Working With The Light You’ve Got: Rain

Part two of my little series on working with what you got.

Fall leaves and bear tracks, Chugach State Park, Alaska. The perfect subject for a rainy day.

Fall leaves and bear tracks, Chugach State Park, Alaska. The perfect subject for a rainy day.

To be a successful mountain – wilderness photographer, you need to learn to work in most situations, this is especially true if your on a paid assignment. The editors don’t really care how bad the weather was, they just want images.

In Alaska, your pretty lucky to get trough an entire trip without getting rained on at least once. Usually, your lucky if you get a day or two of nice weather, during a week of rain. When I look back at last summer’s trips, rainy days were the norm, over sixty percent of the days in the field it rained.

The first thing to do is get outside! Don’t sit around in your tent feeling sorry for yourself, there will be plenty of time for that at night! You spent all that money on those fancy Gore-Tex items, so put them to use.

At the Headwaters of the South Fork of Eagle river near the Flute Glacier. Another rainy Chugach scene.

At the Headwaters of the South Fork of Eagle river near the Flute Glacier. Another rainy Chugach scene.

You will quickly realize that hiking in the rain can be very pleasant. If it’s really windy or raining hard, head for the forest. Wet foliage is beautiful and the dampness can really accentuate the colors. Again, its time to focus on the details. Intimate macros and mid distance forest studies are best on  cloudy, rainy day.

This is about the only time I use a polarizer, it helps remove the glare and reflection off wet items. This is also a good time to call to duty that len’s shade you keep dragging around but never use.

beautiful, wet forest

Beautiful, wet forest. Chugach State Park, Alaska

I sometimes bring along the secret tool of backcountry guides in Alaska, an umbrella. Yep, sounds silly at first but an umbrella is a great way to boost your wet, soggy clients morale. Umbrellas are also great for keeping rain off your gear when photographing. They can also help prevent camera shake from wind and on sunny days they can create shade for close-ups and block glare from the sun! Pretty useful.

In the woods or when photographing plants, I try to use a fast shutter speed to stop any motion caused by the rain hitting the subjects. When photographing water or clouds, I will sometimes use a slow shutter speed, to emphasize movement.

Beautiful mixed light, my favorite light for landscape photography. Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range.

Beautiful mixed light, my favorite light for landscape photography. Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range.

Mixed light reflection, unnamed tarn, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Mixed light reflection, unnamed tarn, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Dark, gloomy days can also make for interesting landscapes. In Alaska, you frequently get “sucker holes” that let light in for a fleeting moment. The mixed light created by these holes in the clouds, are my favorite and if there is any chance of light coming through I am happy hang out in the rain.

Photographing on rainy days isn’t that hard, its more of a state of mind. When I look back at many of my favorite images over the years, many are the ones taken on  rainy days.

Sunset from Steamroller Pass, Chugach State Park, Alaska. After nearly forty days of rain in  the Chugach, this sunset was a welcome surprise.

Sunset from Steamroller Pass, Chugach State Park, Alaska. After nearly forty days of rain in the Chugach, this sunset was a welcome surprise.

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Alaska Range Project featured on the Adventure Journal

The fantastic light arrives on the ridge. North side of the eastern Alaska Range

The fantastic light arrives on the ridge. North side of the eastern Alaska Range. 2013 Alaska Range Project trip.

Excited that the Adventure Journal, possibly the best, online outdoor magazine, has featured the Alaska Range Project.

The link is: http://www.adventure-journal.com/2014/01/feature-gallery-the-alaska-range-project/

And if you missed it, the Alaska Range project has been getting all kinds of love from all over the web!

National Geographic Adventure Blog:

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/01/02/courting-death-by-cold-water/

Nature Photographers Network

http://www.naturephotographers.net/articles1213/cb1213-1.html

This type of support really gets me excited about this year’s trips and erases my memory of all the troubles from last year! Thanks to all the editors who have picked up this project and have shared it with the world!

 

Planning a Remote Wilderness Photography Trip Using Google Earth

I have six major trips planned this year along with a handful of shorter jaunts. I have spent the lasts few weeks digging through maps and staring for hours at Google Earth.

Obviously, the first thing I considered is “What areas offer the best chances for successful image making?” For some of my trips, there is a at least one major objective, and for the Alaska Range project, it’s usually a big mountain.

After I choose an objective, I look for bodies of water or other features that could add to an image of the major objective or just give me more variety. Other mountains in the area, steep valleys that could have waterfalls, glaciers that may have caves or interesting features and of course lakes, especially ones that have chances for reflections. Variety is key. There is always a good chance that your main mountain will never be seen, so there should be plenty of other interesting things to go explore.

Google Earth helps me figure out if a location has enough variety. One of the main issues I have found by using only topo maps is that its hard to figure out if you will be able to see your objectives. I have been in valleys that were too tight to see the actual mountains and have had views blocked by small hills that I hardly noticed on the map.

Google Earth’s Street View isn’t exact and should be only used as a guide but its usefulness can’t be denied. Once you have found the location you can use Google Earth’s night/day feature to determine if and when light will actual hit you main objectives. You can also get exact sunset and sunrise times along with the moon’s cycle. You just type in the exact dates of your trip and watch the screen as the light crosses the landscape, pretty cool.

lima bean lake

Google Earth View of Lima Bean Lake (it’s the blackness in the front) This is the Street View. This tells me that the mountains are in view from the lake shore and that there is potential for a reflection type shot.

Unnamed mountains reflected in Lima Bean Lake (local name), central Alaska Range

Lima Bean Lake, Denali National Park and Preserve. My study of Google Earth showed possibilities at this lake and  it proved right.

I never plan a trip where I am trapped by the terrain. I like to explore and if the there is just one possible angle of a mountain and not much else, then its just not worth the trip. If there are impossible icefalls, dangerous rivers, steep terrain or just too much bush whacking, then I look somewhere else.

Google Earth is really good for determining where the “green zone” is these days. Most topos of Alaska are over fifty years old. The green zone on those maps (the areas with bushes and trees) has changed dramatically. Some areas that were pretty easy to access just ten years ago are now nightmare bush whacks. Google Earth can also show you how far the glaciers have receded, which I find very useful since most of my trips involve glaciers! Pay attention to the date the images were taken (its in the lower corner of the screen), this can  help you decide when to go and what the terrain really looks like. Some images were taken in winter, which really doesn’t help you plan a summer trip. But I find late season images great for planning routes, especially on glaciers.

The next question is if you can actually get to your location? Are there lakes a float-plane could land on? long enough glaciers with enough snow coverage? Or gravel bars that a tundra plane could land on? There are plenty of secret strips in the mountains of Alaska and sometimes I can spot them on Google Earth.

Probably the most valuable tool for me, is using  Google Earth to identify mountains I have taken photos of, especially aerial images.

Google gives a pretty wide angle images but its still very useful for indentifing Mountains.

Google Earth gives a pretty wide-angle image but it’s still very useful for identifying Mountains. Can you see the shot below in the Google Image above?

The Citadel and Peak 8505, Mount Iliamna in the distance.

The Citadel,  Peak 8505 and Mount Iliamna in the distance. These peaks were easy to identify using Google Earth and a topo map together via the Hillmap Website.

If you don’t have two big monitors then its difficult to use a topo program and Google Earth at the same time, which can be frustrating. Luckily there is an awesome website called Hillmap. It splits your chosen topo with Google Earth and seamlessly moves them together, so what’s on one side is mirrored on the other, Brilliant! Their website is http://www.hillmap.com/

Google Earth has its flaws of course. Most of the remote areas have poor resolution, making the usefulness of the images questionable. We should try not to get our hopes up either. It’s always best to enter a remote area with a fresh mind, open to new things and not filled with all the possibilities you saw on a computer screen hundreds of miles away.

Happy Travels!