wildflowers blooming. This group of fireweed seemed particularly nice for early September. I set up my camera and crossed my fingers that the clouds would lift in time for sunset. Just as I had hoped, the clouds parted 15 minutes before sunset and the scene was flooded with golden light.
My image Humpback Whales Bubble Feeding 110 is featured in Outdoor Photographer’s June 2013 article “Pro Tips For Summer Hotspots”. In the article, I describe what it is like to observe humpback whales as they cooperatively feed in Alaska, as well as how to photograph this incredible behavior. Also featured in the article, is one of my personal favorite images Tonquin Valley Sunrise 3 along with a description of how to photograph this dramatic scene located in Jasper National Park.
I’m finally home long enough to start editing my images from the last 6 months. Dang, have I been busy and time flies. This is my favorite image that I photographed while co-leading the Alaska portion of Tony Wu and my dual hemisphere Humpback Whale Tour last summer. See how sunny and perfect the conditions were? I kept telling our clients that the weather never got this nice in Southeast. It was an ideal day to spend with a large group of humpback whales that were bubble-net feeding. As this glorious day progressed, the whales stopped feeding and did what whales do best. Absolutely nothing! However, we decided to work on our tans and patiently stay with the whales hoping that they might do something. Eventually, they all started to breach at the same time. It was insane watching all of these enormous animals launch themselves out of the water, let alone positioning the skiff so that everyone could photograph this behavior. I love how the water cascaded off of this whale, plus there is a small rainbow behind it from its blow. I’ve seen this multiple breaching behavior happen enough times to consider that it is some kind of goodbye gesture. Sure enough, after all this breaching was over, the whales swam off in separate directions. I created this image using a Canon 1DmkIV with my 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6.
This past June, my dad and I used my 22′ C-Dory Serenity to cruise Prince William Sound for 8 days. We experienced mostly crappy weather during our trip, but that is typical of coastal Alaska. I was focused on photographing wildflowers near the glaciers, but did not find them in the quantities that I had hoped. So, I turned my attention to photographing the calving tidewater face of the Chenega Glacier which is located in Nassau Fjord south of Whittier. The enormous face of this impressive glacier is several miles wide and over 1000′ tall. Ice is constantly calving off of the face and falling long distances into the water below. Some of these explosions were spectacular to photograph, even though it was incredibly scary being so close. Keep in mind that I anchor Serenity in a protected cove and use my 12′ inflatable to navigate through the ice in order to get close to the glacier. I then drift for hours freezing my butt off waiting for something to happen. These days are filled with monotonous boredom intermixed with brief moments of absolute terror. I would not want to have it any other way. This is one of my favorite images of the ice collapsing into the water. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII and 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
I created this bold image of dwarf fireweed at sunset while visiting Columbia Bay with my small boat Serenity a few weeks ago. This was the second time that I have visited this area this year, after the dramatic and wild nature of the place got under my skin back in May. It is now one of my favorite locations that I have visited in Alaska. I experienced much better weather during this visit and there were loads of wildflowers, especially the hearty dwarf fireweed. This plant grows in areas recently exposed by glacial retreat. This particular patch of flowers was located on the northwest tip of Heather Island along the edge of the old glacial moraine bar. Before settling on this composition, I ran around like a madman trying to find the best group of wildflowers that would compliment the dramatic sunset that was unfolding. During brief but dramatic moments like this, a photographer must be comfortable with his/her equipment and methodically use the skills that have been mastered through years of practice. I photographed this scene with my Canon 5DmkII, Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 ZE lens, Singh-Ray LB Warming polarizer, and 2-stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
While visiting the Childs Glacier near Cordova, the VW van that Steve and I borrowed got a flat tire. In addition, the light was murky, so we did not get any sunrise pictures of the glacier. After we changed the tire and began driving back to town we encountered a porcupine foraging in the forest. Steve launched out of the van to photograph it so fast that he forgot to put on his Xtratufs. However, after looking at the bog he was immersed in, I methodically put on my boots rather than suffer cold, wet feet. The porcupine took one look at us with our big lenses and headed for the top of a small tree. It initially turned its back to us and raised its quills, which didn’t make a very good image, but eventually relaxed enough to make a few nice portraits. To create this image, I lined up the porcupine with some trees in the background that made for a nice out-of-focus background. I patiently waited until it turned towards me so that I could see its eyes. I created this image with my Canon 7D and 400mm f4 DO IS lens. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
Photographing humpback whales bubble-net feeding in Southeast Alaska is the most incredible experience that I have. Over several days in July, I was again fortunate to witness this extraordinary behavior. Even though I cruise with my own boat, finding a groups of whales feeding can be difficult and time consuming. However, once I have located them I drift nearby for hours hoping that they will occasionally come close enough to be photographed. During their attack the whales emit a high-pitched song to scare the fish and coordinate their timing. (Check out my YouTube video to hear what it sounds like.) To create a picture like this, my reflexes have to be lightning fast. It certainly helps if my camera is already pointed in the right direction when they break the surface. The momentary drama of water exploding into the air and fish jumping out of the whale’s wide-open mouths to avoid being swallowed is beyond my wildest dreams. I used my Canon 7D and 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens at 70mm to create this image.