Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Alaska By Sea
Tremendous photo opportunities await in America’s Great White North
I’ve long used any possible reason to hitch a ride north to our nation’s finest real estate purchase ever, whether shooting for cruise ship companies, the Alaska Railroad or travel stories. The stunning variety, scale and scope of the landscape is matched by the richness of its wildlife and the character of its people, and for a photographer, Alaska is a potent brew. If you’ll come with me, I’ll share some of my favorite photo moments and places, followed by a way to see them for yourself in like company.
For Alaska, I always bring my long glass, a rare 250-600mm ƒ/5.6 ED zoom, to photograph cetaceans and all manner of wildlife. This is a sizable lens, but with the in-camera anti-shake enabled, I’ve found that by using a stout monopod you can shoot sharp images from a gently moving vessel and track whales all across the horizon, zooming wider when they surprise you up close. And for puffins, Steller sea lions, otters, eagles and bears feeding in the intertidal zone, a lens like this is invaluable. Whatever long lens you bring, make sure it’s sharp wide open, as you’ll need a fast shutter speed to cancel out the wave roll and compensate for the narrow angle of view. I’m usually at ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/8 when shooting from a vessel. When shooting at 600mm (a 900mm film equivalent for my system), I often shoot at 1/1500 sec. and faster while seeking the lowest ISO possible.
For many years, I shot film for stock and my travel stories in 35mm and 6x7, but now I’ve gone completely digital. I’m a rare pro shooter who has used Pentax optics and bodies in both formats since the very beginning. I currently use only the Pentax K20D for all my editorial, commercial and stock outlets, and coupled with the new DA* lenses that are weather-sealed, I’m very pleased with the quality of the files for my clients. But whatever you shoot, know it well before you go to Alaska. This isn’t the time to buy a new camera body and learn it on the fly! You’ll need to make very quick creative adjustments, and blowing an unforeseen and unrepeatable moment because you don’t have the controls memorized is both maddening and a lesson best learned just once.
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