Thursday, September 24, 2015


One of my hoped-for images in Alaska has always been a caribou at the top of a hillside. Each year when I go to Alaska, I look for this type of shot. Each year it has not happened. The animals have always been either on a flat plain or lower down on a hillside. But this year, success! Everyone in my group got a healthy dose of my excitement over this opportunity, and thankfully most of them got similar shots.

These kinds of moments in wildlife photography are fleeting and never controllable. The animals are where the animals are, and no amount of hoping or wishing can change that. But when all the elements line up in your favor, it is best to be prepared and be ready to shoot a lot of images when the opportunity presents itself.

Exposures can be difficult in this kind of situation. Anytime there is a dark subject against a light background, it is typical for the camera to underexpose the subject. This happens because the background  is so bright that it fools the light meter into providing an exposure that is accurate for the background but not for the subject. Even when you look at the histogram, the exposure might look correct. But there are many times when you have to consult your head as well as the histogram. In this case, you should automatically increase Exposure Compensation to +1 or +1.5. Doing so might show an overexposure on the histogram, possibly with "blinkies" on the sky area. But that is not a problem in these situations. Why? Because in most cases an overexposed light sky can be brought back down to normal levels after you download onto your computer by using Lightroom or other image optimization software. Most importantly, by increasing exposure you assure yourself that all the detail in the animal's fur will be recorded.

If you do not increase Exposure Compensation, you might still get a usable image, but the fur will be underexposed. When you try to increase the brightness of the dark fur using image optimization software, it WILL get lighter BUT it will show more noise (a grainy look) than had the dark fur been properly exposed in the first place. This is especially true when using high ISO's above 800.

Note that underexposed dark areas always show more noise than light areas.

So our tools are great, but we can't always rely on them completely. We have think and use our heads, as well as our tools, in many shooting situations. And we have to be prepared at all times for whatever Mother Nature might provide.

Shutter Speed 1/1000.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 150mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Serendipity always rewards the prepared."  -Katori Hall

Monday, September 21, 2015


Fogbow. What the heck is a "fogbow?" Who knew they even existed?

This fogbow was a curved white arc caused by sunlight striking fog, similar to a rainbow caused by sunlight striking moisture at just the right angle. We saw this unique phenomenon on a whale-watching trip in Glacier Bay Alaska. It lasted only a few minutes, as the sun was breaking through a thick fog bank over the water. What a piece of luck, and all of us were excited to see this unique effect.

What helps make this shot even more dramatic are the two curved lines at the bottom of the image. They were created by the wake from the boat. The use of a wide angle lens enabled me to incorporate the wake, which was very close, and the fogbow which was relatively far away. In addition, a small aperture kept all of it in focus.

We started out the day in search of whales, and we did find some. We never expected to see an usual phenomenon as well, which turned out to be one of the high spots of our photographic foray.

It proves once again that being prepared is the best approach. Know your equipment, choose lenses carefully, and know how to set your aperture and shutter speed to achieve the look you want.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/10.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm lens, set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Before anything else, preparation is the key to success."  --Alexander Graham Bell

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Moose Mania

This was a banner year for moose in Denali National Park in Alaska. We saw more moose, and bigger healthier moose than in the past. This guy was huge. One of the members of the group compared his antlers to satellite dishes, and she was not far off.

His dark fur is set off beautifully against the fall tundra. We were lucky to hit peak fall color this year. Fall is always a moving target in Alaska, and you never know exactly when the colors will pop. And once they start to turn, the change occurs quickly in this far northern latitude. Within 5 days the entire show could be over.

Moose are elusive creatures in Denali and often are hidden in deep foliage, or stay very far away from even the longest of lenses. We were lucky to have seen several within range, but even so, this image is cropped a good deal.

Moose are also dangerous animals, even though they look slow and benign. They can charge at 40 or more miles per hour, and can cover a lot of ground quickly so keeping your distance is always imperative, especially during the fall mating season. Bulls are very protective of their females and will attack if they feel threatened.

In Denali we always travel with an experienced guide / driver who knows where to look for moose and how close we can approach safely.

It was a thrill to see so much wildlife during our time in there.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 400mm with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Alaska ... is just like anyplace else, except with mountains and moose."  -Tom Bodett

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Two Swans A'swimming

We all hope to be in the right place at the right time. That is exactly what happened during our shooting session at Wonder Lake in Denali National Park last week. The clouds, the lighting, the fall colors, and the serendipitous appearance of two swans in the perfect position all combined to make a striking scenic.

The swans and the calm water reflections provide a sense of serenity against the backdrop of craggy, formidable mountains.

I often see a pair of swans each time I visit this area, and I assume it is the same pair each year. Rarely, though, have I seen them arrange themselves in such a perfect position for a portrait in their summer home.

When photographing landscapes, it is best to use a small aperture in order to achieve deep depth of field. In this case, f/14 provided good sharpness for the swans in the foreground all the way back to the mountains many miles away.

It is a rare treat to spend time in this huge wilderness where Mother Nature is in charge. We humans are mere specks in the landscape and mere blips in the eons of time that have formed this wild paradise.

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 138mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We must go out into the untrodden depths of the wilderness, and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey."  -John Hope Franklin

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Oh You Beautiful Dall (Sheep, That Is!)


The next few blogs will cover more of the incredible things we saw in Alaska over the past several weeks. What a trip! The scenery, the wildlife, the experiences, and most importantly the people who traveled with me, were fantastic in all respects. Two separate groups accompanied me first to Glacier Bay National Park, and then to Denali National Park.

I returned to the east coast late last night, a bit tired but energized by all the pristine beauty and animals we saw.

The photos above are actually the same photo, cropped differently. The Before image shows the entire shot, taken with a Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set to 200mm. The After image is cropped down to showcase the Dall Sheep more clearly. Today's high quality lenses have improved sharpness and images hold up well to serious cropping after the fact.

Why did I not use my longer Canon 100-400mm lens for this shot? Because this image was shot from the bus taking us to our lodge deep inside Denali National Park, and I had to choose one all-purpose lens to have with me for that leg of the trip. All my other gear was packed in my camera case for transport, and was inaccessible for this part of the journey. 

So which version do you prefer? Do you like the wider view showing the entire scene with the sheep being a tiny part of this huge expanse? Or do you prefer the closer crop which showcases the sheep? I'm eager to hear your comments. You can comment here on this blog, or on our Facebook page  or via email at 

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world."  -John Muir

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Catch Me If You Can

Lake Clark National Park in Alaska is a very special place for brown bear. The bears are treated with the utmost respect, most individuals are recognized by their distinctive appearance, and the few people who live there feel a strong sense of responsibility for the bears' health and safety.

I saw all of this firsthand last week during a wonderful 4-day stay in the park. Each day was filled with fantastic photographic opportunities along a beautiful stretch of the Cook Inlet. Our guide drove a 4-wheel drive ATV with a cart attached that seated 4 photographers and their gear. With his experience and skill, plus a powerful pair of binoculars, he spotted bear and took us to their locations. In addition to being a top-notch guide, he knew how to get us into position for the best lighting angles to best show off the bears in their environment.

At this time of year, we saw mothers and cubs, plus lone females. The males have already retreated back into the mountains in search of food and a place to hibernate for the rapidly approaching winter. The females will head into the hills in a few weeks to hibernate with their young.

This lone female was chasing the abundant silver salmon along the tidal pools and water's edge. She caught this beauty and seemed pleased to show it off to all of the onlookers.

We always kept a respectful distance from the bears, but they did not seem concerned about our presence and often walked toward us with no malice or fear. As they approached, we would retreat so they could pursue the path of their choice.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm set to 247mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Bears are made of the same dust we are, breathe the same winds, and drink the same waters. A bear's days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsings like ours and was poured from the same fountain."  --John Muir

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Just Another Sleepless Night In Paradise

Conditions were right for a Northern Lights display during the Glacier Bay photo tour, and most of the group was game for getting up at 1am to venture forth. We stepped outside our lodge and were greeted by an incredible display. A variety of swirling, undulating, and flashing lights in shades of green and reddish-purple chased all across the sky.

I had seen this spectacular phenomenon only once before, and that was fleetingly from a jetliner crossing the wilds of northern Canada in the middle of the night. No way to photograph it, so I was thrilled to be able to see AND photograph it this time.

The display lasted about 2 hours and all we could say was WOW!! over and over again. What a thrill for all of us.

I was surprised that the colors looked more intense on my camera's view screen than to my eyes. Apparently this is not unusual.

Exposure was easy. See details below. While most of us have limited opportunities to see the Northern Lights, if you ever travel to places where they are viewable, I highly recommend it. It is a feast for the eyes and the soul.

Shutter Speed 15 seconds.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 400. Set lens to manual focus and then focus on infinity. Set camera to Manual and preset shutter speed, f/stop, and ISO before heading out. Check histogram after a few test shots. Often Exposure Compensation of +1 or +2 is needed.
Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4 set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Northern Lights wall earth with fire."  -R.P.T Coffin

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Whale Of A Welcome

Glacier Bay Alaska is a waterworld of epic proportions. Majestic mountains, cold deep blue waters, wildlife in pristine locations, and views everywhere.

We have seen exciting whale action on two separate whale-watch cruises. Our first was on a blustery rainy day when the whales enjoyed the rough waters much more than we did. The second trip was much calmer, with diving whales and beautifully backlit spouts from their blowholes. One of our trips took us close to their escape route from Alaskan waters to the open warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean and their wintering grounds in Hawaii. They sure know how to live - summers in Alaska and winters in Hawaii.

Our captain was a skillful navigator and an expert on whale behavior. He brought us close enough on many occasions for great shots and the thrill of being close, but not too close, to these huge but gentle mammals.

When shooting wildlife, especially from a boat, a fast shutter speed is imperative. It helps freeze the motion of both the animal and the boat. 1/1250 of a second is generally the slowest speed I recommend for these situations. ISO 800 or less works well unless it is a very dark day, or early or late in the day. At those times it is OK to go up to ISO 1600, or even 3200 if that is the only way to get the shot. But I do not like the noise that results from a high ISO. Generally Lightroom does a good job of reducing the appearance of noise, but results diminish at ISO 3200 and higher. 

After shooting each day we returned to our lovely lodge to enjoy time in front of the big fireplace, gourmet dinners, and evening critiques and lively conversation. We have been enjoying a quintessential Alaska experience in all respects.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/13.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II set at 140mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The essence of life is not in the great victories and grand failures, but in the simple joys. "  -Jonathan Lockwood Huie