Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Time to move on from the tiny photos displayed here. I have a new blog, with much better presentation.

Stop on by : www.alaskaphotographyblog.com

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Arrigetch Peaks, Brooks range, Gates of the Arctic National Park

Arrigetch Peaks of the Brooks range, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska
Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105mm IS L (35mm) 1/1250 sec @ f 8, ISO 400

I've long wanted to see and photograph the Arrigetch Peaks of the Brooks range, and a recent visit only increased my desire to return for a more thorough session. It's a good 2 hours plus one way trip in a small plane north from Fairbanks, with plenty of weather and terrain to navigate along the way. For those who are not familiar with this wonderful sight, the Arrigetch Peaks are rugged granite spires in the central Brooks Range.

Arrigetch Peaks of the Brooks range, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska
Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105mm IS L (28mm) 1/1250 sec @ f 8, ISO 400

The name means 'fingers of the outstretched hand' in the Inupiat (eskimo) language. I can only imagine that their appearance is under constant change with lighting and season, making them a truly dynamic subject. Hopefully this summer, I can make another attempt, and time it for optimal lighting. Lots of variables need to line up in order for that to happen.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mountain views

Lightplay on a mountain ridge in the Alaska range.
Canon 5 D Mark II, 24-105mm L IS, (102mm) 1/800 sec @ f4.5, ISO 400

I've been doing some aerial photography recently, thanks to a friend and willing pilot, Hugh Rose. Do to low light we elected to not land on a glacier in the Alaska range, even though we were all packed with winter gear, ready to spend the night and do some hopeful aurora borealis photography. It's amazing how much gear one needs just to spend one night in the mountains! So, we did get great vistas on the flight to and from Fairbanks. In particular, Mt. Deborah, Hess and Hayes, are stunning peaks that highlight the Alaska range--the most prominent ones visible from Fairbanks. I included a similar shot that I posted last year, taken in autumn. It shows the contrast of seasons well.

Alaska range mountains
Canon 5 D Mark II, 24-105mm L IS, (85mm) 1/640 sec @ f5.6, ISO 400

Mt. Hayes and the Alaska range mountains
Canon 5 D Mark II, 24-105mm L IS, (100mm) 1/320 sec @ f4.5, ISO 800

Mt. Hayes and the Alaska range mountains in autumn

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The meltdown begins

Stream in the Alaska range mountains
Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105mm f4.0L IS, 1/400 sec @ f13, ISO 200

The heat of the spring sun bears forcefully upon Alaska's winter landscape. Daylight increases at a rate of about 7 minutes per day, and while the snow is thick in many places, it can't resist the marching summer season. On a snow machine trek into the Alaska range a few days ago, the brilliance of a clear day not only revealed opening water in the mountain drainages, but a potent sunburn on the face as well. The grizzly bears that make their winter dens in the mountains are ending their long hibernation in accordance with natures amazing synchronicity.

Alaska range mountain ridges
Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105mm f4.0L IS, 1/640 sec @ f13, ISO 200

We did not see any bears however, save for one set of tracks that went on at length over the mountain slope. They will be waking soon however, slumberous and hungry. Breakup, which is the term used in Alaska for the transition from winter to summer--since the season called spring is ever so short if calculable at all--is a messy time with rapid melting and wetness everywhere. But most people, are anxious for the sun's warmth, and the increased pace of summer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Caribou in the Brooks range mountains

Caribou on the mountain ridges of the Brooks range--all the little brown dots in the foreground, I'm guessing perhaps 1000 in this group.
Click on the image to see it larger.

Thanks to a generous friend, colleague, pilot, Hugh Rose, I spent an afternoon flying over the Brooks range looking at caribou along the mountain ridges. These are reportedly from the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates across the Brooks range and eventually reaches the calving grounds of Alaska's arctic north slope. Aggregations of 100 to 1000 animals could be seen feeding on the windswept mountain ridges where I presume access to food was a bit easier than the heavy snow-laden lowlands. The Brooks range is always an experience of immense wilderness. The mountains go on and on, with scarcely a node of human habitation. Conditions were far from optimal from almost every perspective but I grabbed a few photos that show how mobile and hardy this animal is, able to trek the high and low country and travel for miles. The vista of a large group of caribou migrating in a long line eluded us, although we saw many tracks revealing amazing photo ops if the timing was right.

The never ending mountain ridges of the Brooks range mountains.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Trucking on the Haul road

Truckers travel the Haul road north of the Brooks range, arctic, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4L IS, 1/500 sec @ f8, ISO 400

The James Dalton Highway was built as an access road to the Arctic ocean during the days of the of the Trans Alaska Pipeline construction. It still serves the main purpose of supplying the oil fields of the arctic north slope coast. Its a rugged road, and passes through some formidable country, particularly in winter. I often hear weather alerts of road closures due to wind and snow, and flash floods in the summer months. Before travel, checking current road conditions is essential.

The truckers that navigate this route routinely (500 miles between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay) do so in all types of weather. There is often a dramatic scene of a trucker cruising the road, which helps depict the emptiness and ruggedness of this region. The highway traverses the Brooks range via Atigun pass, the highest road pass in Alaska.

Nearly every trip north for me results in a cracked windshield, and my last trip was no exception. Heavy snow and high winds can quickly obscure and diminish the road to one lane, or simply impassable. Snow drifts, once plowed, can rebuild in a matter of minutes. This was the case recently but I could find no place to pull over to position myself for good photography, and it was too dangerous, with limited visibility to just stop in the road. So, you don't see any of those cool-could-have-been-photos. Plus, it was minus 20 degrees and ripping wind.

Oddly, ice is purposely put on the road during the winter to stabilize surface material, arctic, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm f2.8L , 1/320 sec @ f18, ISO 200

Road markers help distinguish the shoulder during snowy conditions, arctic north slope, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400 (220mm) mm f5.6L , 1/500 sec @ f18, ISO 400

Caribou trek across the tundra as a trucker passes through Atigun canyon, arctic, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm f5.6L (130mm) , 1/400 sec @ f7.1, ISO 200

Trucker climbs the road through Atigun Pass of the Brooks range, arctic, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm f5.6L , 1/640 sec @ f10, ISO 200

Heavy winds create drifts in seconds on the Dalton Highway, arctic, Alaska.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm f5.6L , 1/640 sec @f9, ISO 200

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Weathering the weather

Bull Muskox in blowing snow
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4.0L IS, 1/500 sec @ f7.1, ISO 400

I just returned from a week of photography in Alaska's arctic. Surprisingly, late March and April still deliver significant sub zero temperatures in the far north, even as the sunlight rushes back at a rapid pace. I'm finding, as time goes by, that waiting out long periods of weather becomes increasingly more difficult. Mainly due to the boredom of waiting for light, which can be considerable in length of hours and days. This is when Podcasts on the IPhone become real valuable--no radio in that country.

I'm usually dressed in many layers, capped off with a big down parka and fur hat. On one excursion in very strong winds, I was hot from trudging around on snowshoes and pulled off my parka hood and hat for a second. That resulted in a light frost bite to my left ear. It only takes seconds in those conditions.

Below are a few photos from the venture. In 6 days, I took less than 1000 pictures, pretty slim shooting. But, I captured a few keepers, and actually photographed the aurora borealis, which has been an elusive subject this winter due to the absence of solar storms. This was also my first chance to test out Canon's new 24mm 1.4L II, which in quick summary, seems immensely improved over the previous version for sharpness. I'll explore that in a later post.

Crescent moon over the Brooks range
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4.0L IS, 1/10 sec @ f4.0, ISO 800

Boreal Chickadee
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4.0L IS, with 1.4x, 1/1250 sec @ f6.3, ISO 400

Male Pine Grosbeak
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f4.0L IS, with 1.4x, 1/250 sec @ f6.3, ISO 400

Aurora borealis and star trails over the Brooks range mountains.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24mm f1.4L II, 15 min @ f8, ISO 800

Aurora borealis over the Brooks range mountains.
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 24mm f1.4L II, 20 sec @ f1.4, ISO 1000

Semi tractor travels the Haul road in high winds and blowing snow
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm f5.6L, 1/640 @ f9, ISO 250

Wind blown snow and spruce trees
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm f2.8L, 1/800 @ f11, ISO 400

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Festival of Native Arts, Fairbanks

Yup'ik Miracle Drummers and Dancers
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 300mm f2.8L IS, 1/250 sec @ f2.8, ISO 1250

The Yup'ik Miracle Drummers and Dancers perform at the Festival of Native Arts in Fairbanks, Alaska. The group are tradition bearers from the Yup'ik culture and have been performing together since 1994, promoting drug and alcohol free communities.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Festival of Native Arts, Fairbanks

Canon 1Ds Mark III, 70-200mm f2.8L, 1/160 sec @f2.8, ISO 1250 w/off camera flash
Inu-Yupiaq dancers at the 2009 Festival of Native Arts, Fairbanks, Alaska

The annual festival of native arts, which celebrates native culture, art and dance began last night in Fairbanks, and runs through Saturday evening. Each year, there is a representation of native groups from around the state that dance and sell artwork during the three day event. I'm partial to the Inupiaq and Yupik dancers, largely because of their facial interaction with the audience, their open body posture, and use of hand gestures. Their dances are story telling demonstrations with the body. The Inu-Yupiaq dance group is a blend of the Inupiaq and Yupik native dances. Photographing this event can be challenging because of the low light. I used an off camera fill flash triggered by an on camera signal, which let me add some light.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Website revisions

After lots of tweaking and coding, a number of revisions to my website are now live. It's a never-ending process, and these tweaks are largely visual. A new home page now is more photo-heavy, with a rotating image environment for those that want to linger and watch. Next will be some revisions of the galleries, with new slide shows. That will have to wait for a bit however. You can check out the changes at www.alaskaphotographics.com

Monday, March 16, 2009

2009 Limited North American sled dog race

Dogs race along the track at the Limited North American sprint dog race, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Canon 1D Mark III, 500mm f4L IS, 1/800 sec @ f10, ISO 400

Sprint dog racing is in full swing in Fairbanks this time of year, even as the long distance mushers work their way towards Nome on the Iditarod. The Limited North American took place last weekend, with four, six and eight dog classes. These teams really move fast and it is no small challenge to attempt tight compositions while they speed by. Auto focus tracking tracking and a high burst rate are essential, and even then, there are many frames to throw away. I shot a few thousand pictures, mostly with the Canon 1D due to its 10fps speed. Generally, I selected 400 ISO and shot between 500-1000 shutter speeds, giving me an f-stop from f11-f13 or so. It was a sunny event, and a chilly one too. I'll probably throw away 90% of the photos, but captured a few good ones.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Winter shadows

Mid day shadows across birch trees, Fairbanks, Alaska
Canon 1Ds Mark III, 400mm f5.6L, 1/15 sec @ f32, 100 ISO

Fresh snow has cleansed the ground of the boreal forest surrounding my house, and the stark mid day shadows cast by the strengthening sun create a pattern of contrast. For some altitude, I took this frame from the deck of my house, using a 400mm lens. The long focal length allowed the restriction of unwanted stuff in the frame.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

2009 Mulit-Block Ice Art Winner

I've been photographing the World Ice Sculpting Championships in Fairbanks for 15 years. Throughout this time, many amazing sculptures have been created by artists from all over the world. One in particular stands out to me, and the numerous fist place medals to his name attest to his talents. Fairbanks sculptor Vladimir Zhikhartsev, originally from Russia, now living in the US, has quite a skill for working with ice. From a photographer's perspective, his work is always interesting, not just compositionally, but because he has perfected the use of texture on the ice, and this is critical when it comes time to lighting the sculpture. Below are a number of frames from this year's piece titled "Pandoras Box". "1st place in the abstract category of the 2009 World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska. Sculpted by Vladimir Zhikhartsev, Vitaly Lednev, Aaron Costic, Joshua Kang.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

More Ice Sculptor portraits

The Multi-block ice sculpting event is in full swing, and will end on Friday, March, 6. During a few visits, I've attempted to capture some portraits of the sculptors at work. While it is not challenging to grab a few token shots, it is difficult to create light, spontaneously, as the sculptors are working.

Medium size softbox set up to light the scene, triggered by Canon's infrared signal

The additional light allows a more balanced look between the foreground subject and the bright sky, without looking like a harshly lit, on camera flash.

Without flash

With off camera flash and Soft box

The infrared, remote flash system makes the use of off-camera flash possible, but still I encountered many mis-firings due to orientation and line of sight blockage between master on-camera flash and off-camera slave. However, until that wireless flash system shows up, this will have to do. I use one 580EX flash on my camera, which fires a blast of light which triggers the other off camera flash. This is all done with ETTL metering, and enables me to move around quickly and change positions/distances without worrying about the exposure. A very critical step however is using the FEL (Flash Exposure Lock) button on the Canon 1Ds Mark III, which associates the flash light output with the camera's meter, providing an exposure based on a tonal value dtermined by you-preferably a medium toned subject in the scene (for example, in the case above, it might be the face of the sculptor instead of the bright ice itself).

These frames show the benefit of created light, which helps considerably when dealing with scenes of high dynamic range often encountered at this event.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

2009 Single Block Ice Art

Single block ice sculptures at the World Ice Art Championships, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Single block ice sculptures at the World Ice Art Championships, Fairbanks, Alaska.

These are comparison shots of the same ice sculpture. The first frame shows the work in progress and the second frame shows the detail enhanced when lit at night with colored lights. The multi-block competition, which will conclude on Friday, March 6th, will reveal some spectacular, large sculptures this year. I'll post some of those upon completion.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

2009 Ice Art

Mongolian sculptors Rashaanjav Tuvshintur and Tserendash Batmunkh created an abstract single block sculpture titled "Evolution" for the 2009 World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska. With the single block competition complete, the Multi-block competition begins March 1 and concludes on March 6, 2009. Four person teams will carve and sculpt massive ice sculptures to be judged at the end of the week.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Off Camera ETTL flash

I left the world of direct, on-camera flash some years ago, and its a needed step to take for creative and interesting lighting of subjects. In the past, I've used Canon's ST-E2 Infrared Transmitter (Or a Canon 580 serves the same function when set as master), which would trigger off camera flashes through a infrared signal. While this has proved wonderful in many cases, it is also frustrating, and I've long desired a wireless trigger instead of Infrared. Infrared requires line of site and an open view between the flash receiver port and the on camera transmitter. Misfiring is common and frustrating when this pathways is broken, which is easily done when working with wide angle lenses close to your subject, flipping the camera to vertical, or quickly altering the orientation of your off camera flash. Soon to come however is the Pocket Wizards new transmitter and receiver (MiniTT1 transmitter and FlexTT5 transceiver) which allows for wireless firing of ETTL flashes! You can read about it on RobGalbraith.com Due to ship in March, I'll be happy to have more reliability, flexibilty, and quicker working times using this system.

Below is a sample of images taken recently at the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks. I used a Canon 580 flash behind a soft box, triggered via infrared signal from the Canon 1Ds Mark III. The side-lighting offers a pleasant attention drawing focus and quality of light on the face of the sculptor while keeping the overall exposure low enough to still provide detail in the ice.

No flash on subject

Infrared-triggered off camera flash as sidelighting source

Note location of soft box on the right

Friday, February 20, 2009

Canon 5D Mark II videos

Here are some links to a few experimental videos taken in the tropics. They are not professional in any manner, but reveal the potential for and fun with working with this camera. A tripod is essential, or at the minimum an IS lens with very good stability. While the audio is not suitable for production quality, it is still remarkable. The videos have been resized to 900px wide. All were taken with the Canon 5D Mark II, 16-35mm 2.8L II, and for the underwater frames I used the Ewa Marine Housing U-BXP 100.

Leaf-cutter Ants
Playing in the Ocean
Underwater fish 1
Underwater fish 2

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mexico and Belize: A tropical reprieve

I know this is a blog about Alaska Photography, but I returned from a trip to Belize and Mexico and thought it worthy of display. I scaled back on camera gear since it was not really a work trip, but I did experiment with the Canon 5d Mark II with an underwater housing. Specifically, the underwater video was fun, although a little cumbersome to use with the Ewa-Marine Plastic housing. There is a lot of drag on the large plastic housing when swimming, which creates additional movement, particularly when the camera is held at arms length. An IS lens would be great for this situation, but I was using the 16-35 @ 16mm, which is a great lens, but not IS. Some neutral buoyancy weights would have been helpful, and viewing the back of the camera through the housing is difficult. But, I was playing around more than attempting anything serious, plus I had a 10 year old to keep tabs on in the water as well. Here are a few pics from the exotic landscape. I'll work on getting a video posted.

Fica trees in the Jaguar Preserve, Belize

Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Belize

Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Belize

Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Belize

Tulum, Mexico

Caracol Mayan ruins, Cayo, Belize