Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lightroom Marathon

A desire to maximize the quality of photos on the website prompted a marathon endeavor of re-processing and fine-tuning nearly all of our RAW format digital files. This was no simple task, and it occupied the office for weeks. Our tool of choice for this process is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. It offers the fine control we need to really get the most out of the RAW file format our cameras output.

Lightrooms "Develop" Tab is where we perfect many of our images.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fairbanks featured in Alaska Magazine

The Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River, from the deck of the Chena Pump House Restaurant, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 24-105mm f4.0L, (24mm) 1/320 sec @ f9.0, ISO 160

The March 2008 issue of Alaska magazine is running a feature titled: "Fairbanks - The Heart of the Interior" I've supplied them with photographs from the aurora and ice fog to the pure summer sunshine.

I'm often humored at the predictable response to the question of "where do you live". Whenever I respond "Fairbanks", something like this follows: Really? But you seem like a reasonable person, why would anyone live there, isn't it like minus 50 degrees in the winter and dark?

This little dialog has repeated itself countless times and interestingly, most often from Alaskans. Not to spoil a well kept secret, but Fairbanks is a great place to live, but it is also an extreme place to live as well. For those who relish in extremes, it is perfect. And yes, even the 50 below zero temperatures.

Too see more photos taken in the Fairbanks area check out my Fairbanks Alaska photos

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mt. Augustine Volcano

Mount Augustine volcano, Cook Inlet, Alaska.
Stitched panorama photo made with two images. It was selected for the ATT Alascom Calendar for 2007.

March 14, 2006 brought clear skies to southcentral Alaska, and I ventured to Homer to attempt some photography of Mt. Augustine volcano for a book project. I was aware of the volcano activity but really have to thank a friend and colleague Calvin Hall, who had sent me some inspirational images of the volcano he had taken the previous week. From a roadside lookout just outside of Homer, you can see the volcano on a clear day, approximately 75 miles away. I waited until the sun had set and the ambient light dropped low enough to let the "lava" or technically called "incandescence" glow with the help of a long exposure. You could not really see it with the naked eye. I've learned from my dusk to dawn photography experience that you can end up with unusual visual discoveries when looking at images made with lengthy exposures. This is particularly true with the Aurora borealis.

Long exposures with a telephoto lens require extreme tripod stability to prevent camera movement blur. I used a 500mm lens with a 1.4x converter (equivalent of 700mm) on a sturdy Gitzo tripod with a RRS panorama swivel ballhead. After taking the first frame and checking the histogram very carefully, I swung the camera to the left for the second frame allowing about 1/3 to 1/2 overlap. The exposure time was 95 seconds for the first frame and 102 seconds, for the second one (I added a little more time to compensate for the slightly darkening sky). With a total exposure time for the scene at about four minutes, there was not much time for experimenting. Throw in a test shot or two before hand, and timing becomes critical. You can see more photos of the volcano on my site: Mt. Augustine volcano photos

Mount Augustine volcano, Cook Inlet, Alaska, March 14, 2006, 7:34PM
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 500mm f4.0L IS, with 1.4x, 95 sec @ f5.6, ISO 400
Frame 1 of 2

Mount Augustine volcano, Cook Inlet, Alaska, March 14, 2006, 7:36PM
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 500mm f4.0L IS, with 1.4x, 102 sec @ f5.6, ISO 400
Frame 2 of 2

Panorama stitched from two images.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Herring Sac Roe Fishery in Sitka

Pacific herring spawn in the waters around Sitka, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 24-105mm f4.0L IS (28mm), 1/1000 sec @ f5.6, ISO400

Each year in March a brief Pacific herring sac roe commercial fishery happens in Sitka. The school of fish, which returns annually to the Sitka Sound, is monitored closely by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. When the egg development reaches an optimal point, the season opens for a designated amount of time, targeting a specific tonnage of fish harvested by the fleet of fisherman. Purse seine fishing methods (the large net drawn in a circle around the school of fish) are used, however, the nets are not lifted on to the boat due the extremely large amount of captured fish. Instead, they are vacuumed from the net when drawn close to the side of the boat. It's all about the eggs, not the meat. The eggs are sold primarily to an Asian market.

Purse seine nets are drawn around a successful catch of Herring
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 24-105mm f.40L IS

Tons and tons of Herring are harvested for the sale of their eggs.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 24-105mm f.40L IS

Photo details:
The exotic and somewhat tropical aqua color present in the water is the result of milky Herring sperm. It makes for quite a beautiful scene from the air. I spent one day on the water via a boat, and the next opener I took to the sky for some aerials. I was fortunate on this evening since the sun peaked through the clouds for about 3 minutes during the flight. During that time, I captured a handful of images. The bird's eye view gives such a descriptive viewpoint, that I try often to get in the air whenever possible. Aerial photography can be complex. From scheduling, weather cooperation, finding the right aircraft, to communicating with the pilot for proper positioning. I've learned a few things that may be helpful if you are considering doing the same.

Considerations for aerial photography
  • Take two cameras, each with a different lens
  • Remove lens hoods unless absolutely necessary, they can be bad wind drags
  • Use image stabilzed lenses
  • Shoot with a high shutter speed (you are always at infinity focus anyway so the f stop-depth of field issue is not critical-at least you better be at infinity focus!)
  • Have the aircraft door removed if possible (good luck with that since many pilots are reluctant to do it. You might consider giving them enough notice time to make proper FAA contacts for approval.)
  • Keep from resting arms or elbows on the aircraft frame - it transfers vibrations to your camera
  • If you have to shoot through a window (it is possible but not the best situation), wear dark clothes and watch for reflections. Do not let your lens touch the window, you won't like it and your pilot won't either.

Monday, February 11, 2008

2008 Yukon Quest

Sled dog at the 2008 Yukon Quest sled dog race, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1ds Mark III, 100-400 f.40-5.6L IS, (275mm) 1/80 sec @ f9.0

The Yukon Quest start unfolded on Saturday, Feb 9th in Fairbanks, under minus 40 degree temperatures, which slowly warmed up to minus 20 as the day progressed. For those not familiar with this dogseld race, it is reputed to be the most difficult dog race due to rugged terrain and extreme cold conditions. The race name is derived from the "Yukon River" the great river highway of the north. Check out their website for current standings and information: www.yukonquest.com. Poor and dangerous trail conditions over Rosebud (from Chena Hotsprings to mile 101) resulted in a route deviation-which altered my plans a bit.

When photographing in these extreme temperatures I find myself doing a lot of point and shoot photography, since my viewfinder gets fogged up and push button auto focusing becomes invaluable. Additionally, camera batteries freeze up quickly, but usually not as quickly as I do. I took a few token pictures at the start and then a day later on Eagle Summit, where violent winds and drifting snow had closed the Steese highway temporarily. See more Yukon Quest photos.

Sled dog at the 2008 Yukon Quest sled dog race, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1ds Mark III, 100-400 f.40-5.6L IS, (260mm) 1/100 sec @ f5.6

Sled dog handler at the 2008 Yukon Quest sled dog race, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1ds Mark III, 100-400 f.40-5.6L IS, (340mm) 1/400 sec @ f5.6

Race vet in the chilly minus 40 degree temps at the start of the 2008 Yukon Quest sled dog race, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1ds Mark III, 100-400 f.40-5.6L IS, (400mm) 1/640 sec @ f9.0

Musher Didier Moggia at the start of the 2008 Yukon Quest sled dog race, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1ds Mark III, 100-400 f.40-5.6L IS, (400mm) 1/640 sec @ f8.0

Musher Phil Joy heads down the Chena River at the start of the 1000 mile, 2008 Yukon Quest sled dog race, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1ds Mark III, 100-400 f.40-5.6L IS, (400mm) 1/640 sec @ f8.0

Ground blizzard conditions and wind blown snow on Eagle Summit.
Canon 1ds Mark III, 16-35mm f2.8L, 1/125 sec @ f16.0

Strong winds and minus 20 degree temperatures temporarily closed the Steese Highway on Eagle Summit.
Canon 1ds Mark III, 100-400 f.40-5.6L IS, (120mm) 1/640 sec @ f9.0

Friday, February 8, 2008

Grizzly Opportunities

Over the years, I've photographed--or tried to photograph--many bears. The brown and grizzly bear are technically declared the same species, but they vary in appearance based on their dietary distinctives. You can learn more about the bears and access photos on my website from this page "Alaska bear photos". Interior bears, or grizzlies, are generally more challenging to photograph than their coastal counterparts the brown bears. I find this true for a few reasons. For one, they do not congregate in the same density as the brown bears, and there simply are not the same quantity of bear viewing platforms for interior bears. Denali National Park still offers some of the best photographic opportunities for grizzly bears--access is one reason, and habituation is another.

It is still difficult to get all the necessary parameters to line up for those outstanding shots. Years ago, I had a few fortunate encounters out of many unsuccessful attempts. The two images below were taken in the same year, on two different photo trips in Denali Park. Both images have been published nearly 30 times each and have proven the test of time and marketability. Incidentally, they were both taken in Sable pass, about 40 miles into the park, and ironically, not the easiest place to shoot due to roadside brush and the inevitable traffic jams of buses and photographers that congeal when a bear finally nears the road. Outside of getting lucky, there is no great secret to capturing good bear images that does not include close observation of the animal and lots of waiting. The luck however, is sweet when it happens!

Sow and triplet spring cubs:
The sow and spring cub triplets had been eating vegetation along the road, and a colleague and I were waiting for them to come into better positioning. Suddenly, a construction vehicle hauling an empty trailer passed by on the bumpy road. The metal trailer made quite a racket which scared one of the cubs, inspiring it to jump up on the mother's back. The sow turned to check out the noise and I just held down the shutter button and burned a whole role of film. I think i was using Canon's 400mm f2.8 with a 1l4x converter on a tripod.

Sow grizzly bear and triplet spring cubs, Denali National Park, Alaska.
Canon EOS3, 400mm f2.8L, 1.4x converter, Fuji Velvia

Blueberry bear:
A friend of mine says about this picture: "You owe that bear donuts, big time". This particular bear encounter remains one of the most entertaining and cooperative photo subjects of my career. After bathing in a nearby creek, the female bear walked across the road into a blueberry patch and sat there, just 20 feet from the road, and started to pose in a variety of positions. Unlike the usual encounter, which seems inevitably fleeting, this bear remained for many minutes. During this time, the crowd of photographers slowly increased as did the congregation of tour buses. After shooting a few rolls of film we all decided to vacate the crowd, the bear included. I was shooting with the Canon 400mm f2.8L on a tripod near the car.

A few weeks later when viewing the transparencies at my light table, I resisted a near heart attack when I realized my bulk loaded film had been mislabeled and I under exposed a few rolls of film. I did calm down when I came across a few good exposures. That was the end of my penny-saving-bulk-film-loading antics.

Blueberry bear, sow grizzly in blueberry patch, Denali National Park, Alaska.
Canon EOS3, 400mm f2.8L, Fuji Velvia

These two images continue to draw interest and I'm hoping for another opportunity to match them as I prepare for some bear photography this summer.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tongass Narrows

Southeast Alaska is a diverse, maritime environment, whose shores are dotted with small communities that live a life connected to the sea in some fashion. The Tongass Narrows divides Revillagigedo Island (the island where Ketchikan is located) from Prince of Wales Island. Evening sunsets along its calm waters are splendid (although they may be few) and many locals enjoy access points for hikes and quiet evening moments.

Sunset along the Tongass Narrows, Southeast, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 24-105mm f4.0L IS, 1/100 sec, @ f4.0, ISO 200

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sleeping bear

Sleeping brown bear along the banks of the Brooks river, Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 500mm f4.0L IS, 1/13 sec @ f25, ISO 250

Wildlife photography includes lots of waiting. This is the non-glamorous attribute of the occupation. There are of course plenty of other attributes essential to the career, like persistence, logistics, research, etc., but the waiting part is always a challenge, especially when your subject wants to take a nap. Sure, I could take a nap too, but not when I'm standing waist high in the water, which I was doing when i took this photo. It happened to be extremely windy, and to capitalize on the wind's visually obscure presence, I experimented with slow shutter speeds (since the bear was not moving) to reveal this otherwise hidden dynamic. While I don't generally find sleeping animals interesting photo subjects, the blur in the grass reveals a contrast between a peacefully sleeping bear and the violent windy environment in which it rests.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pancake ice, Beaufort Sea

The formation of ice called "pancake ice" develops during freeze up when circular ice conglomerations bang into each other creating little raised edges around their perimeter. The windy conditions blew all the ice towards shore creating an interesting pattern for a landscape. Photographing in heavy wind requires a strong and stable tripod, a piece of field equipment that proves itself essential over and over again.

Pancake ice form in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 16-35mm f2.8L, 1/40 sec @ f20, ISO 320