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.