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).
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.
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.
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.