Archive for May, 2009

Wild Woes

Thursday, May 28th, 2009
Wild Woes

In what is almost an echo of their inaugural season, the Alaska Wild are having a rough year.  At this time in their opening season, the Wild were winless and on their third coach.  Similarly, the Wild are winless this season and have had countless people playing in the quarterback position.  It’s been even more difficult given the success of Anchorage’s other professional sports team, the Alaska Aces, who are currently playing in the Kelly Cup championships.  People are less interested in the Wild, who are losing, when the Aces are having a good year.

But, as a photographer, it is easy to forget such things.  When I look back at the thousand or so images I capture in a game, I am not seeing the cold statistics of a 0-8 season, I see tailgating, defensive tackles swarming an opposing running back, spectacular runs and catches, and fans having a blast.  While photos may speak a thousand words, they often tell a different story than what the numbers do.

That is quite simply because arena football is about much more than just a winning season.  When I lived in the Twin Cities, I loved to go see the St. Paul Saints games much more than Minnesota Twins games.  The Saints played outdoors, they engaged the fans in games and activities, and the stadium was much more intimate.  Even though the Sullivan Arena is larger than most IFL venues, it still provides an opportunity for fans to be close to the action – especially if you are in the Sideline Club.  The team at Alaska Professional Sports does a great job in lining up entertainment, from halftime singers and the Wild Fire dance team, to silly boxing matches and relay races, eating contests, and the Ball Babes throwing out freebies during the game.

Speaking to many of the loyal fans, I get the impression that they go to have fun, and that’s what keeps them coming back.  They gather early to tailgate out in the parking lot, cheer on the team and taunt the visiting team during the game, and stick around after to talk to players and get their autographs.  I know that the kids have a blast, too, with little girls with play pom-poms dancing along with the Wild Fire or little boys gathering in the end zone in the hopes of catching an errant ball.    Quite simply, even in a losing season, the Alaska Wild still provide the photographer lots of great material to capture, and the fans a lot of fun for what is a relatively inexpensive four hours of entertainment.

Here are some highlights from the Wild’s game against the Billings Outlaws, who, upon coming into town, were leading the IFL with a record of 8-1.  It was the worst loss of the season for the Wild, with a final score of 73-18.  I managed to capture all three of the Wild’s touchdowns.  To purchase photos from this game and others, go to my Printroom Alaska Wild site.

I have created a flash video highlighting the previous home games of the season, as well as the exhibition game at the Wasilla Sports Complex (aka “Sarah’s Sports Complex”) against the Fairbanks Grizzlies.  Enjoy!

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On Jewel Lake

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

I suppose it seems counter-intuitive to have a post on a photo blog that does not actually have any photos.  But sometimes it is important to experience nature without being tied to the camera; just enjoying the wild for wildness sakes.

We live on a half-acre lot one property line away from Jewel Lake in south Anchorage.  You will know from my previous posts that we get all kinds of wild birds in our yard, along with moose, voles and bats.  (Be on the lookout this year for a “bat cam” to be added to my web site after we install our bat house.)  But even more nature is only a short walk away in Jewel Lake; or, in this particular case, only about a thirty-rod portage away.

We took our first paddle on Jewel Lake for the year this evening.  The walk over was typical for our paddles – I was portaging our 16-foot Old Town Penobscot canoe on my shoulders and Michelle was carrying the paddles. Aside from simply getting out and enjoying a beautiful spring evening, we also wanted to check on our loons.  For as many years as I can remember, there has been a pair of loons living on the lake.  Loons, like most migratory birds, mate for life and tend to nest in the same body of water each year.

As we approached the lake, it was clear that we were not the only ones who had the idea of getting out and enjoying the lake.  The swimming area was replete with small children, many others of which were running around on the shore and fishing adjacent to the swimming area.  People were throwing sticks out into the lake for their dogs to fetch, and others were simply enjoying the covered picnic area, grilling an evening meal at the beach.  Out on the water, there was another canoe, three kayaks, and two anglers in those standing tube floaty thingies.

And yet despite all of this human activity, the lake was flush with wildlife.  While we did not see our loon couple out and about, we saw plenty others.  There was a solo and couple of red-neck Grebes, a pair of pintails, a pair of greater scaups, a female mallard with about ten ducklings, and an immature bald eagle chasing what looked like a northern harrier.  While the hawk flew off, the immature came back and forth across the lake a few times, leading me to think it had taken up residence on the lake or nearby habitat.  There is a wetlands, muskeg area on the north side of the lake that is completely open and free of development – perfect habitat for all kinds of animals and a great nesting area (except for loons who always nest along the water as their legs cannot sustain them walking over any distance).

It made me think of how wonderful it is to live in a city that, for now, still respects and values its wild places and wild animals.  It reminds me a bit of when I lived in the Twin Cities, and how amazed I was every time I crossed the Highway 55 bridge over the Minnesota River, in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  There, along the shores of the river, was a vast wetlands area that hosted a large egret population each year.  Yet, just a hundred yards away from that was the end of the runway for the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.  All that noise and combustion and still a haven for wildlife.

As I thought more about the eagle possibly taking up residence at the lake, I wondered about our loons.  Did they decide to nest elsewhere to stay away from that egg-robber?  Then I started to wonder about the health of the loons themselves.  Did one of them meet a fateful end somehwere over the winter?  Or were they just perhaps on the loon equivalent of a walkabout and would eventually return?

As soon as the weather improves, we will be back out again, this time with my camera.  Hopefully the loons will be back.  At the very least, I will keep an eye out for the mallard and her ducklings.

Wild Boys

Friday, May 22nd, 2009
Wild Boys

I know, the title brings a certain Duran Duran song to mind, but that is not the intention.  About three years ago, Alaska Professional Sports was marketing and developing the introduction of professional football to Alaska.  It had found a spot for its team first with the Arena Football 2 (AF2) league, then with what was then called the Intense Football League (now Indoor Football League).  There was a build-up to what the name of this new team would be, including a public competition for naming the team.

At around the same time, Anchorage was looking for a new identity.  For the longest time, the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) had used the slogan “Wild About Anchorage” to promote the city.  Featuring Seymour the bull moose, the purpose of the slogan was to celebrate the wild and natural aspects of the town as well as its cultural jewels.  Still wanting to keep Seymour on board, the ACVB paid lots of money for a firm to come up with the new slogan, and new splashy graphics, “Big Wild Life.”

Then, Alaska Professional Sports came out with the name for its new team, right around the same time – the Alaska Wild.  Now, I lived in Minnesota when it acquired a new NHL franchise (the original team, the North Stars, were bought and moved to Texas).  As that team was called the Minnesota Wild, I felt Alaska Wild too familiar.

After having been with the team now for three seasons as the team photographer, I can safely say that the name as definitely grown on me.  It seemed appropriate to name the team with both “Alaska” and “Wild.”  First, it was the only IFL team in Alaska at the time (there is now the Fairbanks Grizzlies, too).  Second, there is really no single word that represents the whole of Alaska better than “Wild.”  It has been a real treat over three seasons to be the team photographer.  It’s always a pleasure to photograph the games, but working with the guys for individual and group shots can be a blast as well.

Take for instance my photo session with them just recently to get some make up head shots and an outdoor team shot.  After we were done with head shots at the AT&T Sports Complex, several guys jumped at the suggestion that they could do some “buddy” shots.  When it came time for the team shot out at Potter Marsh, I made it clear I did not want to photograph a typical team shot.  I want it to be about attitude and personality.  Needless to say, the guys have plenty of both.  For this week’s home game at the Sullivan, we will do a typical team shot on the field.  But for this Friday evening out in the chilly Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, an appropriate location for a team called the “Wild,” the boys let it loose.

Learn more about the Alaska Wild or see game, team and cheerleader photos on my Printroom site.

Badlands star trails

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
Badlands star trails

In my waning days in Badlands National Park, I did a 4 1/2 hour star trails time lapse, setting up my camera to take one photo every thirty seconds.  In addition to wanting to create a time lapse video, I wanted to use some of the images to create a star trails photo by stacking the photos together.  Unfortunately, I could not use all of the photos during the time lapse, as a storm came through the area.  But, I was able to select 223 images captured over nearly two hours that were useful for creating a star trails photo.

Why use this method?  Since it was a near-full moon, the light pollution in the sky was too great for a longterm exposure.  Additionally, digital cameras simply cannot take ultra-long exposures due to noise.  My one long attempt, a four-hour exposure, simply had too much noise in it to be useable.  With this technique, a digital photographer could do a star trails photo covering four, five, six hours – the entire night if desired.  The main issue then becomes power, which I have resolved by using a Powerbase battery in connection with an AC/DC Inverter to power my camera.

BLOG UPDATE: I have selected this image as my Print of the Month for June 2009.  You can click here to purchase the print under my special rate for prints in that collection.

The Home Turf

Sunday, May 17th, 2009
The Home Turf

After spending a month in the field photographing practically every day, what I really wanted to do when I got home was spend lots of time with Michelle, relax and enjoy my home, spend time with the cats, and unpack.  Of course, I had to spend some time in the office, too.  But every day, with sunny, clear skies and non-stop gorgeous weather, the outdoors called to me and beckoned me back into the field.

So where does a photographer go to revisit his home when he lives in Anchorage?  Well, if you live on the south side of town like I do, the place to go is the Turnagain Arm.  So, I arose at four this morning – sunrise was at 5:08 – and headed south on the Seward Highway.  Once you get past Potter Creek, you are at the opening of the Turnagain Arm, a long, fjord-like feature providing some separation between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.  As I have often told people, I could take an entire year to photograph the Turnagain Arm and nothing else, and could come away with a lot of great images.  It is simply the gift that keeps on giving.

One of the first things I noticed was that the half moon was rising, so I knew that would be a nice element to include in my photos.  The other thing I soon noticed was that the air was perfectly calm, presenting some of the clearest reflections I have ever seen in the ten years I have lived here and have been photographing the Turnagain Arm.  As is typical for mid-May, there was still plenty of snow along the higher elevations, yet lots of green in the leafing trees.

All along the way, I saw cars, trucks and RVs parked here and there, evidence of people stopping to camp and sleep wherever they wanted.  I saw a few tents pitched at a gravel pullout about a mile past Girdwood.  One of the things I always miss when I go to the Lower 48 is the openness of Alaska.  Down in the Lower 48, there are fences everywhere.  Even in areas with no livestock, people still erect fences of all kinds to delineate their property lines.  Fences are rare in Alaska once you are outside of the city.  People go to hike, fish, camp pretty much wherever they want, except for certain areas in the Mat-Su Valley, where you could get into trouble with someone protecting their mining claim, or their meth lab or marijuana grow operation.

I went all the way down to Portage Valley, one of my favorite features of the Turnagain Arm area, within Chugach National Forest, the second largest national forest in the United States (second only to the Tongass in southeast Alaska).  There was still plenty of ice on Portage Lake, but patches of open water providing nice reflections along the way.

On my way back into Anchorage, I stop at a pullout in the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge at Potter Marsh.  The birds are nesting, so there is lots of activity, including Arctic terns, glaucous gulls, lesser yellow legs, Canada geese, and a variety of ducks.  I captured several good images of what I have determined is a Canvasback (someone let me know if I am wrong), which is an uncommon sighting for this part of the state according to Robert H. Armstrong’s “Guide to the Birds of Alaska.”

I made it back home shortly before nine, as Michelle was working on setting up a trellis to grow some vines on the south side of the house.  I offered to make coffee and breakfast – waffles with fresh strawberry sauce – and she was more than willing to let me do that.

Farewell, Badlands

Friday, May 8th, 2009
Farewell, Badlands

It is hard to believe that I have been here a month.  When I first arrived, a month seemed like all the time in the world.  Now, I look back and realize just how short a time it really was. With close to forty blog posts and almost three thousand images captured, I have just begun to explore this place creatively.  Do I have favorite moments?  Do I have favorite places?  Yes and yes, but not specifically.  Any time I explored off the road would be a favorite moment.  When the light was hitting the formations just right, or when I had special encounters with wildlife – whether I captured them on camera or not.  These are all great moments.  There are some paricular day hikes I enjoyed, like the Saddle Trail to Castle Trail, or getting out and exploring on my own in the Conata Basin or the bottom of Norbeck Pass.  I particularly enjoyed my backpacking trip into the Sage Creek Wilderness.  I also found myself making connections with people that shared in my passion for all things Badlands, whether it was because of the great recreational opportunities the park presents or the unique geology.  I think that connecting with people is one of those things about our national parks that makes them special.

It is hard to say more than what I have already said about this place.  But, as a sort of closing, I can only say that a place like the Badlands will always be mysterious, full of opportunity for discovery, awaiting exploration, even for someone who has spent an extended period of time here.  I was speaking to one of the park rangers today, and he told me that in the ten years he has been here, there are still places he has not seen.  Every once in a while he will go to a new place and be surprised by it.  I think we all can learn from that.  No matter how many times you have been somewhere, like a national park, it is always worth returning to.  Unlike one former Alaskan Republican Senator who once said, in referring to a national park, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”  Quite the opposite is true.  Even if you have seen one, and seen it a lot, it will always offer you awe, wonder, excitement, and a chance to learn, if only you give it the chance.

I want to thank again the National Park Service for this wonderful creative opportunity, and for financial support from the Alaska Council on the Arts and the Alex Johnson Mercantile in Rapid City.  Thanks to the crew at KEVN Black Hills FOX for a nice piece highlighting my work here.  It is such a great opportunity for an artist to be featured in the local media like that, and such a treat given that I grew up in their broadcast area.  Thanks to Randy Brich and his wife Michelle for their interest in my work and for letting my photograph them biking through the park.  Thanks also to Christopher Pellowski, a Ph.D. candidate at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, for his tips and info on Badlands geological formations.  And thanks especially to my wife, Michelle, who is such a source of strength and inspiration as I seek to become the photographer I want and hope to be.

Last evening

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
Last evening

During my month here, I have spent several mornings in the area between Old NE Road and the Big Badlands Overlook.  It gets great morning light and there are many interesting details, shapes and formations, especially once you get off the road and walk around a bit.  I had been wanting to spend some time in the area in the evening, because I had observed it had good light in the evenings, too.  So, for my last evening, I decided to capture some images in that area. 

Unfortunately, the clouds did not cooperate.  I started over in the area of the Big Badlands Overlook, capturing the many wonderful layers through light and shadow.  I saw that the sun was starting to go behind a large band of clouds, so I headed over to the Old NE Road to capture some images there.  I was too late.  Once the sun went behind a particularly large band of clouds – that seemed to materialize out of nowhere – that was it for the evening.  I stopped by to check on my remote camera and put in a new CF (compact flash) card, and headed in for the evening.  Tomorrow morning will be my last time out in the field here.  Hopefully the clouds will clear up tonight – it is raining right now as I type – so I can get one more good morning. 

Spectacular morning

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
Spectacular morning

At last, the weather gods felt I was worthy for a nice, sunny morning.  After getting my second camera ready for the 24-hour time lapse shot, I headed over to the parking lot for the Fossil Trail, and crossed the road over to the Castle Trail.  On my hike last week over the Saddle Trail, I knew I wanted to set up on this spot for some morning light.  There was a thin band of clouds on the horizon, so it denied me that very first, reddish pink light, but the sun quickly rose over that to still provide some great early light.  I wandered around a bit, working along the formations to examine the rocks, cracking mud, and the play of light and shadows.

I worked along the road to the west for a bit, looking for wildlife and to see what else might present itself.  Along the way, I photographed some interesting layers and textures in the Bigfoot Pass area.  I also got my first shot of a grouse, and spent some time with some prairie dogs, mule deer, and pronghorn.  I also took a few of what I call “middle of the road” photos.  Not to say that they were average, but that the only way to take the photo is to set up the tripod in the middle of the road to get the angle and perspective that I want.  For an example, visit my National Parks gallery and you will see a shot of a Utah juniper that I captured one winter morning in Zion National Park, standing right on the double yellow with a tripod.

I decided where I will spend my last morning tomorrow, a spot I have had my eye on for a couple of weeks.  I can only hope that I will be as lucky again tomorrow as I was today with the weather.

Nighttime time lapse

Thursday, May 7th, 2009
Nighttime time lapse

While the full moon may thwart my efforts in the last few days to capture a single-exposure star trails image, it sure does help make the nighttime time lapse work better.  Add in a storm with some rain, and then you really get something interesting.  While I slept, my camera worked steadily, capturing one image every 30 seconds for four and a half hours starting at 11:30 p.m.  During that time, the falling rain and moonlight produced something I have never seen before — a nighttime rainbow, called a Lunar Rainbow or Moonbow.  Fortunately for me, I had encased my camera body in a plastic bag in the event of rain.

For camera settings, I chose 400 ISO and set a manual exposure of 10 seconds at f/2.8, with the focal length set at 24mm.  I decided to push the limits of my camera battery, using just the one Nilkon EN-EL3e battery in the body to power the operation.  When I retrieved my camera shortly after 4:00 a.m., there was still one “bar” showing of power.  I then switched lenses, added the Powerbase battery and Brunton solar panel set up to power for a full 24-hour time lapse.  That started at 5:00 a.m. and will continue until sunrise tomorrow morning.

Here is the result of the time lapse from last night.  To see the stars in movement, it is best to maximize the video player.

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Clouds to think by

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
Clouds to think by

We had clouds on the bookends of the day today.  Clouds to the east at first light, but they dissipated as the day grew toward late morning.  All through early afternoon, it was sunny with scattered clouds.  But as the evening drew nigh, the cloud layer grew thicker.  I had planned to go over to the Yellow Mounds area for the evening, so I stuck to that plan even with the thick, almost flat cloud layer.  With overcast clouds, rich colors can often come out better than under sunlight.  The blue of glaciers really pops in overcast light.  Flowers are at their best in overcast light. 

This benefit of overcast sky is because the softness of light is a product of the size of the relative light area and its distance to the subject.  The sun, as huge as it is in comparison to the Earth, is relatively small in the sky as a light source when it is clear and sunny.  In contrast, a flat overcast sky produces a rather huge light source – across the entire sky.  Now, for distance.  The sun is considerably farther away than the sky.  Studio portrait photographers use umbrellas or softboxes to increase the surface area of the light, and will often move those softboxes close to the subject.  The larger the surface and closer to the subject, the softer the light. 

So, with that in mind, I thought I would try to capture rich colors.  The yellows and magentas at the Yellow Mounds area.  The fresh new leaves and buds on trees in the park.  Of course, I pulled out and took a few pictures when I found a group of pronghorn close to the road.

But I also took the cloudy evening to think back on the month I have spent here.  I thought of all the places I have explored and captured, and yet also found myself longing for those shots I did not capture.  I thought about how small I thought the Badlands were.  In Alaska, you get a skewed sense of size.  When you look at Alaska parks on a map and compare them to Lower 48 parks, well, there is no comparison.  Alaska has the two largest national parks, the two largest national forests, and the largest state park in the U.S.  But after spending a month here, I came to realilze how large the Badlands really is.  There is still  so much to explore, and I will have to come back again to explore those places that eluded me this time.  Of course, it will be nice to revisit some familiar places, too, as a single location can look vastly different through the seasons, the light, and the weather.