Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Summer Solstice and Mt. McKinley alpenglow

Alpenglow on the North and South peaks of Mt. McKinley on summer solstice
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4L IS, 1/125 sec at f/4, ISO 400

I took this photo on summer solstice (June 20, 3:52am) as Mount McKinley's summit was catching the morning alpenglow on the North and South peaks. I was just entering Denali National Park, and this clear view of the mountain turned into billowy clouds by 9:00am the same morning. I was wishing my timing put me deep in the park to make some landscapes of this brilliant morning, but this sequence of events can be elusive; the classic conundrum of having the weather, the light, and your remote location properly synced for landscape photography. I have a few more attempts scheduled for this year, with hopes of some new Mt. McKinley scenics.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fairbanks, Alaska aerial

Aerial of the Chena river and downtown Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24-105 f4L, 1/1000 sec @ f5.6, ISO 400
(With adjustments to the raw file to balance exposing to the right)

(shot with exposing to the right, the RAW file looks washed out but can easily be correct to look like the file above.)

My home town of Fairbanks is uniquely situated in the northern perimeter of the great Tanana Valley Flats. The Alaska range, many miles to the south, is visible across these flats on a clear day. Depending on a variety of factors like, dust, haze, forest fire smoke and other atmospheric phenomenon, the mountains vary in visible clarity. To get in the air spontaneously for photography when the weather is perfect is more challenging than it may appear. It requires me to be in town during a busy summer of travel, the weather needs to be very clear, and I have to find a pilot with an open schedule at the last minute. One June morning the weather was perfect, I was in town, and I was able to schedule a flight for later in the day. But, the clouds started forming as the day progressed—I decided to fly anyway. The conditions were not perfect but good enough to try.

I generally photograph with a style called "exposing to the right" and if you are interested you can read an article about this on Luminous-Landscape. It optimizes for Signal-to-noise ratios. Since exposing to the right shifts the histogram towards the highlights, the RAW file right out of the camera looks washed out, colorless, lacks contrast and seems unusable. However, with the appropriate adjustments to brightness, contrast, etc., redistribution of the levels brings the file back to life. Here is an example of the before and the after of this particular scene. Some independent sky control was done in Photoshop, to better balance the exposure values between the land and the sky. In the next release of Adobe Lightroom 2, sky control can be applied in Lightroom to the RAW file itself. Lightroom 2 was released today.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Luminous rainbow

Rainbow, Denali National Park, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4L IS, 1/320 sec @ f8, ISO 400

The mountain landscape of Denali National Park is conducive to scattered rainstorms during the summer months. This results in many rainbows, but this particular one continued to grow in intensity. It was so bright that it seemed it would explode. I shot this scene with a 500mm telephoto to focus on the band of color hanging over the spurce trees scattered across the tundra. A polarizing filter can be used to increase contrast and saturation in a rainbow, but none was needed or used in this case.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

2008 World Eskimo Indian Olympics Blanket Toss (Nalukataq)

Mens Blanket toss at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, Fairbanks, Alaska
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24-70 2.8L, 1/200 @ 2.8, ISO 1600

The World Eskimo Indian Olympics concluded on Saturday night in Fairbanks. The men's blanket toss finals were judged on height, style and dress. Volunteers from the audience held the blanket made from walrus hides, and hurled the contestants into the air. The annual event will return again to Fairbanks in July of 2009. Below is a quote from WEIO's site on the blanket toss.


Several walrus skins are used for this event. The skin has holes on the edges so that rope can be looped through all the way around and used for handle grips. One person gets in the middle of the skin and stands there while being tossed. With a good coordinated effort on behalf of the pullers, the person being tossed can get as high as thirty feet in the air and lands on his/her feet without falling down. This is quite similar to a trampoline, with the only difference being that people are the springs and they can move to catch an errant jumper.

The Nalukataq is done in the whaling communities in the spring if there has been a successful whaling season. It is been part of the whaling feast activity as long as people can remember.

There are two schools of thought as to why this sport is being done. One is for the simple exhilaration is provides, and the other is for spotting game over the horizon. The judges look at balance, height, movements in the air - sometimes you can see jumpers dancing or running in place - and all around form and grace when determining a winner. Sometimes, flips and somersaults are done to the delight of the pullers and spectators.

Monday, July 21, 2008

2008 World Eskimo Indian Olympics Dancing

Inland Eskimo Dancers, 2008 WEIO, Fairbanks, Alaska
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 300mm f2.8L IS, 1/200 sec @ f2.8, ISO 1000

The Inland Eskimo Dancers from Anuktuvik pass in Alaska's Brooks range danced on Friday night at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. Females dressed in purple, males dressed in blue, drumming and dance in the form of story. Entertaining and delightful to watch. Native dance is interspersed between the athletic events, with various different groups and regions represented each evening.

Friday, July 18, 2008

2008 World Eskimo Indian Olympics

Alaskan High Kick
Elijah Cabinboy, from Nome, Alaska

Elijah Cabinboy from Nome ties the world record for the Alaskan high kick Thursday evening at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics in Fairbanks. After the competition, he tried one more time to break the record and hit the ball, but it was off the record since only his first three qualifying attempts count. A description of this and other events can be found on the WEIO website
"This is a game of balance where the athlete sits on the floor below a target with one hand grasping the opposite foot. With his/her remaining free hand planted on the floor, the athlete springs up and attempts to kick the target with the free foot. After kicking the target, the athlete must show balance upon landing - he/she is at the original position before kicking. Height is the objective.."

Full curl Dall sheep ram

Dall sheep ram on the mountain slopes of Denali National Park, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 75-300mm 5.6 DO IS, (285mm), 1/320 @ f7.1, ISO 200

On a recent trip to Denali National Park, I hiked up a mountain to photograph a band of Dall sheep rams. About half way up, my brother and I were caught in an intense hail storm. We were pelted with hail the size of marbles--and it hurt. After taking shelter along the lee side of a rock outcrop to get out of the driving force of the hail, I glanced across the mountain to see a lone Dall sheep ram doing the same thing. Once on top, the ground was white with piles of hail that looked like moth balls. Once the storm dissipated, the rams gathered back together and one group, seeking to join up with the others, walked right past me (about 10 feet away). This ram sports a full curl, and the astute can age them by counting the growth rings on the horns.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summit Lake, Alaska range

Fishing on Summit lake, Alaska range mountains
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm 5.6L IS, 1/1600 @f8, ISO 100

Alaska's summer nights are unique. The light hangs into the late hours and extends recreation and work opportunities into unreasonable hours. Then we all need the darkness of winter to balance out the over amped summer. I saw these fishermen enjoying an evening of fishing for lake trout on Summit lake in Alaska's interior. The layered mountains of the Alaska range reveal a depth and grandeur hard to match.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Katmai cubs

Brown bear sow and cubs of the year, Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 400mm f5.6L, 1/500 sec @ 5.6, ISO 400

Katmai National Park in southwest Alaska is home to many Brown bears. These bears are larger than the interior grizzly bears mainly due to the protein rich diet of fish, although they are the same species. This sow with three cubs has a challenge ahead of her in feeding and protecting her hungry little cubs. The density of bears in the vicinity of Brooks river make the sow quite wary, and she needs to fish while simultaneously keeping an eye on her little ones. Male bears are known to kill cubs of the year. Long telephoto lenses are essential in photographing bears, and in particular, sows with little cubs. This is a crop from the original frame, which included more environment but I wanted to emphasize the cubs.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Horned Lark mouthfull

Horned Lark, Denali National Park, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4L w/2x converter, 1/200 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400

Horned larks are ground nesting birds that move quickly about the tundra collecting insects for their young. While hopefully waiting for the clouds to clear over Denali, I entertained myself photographing a pair of Horned larks on the tundra. Their comfortable range with me seemed to merit a 1000mm lens (500 and 2x converter). This means that AI servo only works on the center auto focus point, which can be challenging following a fast moving bird with that degree of lens magnification. There were splashes of wildflower color that I tried to capture the bird against, but this was the best I got. In particular, I liked the collection of insects.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mt McKinley (Denali) reflections

Denali, North America's highest peak, about to get swallowed up in clouds for the day.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24-105mm f4.0L IS, 1/15 sec. @ f16, ISO 100

Mount McKinley (or, as the locals call it-Denali) is actually visible far more often than the average person thinks. The catch is, one needs to stay up very late, or rise very early to see it. Clouds tend to build as the sun rises and on a clear early morning, one can expect Denali to look like this, becoming engulfed in clouds by 6:00am often. Therefore, many visitors traveling into the park and arriving around 9:00am, often miss the show. When I woke at 4:00am on this morning, there was not a cloud in the sky, and remarkably, the skies stayed clear for some time, but by 8:51am, the clouds were all but covering the mountain.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Gray wolf eyes

Alpha female gray wolf, Denali National Park Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4.0L IS, 1/640 @ f6.3, ISO 400, hand held

This alpha female wolf in Denali National Park is raising six hungry pups, and frequents the park road for easy travel when hunting for food. On a quite morning before 6am, I was driving along the park road and saw her trotting towards me ahead. As is often the case in situations like this, I did my best to grab the camera and lens, get out of the vehicle and fire a few shots. Fleeting moments! There never seems to be quite enough time. In this case, the image is not razor sharp mainly because I did not have the auto focus on AI Servo, and the wolf kept walking towards so the focus was hair off. But, that 500mm IS lens is amazing, since there was no time at all to set up a tripod and learning to shoot from the hip will net some good shots. She trotted past me and then moved off into the nearby willows to hunt for her young pups.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Bell Heather & Alpine Azalea

Bell Heather and Alpine Azalea, Denali National Park, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100mm f.28 FF Macro, 1/100 sec at f7.1, ISO 400

The occupation of Nature photography provokes an observant eye. The calendar moves more in accord with blooming flowers, bird life, and the other life cycles that mark Alaska's rapid, light filled summer than it does with weekdays. As for wildflowers, there are a few species with pink blossoms that introduce the explosion of color on the tundra. One is Alpine Azalea which blooms from late May to mid June. That is the out of focus background color in this image. Backgrounds are very important especially in photographs that use controlled focus, or strong use of depth of field. This is generally the case in super telephoto and close up photography. This Bell Heather--a small, bell shaped and aromatic flower--is well contrasted by a little splash of color in the background.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bear descent, Denali National Park

On a late evening (10:00pm) while traveling through the shadowed cliffs of Polychrome Pass in Denali National park, I came upon this grizzly bear transecting the steep slopes. After watching it for about 5 minutes and seeing that it wanted to cross the road, I pulled over and opened the sun roof on my car and threw up my camera and telephoto lens. Thanks to the tremendous latitude in the pro digital camera RAW files, one can shoot in low light, at high ISO, and color balance for shady conditions. The bear came upon a steep ledge, just before the road, and it surveyed the scene, turned around, and slide down the slope backwards, just like a yound child going down a staircase. Once secure, it turned around and proceeded on its way