Archives for June 2013

Excellent Photo Adventures…Alaska Wild…Bird Brains

Once we land at the lodge, we put away all electronics that communicate with the outside world.  We are essentially “unplugged” from the rest of the world (except in emergencies) for the week.  After all the years of returning to the lodge, I feel the change almost instantly and am soon right in rhythm with the pace of the Alaskan bush where the tides dictate your day more than sunrise and sunset.  In fact, early June, there isn’t much of a sunrise or sunset unless you count that brief few moments somewhere in the middle of the night when the sky does turn a ltitle pink and then the light fades to a 3200 ISO before immediately brightening up with the beginning of a new day.  Suffice it to say,  “June days are very long in Alaska!”.

We were blessed with some unusually warm and sunny days with nary a drop of rain the whole week.  Making the most of the situation we spent all day, every day in the field photographing the springtime and the wildlife in the Alaska Wild.

We found a pair of nesting Oystercatchers who have returned to the same location the last three years to raise their young.  They do not build elaborate nests, they simply nestle down in the rocks and lay their eggs.  When a predator approaches, they chase them, use the broken wing trick or simply run around screaming to draw attention away from the nest.  So, it was with great pleasure and an honor when this parent felt comfortable enough in our presence to sit on it’s eggs so we could photograph it on it’s nest.  We were careful to keep a respectable distant to avoid alarming the birds and to prevent our scent attracting a predator to their nest.  I chose a wide aperture to avoid great depth of field that would bring the background into sharper focus distracting from the oystercatcher…

_1XL5549 copy

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II ISO 100 f5.6 @ 1/750 sec  -.5 EC


When we encountered a Semi-palmated Plover a couple of days later we used the same technique of sitting very still and waiting and they came right back to their nest with out so much as a look of concern in our direction…

_1XL6503 copy

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm fr VR with TC-20E III ISO 100 f8 @ 1/500 sec -.5 EC


Eagles got an earlier start and it appeared that all the active nests had chicks.  We were able to climb a hill for a quick view from across an expanse of water into the nest witout disturbing the adults who were perched nearby.  The chicks were up and calling for their dinner.  I was hand holding my 500mm lens and wanted a fast enough shutter speed to obtain a sharp image.  By raising the ISO to 200 I was able to close the aperture down to include both chicks in focus and still reach 1/500 sec…

_1XL6146 copy

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II ISO 200 f11 @ 1/500 sec -.5EC


Capturing eagles in flight as an awesome thing and when you add the dramatic background of snow covered mountains it’s pure photo bliss.  Having the mobility of a boat increases our chances of being in the right place to capture in flight images and the other is being able to hand hold from a boat.  That’s where the new AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6 VR II was so very handy.  It’s light weight and zoom range made it the perfect lens to compliment the 500mm along with teleconverters…**

_8XL6428_tonemapped copy

Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/2000 sec


The Kittiwakes were in full nesting mode, some flying to and fro with nesting material while others were sitting eggs.  A rogue Raven snuck in and grabbed an egg while the parents were out causing quite a ruckus.  Once again the 80-400mm was the perfect lens to have the mobility to pan with the raven as it took flight with the egg in it’s beak…**

_8XL6076 copy

Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/1000 sec -.5 EC


The Kittiwakes all nest on the cliff faces of off shore rocks and they mostly get along but, on occasion one will fly to the wrong nest or get too close to another’s mate and then they go at it in mid-air, weooping and diving at each other at high speed.  Having a fast shutter speed to stop the action is essential and yet I wanted a bit more depth of field than wide open would provide in order to capture both birds in focus…

_8XL6203 copy

Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/1500 sec -.5 EC


It was like watching a fast paced, mid-air ballet…

_8XL6222 copy

Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/1500 sec -.5 EC


And if we drifted to close to the rocks, it was photographer beware as they came close overhead threatening to drop poop bombs on us if we didn’t keep our distance.  We took note and kept our distance, thank you very much…

_8XL6099 copy

Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/1500 sec -.5 EC


All in all I have very favorable impressions of the new Nikon AF-S 80-400mm VR lens.  It was wonderful for photographing birds from the boat hand held.  It’s light wieght was a godsend after several minutes of hand holding, the zoom covered a great range for moving in tight for distant or frame filling shots and pulling back as the subject got closer while continuing to shoot.  The AF-S was responsive and the VR enabled me to confidently hand hold from the boat.  There is a permanent place in my camera bag for the 80-400mm VR now.  It is not replacing the 70-200mm 2.8 VR II, I will still continue to use it when I need the speed or the lack of depth of field that the 2.8 aperture provides.

**Note: On the eagle in flight image and the raven with the egg, I was photographing during bright sunny conditions and the contrast was greater than I cared for.  I processed each image in Photomatix Pro 3 to birng out more detail in the shadows.  I like the effect but, will have to work on my technique to lessen the hdr look.


Excellent Photo Adventures…Alaska Wild

Each year as my birthday approaches, I begin to feel a great anticipation.  Not to add another notch in the age belt but, because I have spent the last several birthdays in my favorite place on earth photographing Coastal Brown Bears with fellow Adventurers.  It’s always a great week with multi-Adventure veterans returning and new Adventurers being introduced to our fun loving group with enthusiasm…

_8XL4155_tonemapped copy

Fellow Adventurers: Matt, Jack, Cathy and Craig with huge smiles of anticipation!


On the morning of our departure, we arrive at the float plane dock, with our luggage in one plane we all pile into the second plane with cameras handy and take off on a journey of epic proportions.  Seriously, I have heard fellow Adventurers describing the week as an experience of a lifetime…one that many find a way to repeat time and again.  I have to agree as it is now my thirteenth year in Alaska photographing “the bears”; ten at my current location in the wilds of Alaska an incredibly scenic fifty minute float plane ride from Kodiak…

_8XL4450 copy

Our photographic stomping grounds for the next week


Our pilots always give us a little flyover the lodge to get a good view before landing…

LaurieExcell 000913 copy

Home, Sweet Home, Alaska Style


When we land, the crew at the lodge are waiting to greet us with huge smiles and welcoming hugs all around.  Each guest is shown to their own cabin to get settled in before lunch and our first foray into the field to photograph the incredible Coastal Brown Bears against the magnificent Alaskan backdrop…


Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear



After a great first afternoon, it looks like we have an amazing week in store for us with favorable weather, lot’s of subjects, comfortable lodging and meals worthy of any five star resort.  Stay tuned…


Today, I Celebrate…

_1XL1707-2 copy


Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilerating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

John Ruskin


Story behind the image…

Each spring finds me in tornado alley storm chasing accross, Oklahome, Kansas, Nebraska, The Dakotas and other states depending on where the storms are happening.  I explain to the folks that travel with me that storm chasing is long hours of waiting for a storm to develop followed by quick bursts of intense photography as we try to stay in front of the storm to get the best images with the most drama.  While it’s pretty amazing to see tornados, it’s the structure of super cells that are really the photogenic part of most storms.  Our guides keep us well out of the way of the storms where we can see and photograph them in safety.

The above photo is a part of a shelf cloud that stretched across the horizon as far as the eye could see.  I went ultra wide (14mm) in order to get as much of the dramatic sky in the frame.  Nkion D3X, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8 @ 14mm  ISO 400 f5.6 @ 1/45 sec  -1 exposure compensation dialed in to emphasize the drama of the dark clouds.  Due to the fact that we often times only have quick moments to grab the shot, I increased my ISO and opened the aperture up so that I could hand hold, get the shot and get back in the van and make our getaway quickly.


Today, I Celebrate…

Waemia Canyon Pano


 Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.  The lovers, the dreamers and me.

-Jim Henson/The Muppet Show-


Story behind the image…

When visiting Hawaii, prepare for rainbows.  It rains a lot and then the sun peeps out and rainbows appear.  If you miss one, hang tight and you’ll get another chance soon.  Such was the case as we headed up Waimea Canyon on Maui one spring.  The rain passed and a beautiful rainbow appeared.  We hustled up the canyon, racing time to find a viewpoint where we could find a beautiful landscape to include in the photo.  We found a spot, pulled over, grabbed our cameras and raced to the lookout…  The rainbow was still there!  We quickly set up our cameras and began firing away, changing compositions, working the exposure feeling like we are on a race with time to get a few good images of the beautiful scene spread out before us.  But, the rainbow just kept glowing away, minute after minute until we had captured all the rainbow images we wanted.

My final image was a panorama of the canyon.  I chose to include people both for scale.  Five frame pano created with Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70mm 2.8 @ 60mm  ISO 200 f16 @ 1/125 sec