Katolinat mountain enshrouded by clouds, Naknek lake, Katmai National Park, Alaska. Canon 1Ds Mark III, 100-400mm f/5.6L IS (180mm), 1/80 sec @ 7.1, ISO 200
The very narrow window of time between my last two trips did not afford the chance to share many pictures from my trip to Katmai. I’ve had a moment to look at a few that I’ll share in the next few posts just to give a little break from snow and polar bear bears.
This image epitomizes to me why I like being in nature. One dramatic view can fill the soul with immeasurable pleasure. It is this particular scene alone that is enough to lure me back to Katmai National Park. Take water, mountains, clouds, color and throw in some drama and the scene is alive with emotion. Alaska is so loaded with scenes like this that I’d feel slightly lost not being able to partake of their beauty. They certainly are not all tied to sunrise and sunset, but many of them are. It is a reward for the early riser. In this picture, a little bit of steam rises from the lake as the cool air and warmer water makes that mystic moment common to an autumn morning.
Polar bears play fighting in the snow. Canon 1D Mark IV, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/800 sec @ f/5.0, ISO 800
As a 700mm equivalent lens on the 1D Mark IV, I was a little tight for these bears with the 500mm, but I needed the frame rate of that camera to capture the sequential action. In order to increase resolution on this image, I merged a handful of photos that I took just seconds apart. While the polar bears remain the same, I added some snow and sky to give the image more negative space for type and other design content. I preferred the range and file size of my 1Ds for this scene, but the frame rate is not fast enough and the buffer fills up too fast when shooting fast action. Merging images to create more space is a retrospective solution, however, I find myself shooting adjacent space often in order to do this. Many times, it is the lack of space that can inhibit a photo sale in the stock photography market, and the added bonus of a much higher resolution helps also.
Mother polar bear and cub of the year, Alaska's Beaufort Sea barrier island. Canon 1D Mark IV, 500mm f/4L IS
Mother polar bears with cubs present some of the best photography scenarios largely due to the playful personalities of the young cubs. Born in January, these little cubs grow quite quickly and spend the time before heading out on the ice pack developing in ways that will help in their survival. On average, female polar bears give birth to twins, and why this mother only had one I’m not sure. Perhaps one did not survive, or perhaps she indeed only gave birth to one cub for some reason. One thing is certain, they are a lot of fun to watch, and as much fun to photograph.
Red fox on snowy tundra. Canon 1D Mark IV, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/640 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 500
I just returned from 3 weeks of guiding two trips in Alaska’s Arctic and they were as unique and productive as usual. I know that some who follow this blog have a future interest in joining the Alaska Arctic Photo Tour that I co-guide with Hugh Rose. For that reason, I thought I’d share a little about the trips, and will be sharing some pictures in the weeks to follow. As an anomaly to the past 10 years, this year was the first time we have not photographed the aurora. Ironically, this happened during a year when the aurora activity has been strong. However, relatively warm weather loomed over much of the northern country which seemed to generate a lot of gray sky conditions. When it was clear, the aurora seemed elusive. To be exact, we did actually see the aurora and photograph it a tiny bit, but it was quite faint. When someone asks, “is that the aurora?” it barely qualifies.
On the other hand, the polar bear photography was fantastic and everyone captured great pictures. We also photographed large numbers of caribou that were moving across the tundra north of the Brooks range, and that was an amazing sight–and not one that happens every year. We had great encounters with arctic fox, red fox, dall sheep, musk ox, snowshoe hare and many different birds. So as usual, this trip delivers different opportunities each year and like Alaska does so well in general, it creates the lure and desire to return and do it all over again.
Thanks to everyone who joined Hugh and I this year.
We will be booking for 2012 in a month or so, and if you are on the wait list you will get notification via email.
Polar bear reflection along Alaska's arctic coast. Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/800 sec @ f/4.5, ISO 800
A calm day this time of year along Alaska’s typically windy arctic coast is a treat. Such was the case yesterday, at least for a short while. During a photo session with the polar bears, one walked over to the edge of the water and lowered its face to reveal a beautiful reflection. I happened to to have a long lens on my camera, with my focus point set on a specific area. And that is the answer to perhaps your question, and certainly mine: why did I not lower the lens just a little more to capture the full face reflection? Things happen fast and often for a short period of time in wildlife photography. While long lenses have great advantages, I often find that I end up too tight on many subjects. (This is often the case with the 1.3x sensor on the 1D Mark IV and 500mm lens combo. I can’t wait for Canon’s new 1Dx which will finally offer a fast frame rate and buffer at a full sensor size!)
My shooting style is generally in manual mode (when the light is not changing much) with an expose to the right model. I prefer this for the precise exposure control it offers, and it’s consistency presented in post production work. However, there are some drawbacks to manual mode. The main one is that it makes changing exposure values in unexpected situations much slower. For example: in this situation, I was photographing two polar bears fighting and had the shutter speed set to 1/800 second to stop action, resulting in an f/4.5 opening. When I swung over to this scene, I barely had time to quickly focus and shoot, let alone compose much and change exposure. On aperture priority however, it would have been a quick spin of the dial on the back of Canon’s camera to lower the shutter speed and increase the f/stop for greater depth of field. This shot is pretty sharp on the face, but just barely. How many times do we wish we could have an opportunity to reshoot a particular scene!
Caribou and the Brooks Range mountains. Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/640 @ f/5.6, ISO 400
The nomadic caribou of Alaska’s arctic roam widely across the northern regions of the Brooks Range mountains. Several thousands were visible along the snowy tundra near the Philip Smith mountains, and I experimented with various focal lengths. They were quite far off but the herd shows their dispersion well. At least two in one group were running around with arrow wounds from the bow hunters that access the herd from the Dalton highway.
Snow owl in flight. Canon 1D Mark IV, 500mm f/4l IS w/2x, 1/500 sec @ f/8, ISO 800
I’ve had few chances to get a good photo of a snowly owl in flight, over the snowy tundra of Alaska’s north slope. On my last trip there many were spotted but this is the only one that I had a chance to photograph, and that was a long reach. I used my 500 with a 2x on a 1D, which makes a 1300mm lens. I even cropped this frame but still think it can produce a 16 x 24 inch print o.k. Net time, I’m hoping for something a little closer. They are truly majestic birds.
Play fighting polar bears on Alaska's arctic coast. Canon 1D Mark IV, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/800 sec @ f/5, ISO 800.
I just returned from co-guiding a photo tour to Alaska’s arctic, and getting ready to return for trip two. We had excellent polar bear photography with favorable conditions including some unusually calm weather. The light however, was in general pretty dark and gray, which is typical for coastal arctic Alaska weather this time of year. This results in shooting conditions that push the limits. In the case of this photo, I took it hand held with my 500mm lens, on a relatively stable boat, but the exposure of 1/800 second will just barely stop the fast action of play fighting bears. High ISO levels of 800-1000 or so are common and produce great results if properly exposed. The tendency in dim lighting with white and gray colors is for the camera to under expose, and I find shooting in manual mode a much easier and controllable way to achieve accurate exposure.
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