Archive for January, 2012

Stock photo fun

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012
Stock photo fun

For many years, I aspired to be represented by Alaska Stock Photos, Inc.  As I developed my craft, I felt that being represented by them would help to diversify my income portfolio as well as further establish myself as a credible photographer in Alaska.  I mean really, where do people go when they want high quality Alaska images?  They go to Alaska Stock.  Of course, even knowing that, it still took repeated encouragement (aka, badgering) from my good friend Nick Fucci and my wife Michelle to actually get my stuff in gear to get a submission into Alaska Stock.

But learning how to actually capture the types of images that are useful stock photos has taken a bit of time.  For many years, I simply captured an image because I liked the colors, composition and various elements, not because I visualized it as an end product, like, “Oh, that will make a great commercial stock photo” or “That will make a great print.”  And while I have come to better recognize the types of images that sell well as stock, I am still much more of a found-image stock photographer than I am the kind who sets up shots specifically for stock, like two of Alaska’s more successful stock photographers: Michael DeYoung and Matt Hage.  With that said, I have started to get into the habit of previsualizing the type of photo I want to capture during a trip and how that could be a good stock photo.

They say that it takes about a year or so once represented with an agency before you start to see the checks come in.  This turned out to be true with my representation with Alaska Stock.  The stock photo industry is no quite as sure of an income source for photographers these days, what with the proliferation of digital photography and microstock companies, but it is still a good way to diversify your income portfolio.

And while it has certainly been a pleasure to see those somewhat-regular checks coming in, one of the surprising treats of delving into the stock world is seeing how the images are used by the clients.  I am also finding that it has paid off to take those images over the years, thinking they might someday come to good use.  Case in point, a photo I took of a row of parked kayaks on the shores of Kasistna Bay at the Across the Bay Tent & Breakfast back in 2004.  It was the year I started using a digital SLR and my first year attending Hal Gage’s macro photography workshop at Kasistna Bay.  During an afternoon of free time, I was roaming around, exploring the shore and property and found these kayaks.  The art student in me liked the lines, color and perspective, and took both a horizontal and vertical.  Six years later, Alaska Stock selected the vertical image for inclusion in its collection.  Then, in September 2011, I learned that the image had been sold for some marketing materials, but not who the client was or how the image would be used.  Then, after making deposits in our bank one Saturday afternoon, Michelle came back with the new Tide Tables for 2012 (a useful tool for any Alaskan), and the cover graphic looked rather familiar.  I finally learned how that kayak photo had been used by the stock photo client.

The risks our rangers take

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
The risks our rangers take

In August of 2007, I was camped at the confluence of the Malamute Fork and the Alatna River, waiting for a National Park Service plane to pick me and my NPS Ranger companion, Tracy Pendergrast, up from a 12-day backcountry trip as part of my Artist-in-Residence experience in Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve.  Soon, word came that our pilot would not be picking us up; he had been retasked to take law enforcement rangers out to investigate a report of Dall Sheep poaching.  Often, these backcountry rangers receive spotty information but still have to head out quickly before the evidence trail runs cold.  It was my first exposure to the life of a natural resources law enforcement ranger.

It is so easy for those who visit our national parks or other public lands to chide those who are tasked with enforcing the law.  I  have heard many photographers complain about NPS rangers in Denali National Park & Preserve enforcing the rules of the road or distance limitations to certain wildlife, calling these rangers “Ranger Dick.”  But our rangers face so many hazards and pitfalls when performing their duties, none with more clarity than the story of Park Ranger Margaret Anderson, who was killed in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, on January 1, 2012, as she set up a road block to stop a driver that had run a chain-up checkpoint.  The driver opened fire, killing Ranger Anderson before she had a chance to get out of her vehicle.

We don’t think of the hazards that our natural resources rangers face in the performance of their duties.  Heck, in Alaska, for many of them, just getting out and doing their routine jobs can be dangerous: lots of small plane flights, heading out into hazardous conditions, heading out where there are few resources to help, facing down possible law breakers who are likely armed with some sort of weapon.  This last point is now a reality for all National Park Service rangers, no thanks to President Obama signing a law that makes it legal for people to carry firearms in all of our National Parks.  At least before rangers didn’t have to worry about that factor as much when confronting law breakers.

Natural resource rangers have been dealing with law breakers for decades, but mostly the kind that violate fish and wildlife regulations.  Snaring instead of hooking fish, taking too small of a deer or taking a moose out of season.  Using the wrong kind of traps or other methods of taking wildlife that are not authorized.  There are several great books out there in the genre of natural resources crime fighting that are a an excellent read to understand this world better.  The best one I have read is Wildlife Wars: The Life and Times of a Fish and Game Warden by Terry Grosz.  Mr. Grosz has written several books since and I will have to start getting caught up in his work.

But there is an insidious trend happening in our country where the crimes of “civilized” society are creeping their way into our public lands.  The incident with Ranger Anderson is an extreme example.  Quietly, behind the scenes and pretty much out of the scrutiny of corporate media, the drug wars have spilled into our public lands as well.  I am talking about the massive amounts of marijuana cultivation going on right now in approximately 67 national forests nationwide.  There is story after story of these grow sites being found from the northeast to the southwest, with the enormous costs (up to $300,000 per acre) of restoration not to mention the incredible risk of rangers encountering armed individuals tending to these marijuana fields.

It’s hard to imagine a world where our park rangers have to face deadly armed gunmen on a shooting spree or drug cartels in the performance of their duties.  Our public lands are supposed to be places of solace and refuge from the darker side of our world.  Rangers should be able to spend their time offering interpretive lectures, answering silly questions about natural features, showing visitors all the wonders that await them in our public lands.  I cannot recall the number of times I have been impressed by the kindness, courtesy and knowledge of a park ranger.  Entering into a dialogue with them is always one of my favorite parts of visiting our national forests, parks, monuments and wildlife refuges.  Yet, increasingly, they face these outside threats and do so with an ever-decreasing budget, slashed by politicians in Washington, D.C. who rarely visit our national parks and don’t see the value in continuing to fund them what they need.

So, in honor of Ranger Anderson and all other natural resources rangers who protect us and our public lands, I hope that you will consider what you find valuable in their work and the places they protect, and contact your Congressional delegation and tell them how you feel.  Also, to honor Ranger Anderson, I am posting some images from the place she died serving: Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.  And next time you visit a national forest, park, monument or wildlife refuge, please thank a ranger for what they do.


Best of 2011

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
Best of 2011

In 2011, I was fortunate to have many travel opportunities, from familiar places to new places here in Alaska and to new continents.  This made for a rather challenging effort to come up with around a dozen images that reflected my best images from 2011.  With Michelle’s help, I narrowed it down to 13.  With this post, I will tell a little about what is behind each image.

Canoes at Dusk.”  The feature image was captured during Michelle’s and my visit to Maui in late December to mid-January.  I had been wanting to capture an iconic beach with palm trees sunset photo and found this beach with outrigger canoes in North Kihei.  After capturing sunset, the canoes, and a paddleboarder, I was loading my gear back into our rental car when I saw how the colors of dusk were developing.  I set up literally next to the car and captured the elements of color, shape, and canoe.

Rainbow Eucalyptus, Maui.”  Michelle and I decided to give ourselves a whole two days to explore the Hana side of the island of Maui.  On our way across the top, northeast portion of the island, we spotted what I would later learn is an oft-photographed Rainbow Eucalyptus grove alongside the Hana Highway.  I photographed the trees both on the way down to Hana and on the way back to Kihei.  I found the lighting better on the return trip due to the overcast skies.

Grasses and Snow.”  I have increasingly come to enjoy venturing out onto the flats of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge in the wintertime.  On this particular day, I accessed the coast through Kincaid Park, and started to hike out to the water’s edge, where large boulders of ice had been accumulating.  Along the way, I looked to my right and to the north and caught this view of grasses and snow drifts with Mt. Susitna in the background.

Mesa and Sunset.” I was in the Page, Arizona area attending a landscape photography workshop led by Alain Briot.  After an evening of working some hoodoos on a cliff overlooking the Lake Powell area, we were starting to head back to our vehicles when I noticed this tremendous buildup of clouds.  Knowing that they would capture the sunset’s colors well, I scurried over to where I could set up a composition that included this mesa I had spotted earlier in the evening. 

Framed Rock.”  Still in the Page area for this Alain Briot workshop, we were exploring some rock formations over in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the Utah side of the border.  I was maneuvering to capture this balanced rock I had been eyeing for a while when I happened upon this natural frame created by fallen rocks.  It took a while to position the tripod and camera, and to select the right lens to fulfill my vision of this balanced rock.

Worn and Weathered.” In May, I had the pleasure of joining the Tony Robbins Platinum Partners as they ventured to Africa for a five day, three-country excursion.  My primary purpose was to provide photographic instruction, both through lectures and one-on-one interaction at various locations.  But, I also took many, many pictures, paticularly on the day we went to the Nakatindi School in Zambia for a contribution day that consisted of repairing doors, desks, floors and windows, repainting rooms, and planting trees and other plants. While in the school’s cafeteria, I spotted this older man, who I had seen earlier out in the school yard, and simply loved the texture on his face and how it seemed to reflect the aged texture on the walls.

Lincoln Memorial, Sunrise.”  When I was in Washington D.C. in May to attend the Nature’s Best awards reception at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, I spent some time getting up early to photograph the memorials on the mall.  Here, the early light of the sun lights up the face of the Lincoln Memorial.  I previsualized this as a black and white because of the great contrast and textures.

First Toss.”  While out in the Bristol Bay region to begin fieldwork on my Bristol Bay/Pebble Mine book, I spent a couple of days on the driftboat F/V Chulyen, skippered by lifelong Naknek resident Everett Thompson.  Our first opener was right after sunrise, and I wanted to capture the first toss of the buoy that would secure one end of the gill nets in place.  Using a graduated neutral denstify filter to balance out the exposure and give more drama to the clouds, I waited until the desired moment and just started clicking.  The end result was a gorgeous image that has turned out to be a powerful representation of the life of a driftnetter.

Turnagain Lichens.” While heading out one morning in July to go for a sunrise hike with my friend John Pope, I asked if he wouldn’t mind if we bypass the trailhead for a few minutes to go check out what the morning light was doing on the Turnagain Arm.  I found the perfect spot to capture the morning light on the Kenai Mountains and their reflection on the calm waters of the Turnagain Arm, then found an even better vantage point that offered this patch of organge lichens.

Anaktuvuk Pass, Sunrise.”  After spending a few days for my weeklong visit in Anaktuvuk Pass in August, I had scouted what I hoped would be the perfect sunrise location.  There was a large patch of crimson red bear berries on the hillside, a row of mountains to the west, and a great overlook view of the village to the east.  While the sun did not rise and shine in the way I had originally anticipated, I ended up very much liking how the sunshine turned out.  This is perhaps one of my most shared images of the year.  The greatest compliment I received came from a village resident who stated that she never knew her village could be so beautiful. 

Moose over Anchorage.”  This autumn marked the tenth year I have been going up to photograph the moose during the rut as they gather in Chugach State Park near the abundant trail system in the hillside area of Anchorage that spawns from the Glen Alps trailhead.  During those many years, a great several of which I have spent with my good friend Nick Fucci, I have envisioned capturing an image of a large bull moose in the foreground and the downtown skyline of Anchorage in the background.  Not only did I finally find the perfect vantage point this last autumn, but found a cooperating bull moose as well. 

Fall Colors and Denali, Sunrise.”  I spent Labor Day weekend up at the Denali Backcountry Lodge in Kantishna.  It was my third time there as a presenter, and sixth time to the lodge in a ten-year period.  But it was Michelle’s first time at the lodge.  On our way out of the park, we stopped to watch and capture sunrise on Denali (Mt. McKinley) just past Wonder Lake.  The light was perfect, the fall colors were at peak; it was perhaps the best morning I have ever had for photographing The Mountain at sunrise. 

Collared Pika Snack.”  While Nick was up visiting for his annual fall moose safaris and Redoubt Mountain Lodge bear workshop, we spent some time up in Hatcher Pass in September climbing amoung the rocks in a boulder field to capture the elusive collard pika.  We had a great day with some bright diffuse light and several active pika, giving Nick and I plenty of opportunities to photograph the enjoyable rodent.  While Nick has countless superb images of pika in his library, this was the best day I had experienced yet in photographing the collared pika.

These images are all available for purchase in the new “Best of 2011” gallery on my website.