Friday, August 29, 2008

Part #6: Copper River salmon - fish earbones

Erin Nicholsan with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game removes the earbone from a Sockeye salmon caught in the Copper River. The earbones are marked when the fish are fry at the Gulkana hatchery, and can be identified as adults.

This post is part of the photo essay I'm working on about the hatchery enhanced Sockeye salmon of the Copper river.

There is an extensive story to be told of the difficulties in raising Sockeye salmon in a hatchery environment. This is in part due the Sockeye's susceptibility to a virus which can spread quickly and deliver extensive mortality. The Gulkana hatchery has taken measures to deal with this issue, and have had amazing success. In order to judge long term survivorship of hatchery fish, they need to be marked in some fashion. This used to be done with a variety of tags placed on a small percentage of fish. More recently however, a new type of marking is done at hatcheries which effects the earbone of each fish, thereby marking 100% of the fish, and in a sense, branding them. The Gulkana hatchery uses a salt based water solution to mark their fish, which enables the fish that are caught throughout the commercial and personal use fisheries to be identified. In order to do this, the earbone is removed from the fish, dried out, then looked at under an electron microscope (more on that in another post). After I returned from the river with my Salmon, an ADF&G technician removed the earbones from all my fish and sent them off for testing. The percentage of Gulkana hatchery red salmon caught annually varies, and in a later post, I'll address some of those numbers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Part #5: Personal Use Fishery - Copper River Sockeye Salmon

Dipnet fishing in the Copper River Canyon, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm 2.8L, 1/400 sec @ f9.0, ISO 400

This is the fifth part of series I'm documenting on the Copper River red salmon, read the others here.

For many Alaskans, the personal use dipnet fishery of the Copper River is an important event. Each household is allowed to catch 30 salmon per season for their personal consumption. It begins in June and is usually wrapped up by August. For those not familiar with the procedure here is the scoop: A big net on the end of a 12 foot pole is lowered from the shore (some use boats) into the silty river water, preferably in an eddy which the fish favor for swimming up river (I might add that there is no lack of advice out there for proper technique and location. Many have their tried and true "spots" which faithfully deliver year after year). When the wiggle or bump is felt in the net, you haul it out. The fish is then bopped on the head, or live bled in the gills, and put on a stringer. This year my interests were two-fold: One, to catch my fish and two, to document the procedure. Its a challenge to do both and I was certainly focused on getting my fish as a first priority.

I chartered a boat ride that dropped me off down river in the canyon. The weather was fantastic (which is often not the case by the way). Perched on a small island rock adjacent to the canyon wall, I dropped in the net and bingo, had a beautiful shiny salmon in a few minutes. In just a few hours, I had my limit of fish but zero pictures. The disadvantage of my beautiful location was that no other fishermen were in sight to photograph. So, I did what photographers often do when faced with this dilemma: self portrait, self timer, and experiment. I forgot my intervolometer in the car (fancy programmable cable release) so I was left with pushing the shutter button and getting into position in a 10 second time period, and repeating this frequently. I put my camera on a tiny tripod, about 6 inches off the ground and did the best I could with composition. The results were acceptable, although I really wish I could have framed the scene from behind the camera! All in all, it was an exhilarating experience in outrageously beautiful country. I now have a freezer full of red salmon that will last until this time next year, and the process will happen again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dipnetting Sockeye salmon on the Copper river

Sockeye Salmon dipnet harvest on the Copper River.

The "event" of dipnetting red salmon on the Copper river lies somewhere between a ritual, subsistence, and a testosterone surge. I'm among those that look forward to this annual event, both for the wonderful harvest of the silvery fish as well as the intrigue of adventuring along the shores of the mighty Copper river. I just returned with my limit of 15 fish for the year, and I was gifted with some fine weather--to quote on of the ADF&G biologist in Chitina "it was one of the 7 nice days of the summer!" I'll be writing more about this in an upcoming post.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Barley grain, Delta Junction, Alaska

I've been working on an assignment featuring the town of Delta Junction, Alaska. Known for its annual cereal grain barley project initiated years ago, it has had varying degrees of success, and lots of failures. The harvest should begin about September 1st this year, as the grain heads are beginning to golden and ripen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Meares Glacier - Advancing

Meares glacier advancing, Unakwik Inlet, Prince William Sound, Alaska.

In today’s age of a climate sensitive landscape, there are few advancing glaciers. Most are receding quickly. There is at least one in Alaska--that I’m aware of--that is advancing. Meares glacier flows out of the Chugach mountain range in south central Alaska, meeting tidewater in Unakwik Inlet in Northern Prince William Sound. I’ve been there many times over the years and recently took a photo of the glacier encroaching upon some of the trees along the shore. This indicates that at the least, the glacier has not advanced that far in a number of years.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sandhill cranes, Creamer's Field, Fairbanks

Sandhill Cranes take flight on a thunderstorm weather front, Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4L IS, 1/640 sec @ f/5.0, ISO 400

Saturday night in Fairbanks (8PM) a dark and ominous cloud formed in the skies behind Creamer's field. I was watching the Sandhill cranes gathered in groups on the ground feeding and making their distinct calls. As the storm grew closer, the winds picked up and the birds began squawking louder and more frequently and jumping up and down. They began to take flight in small groups, taking advantage of the increasing winds. I was able to grab a few frames of them front lit by the sun juxtaposed against the nearly black clouds in the distance. Soon following the torrents of rain came!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Scott's peak and the Alaska range

Scott's Peak, Alaska Range, Denali National Park
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 70-200 2.8L IS, 1/1000 sec @ f/5.6, 400 ISO

Alaska’s interior, and Fairbanks specifically has seen a lot of rain in recent weeks. A welcomed stretch of clear skies has opened up the last week and I seized a spontaneous opportunity to go flying last Monday. A friend has a small bush plane and we lifted off from Fairbanks around 8:30pm and headed for Mt. McKinley, and it was visible right from the airport runway in Fairbanks. Along the way, we climbed to 13,000 feet where the temperature was 10 degrees. The light cast upon the vast Alaska range grew warmer as the sun began to set, and I grew smaller the more I gazed upon the seemingly endless array of snow covered mountain peaks. The distinct peak in this photo is Scott’s peak, located in the Alaska Range within Denali National Park.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clouds over Denali

Looking west at the summit of Mount McKinley reveals both the north and south peaks. One afternoon, it looked like the sky was clearing a bit so I waited and set up my camera for a time lapse sequence of the dissipating clouds. I used Canon's intervolometer, which is a fancy electronic shutter release that enables diverse time sequencing. The light was somewhat bright in the early evening, but the series reveals how quickly clouds can come and go around the mountain. The whole series was 156 frames over the course of 30 minutes. It's a little choppy since my series ran out while I was shooting another scene with my camera, and I had to start it again.

Time lapse series of clouds over Mt. McKinley

Monday, August 11, 2008

2009 Fairbanks and Interior Alaska Calendar

2009 Fairbanks and Interior Alaska Calendar

Its a little later than expected due to a change in printing services, but the 2009 Fairbanks and Interior Alaska calendar is now available. Some of you have requested to be advised when its in. You can see a full preview of the calendar here

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sea otters and Ice

Sea otters, Prince William Sound, Alaska
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4L IS w/1.4x (700mm), 1/400 sec @ f/5.6, hand held

I just returned from a 5 day trip in Prince William Sound. Typical to that region, I saw lots of rain and clouds. The last day opened up to beautiful blue skies and grand vistas of the Chugach mountains. The beginning of that blue sky is reflected in the water around the sea otters in this picture, adding a vibrant color to the surface water. Sea otters congregate in large numbers in parts of Northern Prince William Sound, and haul out on icebergs, similar to the harbor seals. These two otters exhibit a curiosity as our boat approached them slowly.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Lightroom 2.0: localized corrections

Lightroom 2.0 was released three days ago on July 28. The upgrade is $99, and it has paid for itself already.

There are a number of improvements, but the most important to me is the localized correction feature. These are non-destructive adjustments, meaning they do not modify the original RAW image data, and they add virtually no size to the file. The new tools are more intuitive and faster than using Photoshop for similar results, and now it is unnecessary to make a Tiff file for these adjustments.

Correctly exposed for maximum dynamic range and shadow detail, the untouched RAW image is pretty washed out. Global adjustments to improve the sky would unacceptably darken the foreground.

A brightness adjustment was applied just to the sky and feathered in to the mountains with the new adjustment brush. There is also a graduated filter tool, but in this case the brush proved better to paint around the mountain shapes. This represents just a few minutes of work.