Radio and Magazines!

Seven page portfolio in the June 2015 issue of Alaska magazine.

Seven page portfolio in the June 2015 issue of Alaska magazine.

I promise I will get trip reports from my last two expeditions up soon. I have two things to keep you entertained until then.

I was a recent guest on the popular Alaska Public Media show Outdoor Explorer. This was my second time as a guest on the show. This time I was talking with Charles, the host, about wilderness photography. Dan Bailey was the guest on the first half of the show, I am the guest on the second. You can listen to it here:

http://www.alaskapublic.org/2015/05/22/outdoor-photography/

Alaska Magazine has published a seven page portfolio from the Alaska Range Project in their latest issue (June 2015). I have been a contributing photographer to Alaska Magazine for over ten years. My work has appeared in 15 different issues including three featured portfolios. Thanks again Alaska Magazine for all the years of support!

 

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Telephoto Landscapes

Cool ice and Mount Deborah.

Cool ice and Mount Deborah. Taken at 200mm.

People are always surprised when I tell them that I rarely use a wide-angle lens for my photography. I prefer to work with a 70-200 lens, in fact, over 80% of my images are with that lens.

A wide-angle lens generally needs a close foreground subject that anchors the image or directs the viewer to another object in the distance. This is often referred to as a near-far composition. The foreground is the often main subject, while the distant subject establishes the environment or sets the mood. Sometimes the foreground is just a guide, that leads us to a more dominant background subject.

Beautiful mixed light, Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range.

Beautiful mixed light, Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range. Taken at 400mm.

Using a wide-angle lens effectively is much harder than one thinks. Wide-angle photographs often include more of the scene then what we want. Including too much in our photographs is possibly the most common error that leads to disappointment in our work. I was once given the advice: “Once you composed the perfect image, to move in 20% closer.” I continue to encourage my workshop students to do the same.

1:00am sunset lights the rain, sky and river.

1:00am sunset lights the rain, sky and river. Taken at 70mm.

It takes practice to really isolate “what” we like from a scene. When we realize what is really attracting us to a particular landscape,we can use a telephoto lens to “reach out” and grab the elements in the scene that we had been seduced by.

A telephoto lens compresses a landscape, creating layers of land and light that appear close to each other, even though they could be separated by miles and miles. Light and shadow are major elements in a telephoto landscape, they add depth to a scene that has been smashed into a two-dimensional image. Deep, long shadows and bright, dramatic highlights are the best for telephoto landscapes.

Sy and Chris descend through the upper Kahiltna Icefall, Mount Foraker is in the background, Denali National Park and Preserve

Sy and Chris descend through the upper Kahiltna Icefall, Mount Foraker is in the background, Denali National Park and Preserve. Having people in this images gives a sense of scale and really completes the image.

A telephoto landscape can bring out the graphic, abstract qualities of photography, light and the landscape. That is usually a good thing, but sometimes, its more powerful to have a small object in the frame, like a person or a tree, which adds a sense of scale to an image. So next time leave your wide angle at home and try and photograph some landscapes with just a telephoto, you will amazed by the results.

 

Grizzly Gorge

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The Grizzly Gorge was hidden in these multicolored mountains and begged for exploration

I just returned from a fantastic trip into the Nutzotin Mountains. The Nutzotin Mountains are the last mountains of the eastern Alaska Range, tucked in behind the mighty Wrangell Mountains, right on the Canadian border.

Our ambitions were high: explore as much terrain as possible, get good images for the Alaska Range project and attempt a first ascent of an unclimbed peak. And despite difficult snow conditions and bipolar weather, we were successful.

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Sometimes it took a leap of faith to explore the mysterious canyon

I don’t consider myself a mountaineer. I lack the technical skills to climb anything of note. I do, however, consider myself an explorer, in the classical sense. I like to wander, look up valleys and sometimes, climb peaks.

We did make a successful ascent of Hidden Peak (peak 8514) and it was a great, moderate snow/glacier climb. It was a highlight of the trip, however, I also found simply exploring random canyons and valleys to be just as rewarding, one such canyon was what we called Grizzly Gorge.

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We named the little canyon Grizzly Gorge for a reason. We watched this grizzly wander the exit of the gorge and the hills above it. We had weight restrictions for this trip so I only brought my camera and a single lens, no tele on this trip. This is the perfect distance to be from a grizzly when exploring remote back-country.

I had spotted this narrow slice in the multicolored mountains on our approach to the peak and really wanted to explore it. So on our way back down to our pick up point when spent the night at the entrance to the gorge.

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So many intriguing rocks and patterns, I spent hours photographing and in awe.

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On the map this little canyon barely even registers and would not be anything of note. But it held many beautiful secrets and surprises. And that is why I explore, to find the hidden gems in wilderness, the nameless, the ignored. There was no reason to go in that little canyon and probably no one ever had, but it was no less spectacular than the top of a unclimbed peak.

In search of foreground!

If I searched, I was able to find some beautiful rocks that helped add some color to the the winter world of blue and white.

I was able to find some beautiful rocks that helped add some color to the alpine world of blue and white.

I know it seems preposterous to complain about endless blue skies and as an explorer, I am not. However, as a photographer, perfect blue skies combined with a world of white creates a monochromatic world that after a few days,  begins to look the same,  Another photographic difficulty I had on my last trip was that we were so tight in the mountains that we never got low angle light, which can reveal the beautiful texture of snow, which is shaped by the wind into wonderful patterns and waves called Strastugi, great foreground subjects.

Glacial erratic and Mount Deborah.

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Same rock, different light, different mood.

Yes, this all seems petty, but it can be frustrating when your desperate to create, creative images. So I explored every rock, looking for a splash of color. I looked in crevasses, and was luckily able to find some unique ice next to one of the medial moraines.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah.

Cool ice and Mount Deborah.

Ice and Mount Deborah.

The ice was too cool and became the main subject.  Accumulation and moraine layers, Gillam Glacier, Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

The ice was too cool and became the main subject. Accumulation and moraine layers, Gillam Glacier, Hayes Mountains, Eastern Alaska Range

About to fall.

About to fall.

 

 

 

K.I.S.S. in the Mountains

Function over fashion. Getting organized before an expeditions will pay dividends in the mountains.

Function over fashion. Getting organized before expeditions will pay dividends in the mountains.

I try to follow the acronym K.I.S.S when preparing for an expedition and when out in the field. I try to keep everything simple and organized. When it’s cold and ugly out, it pays to “Have all your ducks lined up.” as my Dad would say.

My gear is often laughed at by fellow photographers, it’s well-worn and covered in bright-colored tape. But I believe in function over fashion. Much of my photography happens during the dim light before sunrise and after sunset. I have lost many a cable release and lens cap during these dark hours. And though neither is a trip killer, it can be frustrating and just adds an unnecessary complication to an expedition.

It also pays to keep track of batteries and memory cards, especially in the cold when I am frequently rotating them around like musical chairs.  Batteries always fail right when the light is really good, cards also fail or magically fill up right when things start to get exciting!

These are my accessories for my upcoming trip into the Gillam Glacier, Eastern Alaska Range.

 

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.

Working With The Light You’ve Got: Bright Sun

Even though modern cameras seem to able to see in the dark, we still need some type of light to create an image, whether it be light provided by us or by the moon, we need light. There are generally two ways to approach light in landscape photography, find the subject and wait for the light or wait for the light and find a subject that is illuminated beautifully by it.

Moss Campion

Moss Campion and the Raven Glacier. The light was high and bright, but the unique combination of colors, the low angle, use of a polarizer and the direction of the camera made it a successful image.

For me it usually is a combination of both. It’s pretty rare that light perfectly illuminates my pre-composed scene, I often need to recompose when the light  I am waiting for finally arrives. Other times, I have to completely change location, with heart pumping and emotions high.

The late Galen Rowell was a believer of the second approach. To him, photography was all about light, subject came second. He was famous for literally running, often long distances, to match a subject with the developing light.

I believe in the power of subject. I usually wait for a subject to reveal itself to me and then decide if the light matches. Of course, light itself,  can often be the subject.  Light can also be a guide and frequently all you can do is follow it as it travels across the landscape, photographing whatever it reveals.

There is no correct way to approach light and subject. Having strong knowledge of weather and its many phenomenon is good, however, the best thing we can do is practice our awareness of our surroundings, step out of our own mind and live in the moment.  If we can abandoned any preconceived ideas and quiet our thoughts about our day-to-day life, we will be able to adjust with what is developing around us, we will be able to create images quickly and with great impact.

The beautiful north face of Avalanche Spire, central Alaska Range

The beautiful north face of Avalanche Spire, central Alaska Range. Taken around noon.

Direct Sun

” If there is light, one can photograph.” Alfred Steglitz

Like an elusive animal, the majority of landscape photographers only appear before and after sunset and sunrise. Their prey is that mysterious “Magic Light”, that for a brief moment, paints the landscape. But when traveling through remote wilderness, wilderness that chances are, you will never see again, it is important to learn to create images with the light you’ve got. It’s a valuable tool if you ever plan to do assignment work or travel in places that you will only see once.

Inside a crevasse, Matanuska Glacier.

The direct, overhead light illuminated this crevasse perfectly.

The hardest light to work with is summer, mid day, direct sun.  There are plenty of photographers on-line that like to preach that “Trying to create meaningful images in anything besides the magic hour is pointless.” These “all-knowing”  landscape photographers love to drive into their herd’s minds that not a single good image can be taken during the middle of the day. Sure, it is not easy and it’s not always possible, but it can be done.

The main issue is the harsh, contrasty, over-head, light of the middle of the day. Yes, for most subjects, it doesn’t work. What we need to do is see if we can find a subject that benefits from such contrast. Steep mountains always have a side that looks great during the middle of the day. Another approach is to shoot into the light, using things like trees,  rocks or even a person to block the sun itself.

Birch Bark Detail#1

Birch Bark. Using my body to shade the bark from the direct sun created nice diffused light.

Sometimes it pays to get close, really close. Macro photography can be done during the middle of the day. Simply use your body or some other object to shade the subject, creating even, diffused light. You can also search for transparent subjects like ice or leaves. I like to explore narrow canyons and cliffs during the middle of the day, looking for subjects in the shade. A polarizing filter can help remove harsh glare off subjects and can help enhance colors.Sometimes I will use a really strong ND filter to emphasize movement, which we rarely see in images on bright sunny days.

Melt water stream on the Backside Glacier. It was abright and sunny day so I had to use a ten-stop ND filter too slow down the exposure, central Alaska Range.

Melt water stream on the Backside Glacier. It was a bright and sunny day so I used a ten-stop ND filter to slow down the exposure.

On rare occasions I will use a portable strobe. Using a flash to fill in harsh shadows can make an image. People and macro photography can be very successful in direct, mid-day sun when a fill flash is used.

With all those ideas, sometimes we need to just let go of a scene or subject. If possible, we can return during better light, but if you’re travelling through a landscape, then maybe sitting back, with feet up and enjoying the glorious sun is a much more rewarding of an experience than trying to capture a photograph.

In the next post I will talk about working in terrible weather.

New Article in Landscape Photography Magazine

Landscape Photography Magazine has just published  a new article I wrote on photographing glaciers.This was my first time working with Landscape Photography Magazine. They are a high quality online European magazine that is worth checking out.

New article in the latest issue of Landscape Photography Magazine

New article in the latest issue of Landscape Photography Magazine

Here is the Link: http://landscapephotographymagazine.com/2013/a-guide-to-photographing-glaciers/