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

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.

Don’t Save the Best for Last!

photographer-lupines-anchorage-alaska

Photographer among lupines along Turnagain Arm, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

Saving the best for last may be a good way to view a decadent desert but this philosophy has no place in photography!  In fact my philosophy is “Shoot the best first!”  Whenever possible, I first go after the shots the client wants most, that I want most or those that are the most challenging.  Sometimes they are one in the same.   Your “best” or “hardest” shot may not mean the most physically demanding for you or the talent.  In most cases, for me at least, it is the most creatively challenging.  It could simply be an elusive expression or gesture that conveys the ” in the moment” feel or “sense of place” I’m looking for.

I do this while I am fresh, the talent is fresh and I have time to craft the shot and work through communication, creative and technical challenges.

This obviously doesn’t work if you don’t have a shoot list, or you don’t know what your “best” or most challenging shot is going to be.   That’s OK.  I certainly have shoots in that category.   It may also seem counter intuitive if you are shooting in the evening, knowing the best light may be at or just after sunset.

woman-hike-winner-creek-alaska1

Hiker along the Winner Creek Trail near Alyeska Resort. I’ve always loved the lush green forests around Girdwood and the inviting boardwalk. For years I’ve tried to capture the essence of what it is like to be here. And, yes, you can get good images on an overcast day!

Even on a sunset shoot, I still try to shoot what I perceive as the best first.  If the light is good an hour or two before, I’m shootin’!  I can’t tell you how many times I thought a sunset would be “epic” only to have it turn out to be a dud.   If the light gets magical at sunset, then I can repeat my “A” shots in the sunset light with greater chance of success since I’ve already worked through the creative challenges earlier.

sunset-lupines-anchorage-alaska1

Sunset over lupines and Chugach Mountains along Turnagain Arm at high tide. It took about 10 tries with 2 strobes to get the lighting close to what I wanted. When the sun hit the horizon we had our lighting formula dialied in.

 

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

 

 

DeYoung Featured In Jan/Feb 2013 Issue of Outdoor Photographer: “Chugach Adventure”

Explorer Glacier from Moose Pond in the Portage Valley, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

Explorer Glacier from Moose Pond in the Portage Valley, Chugach National Forest, Alaska

Adventure, landscape, and lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung is featured in the January/February 2013 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine.

A former Alaska resident, DeYoung shares his 24+ years of knowledge and experience photographing his former backyard, Chugach State Park and surrounding area. In the interview-style article he offers advice on photographing the many landscape and wildlife opportunities in and around the Chugach.

“The Chugach are different and unique from what I was used to seeing in the Rockies. The sheer scale of endless peaks, vast deciduous forest, and steep cliffs and glaciers that come down to sea level have always captured my imagination.”

Read the full online article at Outdoor Photographer.

Winter Solstice Alaska Assignment: Wireless Speedlites in Extreme Cold

Winter scenic near Anchorage, Alaska

Sun at solar noon, shot at Otter Lake near Anchorage, Alaska near winter solstice

Only 3 days from the winter solstice I was on assignment shooting environmental portraits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey near his kennels near Willow. With the sun reaching only 5 degrees above the horizon at mid-day I was lucky to be nearby a lake where the trees were far enough away to give us some beautiful open sunlight. This time of year that meant about 3 hours of unobstructed sun. This far north, clear skies in the dead of winter mean only one thing: cold. This was a short trip (only 4 full days) and luckily the weather held for another day giving me a chance to spend an afternoon shooting winter landscapes around Anchorage. It was good to get re-acquainted with the Alaska winter landscape.

Winter scenic near Anchorage Alaska

Mid day sun on Otter Lake and Chugach Mountains near Anchorage, Alaska

My main concern was the cold. It was -22F (-30C) in Willow that morning and this time of year the daily temperature range is usually 10 degrees or less.  We started shooting about 12:30 and it had warmed very little.  Being on a lake, a low spot where cold air pools, it was -15F (-25C) max.

Canon Wireless Speedlights: This shoot was the first time I would use the Canon 600EX-RT speedlights fired wirelessly with the new ST-E3 transmitter in extreme temperatures. Knowing that alkaline and my rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries would die quickly in this cold, the speedlights, the external power packs, and the transmitter were all outfitted with lithium AA batteries which have the best cold weather performance.

On assignment in Willow, Alaska in sub-zero weather. Lynn Wegener and Karen Combs with Canon 600EX-RT speedlights equiped with Spinlight 360 light modifiers with Michael DeYoung shooting environmental portaits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey.

Photographer Michael DeYoung on assignment doing environmental portraits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey near Willow, Alaska in sub-zero temperatures.

The lighting plan was simple. Use the beautiful sub-arctic sun as sidelight and backlight, and fill the shadows with the speedlights. The RT wireless system worked flawlessly in the bright light and cold for about two hours when the recycle time started getting over 20 seconds. I love being able to control the ratio and mode (Manual or ETTL) from the transmitter though I still had to take my hands out of my gloves to make the changes. In these temperatures, I got about 150 shots before the recycle time became intolerable. Luckily the shoot was winding down.

SpinLight360: This was also the first shoot that I’ve used the new SpinLight 360 Extreme light mod system in these temperatures. I was concerned with the plastic becoming brittle and breaking during my typical hard use of my strobes. This system is mainly targeted for wedding and event shooters but I have really taken a liking to this system. Once the base unit spin ring was attached to the flash with Velcro ,which is very secure, the modifiers (dome, snoot, grid, bounce cards) were easy to attach in the cold with gloves on; a big plus in extreme conditions. I used a the diffuser dome, the grid and snoot and I am really impressed with the quality of light from these mods as well as their light weight and ease in attaching and removing various mods.

Photographers with Canon Speedlites and Spinlight 360 light modifiers near Willow, Alaska

On assignment in Willow, Alaska in sub-zero weather. Lynn Wegener and Karen Combs with Canon 600EX-RT speedlights equiped with Spinlight 360 light modifiers with Michael DeYoung shooting environmental portaits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey.

Near sunset, with the temp dropping I wanted to get a shot with Dallas and two of his dogs hooked up in front of his sled. I set up my 2 speedlights with snoots with the group B:A ratio of about 3:1. Group B, operated by my assistant Lynn, lit Dallas’s face. Since this was a wide angle shot Lynn had to maintain a fair distance and thus the snoot worked better than a grid by not reducing the light output as much. I aimed group A on a separate stand at Hero and Porter, also champion athletes in the foreground. The snoots did a very good job at focusing the light on the dogs and keeping unwanted light off the snow.

Dog musher at sunset near Willow, Alaska

012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey with sled dogs Hero and Porter at sunset near Willow, Alaska.

I also got to spend an afternoon shooting landscapes around Anchorage where I had a mix of sun and fog. The image of Otter Lake shows the mid day sun at how low it stays in the sky. From the same vantage point is a side-lit shot of the Chugach. An hour later near sunset I found this scene –  the frozen birch forest and peaks behind Ship Creek and Arctic Valley – diffused by the lingering freezing fog and stratus.

Frozen landscape close to winter solstice near Anchorage, Alaska

Winter landscape close to sunset, frozen birch-boreal forest looking up Ship Creek Valley and Chugach Mountains near Anchorage, Alaska

This short trip reminded me of just how nice winter landscape photography can be in mainland Alaska. Here is the shot I missed: Mt. McKinley, Hunter and Foraker glowing in warm light with beautifully lit snow-covered forest near Willow in the Susitna Valley. I didn’t stop because we were running a little late for our shoot and the client was more important than a landscape. But it was probably near the best I’ve seen of a winter view of the south side of McKinley and the Alaska Range.

Photography and Patience: What is The Longest You Waited to Get a Photograph?

Aerial view of Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alask

Arieal view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and Grand Plateau Glacier near Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Whenever possible, I offer my meteorological abilities and skills to my clients to advise when to shoot to get the best possible conditions.  This has been a big asset for my tourism clients.  Many shoots, however, have to be scheduled far beyond accurate forecasting range.   In Alaska, based on climatology and years of experience, I plan 7 days on location to get one evening or morning of nice light.  Getting more than one nice day in a given week is a bonus!  This is especially true anywhere in coastal Alaska and around Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park.

The longest I’ve had to wait to get a shot has been 12 days in the very inappropriately named Dry Bay!  The mission was to get a series of shots of the equally inappropriately named Fairweather Range and and the glaciers that flow into Alsek Lake in the northwest corner of Glacier Bay National Park.  Mt. Fairweather is one of the loftiest mountains rising from sea level to 15, 300’ in only a few miles.

In mid August we flew in to Dry Bay from Haines (in the rain) where we met Brabazon Expeditions to boat us up the Alsek River to the park boundary where we planned to canoe, camp and shoot for 7 days.  After 2 days of continuous rain with more rain forecast for the next 5 (we had a marine radio) we decided to paddle the 11 miles back to Dry Bay to hole up at Brabazon’s wood frame and tarp roof bunkhouse.

 

Canoeist of Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Lauri in a 14 foot inflatable whitewater canoe from Grabner in Austaralia navigating with map and GPS on Alsek Lake through icebergs toward the outlet where lake ends and the last 11 miles of the Alsek river flows into the Gulf of Alaska at Dry Bay.

That proved to be a good call.  On the three hour paddle back to Brabazon in a hard driving continuous rain dressed in $1200 each of high tech Gore-tex raingear and fleece base layers and we still got soaked (mainly from perspiration) and were border line hypothermic upon arrival.

 

Dry Bay and Mt. Fairweather, Alaska

Brabazon Expeditions rafters hut in Dry Bay, along the Gulf of Alaska coast below Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and the Fairweather Range. We spent 12 days waiting for a view of the peaks.

Monitoring the marine radio daily, horrified by the forecasts, we were pinned for 10 days waiting for the weather to clear!  We lived off of food left behind by rafting parties who didn’t want the weight for the flight back.  During the 10 day wait, Yakutat, the nearest reporting station 30 miles west, reported 16 inches of rainfall which is more than a year’s worth of rain in Taos!

Alaska Brown Bear, Dry Bay

Chocolate colored brown bear near our hut at Dry Bay, Alaska. These guys were digging up roots of eskimo potato roots all around the area. I stood under the covered front porch for about 30 minutes waiting for this young bear to get closer until I got a decent shot with my 300/f4. After one shutter click the bear turned and ran away.

 

On day 11 with a forecast of brief clearing, we were shuttled back up river in early afternoon.  We shot like crazy spending the night on Gateway Knob for sweeping views of the lake and Mt. Fairweather then paddling back down to Dry Bay again where FlyDrake would pick us up and return us to Haines before the weather closed in again.

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Dusk view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300), and Alsek Lake Glacier and Lake in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

 

Wilderness camp at Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Camp at Gateway Knob above Alsek Lake with view of the Fairweather Range. We hiked about 1/3 mile and 400′ above the lake from our boat to get a commanding dusk and dawn view of the lake and Fairweather Range after waiting out 12 days of rain and low clouds.

Why did we stay so long?  I am tenacious when it comes to getting my shots and just hate giving up.  Another trip would have cost more in both time and expense than just waiting it out even though our trip length doubled.  Being flexible allowed us to adjust to the prolonged wet weather regime.   In the end, we got the shots and that’s what counts the most.

Aerial view of Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Arieal view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and Grand Plateau Glacier near Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

 

Alaska’s Scenic Gems: 10 Road Accessible Landscape Photo Ops

Recently, I was featured (May, 2012) in Popular Photography and interviewed about lesser known Alaska locations for photography. Expanding upon that and drawing upon my 25 years of romping around Alaska I am profiling 10 road accessible places that offer excellent landscape photo ops. You can find all of these in the Milepost which is the best road guide for Alaska and northern Canada travel. This list is subjective and there are countless scenic views along the contiguous Alaska road system. If you are new or unfamiliar with this vast area, these locations are a good place to start.

Alaska panoramic landscape. View of the upper Matanuska River and the north face of the Chugach Mountains seen near Hicks Creek along the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Alaska panoramic landscape. View of the upper Matanuska River and the north face of the Chugach Mountains seen near Hicks Creek along the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Like all subjects photographic, your lighting is a key element to the success of your images. Skies are generally sunnier in the interior and north than they are on the coast so you have a better chance of capturing Mt. Sukakpak in the Brooks Range in nice light than you would capturing Portage Pass (which experiences some of the worst weather in Southcentral Alaska.) Mt. McKinley is only out on average of 3-4 days a month during the summer and best chances are in the morning. The north side holds the iconic view rising 18,000′ above the tundra from near Wonder Lake. I like the south side better where the mountain rises above dense boreal forest. Remember, good weather doesn’t last long in Alaska so if you happen to be at one of these locations in nice light, jump on it. My guiding principle is shoot what is happening now. There is no time like the present!

1. Polar Bear and Eagle Peaks – Eagle River Nature Center, Chugach State Park

This scenic gem of national park quality is in the Municipality of Anchorage. Take the Eagle River exit north of Anchor town (Anchorage) and follow Eagle River Road 12 miles where it ends in the parking lot of the Eagle River Nature Center. The views are incredible here but walk 10 minutes down to a boardwalk and deck overlooking the clear North Fork of Eagle River. Polar Bear and Eagle Peaks rise abruptly 6,000 feet above the valley floor. Around the solstice, the sun sets near the opening of Eagle River Valley and this is a great evening shot. In late June there is usually a great display of geranium and wild rose along the trail.

Alaska landscape. View of Polar Bear Peak rising near 6000 feet above the North Fork of Eagle River, Chugach State Park, near Anchorage

Alaska landscape. View of Polar Bear Peak rising near 6000 feet above the North Fork of Eagle River, Chugach State Park, near Anchorage around 10:30PM in June.

2. Mt. Sukapak – Brooks Range From Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot

Sukapak isn’t the tallest mountain in the Brooks, topping out at less than 5,000 feet, but it is an incredible limestone escarpment photogenic from both the south and north sides at several points along the Dalton. My favorite is its morning reflection in one of several un-named ponds visible from the highway. There are good photo ops at both sunrise and sunset (3-4 hours apart in June/July) but I prefer early morning with steam rising off the lakes and sometimes even the Koyokuk River.

Alaska landscape. Brooks Range, above the Arctic Circle a view of Mt. Sukapak and reflection in early morning off the Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot, Alaska.

Alaska landscape. Brooks Range, above the Arctic Circle a view of Mt. Sukapak and reflection in early morning off the Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot, Alaska.

3. Mt. McKinley – South Side From Byers Lake

This is a developed state park with camping, boat rentals, and a public use cabin. What I like best about Byers Lake is that you can’t see Mt. McKinley from the developed (west) side. Take the trail to the east side or better yet, get in a canoe or touring kayak and paddle to the northeast end for a breathtaking view of McKinley and the Alaska Range. Be there at sunrise which means in July – 5am. More likely than not, you’ll get a great reflection of the range on the lake and if you are lucky one of the nesting trumpeter swans will pay you a visit.

Alaska landscape and recreation. Alaska's highest peak, Mt. McKinley rising above Byers Lake and a canoeist. Chulitna Valley, Byers Lake State Park.

Alaska landscape and recreation. Alaska’s highest peak, Mt. McKinley rising above Byers Lake and a canoeist. Chulitna Valley, Byers Lake State Park.

4. Mt. McKinley – South Side From Petersville Road

If you don’t have a boat to access Byers Lake then there are great morning views here of Denali on clear days. In fact, Denali views are nice along most of the road with lots of fireweed. Several miles in, there are some nice small ponds that offer a great morning reflection. The approach to the water’s edge is boggy and buggy. Plan on getting your feet wet and bring a bug jacket.

Alaska Landscape. View of the south side of Mt. McKinley, 20,320' rising above the Chulitna River Valley, viewed from Petersville Road.

Alaska Landscape. View of the south side of Mt. McKinley, 20,320′ rising above the Chulitna River Valley, viewed from Petersville Road.

5. Wrangell Mountains From Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge

After a decent dinner and a brew you can get a great panoramic view of the Wrangells with the expansive Copper River and Klutina River Valleys below. Stay up late as this is a great spot for a sunset panoramic. Also, nearby Willow Lake a few miles down the road offers some nice views from the parking lot but I like the high view better.

Alaska Landscape – Wrangell Mountains. Evening alpenglow view of 16,390' Mt. Blackburn of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park rising above the Copper River Valley.

Alaska Landscape. Evening alpenglow view of 16, 390′ Mt. Blackburn of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, rising above the Copper River Valley.

6. Worthington Glacier

You can see this gem coming at you for many miles as you travel south on the Richardson Highway approaching Thompson Pass towards Valdez. There is a developed State Park parking lot and outhouses with developed trails that take you down to the foot of the glacier. I like the view from further north before you get to the State Park turn off. In late June and July look for fields of lupine in meadows off to the west. Morning light is best here.

Alaska landscape. Meadow with lupine below the Worthington Glacier, Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest. Seen along the Richardson Highway near Thompson Pass.

Alaska landscape. Meadow with lupine below the Worthington Glacier, Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest. Seen along the Richardson Highway near Thompson Pass.

7. Keystone Canyon Waterfalls

Further down the Richardson Highway and south of Thompson Pass, the Lowe River cuts through a steep and verdant green canyon with several really nice roadside waterfalls. My favorite is Bridal Veil Falls. For many years there were great fireweed displays here in late July and August. Road crews mowed it all down a few years ago. Hopefully they will come back. This is a wet area and is one that is most photogenic during cloudy weather and even light.

Alaska landscape. Fireweed below Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon, Chugach Mountains, seen off Richardson Highway near Valdez, Prince William Sound, Alaska

Alaska landscape. Fireweed below Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon, Chugach Mountains, seen off Richardson Highway near Valdez, Prince William Sound, Alaska

8. Portage Glacier from Portage Pass

Portage Glacier Visitor Center is the most heavily visited tourist spot in Southcentral. You can’t see the glacier from the lake anymore as it has receded considerably. Most tourists view the glacier from a boat tour that takes you to the end of the lake. It’s a fine view but with a little effort you can leave the crowds behind. The best view of Portage Glacier is from the pass, a short but steep, 20-minute hike up a very well defined trail. Simply drive through the tunnel to Whittier and take the first right past the restrooms. Follow the signs to the trailhead. The glacier is only nicely lit in the morning. The light tanks about 9AM so be there early. The weather here sucks most of the time so if you are lucky to be there in clear conditions (check the FAA weather cams for Whittier and Portage) jump on it!

An Asian (Korean) female hiker on Portage Pass overlooking Portage Glacier in the Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest, above Prince William Sound, Southcentral Alaska

A hiker on Portage Pass overlooking Portage Glacier in the Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest, above Prince William Sound, Southcentral Alaska

9. North Face of the Chugach Mountains Above Hicks Creek Along The Glenn Highway

Years ago it was risky to stop here on the narrow road with guard rail and no shoulder. Now there are huge pullouts there near Milepost 100 just before the Glenn Highway descends to Hicks Creek. The Matanuska River flows between 2 cliff walls with beautiful rugged peaks in the background. The surrounding birch/aspen/poplar forest is stunning in the fall (mid September). Best time is shortly after sunrise. There are many great places to photograph this incredible mountain, river and forest scenery. The Hick’s Creek view is part of my favorite section that stretches from Chickaloon to Sheep Mountain Lodge. Along this stretch, Long and Wiener Lakes offer great photo ops.

Alaska landscape. Autumn view of the north face of the Chugach Mountains above the Matanuska Valley, Chugach National Forest. Reflection in Weiner Lake off the Glenn Highway.

Alaska landscape. Autumn view of the north face of the Chugach Mountains above the Matanuska Valley, Chugach National Forest. Reflection in Weiner Lake off the Glenn Highway.

10. Ninilchik

Many people (except salmon anglers) bypass this quaint seaside village off the Sterling Highway on their way to Homer for the classic view of the Homer Spit and Kachemak Bay. I used to really enjoy flyfishing the Ninilchik and just hanging out. The main attraction here and a photographer’s favorite is the Russian Orthodox Church that sits on the bluff on the north side of town. It is a well kept beautiful little church that has a lovely white picket fence and dazzling wildflowers – especially the fireweed and geraniums. There are several good photo ops here. You can line up the church with Mt. Illiamna and the volcanoes across Cook Inlet for a great telephoto shot at sunrise and early morning.

Alaska coastal landscape. Summer wildflowers of lupine and cow parsnip on bluff above Cook Inlet with Redoubt Volcano in background. View near Ninilchik, Alaska off the Sterling Highway.

Alaska coastal landscape. Summer wildflowers of lupine and cow parsnip on bluff above Cook Inlet with Redoubt Volcano in background. View near Ninilchik, Alaska off the Sterling Highway.

Behind the Lens – Sheri, an Inupiat Eskimo, as a full page in Alaska Vacation Planner

I only spent a few hours photographing Sheri on a typical cool, wet, and windy July day near Nome, Alaska. Of the hundreds of folks we meet on the long assignments we’ve done for the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA), Sheri was one of the most enjoyable and unforgettable people we’ve worked with. I’m glad to see her featured in a full page image in the 2012 Alaska Vacation Planner.

Female Inupiat Eskimo artist from Nome, Alaska wearing traditional kuspik dress

Sheri, an Inupiat Eskimo artist in Nome, Alaska appears as a full page image in the 2012 Alaska State Vacation Planner. Shot on assignment in 2011

A kind and gentle soul with a soft pretty face, Sheri had a striking presence about her. At the time she was working at the Nome Visitor Center. She agreed to model for us in a traditional Kuspuk and with some of her artwork which consisted of her handmade sealskin purses and boots. An Inupiat Eskimo from Northwest Alaska, she is an amazingly talented artist.

Sheri is from the village of Shishmaref, 100 miles north of Nome on the windswept shores of the Chukchi Sea about 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Summer here is a mere fantasy, more accurately described as a “thaw season” where waters turn to liquid for 8 weeks. Shishmaref is a “bush” village meaning it is not connected to the road system. The nearest contiguous road is the Dalton Highway some 500 miles east. Shishmaref is close to where it all began some 20,000 years ago when native peoples walked across the Bering Land Bridge to inhabit North America.

The subsistence lifestyle, primitive infrastructure (many homes without modern pluming) and extreme isolation she grew up in is simply unimaginable to most people – including me. She grew up among caribou, musk ox, wolves, grizzlies and the occasional polar bear.

With her upbringing, I thought nothing I would ask could phase her. I was wrong. When I asked her to sit among the beautiful field of wild iris, she was reluctant and concerned about mice being down there. I had a warm fuzzy chuckle, thinking up to this point, that only “city” girls would be concerned over the possibility of a cute little rodent running around your feet. Luckily I was able to stomp out the area where I wanted her to sit which she eventually did and we made some great images.

The technical aspects of the shot were quite simple. More often than not in Alaska, you are shooting in flat light. The flat terrain meant not much background to work with. (Unfortunately, Russia was not visible from where we were.) The flat light meant soft skin tones but limited contrast. All I could do was fill the frame with Sheri and let her presence and the colors of her kuspuk and iris carry the shot. The breeze lifting some of her hair was icing on the cake. This image is a good example of the 80/20 rule where 80% of the success of the shot took place before the camera even came out of the bag.

Like most of the fine people we’ve met and photographed on our Alaska assignments, our paths are not likely to cross again. I wish Sheri the very best and I hope she continues pursuing her artwork.

What Does Minus 40 Look Like? Warm Memories of Extreme Cold.

Winter frosted trees, setting moon, and morning alpenglow in Copper River Basin near Glenallen, Alaska

My “coldest” image, I think. This was a moonset and morning alpenglow at about minus 50 west of Glenallen, Alaska in the Copper River Basin. The soft arctic alpenglow at high latitudes is the most ethereal I’ve seen. I had an auxiliary battery pack that I had to keep under my parka. This was hard wired to the camera. This is the only way to keep the camera operating in extreme cold.

First, a little background story about my early Alaska days.

A client recently expressed interest in images of bitter cold. Not much of that in Northern New Mexico and western Colorado Valley this winter. I am planning a late winter trip to Alaska this year. But, I always keep up with what’s happening with winter up there.

I saw something I hadn’t seen in a while. Interior temperatures hit minus 60 the last few days of January. Minus 40’s and 50’s are common but minus 60’s have been rare in this era of climate change. The National Weather Service office even mentioned how this January was similar to the winter of 89-90.

The winter of 1989/1990 was my second winter in Alaska and I remember it well. The Army sent me camping in the Interior in January and again in March! And the coldest air of the winter hit while we were camping. I should know. I was part of an Air Force weather detachment that participated in Army exercises and made official weather observations.

The first night was only like minus 45 and we had minus 40 and colder for the entire two weeks we were out. We were lucky as we were in the hills above Delta Junction and thus a little warmer. Some of the lowest valley locations, like Nenana, south of Fairbanks, hit minus 71. Even east Anchorage got close to minus 40 that January.

Being in air that cold is just painful. It hurts to breath. It feels like slivers of broken glass in your nostrils when you inhale. When you walk it feels like the wind is blowing because the air is incredibly dense. Normally cushy vehicle seats feel like slabs of concrete. Alkaline batteries don’t work. For cheap amusement we’d throw a cup of hot liquid up in the air and it would never hit the ground as it would just freeze into ice crystals.

What does all this have to do with photography? Well something happened that first night I’ll never forget. I saw my first real aurora borealis display and it blew me away. It was a brilliant emerald green display over a moonlit landscape of fresh sparkling arctic snow.

I tried photographing them. They sucked. It was my first time. It was 40 below. I was still an amateur and I was working the graveyard shift out of a tent on an Army field trip – not exactly ideal conditions for photography. But, it sealed my interest in photographing the aurora borealis.

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) over Kathleen River, Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory, Canada

This is one of my favorite and my most commercially successful aurora borealis image. This is from Kluane National Park in the Yukon the 3rd week of March. This is the Kathleen River just downstream from the outlet of Kathleen Lake. The lake is very deep and upwelling prevents the first stretch of river from freezing. The shot took place around 3AM on a full moon night. It was balmy and only a few degrees below zero.

After active duty was over in 1992 I made journeys into the extreme cold of Interior Alaska on my own terms trying to photograph the aurora.

I’ve made some successful aurora images in winter, but my favorite and coldest photo was of a morning moon and alpenglow in a black spruce forest east of Glenallen which was minus 50 that morning. I’d been up most of the night waiting for an aurora that never materialized.

For a while there was something alluring about enduring extreme weather painful as it was. But I learned this long ago: Simply enduring adverse conditions doesn’t make your images more creative. There is no correlation between degree of difficulty and creativity. However, when you make a great or even good image during challenging environmental conditions it makes it more satisfying.

P.S: Here are some geeky weather facts.

Arctic airmasses are very shallow and dense, usually having extreme temperature inversions. So the coldest air is in the LOWEST elevations such as valley floors.

Minus 40 is where Celsius and Fahrenheit are equal i.e. -40F = -40C

Ice fog is a purely man made phenomena occurring during arctic air in settlements, villages and urban areas. At temperatures in the minus 20’s and colder air cannot hold any moisture. So moisture from internal combustion engine exhaust and exhaust from residential and commercial gas fired furnaces is enough to generate incapacitating fog that remains trapped under sharp inversions. Ice fog can reduce visibility to no more than 100 meters sometimes, but is usually no more than a hundred feet thick vertically.

At minus 20 and colder, exposed flesh can literally freeze, i.e. your nose and finger tips can turn into blocks of ice—not good!

Need more? Check out Jim Green’s Alaska Weather blog. He produces a yearly wall calendar called ‘Alaska Weather Calendar’.