Saturday, March 29, 2008

Seavey wins the 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes

Mitch Seavey crosses the finish line in Nome, Alaska, at 11:30PM, March 28, 2008, setting a new record time for the All Alaska Sweepstakes. Jeff King came in second, at 11:40PM. Lance Mackey took third arriving at 1:59AM on the 29th.

Mitch Seavey wins the 2008 Sweepstakes in Nome, Alaska, 11:30PM, March 28, 2008

Mitch Seavey and his wife Janine

Jeff King takes second place in the All Alaska Sweepstakes, arriving 10 minutes behind Mitch Seavey.

3rd place finisher Lance Mackey poses with his lead dogs at the finish.

Friday, March 28, 2008

All Alaska Sweepstakes Finish heats up

Musher Mitch Seavey uses a ski pole to increase his speed along the Sweepstakes trail about 2o miles from the finish line in Nome. Seavey eventually overtook leader Jeff King, near the check point of Safety.

The top three contenders in the Sweepstakes have leapfrogged positions throughout the race, but Mitch Seavey just passed Jeff King near the checkpoint of Safety, just 22 miles from Nome. If there are no kinks in the current pace, Seavey will take first place on Front Street in Nome at approximately midnight Friday (today).

Sweepstakes competition

Musher passes through the Bendeleben mountains, Northbound to Candle, Alaska during the 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes.

Lance Mackey leaves the halfway checkpoint of Candle on the afternoon of day two of the 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes.

Musher Cari Miller passes through Death Valley on day two of the 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes.

I spent some time Thursday in a plane along the race course, which traverses tremendous country between Nome, Alaska on the coast of the Norton Sound, up to the Ghost town of Candle. The race is developing into a battle for first between three mushers; King, Mackey and Seavey. It is estimated that the winning musher will be in Nome either late Friday night, or early Saturday morning to collect the $100,000 purse.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes

Mitch Seavey travels across the wind-blown tundra outside Nome during the 2008 All Alaska Sweepstakes sled dog race.

The All Alaska Sweepstakes, a 408 mile dog sled race, began today in Nome, Alaska. This running of the Sweepstakes celebrates a 100 year anniversary and boasts a $100,000 winner takes-all purse. The race begins in Nome and travels along a historic route to the ghost town of Candle, and back to Nome. It was last run in 1983 and won by Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, Alaska. The excitement of the historic race has brought a field of 16 Alaska mushers to the Western arctic Seward Peninsula. Many are champions from other sled dog races throughout the years, including 4 time Iditarod champion Jeff King, and defending Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion Lance Mackey. The race traverses difficult terrain, requires no mandatory rest stops, and requires check-in only, no check-out, of race check points. These unique elements in the spectrum of dog mushing will make for interesting strategies, and surely, a very competitive race.

While the winner is anyone's best guess, I'm impressed by Lance Mackey's small and lightly packed sled, his strong dogs, and both his and his dog's ability to travel with short rest periods--not to mention the inertia of winning the Quest and Iditarod in the last two months. Trail conditions, weather, dogs, and musher strategies will add their influence. The record finish time was about 74 hours and you can keep up to date on musher status and other general race information through their website:

Lance Makey interviewed by channel 2 news before the race start. When asked when he expected to return, he said with a smile "I plan to be back for breakfast on Saturday morning". Which translates into a new record if Lance accomplishes that.

Temperature at the race start was about zero degrees

Jeff King leaves the start chute on Front Street in Nome.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Aurora borealis photography - No lens filter!

Filters on a lens can cause concentric rings to appear in the center of an image (this is a crop) be sure to remove the filter when photographing the aurora.

When photographing the aurora borealis, or northern lights, it is important to remove the filter from your lens. Why? Look at the photo and you will see a series of concentric rings, which appear at the center of the image. This can be a disheartening discovery after a night of shooting the aurora, since the rings are very difficult to remove, with even the best photoshop geek on the job. What causes the rings? Charles Deehr, a professor emeritus in physics at the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute (the one who is responsible for this aurora forecast site), has been quoted by Dick Hutchinson on his website as saying:
"These are interference fringes due to the parallel faces of the filter and to the narrow spectral emission at 5577 Angstroms in the aurora. That green, atomic oxygen emission line is the strongest emission in the aurora near our film and eye peak sensitivity, so it shows up first when there is any device in the optical path which sorts out the spectral emissions."
Harry Manos, a physics teacher from California who gave a lecture on aurora photography (and consulted Charles Deehr for material review) describes it this way:
"A haze filter in front of the lens acts as a Fabry-Perot interferometer on the 1S auroral green emission line of oxygen, creating green concentric circles"
So what does that mean exactly? This is a good interpretation: just take your filter off!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Photographing Wildlife from a Boat

Black bear fishing for salmon in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, Canon 500mm f4.0L , 1/640 @f5.0, ISO 500

Harbor seal on ice berg in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, Canon 500mm f4.0L with 1.4x converter (700mm), 1/640 @f7.1, ISO 125

The harbor seal and black bear photo were taken from a very slowly moving boat in Prince William Sound, Alaska. A few things to consider if you are planning on photographing from a boat.
  1. First of all, the proper approach to your subject is critical. Presuming that has been achieved, getting a perspective is the next challenge.
  2. Get as low to the water level as possible--presuming your subject is on the water surface like a whale or seal. The draw back of larger boats is that you end up looking down on your subject, and this does not interpret well to a natural looking scene.
  3. Stay as steady as you can. This can be helped by the use of image stabilized lenses, but watch out for the vibrations from the boat motors. If they are significant, don't rest your arm or camera on the boat surface or side rail since this will transfer the vibrations to your camera. Some have used monopods and placing it on your shoe to prevent vibration and give stability, but I have found it restrictive, awkward and not conducive to the opportunistic edge that seems needed when working from a boat.
  4. Telephoto lenses are crucial to bringing in your subject. All wildlife has an approach tolerance in distance. You will be much happier with a lens in the 400-500mm range.
  5. Maximize your exposure to give the a high enough shutter speed to handle any movement.
  6. If your boat or subject is moving (which is generally the case) set your autofocus to continuous mode, or AI Servo in some cameras. Preferably, your focal tracking point can be off-center, but this will depend on the type of camera you shoot. If not you may need to use manual focus to get your subject off center.
  7. If your lighting is consistent switch to Manual metering and set your exposure so it is not thrown off by reflective surfaces on the water.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ruffed grouse

Ruffed grouse in Quaking aspen tree, Fairbanks, Alaska
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4.0L IS with 2x extender (1000mm), 1/400 sec @ f8.0, ISO 640

While working in my office one day I glanced out the window and saw wings fluttering in the surrounding Aspen trees. It turned out to be a Ruffed grouse, feeding in the winter sunlight. Spruce grouse are far more common in the forested hills around Fairbanks, but there is a healthy population of Ruffed grouse as well. I quickly grabbed my camera and slipped out the door quietly and grabbed a few shots. This is a crop from a 1000mm frame.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Canon 1Ds Mark III Custom Functions

In switching from the 1Ds Mark II to the Mark III, one should really read the camera manual. Now how many people actually do this? I glanced at it, but must admit that I feigned an entire read. Until, I ran into a few odd discoveries, which prompted further exploration. Most notably, was the reduced frame rate, about 2 frames a second even in the fast mode. It turns out that having the High ISO digital noise reduction turned on slows down the frame rate due to software processing for noise. With the Mark II, I left it on all the time and it did not seem to make a difference. Make sure to turn it off for maximum speed.

Additionally, with custom functions buried in 4 different categories, it is hard to remember what is where. A helpful feature of the Mark III lets you tag your most often used custom functions and register them to show up under the "My Menu settings". This can provide a much quicker access to custom functions that you change often, like LCD Brightness, Mirror lockup, etc.

Monday, March 17, 2008

2008 Open North American Championship

Musher Egil Ellis wins the ONAC
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm f4.0L, 1/640 @ f16, ISO 400

Musher Buddy Streeper takes second place in the ONAC
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm f4.0L, 1/640 @ f16, ISO 400

Musher Ken Chezik takes third place in the ONAC
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm f4.0L, 1/640 @ f16, ISO 400

Police officer Dan Hoffman stops traffic as mushers cross College road during the ONAC
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24-105mm f4.0L, 1/640 @ f11, ISO 400

Sprint musher and defending champion Egil Ellis won the 2008 Open North American Championship on Sunday March 16, 2008. The three-day race is run every year in March from downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, with heats of 20 miles the first two days, and a grueling 30-mile heat on the final day. Buddy Streeper took second and Ken Chezik took third place.

Friday, March 14, 2008

White Mountains National Recreation Area

Recreational dog mushing along the White Mountains trail system
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24-1-5mm f4.0L IS, 1/640 @f9.0, ISO 200

Part of the one-million-acre White Mountains National Recreation Area.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24-105mm f4.0L IS, 1/80 sec @ f10.0, ISO 125

The White Mountains National Recreation Area is located approximately one hour north of Fairbanks, and offers abundant trails through the boreal forest. Twelve public use log cabins and about 250 miles of trails offer outdoor enthusiasts great options for skiing, dog mushing and other winter recreation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Norton Sound, Seward Peninsula

Shoreline along the Norton Sound, Seward Peninsula, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 16-35mm f2.8L (20mm), 1/4 sec @ f16, ISO 125

Today, and for the next few days, Iditarod mushers will be completing their 1100+ mile race, traveling along the coast of the Norton Sound to the finish line on Front street in Nome. This is a photo of an October sunrise along the shoreline of Norton Sound, about 20 miles from Nome. It is a different scene there right now, white with snow and ice.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Open North American Sled Dog Race

Musher on the final day of the 2007 ONAC, Fairbanks, Alaska
Canon 1ds Mark II, 16-35mm (16mm), 1/800 @ f8.0, ISO 320

The dog mushing season is in full swing as Iditarod 36 moves to a close in the next day or so. In the interior, the Open North American begins on Friday, March 14th. It is said of the ONAC:
"Open North American Championship (ONAC) is the premiere sled dog sprint race in the world, attracting the best sprint mushers from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan. The three-day race is run every year in March from downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, with heats of 20 miles the first two days, and a grueling 30-mile heat on the final day. The ONAC is the oldest continuously run sled dog race of any kind in the world. First run in 1946, the 2008 race will be the 63rd running."

I plan to do some photography and will post images after the race.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

2009 Fairbanks Calendar time

2009 Fairbanks and Interior Alaska Wall Calendar

I've been designing the 2009 Fairbanks Calendar over the past few weeks, and it will go to press soon. This will make year number 6 for the calendar, which has been received with good favor. The cover photo is always a tough decision, and I've settled on a frost covered tree in winter, which captures that beautiful luminance of our chilly but crisp winter days. Your comments on the selection is welcome.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Gray whales gone for the winter

Gray Whale spyhopping, Pacific Ocean, Baja California
Canon 1ds Mark III, 24-105mm f4.0L, 1/640 @ f8.0, ISO 320

The gray whale population that spends its summers in Alaska's Bering sea, heads south for the winter where they raise young in the protected regions of the Pacific Ocean along the Baja peninsula. These "nursing grounds" are famous for very up close and personal encounters with the whales, which seem to show as much interest in humans as we do in their peculiar and magnificent presence. Spyhoping is the term used to describe the behaviour in the above photo, where whales stick their long heads out of the water to catch a glimpse of what's going on. This particular whale, repeated the action a handful of times, just feet from the edge of the boat. There is indeed a keen sense of communication going on in these creatures.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Photoshop: Replace Color

One challenge with indoor photography is shooting under mixed lighting conditions. The camera, whether digital or film, tends to pick up color variations in light sources with a much more dramatic effect than is noticeable with the human eye. If there is just one light source, the photo can be white balanced to correct for any color cast. However, if there are multiple light sources, the photo can only be balanced for one type, and parts of the photo acquire a strong color cast.

In this example, The subjects were front lit with a tungsten balanced strobe, but top lit with very green mercury vapor lamps. Photoshops replace color command under the image/adjustments menu does a fine job at shifting the hue of just one color in a photo.

Note the green cast in the hair on the before photo at left.

You write the caption

Brown bears at play in the Brooks River, Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, 500mm f4.0L IS w/1.4x, 1/250 @ f8.0, ISO 200

The brown bears that inhabit the Brooks river in Katmai National Park share temporary population densities far beyond their preference. They abide together in relative peace due to the extremely abundant food supply of salmon, which draws them in the first place. There is some serious contending for dominance, fishing grounds, and micro territory, but most fighting is only play.

I thought the expression captured in this image was humorous, and worthy of a host of captions to satisfy the unquenchable anthropomorphic twist that we humans bring to the animal kingdom.