Caribou and Mt. McKinley Wins First Place in 2011 PDN Great Outdoors Photography Contest

Caribou and Mt. McKinley - 1st Place winner in PDN's 2011 Great Outdoor Photo contest

Michael DeYoung’s Caribou and Mt. McKinley image: The winner of PDN’s 2011 Great Outdoors photo contest

I was excited to learn that my caribou and Mt. McKinley image won first place in the 2011 Great Outdoors (Parks & Safaris) photography contest held by Photo District News. Photo District News (PDN), a Nielsen Business Media publication, is a leading photo industry magazine and is seen by thousands of photography industry creatives.

I have spent more time photographing in Denali National Park, 23 years, than just about any other place. This image was the result of luck, intimate working knowledge of the area and plain old persistence. I typically work the west end of the park from Grassy Pass to Wonder Lake where caribou and moose tend to be seen more frequently toward late summer and fall. My typical sleep deprived day starts very early trying to catch the early morning light on Mt. McKinley from Wonder Lake. The lake was in thick fog and after it seemed it wouldn’t burn off anytime soon, we drove east, climbing to near the top of the fog layer above the McKinley Bar when I spotted a bull caribou we’ve been seeing around for several days. Fortunately, I was able to position myself and sit tight while the lone bull moseyed on by where he would line him up with the mountain which was in and out of the rapidly moving fog. I got maybe 6 shots before he dropped out of sight over the ridge.

The judges in this year’s contest were Amy Berkley (Field & Stream), Grant Ellis (Surfer Magazine), Amy Feitelberg (Outside), Nick Hamilton (TransWorld SNOWboarding), and Elayna Rocha (Y&R Brands Irvine).

Do Pros Still Take Photo Workshops?

by New Mexico adventure lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung

It seems that a common characteristic of all good teachers and true “masters” is that they remain life long students and learners. Taking that to heart as a workshop instructor, and seasoned pro shooter I still see great value in taking photography workshops.

The last one I attended was a day long seminar called the Flashbus taught by 2 masters of speedlight location lighting, Joe McNally and David Hobby. Hobby has one of the most popular photography blogs called the Strobist. I’ll bet that most people reading this are already aware of the strobist blog. Joe McNally, a well sought after workshop leader (I took one of his workshops in Santa Fe, 80 miles from my home), wrote two of the best books on digital flash photography that I’ve read. They are: The Hot Shoe Diaries and The Moment it Clicks.

The Flashbus was a great deal at $99 even for a working pro who is familiar with most of the material they were presenting. This year’s tour is half over. I hope they will do something similar next year. As usual, I picked up a tip or two. Also as a workshop instructor always striving to improve my own presentation, these are 2 guys to emulate.

The capabilities of camera flashes today are astonishing compared to when I first started photography in the early 80’s. In fact, after some early trial and errors, I mainly avoided the use of flash other than basic fill lighting until a few years ago. I discovered a monumental change in hot-shoe strobe capabilities. The array of effective, portable light shaping tools on the market today is also amazing. Mastering the use of portable strobes is a great growth area for expanding your creativity. It is also right up my alley, since I often schlep gear into hard to reach locations for adventure photography, fitness photography and wilderness travel photography. So the capability to get studio quality lighting to remote places has greatly enhanced the value of my imagery. I wrote about such an adventure photography shoot in a previous blog post.

Adventure lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung lighting his subjects under Wrangell-St. Elias National Park's Root Glacier located in Kennicott, Alaska

Michael DeYoung lighting his subjects under the Root Glacier with a Canon 580 EXII with wireless TTL triggered by a Radio Popper. A Honl grid was used to focus the light on the subjects and keep it off the ice walls. The camera on a tripod was triggered with a 10 second timer.

I am moving more in the direction of teaching more workshops. This summer I am scheduled to do my third weekend long workshop – Creative Outdoor Photography Workshop – in Alaska for the Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers. I have done evening presentations for the ASMP Alaska chapter and for NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association. I am scheduled to lead a10 day Alaska workshop next summer (2012) for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.

Learning from the masters is the time honored way to helping yourself become one. I’m still a way’s off from being a master. Like many masters I admire, I will always remain willing to pass my knowledge on and give back to the photography community that has given so much to me.

Creative Outdoor Photography Workshop in Girdwood Alaska, July 15-17, 2011

This summer I will be teaching another workshop for the Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers. Thanks to our good friend and fellow photographer Cathy Hart, this will be my third workshop for the club. The workshop is July 15-17 and will be based out of Girdwood. You can get all the details when dates and places are finalized off the ASONP website. The theme will be creative outdoor photography geared toward intermediate and advanced photographers. I will be teaching an updated version of the workshop I did in 2008 at Hatcher Pass.

Today’s offerings of portable and lightweight lighting tools are amazingly useful for many outdoor subjects including landscapes, travel and adventure. Many photographers like going on adventure trips such as sea kayaking, river raft journeys and mountain trekking. I will discuss techniques and tips for greatly improving adventure and travel photography. This type of photography often takes place where compelling landscape imagery is also possible and I will be discussing to effectively do both. Other topics covered will include how to get the most out of your RAW images in Lightroom processing, advanced digital shooting techniques and, time permitting, the business side of outdoor photography. Cathy asked me to write a piece for the newsletter. So I thought I would describe an assignment where I applied principles I’ve taught in workshops to an actual job and post it here on my blog. (See “How Following Three Basic Photography Principles led to a Successful Assignment” under ‘Assignment & Production’.)

Capturing a Fleeting Moment at 32,000 Feet…Always Keep Your Camera Ready.

The last time this happened it was 1988. I was on a flight from Great Falls, Montana to Seattle. Shortly into the flight I was stunned by a commanding view of the Chinese Wall of the continental divide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Being a budding photographer back then with my Pentax K1000 and 50mm lens I tried in vein to capture the awesome scene below where in the previous summer Lauri and I spent 8 days backpacking. That was the last time I tried photographing from a commercial flight.

Fast forward 22 years. After an exhausting 8 day tourism assignment in Nome, Alaska we were on a mid afternoon flight back to Anchorage. Nothing unusual. I fly a lot but in the past 10 years I try as hard as I can to get aisle seats because of my size and the shrinking of leg room that has occurred over the years on all domestic airlines. And like the majority of air travelers I’ve become absorbed in some sort of virtual world or just try to rest when I fly. Something was different about this day. It started off as a typical Alaska flight. Low clouds, gloom and doom were present on take off. Topping off at 32k it was the typical bright and sunny with a carpet of solid white cloud below. The plane was about half full which is very unusual for any summer flight to or from or within Alaska. Start editing the shoot. Get out the laptop and iPod and get to it.

Michael DeYoung arial photo of Mt. McKinley from Alaska Airlines flight

Mt. McKinley above the clouds shot out the window of a commercial Alaska Airlines Flight.

About an hour into the flight I glance out the port side window as I gasped for air at the surreal scene below. The crown of North America and her younger brother, Mt. Foraker, towered like a guardian angel above the cellular cumulus clouds, the lesser Alaska Range peaks and the broad Susitna Valley headwaters bathed in late summer light. The summits were a mere 12 thousand feet below and perfectly side lit and positioned for a decent shot. With plenty of room to slide over to the window seat, I quickly grabbed the 1Ds with 24-105mm and plastered it flat against the new window and got probably a once in 20 year shot. Not satisfied with just the intense blue high altitude I pulled out a little used filter, the Singh Ray blue/gold polarizer. I know that the uv filter in the plane window will mess with the colors but like Wow! Now I got something! Had to tone it down a little. OK, so I’ve been photographing Denali for 20 years even doing some clear air winter aerials from military aircraft but I’ve never seen it like this, from above, towering above these beautiful cumulus clouds.

Michael DeYoung photo of Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker from 32,000 feet.

Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker of the Alaska Range above cumulus clouds over the northern Susitna Valley. Phogographed from an Alaska Airlines flight from Nome to Anchorage in late July. Shot with a blue/gold polarizing filter

Thanks to dumb luck where I was able to keep my lens flat against a clean almost scratchless window I got some decent images that are sharp enough for a full page print. Once again even after shooting 5,000 images in the past week, I was thankful that I kept my camera at the ready for a fleeting moment such as this.

Latest adventure promotion

Here is a preview of my next print promotion and eblast due out next week. This is a double sided card. Haven’t decided which side to go with for the eblast.

Here is the story behind the images. We were on location in Kennicott and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park as part of a lengthy summer assignment for the Alaska State Vacation Planner. After shooting for several days including a hike on the Root Glacier the day before, I decided to shoot some fun stuff this day. A knowledgeable guide and photography enthusiast with St. Elias Alpine Guides took Lauri and I under the Root Glacier into some fantastic ice caves. The most dangerous part of the shoot was the steep and loose approach and dealing with my claustrophobia. The ice caves reminded me of slot canyons in the southwest. They are hidden gems whose intimate beauty is not readily seen from a distance. Like slot canyons, the caves under the Root proved to be an excellent place to shoot in the middle of the day with maximum light illuminating the underside. What a great place to use the Radio Poppers. The poppers are a great little system for firing speedlites wirelessly in TTL without relying on the line of sight of the infrared triggers. And honestly, the Canon ST-E2 transmitter system fails miserably outdoors especially in harsh cold wet environs such as under untold tons of ice! The Radio Poppers have not worked flawlessly in harsh field conditions either, however, their performance is far better than just the Canon system alone. So in a small bag, we were able to carry about $2000 in lighting gear and achieve amazing results. In both shots we are using 2 580 EX 2’s with Honl gels and one of my favorite lightweight light shaping tools, the Honl 1/8 grid.

Lauri did a great job as a “mobile light stand” (a phrase coined by Joe McNally, whom I learned a lot from about location lighting with small strobes.) So TTL light fired from 100 feet away behind a wall of ice in a cold damp cave. Presto! Gotta love it.

In the closer shot the trick was to warmly light Jacob without light spilling over to the surrounding ice. This one was a bit trickier than the more distant shot and required moving around several times. The CTO gel does a great job of warming the skin so it pops out of the deep glacier blue background. In both instances, my standard technique is to use manual exposure. I get a background ambient exposure first and generally let the TTL do it’s thing using flash exposure comp to get the strobe lighting where I want it.

I was a little apprehensive about being under a glacier even though we were never more than 100 feet from the entrance. I’m glad we didn’t become a potential archeological find 10,000 years from now.