After three days, the Nordic Ski championships are over. The day started two hours earlier than previous days, so it allowed me the opportunity to explore an aspen and birch grove that had grabbed my attention the previous two days. It was cloudy and snowing again, which, for photographing an aspen grove, can have its advantages. I parked on a side rode and slowly post-holed my way into the woods. The practical aspects of my trip, flying rather than driving, compelled me to travel lightly and leave my snowshoes behind. They would have come in handy on this particular venture, but I was not planning on going very far, anyway. I was probably working my way onto private property and did not relish the thought of some cranky Fairbanks resident confronting me with a shotgun. I worked the woods for about a half hour, trying to capture the repeating patterns of the trees while recognizing some of the diversity as well, including the occasional spruce here and there in the shots. There is a reason that aspen and birch groves are often photo subjects for nature photographers. They are compelling in the way they constantly repeat patterns and provide great textures and, in the days of autumn, a wonderfully rich source of color.
Archive for February, 2009
So, the day started out better for the light. The sun broke from its cloudy prison around late morning and gave some nice light for the girls 7.5K freestyle race and the beginning of the boys 10K freestyle. Unfortunately, it got fairly diffuse again by later in the afternoon. It got fairly thick by the time the evening came along, again denying me the opportunity to go out and photograph the aurora. And tonight had the best forecast for a display, although not much of one with a forecast of a 2.
The improved lighting conditions gave me an opportunity to work with the beautiful birch and aspen groves in the ski area. Since I was not working with a tripod on the ski trails, I had to get creative in bracing myself and stabilizing the camera so I could get some decent depth of field looking into the trees.
Nordic skiers are a special breed of people. The first thing you notice about them, whether they are the athletes or the adult skiers who volunteer to help run the tournament, is that they are all incredibly fit and trim. Certain types of athletes have bulk in certain areas, like swimmers with their thighs. Not Nordic skiers. They are skinny in all parts, and look like they could ski forever, that is, until you see them hurling as they finish a 10K race.
Photographing Nordic skiing is a great deal like photographing cross country running. The course is laid out in a way where you can photograph in one area, then cut over and catch the back side of a loop as the same group comes through again. It allows you to have diversity in your background scenery and gives you a chance to cover all the atheletes at least once. The downside of this strategy is that you often have a bit of down time, waiting around for the group to come back toward your part of the loop again. But, it also allows you to look around and see what else the scenery has to offer. Then there are the fans who cheer their school athletes on. There is no “Spirit Award” for this event, but if there were, I think it would have to go to the Palmer Moose.
Today was a snowy day. Most adults here who have been around state Nordic ski championships said this was the first time they could recall it snowing during a state championship. Others, offering a similar sentiment, noted that it was the first time in a long time they could recall it being above zero in Fairbanks during a skiing event. It made for some interesting photos, but all but guaranteed that I would not be photographing the aurora tonight. We will see about tomorrow.
After somewhat of a blitzkrieg trip it seems like, I have had my last morning shooting on the road trip leading up to the NANPA summit. I am glad I arranged to have the gate opened an hour early at the park. It allowed me to get into position and be selective in where I would be when the first golden light from the rising sun washed across the landscape. There is a certain peace knowing that you are the only soul in a particular location, able to take your time and work in the still silence of the morning. The only thing missing from the morning was having Michelle with me to enjoy it. Sure, it’s great to be out there by yourself sometimes, but other times, I wish that she was here with me to share it.
I got into the park this afternoon well before I knew I would want to shoot, as the sun was too high, and the light too harsh. But I wanted to scout out some locations for this evening and for possible spots for tomorrow. I was concerned, though, as I approached the entrance to the park on Highway 70 and saw a thick cloud of sand filling the air in the vicinity of the dunes. The wind had picked up a bit by the time I left in the morning, and had really kicked into high gear in my absence. The radio said that sustained winds were 25 mph with gusts exceeding 40 mph. The sand storm was so thick, the San Andres Mountains to the west were almost completely obscured. Not deterred, I headed out into the wind and sand toward an area I hoped would provide some good opportunities. I stuck around and shot for a while even well after the sun had gone down, not attempting sillhouettes, but rather capturing the dunes and ripples in the light of dusk.
In Alaska, it is pretty easy to find the landscape. From a photographic standpoint, the photographable scene is pretty obvious. All the spaces are open, whether in a coastal area or a glacial valley. In White Sands, it is rather challening to find the scenic shot. The sand dunes essentiall serve as mini mountain ridges, and you have to climb them and get over the next wave of sand dunes in order to see what’s out there. In addition, you just cannot count on early light for great photos. The angle of the light is the key to a great landscape photo in White Sands. The ripples in the sand almost run parallel to the angle of the sun, pretty much after about 8:00, making impossible to capture the shadows in the individual ripples. I am thinking that the afternoon will have a better angle of sun for those photo ops. And even the big landscape photos, with the shadows casting from the dunes themselves, are generally not present much after sunrise. Fortunately, I have made arrangements to be let into the park an hour before sunrise tomorrow, so I will be in better position to capture as much as possible.
So, I made it to White Sands National Monument. I had to find a hotel to stay in, then set up and download the photos from earlier in the day. Those things took a while. Even though I got a late start in White Sands, making it to the main gate only an hour before sunset, I found out quickly how easy and how hard it is to capture photo in White Sands. The easy part is the dunes come right to the main road, almost jumping out at you. The hard part is the tracks from all the visitors, all over the place, making it challening to find an unblemished dune. And the sand dunes go everywhere. It’s not like most places you go to photograph where the photo spots are obvious. The dunes just keep going, rolling over one another, meaning you have to walk over each dune and keep going over the next to find what else may lie out there.
Tomorrow morning, I will be at the gates when they first open at seven, with the sole mission to scout the dunes, explore and see what else lies among the dunes. And fortunately, I will have much more time in the afternoon to find the photos that await me.
So I made my way across Highway 380 from San Antonio, then south on Highway 54 to Alamogordo. Along the way, I captured some nice pastoral scenes as well as taking time to stop at the Valley of Fires, an old lava flow running north and south through the valley. Due to time constraints – I had stopped too many times to take photos, go figure – I had to skip a visit to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site.
It was an eventful last lap around the two main loops at Bosque. Right off, I found a heron that was very cooperative, allowing me to get close to him while he preened and posed. Around the next bend, I found a nice marshy scene that, with the clouds, lent itself to some really nice landscape photos. Then there was a group of about six or seven buck mule deer, some little guys and some bigger ones, that kept me and later Roy and Mark, busy for a while. Then there was a kestrel, a red tailed hawk, and all kinds of neat reflections and other activity. Although I had to be back and checked out of my room by eleven, I still took my time for this last tour, savoring every bend and pond.
So, there I was, sitting at the Holiday Inn Express, mooching a free breakfast off of Roy and Mark, when in walked Art Wolfe. He was starting a workshop on that day that would lead into the NANPA summit. We chatted, I reminded him that I photographed with him in Katmai four years ago, and then we were all off, on the photographer caravan, to the refuge for a morning of shooting. When I first stepped out in the morning, I was pleased to see stars in the skies. The overcast had cleared. There turned out to be some clouds on the horizon, but all they did was add some nice color and texture to the skies; they did not interfere with the light.
We parked at the main pond, and waited. A little eariler than yesterday, the swarms of geese moved in, chatting in the cacophony of thousands of voices chatting over eachother. I decided to try some different techiques this morning, working on using more slow shutter speeds to create more artistic images. I spent a little time after sunrise over at the Flight Deck, watching and listening to the cranes. I could easily have spent a couple of more mornings here, but it was time to move on to the next destination. It’s always hard, leaving a place as productive as Bosque has been for me, but, White Sands awaits. Of course, there would be time for one more circuit around the Marsh and Farm Loops.