Today is designated International Polar Bear Day; what a great day!
We were super fortunate to get this opportunity on our Polar Bear Photo Tour last fall, with the sow nursing her 2 cubs and facing us. Cameras went crazy and everyone got some really nice shots. And the cubs fed well. All in all, I think it worked out nicely for everyone involved!
This year we’ll be there 2 weeks, and I’m already looking forward to it. Few things are more fun than watching these great bears of the north in their natural habitat.
It’s probably a good time for another polar bear photo, don’t ya think?
This young fella was curious enough to venture out, albeit cautiously, over the think, newly formed ice of the Beaufort Sea, to come in for a closer look. I wanted to get a nice low angle, and give a sense of the expansive arctic setting behind him.
One tip I’ll offer wildlife photographers, and bear photographers in particular, is try as hard as you can to catch them with a front paw raised, and not the back paw. Most animals, and especially bears, just look awkward and clumsy with a back leg in the air. So rather than just keep my thumb on the hammer and fire away as a bear walks by or approaches, I tend to try to time a few short bursts to catch the pose I want.
This also helps with avoiding the dreaded “oh crap, I filled the buffer” problem as well. Just remember to shoot BEFORE you see that front paw come up – if you wait til the front paw is lifted, you’ll be late. Anticipate and shoot. And practice.
“Oooh, my little pretty one, pretty one, When ya gunna give me some, My Corona”
What a cool tune, eh?
This image of the aurora borealis corona was taken last March on one of the aurora borealis tours. Here’s to hoping we get a night like this one again. Absolutely incredible evening, and it went on and on and on and on …. all night long. I think we got home at something like 9am this morning. I remember we nearly missed breakfast at the hotel because they were closing it up when we rocked into town. Continue reading…
Winter in Alaska is a fun time; it’s a hard time for a photographer because we have to choose between shooting during the day time, and waiting out the nights for the northern lights. And then switching schedules back and forth as the weather and the northern lights predictions change.
So the last few nights I’ve spent mostly sitting around at night hoping to be in the right place at the right time. For the most part, instead I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Shooting the northern lights is harder than most folks expect; shooting the northern lights with very specific compositions and scenes is even harder, because everything has to be just right. There are a few areas I have in mind for some northern lights images over the Wrangell Mountains, and so far, I’ve not gotten close. Every night the potential has been there, I’ve ventured out, only to be skunked. And few places can really skunk a photographer like Alaska can. Continue reading…
A few days late, sorry. Here’s the February “Image of the Month”, a brown bear at dawn, backlit by the soft warm light of the morning, with a light mist over the water. Sometimes, I swear, the bears seem to enjoy a pretty morning as much as we do.
As I do every winter, I’m looking forward to getting back to Katmai this coming fall for some great bear photography.
It’s January, and Alaska can be a rough place to sleep outside during this time of year. Temperatures can easily be down below zero F, even into the minus 30’s and 40’s, or colder. So sleeping outside is not to be taken lightly.
Bring a good sleeping bag. A REALLY good sleeping bag. If you predict temperatures of zero (F), I’d go with a sleeping bag rated to minus 20 degrees F. I prefer a down sleeping bag over synthetic bags, but the key is a high quality, and well rated bag. If you have a good synthetic fill sleeping bag, use that. It’ll be heavier, and less compatible, but you can deal with that. You don’t want to have to deal with being cold.
Your bag is your last refuge against the cold. Don’t skimp on it. Bring “more” sleeping bag than you think you need. I do like the goretex or similar shells for winter bags, and highly recommend them.
Bring a good sleeping pad. A REALLY good sleeping pad. Jake, above, is using (well, half using) an Exped Sim Comfort 10 LW, which I highly recommend if you’re not packing it into the backcountry. If you need to haul it (snowshoeing, skiing, backpacking, go with an Exped Downmat 7 or even the Downmat 9). An insulated pad insulates you against the cold snow underneath, where even the best sleeping bag won’t offer much protection – once you lie down in the bag and compress the insulation underneath you (be it down or synthetic), it offers little insulating value. So a high quality insulated pad makes a huge difference. You want it to be about an inch or more thick.
Although it’s not generally needed with a high quality sleeping pad like this, I often like to throw a hard cell foam pad under the inflatable. It adds a little extra insulation, but mostly a little protection against a leak or anything. It’ll definitely ad to the life of your sleeping pad. Unlike Jake, above, don’t slide off the sleeping pad. You’ll get cold. 🙂
Well, one more reason its because it’s been upgraded, modified and changed, twice now in fact, so I thought I’d touch on a couple of things about the newer version of this tent, the Skyledge 2 DP.
Firstly, it has a new name. The DP is short for ‘Dry Pitch’. Meaning it’s possible to set the rainfly section of the tent up first, and then add the inner part of the tent afterward; a handy feature in the rain, for sure. The Mountain Hardwear bio reads “DryPitch™ fly-first pitching lets you set up the tent in the rain and stay dry”, which I think is a little misleading. You will still get wet. The inner part of your tent will stay somewhat drier .. but rarely will it remain completely dry. Still, it’s a handy feature that I’m glad to see Mountain Hardwear working on. Continue reading…
I thought we’d start of the fun this year with a quick photo from a place I’ll be headed to next week; Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. A week snowshoeing, skiing, sitting by the fire, watching out at night for some northern lights, enjoying good company, good food and a nice warm fire sounds like a GREAT way to start the new year. Continue reading…
I am just now back from a trip to the arctic looking for the northern lights; 4 of us went north of Fairbanks, to the Brooks Range, and spent a dark, cold week rambling around the mountains, enjoying what is ordinarily an incredible place; in the winter, a unique and somewhat amazing experience.
The northern lights themselves dropped by for a visit each night; we were indeed fortunate. We had cloudy skies for part of just one night, and all the moonlight anyone might ever hope for to light up the foregrounds. In the arctic, the moon doesn’t really pass ‘overhead’, but circles around the sky, so though it’s not high in the sky, it stays out for quite a while.
We were also lucky with the weather; there was just enough wind around (particularly higher in the mountains) to keep things from getting too cold. Weird, huh? Wind (generally) keeps things warmer in the winter. On our final day, there was not the slightest breath of air, and the temperature dropped a lot .. hitting minus 40 right as we departed for the drive south. For the duration of our trip it had been (mostly) in the 0 to minus 20 range; Fahrenheit, of course).
Photography in the cold, at night, can be a challenge, but we were all well prepared, and managed to make some keeper images. I’ll write another post later about tips and ideas to alleviate some of the problems folks run into in such conditions. For now, I gotta catch up on some sleep.
Just finished photographing bald eagles, and I’ll be heading back up north to this area next week, again loping for the northern lights. Should be a gaggle of fun.
This was one of the most memorable nights I’ve had shooting the northern lights, in the middle of nowhere off the Dalton Highway, in minus 30 degree temperatures, wind blowing like crazy, and we had an absolute blast! You haven’t lived until you’ve stumbled around in the dark in the snow in the wind in the cold trying to take pictures.
For what it might be worth, I shot this photo at ISO 2000, f1.4, and a shutter speed of 5 seconds, with a 24mm lens.
I only have a space or 2 left yet for next March on the Aurora borealis photo tours, so drop me a note if you’re interested in coming along. I can’t guarantee we’ll see a display like this one, but we’ll do our best to be in the right spot if it happens!