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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dalls Of Turnagain

A unique springtime wildlife opportunity lies close to the Alaskan gateway of Anchorage

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dallsWhat’s Left?
Keep in mind when you’re photographing sheep that they feel most secure when they’re higher than you. Their main defense is a strong offense, escaping up slope, so don’t cut that off. Be careful as you’re working along a highway. Drivers see you, and then see the sheep, and then they don’t see you! Keep an eye on those heading north who stop to photograph the sheep. They’ll be parking on the other side of the highway. That, in combination with their walking up to get a clear shot (hard to do on that side of the highway), can send the sheep back up the slope. Often, waiting a while is all that’s required for them to come back down.

Dall sheep truly are cool wilderness critters that normally one only sees as mere white specks at the top of a ridgeline in some remote locale. This is a special opportunity, which is basically in your backyard (in a global sense). Spending any time in their world is an eye-opener and experience that you just don’t want to miss. Here’s a chance for great wildlife photography that doesn’t require much, other than being in Alaska, just waiting to be explored by your camera. So next time you’re up in May or June, carve out an extra day or two to check them out and spend some time with the Dalls of Turnagain.

What Gear Do You Need?
dallsIn a perfect world, you’d be shooting with a 400mm lens, but this locale doesn’t always lend itself to that short a lens. You’re shooting from across the highway (staying below the sheep, which is very important), so a 400mm lens with a teleconverter or a 600mm lens is the best tool. You’ll want to use a sturdy tripod and proper long-lens technique so you can handle the vibration from the highway, railroad (the tracks are right behind you) and wind (there can be big wind here, be forewarned!).

dallsWhen it comes to the light, you’re lucky this is an early-morning shoot. The subjects are white, and the world in which they live, well, at certain points, isn’t picture-perfect. Since it’s so early in the morning, and you’re facing east, the sun is behind the ridge, so you’re shooting in the shade. This light combo might not sound ideal, but as you see in the photos, the white subjects visually pop out beautifully while the background fades nicely. Speaking of backgrounds, there are power transmission wires running along the base of the cliff. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep them out of the background.

Lastly, you need to dress warmly. Grab some coffee before you head out, have your heavy jacket and gloves, and be prepared to stand in wind coming off the glacier for a couple of hours—in the shade! If you’re waiting for the sheep to come down (you’ll see them above you heading down if they’re coming down) or for activity to pick up, you’ll get cold. When the sheep are staring you in the eye, the last thing you’ll notice is the cold!

Moose Peterson specializes in photographing rare, sensitive and endangered wildlife and wild places. The goal of his work is to preserve our wild heritage. You can see more of his images at www.moosepeterson.com.


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