Vegetation grows under the endless arctic daylight on the tussock filled tundra of Alaskas arctic. Sag river and Brooks range mountains in the distance. Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm f/4L IS, 1/4 sec @ f/20, ISO 100, 2:04 AM, June 16
Some of the first hints of color on the tundra are the wooly lousewort flowers. They are early bloomers, and the bright pink color really pops out along the brown tundra. For anyone who has hiked across this kind of terrain, you know what I’m talking about when I say it is difficult travel. It’s a wonder to me how the caribou can move so quickly among these tussocks, but they seem to run through them without much difficulty. The Sagavanirktok river in the distance, flows north out of the Brooks range. At after 2:00 AM in the morning, the sun has already reached it’s lowest point and is beginning to climb higher.
Muskox and baby
A young muskox calf and adult on the turndra of Alaska’s arctic north slope. Canon 5D Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS w/1.4x (700mm), 1/200 sec @ f/11, ISO 400
Baby muskox rank up there with the cutest of all little creatures. There were four young ones in this herd of ancient and odd looking animals. Like many wild animals that I’ve spent time with, the younger the accompanying offspring, the more wary they behave – for obvious reasons when one considers the predators that are all too ready to strike. I spent the afternoon getting some exercise under the cloudless skies, waiting for the hot and harsh light to tame down a bit. Even by 9:30pm, the light is still pretty harsh in this setting, but better something than nothing. I ended up hiking across the tussocks and fording a chilly river to photograph these animals, but by they decided to eventually move on before the soft, late evening light fell.
I shot this scene at f/11 in order to get enough depth of field to have the muskox calf and the adult female in the focus. This is one of the rare instances when the animals looked at me. For most of the time they were feeding on the tundra, or napping, and not offering or expressing much interest in me.
Bull caribou in the midnight sun
A bull caribou grazes in the midnight sun on Alaska’s arctic north slope at 1:12AM. Canon 5D Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/640 sec @ f/4, ISO 400.
Photographing in Alaska’s high arctic in the summer is both wonderful and brutal. The infusion of light is energizing on the one hand, but the schedule it forces can be brutally tiring as well. Golden light is restricted to the midnight hour, give or take a few. So, especially on clear days, I switch over to shooting from 10pm to 5am. I find recapturing sleep difficult. I took this frame a little after 1:00am, and the ocean fog moving in from the coast offered a good contrast to the streaming light painting the tundra foreground.
Remnants of snowfall show how at just one week away from the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the ubiquitous sun has not yet relinquished all of winter’s remains. I really thought this scene would work well as a panorama so I shot 4 consecutive frames. However, I made the error of not overlapping quite enough, and the 500mm has some pretty strong corner vignetting at f/4. I tried to remove it in Lightroom, but it just did not quite look right. I do know better, that the overlap should be about 50% of the frame when shooting the 500 at f/4, but sometimes one forgets!
Boreal jacobs-ladder blossoms in the Brooks range mountains, Alaska. Canon 5D Mark III, 100mm f/2.8 macro, 1/30 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 200.
The spring and summer wildflowers on Alaska’s tundra are nothing but spectacular. I’ve been documenting a few that I have for one reason or another, never photographed before. This is one of them, an early blooming arctic version of the common Jacobs ladder found in Alaska’s interior. The aperture of f/5.6 helps diffuse the background colors and soften the look, focusing on the few blossoms in the foreground.
Dall sheep lambs, Brooks range, Alaska. Canon 5D Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS, w/1.4x (700mm), 1/160 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400.
The first few weeks of June in Alaska is the time when the newborn animals of the year begin showing up. They are pure cuteness in most respects, and they are also very susceptible to hungry predators as the circle of life takes its course in the wilderness landscape. For the latter, it means that adults with young ones tend to be more wary and alert, sometimes making photography more difficult. These three young dall sheep lambs chose to rest along the steep slopes of the Brooks range mountains, while the adults descended to a grassy patch along the tundra to graze. This image is cropped a bit, and I would have used a 2x converter instead of the 1.4x, however the 5D III will not auto focus with a 2x converter on the 500mm. What a shame Canon, you revamped the auto focus and upped the price of the 5D III by one grand but left it dumb in this one critical area. Yes, I know there is always manual focus, but my eyes and execution of this have not produced good results so far, static objects are a bit easier for sure but critical focus in manual mode is harder than one might imagine.
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