The value of a good view

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.

  • Dave Shaw - Patrick,
    Funny I hardly even think of using a real split ND filter anymore. I actually meant a LR one…


  • Carol Mattingly - Beautiful image. You seemed to have worked really hard this past year. Are you ready for a break. CarolReplyCancel

  • Dave Shaw - Looks like you had better weather for this shot alone than I had in 10 days of paddling the Savonoski Loop. Beautiful area, but next time I’d like to experience it without the rain and fog. Lovely image. Are you running a split neutral density along the bottom of the frame to enhance to fog?


    • Patrick - Dave,
      Sorry to hear about the crummy weather. That can be a drag. I had no split grad on the foreground for the water, I did use a LR split grad to tone down the sky however.ReplyCancel

Polar bear blend

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.

  • Patrick - Milo,
    I concur with your terminology. On the right side of the image, I added a tiny bit to the bears fur, in order to get the snow looking right. So, I was being extra conservative, just to respect the real capture folks. Composite generally does imply two distinctly different images, whereas a blend or a stitch does not. And just for fun, I’ll change the title of this post :-) ReplyCancel

  • Milo Burcham - Beautiful shot Patrick. I envy your time with polar bears. I have used that technique many times now to save my bacon after compositional errors or simply to add space. One suggestion, if you have not changed the subject matter (i.e. cloning something out or adding something) is to call it a panoramic stitch rather than composite. “Composite” is often associated with images where 2 elements that did not occur in the same place or same time are added together. The term composite carries a negative connotation among many viewers and editors. If you simply are adding space that you would have captured with a wider lens, I would use the other term.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick - Thanks Pat and Chuck, while it is not a purist image, any means to increase file size and working space can be a boost in the stock photography genre.ReplyCancel

  • Pat Ulrich - Such a beautiful image, Patrick! The bears look so great against that blue sky color. Very interesting idea for increasing the space — I hadn’t thought of doing that before, but it makes a lot of sense!ReplyCancel

  • chuck ashley - Nicely done Patrick,nicely done!ReplyCancel

Mother polar bear and cub

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.

  • Susan Stevenson - Wow! I love this! I haven’t seen polar bears yet, but it’s on my bucket list. What a beautiful photo, Patrick!ReplyCancel

  • Vivian - WOW! What a great picture! The out of focus white and blue background is perfect for these polar bears!ReplyCancel

  • Mark Van Bergh - They are indeed fun to photograph. :) Looks like you are photographing the bears from a lower angle than is possible on the trips to Churchill using the tundra buggies. Are you actually on the ground, or just shooting from your vehicles at ground level?ReplyCancel

  • Tad - Beautiful Image Patrick!ReplyCancel

    • Patrick - Thanks everyone,
      Mark, we do often photograph from either the ground or boat-level, which makes a great vantage point.ReplyCancel

Arctic Alaska photo tour report

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

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!


  • Patrick - Pat, thanks for the compliment but a full face reflection would have been perfect – just a tiny bit more!ReplyCancel

  • Patrick - M,
    I can agree with many of your points. The perfect camera for me remains elusive. What I have disliked thus far is carrying two 1D bodies, one just for frame rate and buffer. The merger on that level, at this point in the selection, is good news to me. The buffer on the current 1Ds III makes it nearly worthless for any action photography.

    I’d be happy with the current 1Ds if the frame rate was increased slightly and the buffer expanded. As for the megapixels on the 1Dx, I would rather see 24MP with 8fps, than the 18MP and 12 fps.

    As for landscapes in general, I prefer to not carry the 1Ds. It is way overkill in size and weight for dedicated landscape photography–however, it is rugged and durable. Much of my work in nature photography is a mixture of landscape and wildlife, so I need the crossover flexibility and having just one camera would be beneficial.

    I used to shoot the EOS3 in film days, but we are yet to see it’s equivalent in digital. A new full frame 7D would be a good place to start. One camera to rule them all–but not here yet, at least in Canon’s line up.ReplyCancel

  • M - Hmm. You can’t wait for the 1DX? I am in the camp that is sorely disappointed with Canon. Why? We’ve seen good progression with Canon DSLRs with the 20D, (and that series) and then the 5D, the 5D Mark II, the 1DS Mark II, then 1DS Mark III… all of these cameras in this progression had better resolution. The difference between the 8 MP 20D and the full frame, 21 MP 1DS is incredible. But after over three years of waiting for an update of the 1DS, we are offered a new camera (next year) that only has 18 MP of resolution.

    Not what many of us were hoping for. Especially with the progression we’ve seen with the Nikon DX series.

    Do we really need 12 FPS? Maybe once in a while that might be nice for certain wildlife situations. But most of what wildlife/landscape people shoot isn’t about 12 FPS. It is about image quality, particularly with landscapes. The idea of having less noise at higher ISOs may have some appeal… but you know what? That is not as important as one might think. Think about it… what kind of shots really ‘work’ best, the ones taken in marginal lighting conditions with little color, or ones taken in decent lighting? Yes, Northern Light photography is taken in the dark- but those long exposures have little noise if using LENR and the proper (noise reduction)tools in the digital darkroom.

    I was hoping for the rumored 32 MP resolution in the new camera. That would have been fantastic for landscape photography…

    On a positive note- I’ve finally seen your large prints at the Fairbanks Airport- one has to be past the security check point. Well done.ReplyCancel

  • Pat Ulrich - Beautiful shot, Patrick! I think that the hint of a reflection works really well for this one. Your comments about having only a short time to fire off some shots, and wishing you could revisit a situation again certainly ring true for me.ReplyCancel

Caribou in the Brooks Range

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.

  • Crepuscular Rays | Ivor Photography - [...] the subject is tiny, the technique especially works in wildlife shots. Take a look at this shot or this one to see some outstanding examples from Alaskan photographer Patric J [...]ReplyCancel

  • Anise - Thats sad about the arrowed caribou.ReplyCancel

  • Vivian - Soft, warm lighting here on a very cold scene! The light from the right is pink – sunrise?ReplyCancel

    • Patrick - Vivian, that was later in the day working towards sunset light. Although not a lot of color developed.ReplyCancel

Snowy owl in flight

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.


  • chuck ashley - Your welcome Patrick, we get a pair or two of snowy owls here in the twin cities but they hang out @ the international airport & because of security you can’t really drive around or hang out should you find them without being ushered out of the area. Hope you get a even better shot of one of them in flight next time around.
    Good luck & good shooting

  • Pat Ulrich - Such a remarkable species — and it looks great in flight in this shot! I’ve recently relocated to Massachusetts, and a local wildlife refuge is supposed to have a good population of snowy owls during the winter. I’m fascinated by these birds and am hoping to have my first chance at photographing one once it starts snowing!ReplyCancel

  • Peggy Pechauer Gage - Fabulous!ReplyCancel

  • chuck ashley - Great shot Patrick! I love how well camouflaged these birds are,stunning!ReplyCancel

Polar bears – Pushing exposure limits

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.