Aurora Borealis over Tahneta Pass
Photography is many things to me: a full-time job, a passion, an escape from reality, an attempt to make order out of chaos, a healer, and perhaps most importantly as an artist, a visual way of expressing my inner self to others.
At the beginning of every new year I curate several photos to look back at the year just passed. I use them as a measuring stick to document the progress I have made as a student of photography. If this collection of favorite photos is a Rorschach test, and a psychiatrist evaluated them, what would they reveal about me and 2020? I’ll leave you to judge — comments appreciated.
The setting sun on a cold January day (-14 F) “warms” up the hoarfrost on the spruce and birch trees lining this backcountry road. The Orton Effect (done in post-processing) adds a dreamy, ethereal quality to the image.
Requiem for a Tree – I was fascinated with this spruce which seemed to stand as a toll keeper on this road; in fact I photographed it on several occasions including the previous color image. It wasn’t until later in the summer that I discovered the tree was dying as a result of spruce bark beetle infestation. Unfortunately, it will stand as a stark visual reminder of how climate change is affecting the Arctic. The black and white rendition seems appropriate.
Alaska’s winters include periods of intense cold, dry weather often accompanied by temperature inversions. Any remaining moisture in the air often settles in low lying areas creating ground fog which coats everything in hoarfrost. I was fortunate to capture the light from the setting sun on Eagle River just as the fog cleared in this opening.
I use this and other photos in my teaching as an example of chiaroscuro — the interaction of shadows and highlights — that directional side-lighting creates to provide depth and dimensionality to two-dimensional images. Archangel Valley in Hatcher Pass is a playground for winter enthusiasts as evidenced by the numerous snow machine tracks.
I used selective color to highlight the pressure ridge on the terminus of the Matanuska Glacier. This is one example in my Wizard of Oz portfolio. Why Wizard of Oz? Remember the moment in the movie when it changes from black and white to color?
I love sunrises and sunsets in Alaska. This photo was taken in mid-May when the sunset was at 10:47 p.m. A month later at solstice it set at 11:42 p.m.! Our dawn and twilight last long with–at times– amazing colors. A long exposure time of 13 secs. smooths out the ripples in Eagle River. My June print giveaway.
Classic Alaskan Alpine – the view of Spencer and Deadman Glaciers above Spencer Bench Cabin. The hard work of a five mile hike and over 2000 ft. ascent were worth the epic views. My July print giveaway and cover to my 2021 calendar.
Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon in Valdez, Alaska is so named because the cataracts of water flowing down 300 feet into the canyon look like a bridal veil. I decided to tightly crop a small portion of the image with a 100-400 mm lens (at 330 mm) and use a long shutter speed (30 secs.) to accentuate the delicate curves of “veil.”
During my Hope Wildflowers/Waterfalls workshop in July I taught the participants how to do in-camera motion blurs. They are an easy way to turn photos into impressionistic paintings. This one of a birch forest in the Chugach National forest is dark and brooding. Some have commented that the dark spruce in the background could be a sasquatch!
Caribou Crossing – we would not have known this caribou was around except for the sound of it fording the outlet stream to this glacier-fed lake. In a matter of seconds it effortlessly ascended this slope overlooking the lake — one that we slowly trudged up minutes earlier. It curiously approached us to ascertain what we were. Satisfied we meant no harm, it snorted a goodbye and then continued on its journey across the tundra of interior Alaska.
The Orton Effect done with Dwarf Dogwood. The regular pattern of the flowers caught my attention. I like finding order in the chaos of nature.
The Lost Lake Trail in the Kenai Peninsula is a 15-mile round trip hike to a spectacular alpine lake. On this trip I travelled with an Olympus OMD EM1 micro four-thirds camera to lighten my load. Normally I would lug a 50 MP Canon EOS 5DsR to create high resolution landscapes. However, using the pixel shifting capability of the camera, I was able to make this 50 MP composite of a small kettle pond on our way back to the trailhead. My September print giveaway.
This photo of a marshy area in the Matanuska Valley of Alaska I call “Autumn Emergence.” In Southcentral Alaska fall colors begin to emerge in late August and peak a couple of weeks later. I used the Orton Effect to enhance the glow of the emerging yellow and brown colors.
The bright green of this marsh grass stood out in stark contrast to the dark, rich blue of the pond. This is an in-camera motion blur at 1/6 sec.
Tangle Lakes and the Delta River in interior Alaska is part of the National Wild and Scenic River system. My wife and I camp there each fall to capture peak colors. Just as we were leaving the campground the rising sun illuminated the eastern Alaska Range in the background. This is another photo created with the pixel shifting capability of the Olympus OMD EM1 micro four-thirds camera – this time creating an 80 MP composite. My October print giveaway.
As I was scouting shooting locations the day before my fall workshop I found this tapestry of fall colors on the tundra covered in frost. This epitomizes my quest to find order in chaos. Some viewers thought that I manually placed the Arrowleaf Coltsfoot leaf for the composition, when in fact the leaf is still rooted in the ground. Nothing was moved or disturbed for this closeup.
At 12,251 feet, Mount Thor is the second highest peak in the Chugach Mountain Range in Alaska. Moisture from Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska dumps prodigious amounts of snow on these mountains, which is the birthplace of hundreds of glaciers like Powell Glacier shown here. The vertical descent in this image is well over a mile which helps the rivers of ice to flow! Needless to say, shooting out the open door of a helicopter can be exhilarating!
There is a saying that chance favors the prepared mind. Despite the low Kp aurora predictions, my fall workshop participants were treated to a wonderful aurora display. This is the Tahneta Pass near Eureka, Alaska. The science says that around the spring and fall equinoxes the earth’s magnetic field develops cracks which can produce some good northern light displays. I love that we got a red band above the green.
Autumn Dream – fall colors don’t last long in Alaska. This shot was taken a day after the Fall equinox when our colors were just past peak colors in Southcentral Alaska! Every year I run out of time to capture the scenery. All that remained of the fading colors is this photo and the memory. I used the Orton Effect to create the dreamscape.
On Christmas day, my wife and I go on a hike to get some exercise and relish the great Alaskan landscape. In an open section of Eagle River, we found these icicles that were shaped like holiday tree ornaments. I never cease to be amazed at these ordered creations that you find in nature. Yes, despite all that happened in 2020 we are counting our blessings.