Archives for June 2011

Alaska Brown Bear Adventure…Mammal Light

Overcast skies are my second favorite light for mammals. With the diffused light, I am able to capture the detail in their fur from any angle and not have to worry about contrasty shadows and light. Add a little rain and change the white balance to cloudy to remove the blue cast and the colors really pop. So, with a drizzly Alaska day we headed out to find some bears. At the end of the bay, there is a big expanse of area where the sedge grasses grow. In the spring, the sedge grass and clamming are what the bears eat so, it’s a pretty good bet that we’ll have bears if we head there. When we first arrived there were several bears in sight. Some of them were already moving off but, a couple looked to be pretty content as they grazed on the sedges. We geared up with our long lenses mounted on our tripods, teleconverters, spare cards and batteries in our pockets and headed towards the bears. As we moved in closer we could tell that the three bears within sight were the same bears we had photographed in the same area a few days previously. Two bears were in close proximity to each other and I suspected they would spar at some point. Luckily they waited until we were in range and set up when one bear walked over to the other and began biting him and the game was on…


Nikon D3S with AF-S 500mm f4 VR and TC-14E II


Nikon D3S with AF-S 500mm f4 VR and TC-14E II


Nikon D3S with AF-S 500mm f4 VR and TC-14E II

After a bit they tired of their game and went back to grazing looking up now and then to keep an eye on us and the other bears…


Nikon D3S with AF-S 500mm f4 VR and TC-14E II

After a bit, we decided to head down to the eagles nest and see if we could work some flight shots. There is one angle where you can get the mountain behind the nest providing a dark background but, the winds were not in favor of that location as it meant the eagles would land facing away from us so, we positioned ourselves to photograph them as they came in for a landing. This gave us grey skies behind the eagle. So what do you do? You make lemonade by dialing in plus exposure compensation to avoid a silhouette which gives the image a high key look…


Nikon D3S with AF-S 500mm f4 VR and TC-14E II


Nikon D3S with AF-S 500mm f4 VR and TC-14E II

When you visit a location you don’t always have perfect light for every shoot. You have choices to either pack it in or get creative and keep shooting. We were fortunate to have diffused light for the bears but that same light is not ideal for birds in flight. Being creative with your shooting technique affords a chance to photograph throughout the whole day in whatever light the photo gods and mother nature provide.

Alaska Brown Bear Adventure…Venturing Farther Afield

We awoke to glasslike water with the rough seas a distant memory of yesterday. With calm seas, it was a good day to venture farther afield. So, with lunches packed and cameras at the ready we boarded the boat and off we went. The landscape in so grand but, even though we had calm seas and no rain, the ceiling was relatively low and we couldn’t see the tops of the glaciers but, we could work the intimate landscape with our telephotos. The lichen and moss combined with the graphic shape and texture of the rock made for interesting abstracts…


Nikon D300S with 70-200mm 2.8 VR II, TC-20E III

We spent an enjoyable couple of hours beach combing and enjoying the solitude and gorgeous landscape when a bear was spotted way off in the distance. As we watched it approached closer ambling along, stopping to smell here and there and to scratch its head on a piece of driftwood…


Nikon D3S with 500mm f4 VR, TC-14E II

All in all it was pretty quiet so we got back on the boat and had lunch on the water. While we were drifting along we came upon a raft of otters who mostly scattered at the sight of us but, there were a few who were curious enough to stay up and allow us an opportunity to photograph them…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II

There is an island where thousands of puffins nest each springs which I climbed several years ago but, it’s a straight up climb and very difficult with camera gear so we contented ourselves with working the puffins on the water…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II

After playing with the puffins for awhile, we decided to move on and farther down the coast we headed to another bay. With all the recent rain and runoff from the winters snow there are waterfalls nearly everywhere we look. We pulled the boat up to the beach and worked a particularly beautiful waterfall…


Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II

It was soon time to head back to the lodge and on the way Perry asked if we wanted to check out a rock near the lodge that had a nesting pair of puffins. Luck was on our side as they were home and hanging out on the rocks. They seemed to take our presence in stride and went about their business…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II

As we were pulling up to the lodge we spotted a young bear on the beach across from the lodge and Perry once again put us in ideal position to work a young bear clamming. It wasn’t bothered by our presence but, it did lift it’s head up now and then to give us a quick look…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II

Once we had our fill of the bear, we headed to the lodge where a delicious dinner of curried scallops, marinated flank steak, a medley of vegetable and a watermelon salad awaited us. My stomach is full and my eyes are drooping so, I’m turning in for now. Stay tuned.

Alaska Brown Bear Adventure…After The Rain

In typical Alaska fashion we had a blustery storm move through which weathered us in for a day and a half. While we would certainly rather be out shooting, the down time gave us a chance to work some images together and really enjoy the comforts of the lodge. But, once the seas calmed down enough to get out shooting again, we suited up in our waders and waterproof jackets (it was still raining) and off we went to see what we could find. Bob, was doing a great job of spotting and found us a cow moose with a newborn calf. The moose was being her protective self and only gave us a quick glimpse of her youngster before moving off into the trees…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II handheld from the boat

There are several eagles nests in the bay which are currently busy with the parents raising the young. One adult will catch a fish and eat a good portion before taking the remains back to the nest for the eaglets to eat. This particular fish didn’t look like there was much left but, the parent did take it to the nest…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II handheld from the boat

The weather was still drizzling but, that doesn’t stop a determined photographer. We simply protected our cameras from the rain using rain covers. I love my ThinkTank rain cover! It is easy to put on and keeps the water off my equipment. I don’t always use a rain cover because my Nikons are very well sealed against the elements but, we were going to be out in the weather for several hours and the constant wet could eventually cause a problem. If you look closely at the above two images you can even see the rain against the background.

A typical day in the bay entails driving around in the boat until we find a good subject to work. Some shooting is done from the boat as in the first two images but, most of our bear photography is done from the shore. We found three bears working the sedge grasses so Perry brought the boat as close as he could with the falling tide and with our long lenses mounted on tripods, pockets full of teleconverters, spare cards and batteries we worked our way towards the bears. They were aware of our presence and would stop and give us a look now and then…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II

After eating, it’s only natural to take a nap…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II

It’s great to watch the dynamics between bears. There is a certain pecking order amongst the bears and when a dominant bear approaches, the other bears give them plenty of leeway. And there are those who take some time from their napping and eating to check each other out…


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II


Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC14-E II

All too soon the afternoon was gone and it was time to head back to the lodge for one of Chef Shawn’s amazing meals. Tomorrow is another day. Stay tuned.

Alaska Brown Bear Adventure…More Than Bears

Alaska in the spring is bursting with life. The flowers are beginning to bloom…


D3X with AF-S 24-120mm f4 VR

The Kittiwakes are busy nest building in preparation for their new family to arrive. The off-shore rocks are going back and forth from the rock to the water collecting nesting material providing us with incredible flight opportunities. With a white sky, I overexposed by 1/2-1 stop to avoid a silhouette of the birds and to get a high key look…


D300s with AF-S 24-120mm

The eagle chicks have hatched and if you are very fortunate, you will get a glimpse of one peeking over the top of the nest. Getting the exposure right can be a challenge with the adult’s head being white and it’s body a dark brown. I dialed in -1/2 to avoid the blinkies on mom while still capturing detail in the feathers and with the slightly elevated shooting location I was able to use the water as a lovely blue background

Harbor seals can be found hauled out on the rocks…


D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

The overcast light softened the shadows allowing me to shoot into a rock formation and get detail from the highlight to the shadow areas. The monochromatic colors got my mind thinking in terms of finishing the image in B&W using NIK Silver Efex 2…


D3X with AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

And we had some nice clouds to compliment a landscape image shooting down the bay…


D300s with AF-S 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 VR

The afternoon brought northeaster winds and with the winds came the rain so, we called it a day late in the afternoon and headed back to the warm and comfy lodge to download the days images and work on them. As I write this blog, I can hear the rain on the roof of my cabin and I can look out my window and still see the landscape. Tomorrows forecast calls from more rain and if it does rain we will work on post processing our images in the lodge and enjoy the peace and beauty as the storm rages on outside. Stay tuned.