Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photo Shoot

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Three women hikers taking photos of Portage Glacier with iPhone smartphones

Three women hikers photographing Portage Glacier with smart phones

We just produced and completed one of the biggest stock projects in a long time. Truthfully, the pressure of stock productions can be greater than some of the commercial assignments we’ve done primarily because we are financing EVERYTHING. Spending thousands on a stock production can seem like a huge risk and a crazy way to generate income but when I think about it we are not doing anything different than, say, Toyota. Actually, they spend millions researching and producing vehicles with hopes they will sell enough to keep them sustainable. We take the same approach with the help of some very smart and talented people on our team. It really is a team effort and the quality of the people you work with (in addition to my own creative ability) largely determines the quality of the imagery.

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Young woman motorist taking in the view along Turnagain Pass

Young woman motorist taking in the view at Turnagain Pass

When we lived in Anchorage, by the time March came along we were like most residents – sick of winter. But March is a great winter month in Southcentral Alaska. Usually there is still plenty of snow, the days are longer, and afternoons can be delightful – all with the great scenery and backdrops right off the roadside. The snow amount was unusually low when we arrived but we luckily got a significant snowfall just before we started our 11 day straight photo shoot marathon. All in all we shot over 20,000 frames and worked with 20 models. We did everything from roadside sightseeing and road tripping to fitness and backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. We had a variety of weather from soft warm snow to beautiful soft bright light and some crisp clear mornings. We were blessed to catch a couple of signature long lasting Alaska sunsets.

The project was exhausting but a blast and I’m optimistic about the sales potential. Here are a few samples.

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Snowshoer on Portage Lake

Snowshoer at sunset on Portage Lake

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - female hiker enjoying sunset along Turnagain Arm

Winter hiker at sunset – Turnagain Arm

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - snowshoer in snowfall at Turnagain Pass

Snowshoer in snowfall – Turnagain Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Friends snowshoeing at Turnagain Pass

Friends snowshoeing at Turnagain Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - low level view of road race

Low level view of racers on plowed road – Anchorage

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Father and sons hike across Portage Lake

Father and sons strike out across Portage Lake for winter hike

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - man taking sunset pictures with iPad tablet

Photographing a Turnagain Arm sunset with a tablet

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - young adults on scenic road trip

Young adults on ski/road trip admiring mountain views along the Seward Highway

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Family cross country skiing at Hatcher Pass

Family with adult daughter cross country skiing at Hatcher Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Guys enjoying a beer after cross country skiing at Hatcher Pass

Cross country skiers enjoying a beer at sunset at Hatcher Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Ski technician with iPad

Ski technician with iPad in ski shop in Girdwood

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - Young couple climbing with backcountry skis at Hatcher Pass

Young couple climbing with backcountry skis at Hatcher Pass

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos - women running along Coastal Trail

Young adult women running partners along the Coastal Trail – Anchorage

New Mexico Photographers Alaska Winter Lifestyle Photos -  trail runners selfie with Anchorage background

Runners along the Coastal Trail doing a selfie with an Anchorage backdrop

A Fitness Shoot I Just Had To Take It Outside

I don’t do much indoor work.  But I do like to shake it up once in a while, come out of my comfort zone, and photograph something different.   As with any shoot I do, I like to use people who are the “real deal.”  So I asked our awesome senior fitness trainer, Tristin, who we know from the Northside Health and Fitness in Taos  if we could do a shoot in her studio with one of her clients.  Her client, Teresa, is also the real deal who works at keeping herself fit.

Personal trainer with client in home studio, Taos New Mexico doing Basu shuffle sqats.

Personal trainer with client in home studio – Taos, New Mexico – doing Bosu shuffle squats.

Well wouldn’t you know it.  The day the shoot was scheduled it snowed.  And the snow stuck to the trees and sagebrush.  This is an uncommon event in Taos because typically the snow is light and dry and most snowstorms come with wind.  This snow was wet, sticky and windless which made for a beautiful wintery landscape.  After a couple of hours of studio work, I just couldn’t take it anymore!  It didn’t take much to convince Tristin and Teresa to do a few rounds outside, doing walking lunges and power walking in the snowy landscape.

Personal Trainer and client doing walking lunges with weights in Taos, New Mexico

Personal Trainer and client doing walking lunges with weights in Taos, New Mexico

For the indoor work, the lighting was ganged speedlights through an umbrella and one speedlight for fill.  The trick was to keep the lights from reflecting in the glass.  Outside, because of the overcast skies and white landscape, it was just point and shoot baby!  Can’t get much easier or more flattering for my seasoned fitness models.  You know my motto:  Shoot what’s happening.  We can shoot indoors almost anytime but this kind of landscape, especially this early in the season, is rare.  Always wish I could have shot longer.

Personal Trainer and client power walking with weights, Taos New Mexico

Personal Trainer and client power walking with weights – Taos,  New Mexico

Sunrise Photography in the Zion Backcountry

hiking in Zion National Park, Utah

Hiker walks up a slickrock pool as first light hits cliffs above, Zion National Park, Utah

The first week of November is usually my favorite week to be in Zion Canyon in Zion National Park for the peak of fall colors.  There are many other photographers who like this week as well.  I saw more tripods in Zion last week than ever before!  Trouble is, few (to my advantage) venture very far from the road.   On our way up to the east end above the tunnel, we made a quick pit stop at the Human History Museum (the old visitor center.)  Already there were some 20 vehicles parked and 30 shooters lined up to catch first light on the West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin.  This is probably the most popular sunrise spot in the park.  While you can get some very good shots from here and other roadside pullouts, Zion offers equally as outstanding off road and off trail photo ops at sunrise and sunset.   All ya gotta do is get up early and hoof it a little bit with your headlamp.

This year the colors were well past their peak during this time.  Time to adjust your thinking and “shoot what is happening.”  Recent rains and an approaching cold front told me to get up early and catch a colorful sunrise and reflections in slickrock pools.  We scouted one of our  “go to” canyons on the eastern end of the park the day before.   Sure enough, plenty of water in the pools – except this morning they were frozen!   OK, I had to break up the ice a bit with my tripod before I managed to catch Lauri hiking as first light hit the cliffs on the north side of the park road.  A little pop with an off-camera speedlight makes the shot.  In ten minutes it was over.  Light was ho-hum the rest of the day.

fall colors in Zion National Park

The Virgin River and The Watchman in afternoon light with waning fall colors, Zion National Park, Utah.

New Work – On Assignment In Talkeetna, Alaska

TALKEETNA, ALASKA  was one of three places I was sent to on assignment to promote Alaska as a vacation destination.   Talkeetna, with a laid back funky vibe seemingly lost in time, has an eclectic mix of free spirits, rugged individualists, hard-core climbers and river junkies, and in summer, bus loads of cruise ship tourists.  It operates at warp speed for three months and then in near hibernation the rest of the year.   Lying at the end of a 14 mile spur road off the Parks Highway along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna is the hub for the last flag stop train in the U.S.  The sweeping panoramic views of the perpetually snow covered Alaska Range, particularly Mt. McKinley (Denali), dominates the skyline.

strolling in downtown Talkeetna, Alaska near the famous Roadhouse Inn.

Strolling in downtown Talkeetna, Alaska near the famous Roadhouse Inn.

THE PERCEPTION.  Here’s the thing.  The general public always see Lauri and I working with people in beautiful locations.  This gives the impression that our job as a photographer/assistant-producer team is a “vacation.”   Of course I tell them that is what I WISHED we did all the time.

THE REALITY.  The actual location shooting is about 23.3% of the effort involved to make the shoot a success.   So this is sort of “a day in the life of a photographer” blog.  Not complaining at all.  These shoots are exhausting but very rewarding.  Here’s why.

Chillin with the locals in Talkeetna at Coffee a la  Mar.

Chilling with the locals in Talkeetna at Coffee a la Mar.

IT’S THE PEOPLE.  We knew casting, like on any shoot, was paramount.   It took 3 weeks of emails, phone calls, phone tag, and coffee shop interviews to get 8 people with busy summer Alaskan lives and jobs to go to Talkeetna, 3 hours away from Anchorage (with some road construction) to shoot at insane hours when “the Mountain” (what Alaskans call Mt. McKinley or Denali) was out.  Then there was scouting and securing permissions and property releases for several locations.   Last but not least, I arranged a flight see and glacier landing but it was on a space available and ONLY if the mountain was out.

Hula hoopin on a scorching hot day along the Susitna River below Denali and the Alaska Range

Hula hooping on a scorching hot day along the Susitna River below Denali and the Alaska Range

THE MOUNTAIN HAS TO BE OUT!   No mountain, no shoot.  End of story!  Client wants the million-dollar view.  Best light is in the morning.  Lucky me, I needed two mornings with The Mountain out!   Denali is generally only visible 4-5 days on average in July.  Got lucky this summer with a great stretch of warm, clear weather.  It helps being a meteorologist, but, after committing to  multiple people and several grand in production expenses, you bet I was shitting bricks up until the start of the shoot on both days!

Mt McKinley (Denali) view from the Parks Highway near Talkeetna, Alaska

Mt McKinley (Denali) view from the Parks Highway near Talkeetna, Alaska

SLEEP IS OVERRATED.  At 62 north in July, the days are long and the nights, when you are supposed to sleep, almost non-existent.  The night before the first shoot day, Lauri and I are standing at river’s edge catching up with an old friend and Talkeetna transplant, watching the sunset over the Alaska Range at 11:50.  Tomorrow starts in 10 minutes.  I think I’m ready.

Lauri and Rich Crain on a pleasant sunset at 11:50pm along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna, Alaska

Lauri and Rich Crain on a pleasant sunset at 11:50pm along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna, Alaska

HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN.   Don’t worry.  Not gonna do a play by play of two days of shooting.  Day 1:  Mountain is clear at 6AM.  All 4 talent shows up including one of my favorites, Heidi.   The day was long as usual but went off mostly without a hitch.  We had the usual problems like dealing with hard clear day light and harsh shadows, crowds and surprisingly, the heat!  At 4PM it was near 86 and we just had to siesta.  This is a rare occurrence in Alaska.  Sunny days don’t always mean the best light.  But the Mountain was out.  I was happy.  The client will be happy too.

Breakfast with a view!  At the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge with views of the Alaska Range including Denali, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker.

Breakfast with a view! At the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge with views of the Alaska Range including Denali, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker.

 

Talkeetna, Alaska, where the road ends and life begins

Talkeetna, Alaska, where the road ends and life begins

But I gotta tell you about our super talent Melody on day 2.  What a pro!  Day started a little rough.  First, there was the message at 4AM saying that 2 of her family members couldn’t make it at the last minute and that she would be late.  Shit!  The sun waits for nobody!  We have a one hour drive to the trailhead, a two hour one-way hike and 1500 foot climb to get to where I wanted to shoot hikers with Denali in the background.  Working with Melody and her son Adam for the first time we pushed hard on the hike to get the shots before the light completely tanked and cumulus clouds blocked the Mountain.  Needed to be at the flight service for the last glacier landing of the day.   Had to race back down the trail and boogie back to town.  There was only room for two which meant only Melody and I could go.   Lauri had to sit this out.  The pilot basically said I had 15 minutes on the glacier.  That’s it!   No problem,  all I need is 10.   OK Melody, I know you’ve already had a 12 hour day with little sleep and got sick twice but you have to be “on” and pull off being enthralled with Alaska’s grandeur in 15 minutes.  It is times like this where a real pro comes through and she did.  I just had to make sure I didn’t screw it up technically.  Got back to Talkeetna around 7:30 and did a couple more hours of shooting around town.

Hiking in Denali State Park with views of Chulitna River and the south side of Denali

Hiking in Denali State Park with views of Chulitna River and the south side of Denali

 

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Walking around the snow in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Walking around the snow in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

BONUS DAY.  Late in the evening when saying goodbye to Melody, we met Warren Redfearn, the conductor on the Hurricane Gulch train.  (www.facebook.com/hurricaneturn)  He invited us on board the next day which turned out to be another clear day with sweeping views of Denali and the Susitna River.   Since we were on assignment, Warren stopped the train for us to get out and get a few choice shots for our client.   Riding Warren’s  flag stop train to Hurricane Gulch really gave me the sense of Alaska really being the last frontier.  Everyone should ride this train at some point!

Alaska Railroad, Hurricane Gulch Train along the Susitna River with fireweed and views of Denali

Alaska Railroad’s Hurricane Gulch Train along the Susitna River with fireweed and views of Denali

Conductor Warren Redfearn of the Alaska Railroad on the Hurricane Gulch Train, the last flag stop train in America that personifies life on the last frontier.  You should ride Warren's train if you visit Alaska.

Conductor Warren Redfearn of the Alaska Railroad on the Hurricane Gulch Train, the last flag stop train in America that personifies life on the last frontier. You should ride Warren’s train if you visit Alaska.

IT AIN’T OVER YET.  With three exhausting days I now had 3500 images to edit.  For every 1000 image day in the field creates at least 1 day of post production work to get presentation-ready images to the client.  Talkeetna alone meant I had at least 3 days of post production work.  Not much of a vacation.  No worries.  It’s all part of the process.  As I edit, I keep my new bumper sticker nearby which reads:  “Talkeetna, Alaska Where the Road Ends and Life Begins.”

Young grizzly walks the Denali National Park road in early morning near Reflection Pond.

Young grizzly walks the Denali National Park road in early morning near Reflection Pond.

New Work: On Vacation Hiking in the Dolomites of Italy

hiker on Alta Via 1, Dolomites

Hiker along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

This is brand new personal work from our 11-day hike in the Dolomites of Italy. This trip was the closest I’ve ever come to having a real vacation since becoming a full time pro in 1992. Taking a break from the weight and effort of backpacking, we hiked from inn to inn or hut to hut with meals, beer and wine, warm bed and usually a hot shower. That is what made it more of a holiday than a “shoot.”

citta_di_fiume_rifugio, Dolomites

Lauri relaxing in the morning sun at Rifugio Cita di Fiume, along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

hiker on Tre Cime di Lavaredo circuit, Dolomites

Lauri hiking from Rifugio Pian di Cengia below Cima Tre Scarperi in the Tre Cime area

For a photographer to truly be on holiday would mean no camera, right? Going to the Dolomites without a camera? Yeah right. I admit it, I’m as bad as the person who has to bring their work laptop with them on “vacation.” I’m cursed as a photographer and perfectionist. It’s unthinkable to go to a place like the Dolomites, holiday or not, without a tripod and a 70-200 lens  (my workhorse mountain landscape lens). The rest of the gear included a 5D-3, 17-40 lens, 600RT and a few accessories. All of this I carried in my pack every inch of the trail.

 cascading stream, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

cascading stream, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

My pack weighed in at 30lbs in which half this weight was photo gear. This was lighter than my standard week-long wilderness backpack but much heavier than most of the packs of other trekkers. I forgot that without the time needed to set up and break down camp and cooking meant longer hiking days when doing inn to inn style trekking. I (and Lauri too) felt the burden of our packs on some of the longer hikes with long and steep climbs.

Lauri greeting the locals at Ucia de Gran Fanes Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

Lauri greeting the locals at Ucia de Gran Fanes Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

hiker at Sennes Hut along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Checking in to the Senes Hut, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy. This is a private hut instead of an Italian Alpine Club hut. We had a private room here but with typical communal bathrooms or “water closets” All of our rooms were small but cozy and warm with a nice down comforter. Pretty posh after pounding the trail all day.

lunch at a rifugio in the Dolomites

Stopping for lunch of fresh hand made spinach ravioli and local bottled water at Rifugio Scotoni along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

 

We basically did the Alta Via 1 to Passo Duran and the Tre Cime-Lavaredo circuit. I won’t go into day to day detail of our route since this information is widely available on the web. The Tre Cime is the iconic image of the Dolomites, and every photographer and their brother shoots there. It is similar in popularity to North American photo icons like Delicate Arch, the Tetons from Oxbow Bend, and the Maroon Bells.

The Tre Cime/Drei Zinnen formation at sunset, Dolomites, Italyy

The Tre Cime/Drei Zinnen formation at sunset, Dolomites, Italy

Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomites, Italy

sunset from Rifugio Locatelli, Tre Cime area, Dolomites, Italy

The photo potential in the Tre Cime di Lavaredo is simply stunning but it was far more crowded than I expected. Next time I’ll skip the Locatelli Hut as that was the most run down, most crowded and noisiest hut we had on our trip.  I’ll hike the extra hour to the smaller and quainter Cengia Hut.  I thought the other peaks around the area were more visually interesting than the Tre Cime. We planned two days to capture some of the landscapes but unfortunately it was windy and very unseasonably cold while there.

We woke up to 4 inches of new snow the morning we hiked out of Fanes hut to Lagazoui. We were prepared for it and had no problem keeping comfy in the winter like weather that dominated our trip. It started out windy, overcast and cold but luckily the wind calmed down and the sun came mid morning where we stopped for an hour and did some nice winterish hiking and landscape photography. This was the second day we hiked nearly all day with snow on the ground.

hiker in autumn snow, Dolomites, Italy

Hiking in fresh snow along Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

hiker in autumn snow, Dolomites, Italy

Hiking in fresh snow along Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

Along the Alta Via 1 my favorite section and day hike was from Passo Giau to the Cita di Fiume Hut. This section was dominated by verdant green rolling alpine meadows surrounded by classic Dolomite big limestone cliffs and peaks. This was the day the snow melted and it finally started to warm up to very pleasant mid September conditions.

hiker along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Hiker along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

The final descent to the Cita di Fiume hut with a commanding view of the Pelmo in evening light was almost storybook like.

hiker above Rifugio Cita di Fiume, Dolomites, Italy

Lauri on final descent Rifugio Cita di Fiume, below the Pelmo along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Our one and only decent mountain sunrise with glowing orange Dolomite peaks was here at Cita di Fiume. Like every other morning, I was up at 6AM to get ready for possible morning light. Doesn’t everyone on holiday do that?

sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

Sunrise on Monte Civetta from Rifugio Cita di Fiume, along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

hikers along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Dutch hikers Dolf and Dianne, just 2 of the many nice and interesting European hikers we met along the way. Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

dog at Rifugio Stulanza, Dolomites

Sioux, the golden retriever at Rifugio Staulanza, Dolomites, along Alta Via 1

hikers at a rifugio, Dolomites

Self Portrait of Lauri and I at Rifugio Staulanza, our last night in the Dolomites

 

hiker on Alta Via 1, Dolomites

Lauri along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

 

 

 

 

Assignment Shoot Marathon

young-adults-adventure-boat-prince-william-sound-alaska

End of day ride back to Whittier, Alaska after a full day of adventure in Prince William Sound

Three days after arriving in Alaska a shoot we’d been planning for weeks luckily fell into place.  Talent, available boat, and weather all aligned in our favor.  Operating on the typical Alaska summer sleep deprivation, we shot 3,600 frames in 30 hours at 3 locations with 8 talent.  Great shoots!  Looking forward to more shoots like that.

family-jump-on-snow-alyeska-resort-alaska1

Family jumping onto lingering summer snow on top of Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, Alaska

Our 12-hour day in Prince William Sound with Captain Mike of Lazy Otter Charters had to be one of the best days ever in Prince William Sound.  We had three fine folks for talent for a variety of adventure and tourism themes to create.

 

wo-couples-sea-kayaking-glacier-prince-william-sound-alaska

Kayaking in front of Coxe Glacier in Harriman fjord, Prince William Sound, Alaska

Keeping mental focus.  I am very fortunate to have a client that gives me a lot of creative freedom.  Investing the money and time I did without a shot list seems risky or foolish but it works.  The challenge was to have fresh ideas and sharp focus and keep the talent motivated all day.  Here is how I stack the odds in my favor.

women-icebergs-glacier-alaska

Checking out glacial ice and icebergs at low tide on the beach at Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound, Alaska

First, casting dependable and self-motivated talent, most of whom I’ve worked with before was a huge step toward a successful shoot.  Knowing the area and light was also a key component.  The only uncertainty is, as always, dealing with weather conditions that are not favorable to what the client wants.  We had a bit of flat light and ominous clouds in late morning.  Remaining flexible I was able to adjust my shoot ideas to work around this.  The rest of the day was just grand.

man-jumping-beach-glacier-alaska

Hiker hitting the beach in Harriman Fjord in Prince William Sound with Lazy Otter Charters from Whittier

Instead of a shoot list, I come up with a “concept” list short enough to keep in my head.  This allows me to take in the environment, the light and mood of the talent to generate ideas on the fly that convey the client’s visual message.  I also go after the ideas they want shot the most first while we are all fresh.  This approach along with good planning resulted in a successful but exhausting shoot.

woman-portage-glacier-alaska

Sunrise at Portage Lake, Alaska enroute to Whittier

women-sunbathing-grass-prince-william-sound-alaska

A rare sight: sunbathing in Harriman Fjord in Prince William Sound, Alaska

 

 

New Work: Grand Canyon National Park Backpacking Adventure

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Standing beneath the Royal Arch, a view seen by few visitors.

In addition to showing new adventure images, I address degree of difficulty and creativity as well as sacrifice and compromise with respect to photography.

Lauri and I completed our second weeklong trip on the Royal Arch Loop with longtime friend and backpacking companion John Hoffer.  The Royal Arch is a special and beautiful place seen by few because it is a difficult multi day hike.

I feel fortunate that at 50+ I am still capable of making physically demanding treks to create images.  They are not without pain.  There are times I wish I had a normal mid life crisis like owning a Corvette and whooping it up in Vegas but no!  Instead, I do brutal backpack trips to remote places like the Royal Arch.   When I go to places like this I never lose sight of a principle of photography that has stuck with me for many years: Degree of difficulty does not correlate to creativity.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Descending the upper Royal Arch Creek.

 

Going to expensive exotic places, or places that are difficult to get to or require special skills (in this case rappelling and canyoneering skills) does not mean you will get great photography.  Your viewers, unless they were there with you, cannot relate to the physical or emotional pain and investment you make in your photographs.  Your images are judged solely on their creative merits.  And it should be that way.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Day hiking to the Royal Arch from camp.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Rappelling through the Muav Limestone above Toltec Beach

 

Photography on a backpack trip requires sacrifice but not compromise.  I’ll explain.  Sacrifice on this trip was severely limiting my equipment for obvious reasons.  I took a Canon 5D, Mark 3, 24/f2.8 lens, Sigma 15/f2.8 fisheye, a 600RT speedlight with a couple of gels and the ST-E3 transmitter.  For the first time in a long time, I went without a tripod.  That was the biggest sacrifice on this trip.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Climbing through the Tapeats Sandstone in Garnet Canyon.

 

I had to sacrifice some sweet photo ops.  As long as I stayed within the limitations of the equipment I had I didn’t have to compromise on the principles of making compelling imagery.  My focus would be on the hiking and at camp experience and making images where it was still possible to get sharp, hand held shots and shots that still looked well lit with simple fill flash skillfully applied.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Backcountry meal on the Esplanade

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Elves Chasm, below Royal Arch near the Colorado River.

 

Without a tripod and with only wide angle lenses I had to give up landscapes and many telephoto and macro ops.  I really felt the pain of what I sacrificed one evening when we had a blazing pink sunset.   I did however improvise on a full moon tent scene.  With plenty of rocks and a ziplock bag full of sand made a great stabilizer for a 2-3 minute exposure.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Camp on the Esplanade under moonlight.

 

The 15mm fisheye really came in handy as the noon sun was cresting the Royal Arch.  It is such a fun lens to shoot into the sun with and I did that a lot.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Standing beneath the Royal Arch, a view seen by few visitors.

 

Sacrifice without compromise of solid photography principles and remembering that degree of difficulty does not guarantee good imagery has hopefully resulted in a few marketable shots from a difficult to reach and seldom seen location that holds a special place in my memory.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Lunch stop along the Tonto Trail near Bass Canyon.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Second wind at sunset along the Esplanade.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Claret cup cacti in bloom along the Tonto Trail near Bass Canyon.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Clean up in the Colorado River at Toltec Beach

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Donning boots for the hike out.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Elves Chasm, below Royal Arch near the Colorado River. Taking a break from the camera for a cold bath.

 

A Successful Shoot: 70% planning, 20% camera operation, 10% spontaneous creative thinking.

All season long I’ve visualized a series of action images of a small child having fun, skiing down the mountain under the watchful eye of a parent. It took me two attempts to get something I’m satisfied with. I think success is directly connected to action and planning. The more you learn about your location, your subject, and your camera gear the more successful your images will be.

dad_7yr-old-ski1

Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. 7-year old boy skis in front of his father on a groomed intermediate run.

70% planning. Scouting the slopes and figuring out which runs were best in morning light for shooting uphill with the least amount of clutter was my first concern. Fortunately, I ski at Taos frequently enough to have learned most of the runs and lighting correlations. Casting the right family where everyone skis, has all the gear, looks good and coordinating their schedule with yours and optimal weather (kids get cold easily) took two months.

20% camera mechanics. Knowing your camera equipment intimately makes all the difference in the world when working with small children with a limited attention span. Fumble too much with your gear and you miss candid opportunities and run out of time. You have an hour or two at the most before they lose interest. Out of the gate I knew my lens, my focus point and exposure settings. On earlier shoots I tried positioning my talent uphill and having them ski a line toward me to get candid action shots. That works OK with older kids and adults who are precision skiers. Doesn’t work well with smaller kids.

To get the most spontaneous shot possible I had to get a rhythm going with the skiers and ski with them while shooting. So at the end of a 4’ boom with a Really Right Stuff BH30 head was my Mark IV and Sigma 15mm fisheye triggered remotely with my top hand. The camera ensemble is upside down and inches from the snow as we are all flying down the slope. It is situations like this I’m thankful for rugged pro gear. It took several trial and error shoots with this technique to estimate the framing more accurately.

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Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. Mom and 5 year old girl and 7 year old boy on chairlift.

The 10% spontaneous creativity came from the game of chasing “Mr. Fish” down the mountain. Earlier on the chairlift I told Sofia I was using a “fisheye” lens and to say hello to it. So I asked her to look at and say hello to “Mr. Fish” while skiing. I think that helped her take her mind off the 200lb guy skiing 6 feet in front of her. Shot about 500 frames of this scenario with mother-daughter and father-son combinations. Got about a dozen frames that really worked. A good take.

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Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. 5-year old girl skis in front of her mother on a groomed intermediate run.

Simplifying Life and Photography While Backpacking

Image of couple backpackers on Devil's Dome in the North Cascades, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB148

Lauri and Michael DeYoung on Devil’s Dome in the North Cascades, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington

For a photographer who’s invested in an entire system whether you are a hobbyist, part time or full time pro it becomes difficult not to have your system with you whenever you shooting.  Every so often, maybe even on a regular basis, it is good to simplify and go with the mentality that “less is more.”

I recently read another excellent PDF by Photoshelter titled:  “Selling Nature Photography”.   One of the shooters profiled, Martin Bailey, in his “Tips from the Field” sidebar, it reads in part:  “keep your load light and you might increase your hours in the field.”

Sunset landscape image on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB131

Sunset on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

My backpacking trips force the issue of simplifying my equipment.  Besides photography what I really like about backpacking is that is also simplifies life.  At the start of a trip I’m always wondering if I can produce a compelling body of marketable images with just one lens and one strobe.   After a few days of life simplified on the trail my senses sharpen up, I’m in tune with the light and I begin seeing more clearly and creatively.  When this happens I begin feeling confident that I can make good images.

Image of group of 3 backpackers along Devil's Ridge Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB175

Lauri DeYoung, Michael DeYoung, John Hoffer along Devil’s Ridge Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington

 

This latest trip to the North Cascades was put together by my good friend John Hoffer who’s been a long time resident of Washington State.  We started at Harts Pass where it intersects the Pacific Crest Trail near 7000 feet and hiked 43 miles to Ross Lake at 1600 feet finishing at Ruby Creek Trailhead along Highway 20.  Most of the time was spent in the Pasayten Wilderness.  All but the last day was spent between 4500 and 7000 feet.  I was amazed by the wildflowers still abundant in the first week of September.   In addition to some sample images, here are the particulars on my camera outfit.

 

Image of Man crossing Canyon Creek below Sky Pilot Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB46

John Hoffer crossing Canyon Creek, below Sky Pilot Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

I take one body and lens, a Canon 24-70/2.8L.   It’s a heavy sucker but I just love the image quality of the heavy L lenses.   Yes there are times when I am frustrated, longing for a 100 macro, a 200, or my trusty 20mm.  But I force myself to see how this one lens sees, staying within its limitations.  The camera and lens, a polarizer, a 3-stop, hard edge ND grad filter, cable release, 4-16gb cards and lens cloth all fit in a Clik Elite chest pack that fits a pro body with 70-200.  It comes with a harness and 4 clips that attach to a backpack.  It rides nicely on the front of the pack and gives me easy access to my camera all day long.  I take one strobe with off camera cord with a couple of gels that weigh next to nothing.

Image of woman enjoying her morning cup of tea at camp on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB110

Morning tea at camp on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

I have the lightest Gitzo carbon fiber tripod made with a Really Right Stuff B-30 head.  On this trip, the sunset we had on Devil’s Dome with 360 degree views of the North Cascades was worth the anguish of carrying that extra 3lbs.

Image of woman walking among a tamarack forest, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB10

Lauri DeYoung walking among a tamarack forest, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of woman shaking off the frost on a chilly morning camp near Windy Pass, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB13

Shaking off the frost, chilly morning camp near Windy Pass, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of female hiker resting sore feet from a 11 mile day hike along Pacific Crest Trail near Holman Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB34

Lauri DeYoung resting sore feet on a 11 mile day, Pacific Crest Trail near Holman Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of man on break among the big trees on the Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB37

planner in chief, John Hoffer on break among the big trees, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Landscape image of lupine still in bloom in September along Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lupine still in bloom in September! Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of woman standing on a lingering snowfield at sunset on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lauri standing on a lingering snowfield at sunset on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of Big Agnes backpacking tent at dawn on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Big Agnes backpacking tent at dawn on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington. The tent survived 30-40mph winds most of the night.

 

Image of woman female backpacker backpacking on Devil's Ridge Trail, Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lauri backpacking on Devil’s Ridge Trail, Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Sunrise landscape image along Devil's Ridge Trail with first light on Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Sunrise landscape along Devil’s Ridge Trail with first light on Jack Mountain.

 

Michael DeYoung jumping into Ross Lake on day 6 of 7 backpacking. Photo by Lauri DeYoung

 

Image of Indian Paintbrush in bloom along Canyon Creek, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Indian Paintbrush in bloom along Canyon Creek, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Adventure Hike and Shoot in “The Subway”, Zion National Park, Utah.

Young female hiker hiking by the often photographed log located in the upper portion of the Subway (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan hiking by the often photographed log in the upper Subway. Hiking adventure in “The Subway” Zion National Park that involves route finding, downclimbing, swimming, and rappeling on a 9 mile one-way hike from the top down the Left Fork of North Creek.

I love this hike and love shooting in this kind of environment. We spent 12 hours, hiking, swimming, downclimbing, and rappelling with lots of gear (wetsuits, helmets, climbing harnesses and hardware, food, water, dry bags, rope, and camera and lighting gear.) At least 5 of those hours were devoted to just photography. With swimming and rappelling down a waterfall we had to pay close attention to keeping your gear dry. On many of the shots we employed wireless TTL strobe lighting. With everything in dry bags, getting gear out for our shots was a labor intensive process. Even though it was in the 90’s in Zion that day, the water in the Subway is frigid and the wetsuits were a must. The slow pace worked out great as we hit the top of the Subway in the desired warm reflected light.

Young female hiker wading the first of several very cold pools of water in the Subway (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan wading the first of very cold pools.

With Lauri and I on this trip was Brooke Bryner who used to model for us and is now an emerging family and portrait photographer near Ogden, Utah. My images of her have appeared in a few catalogs and calendars. Brooke’s younger sisters, Jordan and Madison, were great talent and assistants on this adventure. The day was a great combination of a shoot with very helpful assistants, a good workout, and a sister’s day getaway.

Three 20-something year old sisters having fun splashing through water in the middle of their Subway hiking adventure in Zion National Park

Three sisters having a blast on the upper Right Fork before needing a wetsuit.

Three sisters holding some of the mating frogs found in the Subway hike (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Checking out some of the many mating frogs.

Young female hiker on the last rappel in the Subway hike (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan on the last rappel.

Female hiker walking by pools in the Subway section of the Left Fork of North Creek hike in Zion National Park

Jordan on the lower part of the Subway.