(Nikon D3, Gitzo Tripod, Mongoose 3.5 Gimbal Head, Nikon 200-400 F/4 VR at 200mm, ISO 800, +0.5 EV. F.5.6 @ 125th Sec. straight out of the camera without post processing other than exposure adjustment and cropping – may appear too bright, too dark, wrong color, right color – depending on your monitor)

EDITOR’S NOTE: (I am in Anchorage and flying back to Seattle Thursday or Friday. I will post the rest of the diary in two and three part sections with a few photos, and then repost the entire group of entires with more photos next week.)

UPDATE: Here are a few snaps from the trip.

Alaska Photo Diary Part 3

Kodiak and Katmai

I’m here in Kodiak getting ready to board our chartered flight to Katmai where we’ll pick up the chartered yacht and finally embark on the final leg of the journey that will hopefully take us to the bears.

I’m trying to take some time to reflect on what I want to accomplish during this trip. One thing that sets pros apart from amateurs is we go into a photo shoot with specific goals in mind. I find it easier to get great shots when I have a theme. If I just go out and shoot everything I see, I am not focused enough (no pun intended) to come away with a solid portfolio of work.

So I am not even sure what my theme will be on this trip. But I have a few things in mind. Conditions will often help dictate the theme. Weather, subject, mood, light, and other considerations can cause me to change a theme.

Short of those situations, I think my theme this trip will be somewhat general… I want to make images that will help people look at life through the bear’s eyes. Perspective is something that’s often lacking in today’s busy world. I know my perspective. I might even know your perspective if I spend enough time with you. But do I really honor other perspectives? Do I really take time to learn from other people’s perspectives? And moreover – is there anything to be learned from the bear’s perspective?

This is the starting point for my theme this week. It could change. But that’s where I am going to begin.

And I’ll use my old standby photojournalism trick. . . EDFAT – Entire, Details, Focal Length, Angle and Time. I’ll shoot using this tool to remind myself to shoot scenes at different angles, with different lenses, closer and farther, higher and lower, at different times of day, using slow shutter speeds in some cases to capture the mood of motion or freezing action with a high shutter speed so that I can seriously study every detail in the bear’s face.

There’s a great deal to think about – and notice, nothing I’ve written here refers to gear or gadgets. Great photos start in the mind’s eye. Now I just have to capture in my camera over the next few days those photo’s I’ve already pre-visualized in my mind.

See you on the other side.

Alaska Photo Diary Part 4

We got up at Zero Dark Thirty for our flight to Kodiak where we (and our gear) were weighed for the floatplane trip. We chartered three planes for the entire group and our gear.

After a quick breakfast we headed out for Kinak Bay to meet the two 62 foot yachts we chartered. These two boats will be our “hotel” for the next week. We’ll eat all our meals, shower (occasionally), sleep and organize our images on the yachts.

If you’ve ever watched “Lockup” on MSNBC and seen the prison cells featured in their news stories, you’ve seen something resembling my “executive, private stateroom” on the boat. In fact, those cells on the TV show look BIGGER than my little bunk. As president of the horizontally-challenged photographers of America, I lodged an official protest with the ship’s captain, but it didn’t do any good. :)

After we unloaded the gear and supplies we got our photo gear lined up and headed out on a skiff to find some bears. We didn’t need long. Our first bear encounter was at about 3:30 pm. A large sow came down the creek fishing for the Pink Salmon that was running past our feet. From there, it got better and better. We saw a total of six bears on our first afternoon. Not as many as we hoped, but enough to get some great shots. We had one magnificent boar that must have weighed 900 pounds flanking us and coming around behind us so he could walk up the creek to fish. He was about 40 feet away and seemed MUCH closer. The light was great. For bears, you NEVER want sun. Cloudy, overcast days are best and that’s what we got all day.

By 7:00 pm it was still light, but the bears seemed to move on and we decided to as well. Everyone was cold, so we walked back to the skiff and went back to the yacht to download, eat and sleep.

So far, I’ve managed to survive the three airplane rides as well as the boat and the bears.

Alaska Photo Diary Part 5

In case you didn’t know it, yacht captains don’t encourage the use of boat showers. They want us to conserve water so sponge baths were the order of the day.

I got up after about five hours sleep as is my practice. Usually I’d be answering hundreds of e-mails at this time of day. It’s been 24 hours since I had Internet access and I’m having some slight anxiety thinking about the thousands of e-mails that will be waiting for me when I get back.

The trip leader is my pal Artie Morris and he’s having fun. I was also glad to find out that one of our TWIP listeners Marc Katz, was able to come on the trip. We’ve been hanging out and enjoying the experience together. Marc’s a heart-surgeon who has developed a love for photography. It’s cool for me to be around someone who’s just starting to really get serious about photography. He’s smart and he’s like a sponge so he’s in a position to learn a great deal on this trip.

Now it’s time to deal with my first day’s worth of images.

I off-loaded all my images onto the Macbook Air and then realized I forgot to install Capture NX2 on the laptop so I can’t see my D700 images. But I did copy them onto both the hard disk in the Air and onto one of my portable USB drives. They’ll have to wait until I return to Gig Harbor. I didn’t shoot much with the D700 since the D3 had the 200-400 attached. That was the lens I needed most of the day, and of course the D3 images go into Aperture.

Before I get to that I’ll mention that the gear performed very well yesterday.

The 1.7 teleconverter performs well on that 200-400 lens. You give up two stops and loose some detail, but it’s an acceptable compromise.

If we get to a place where the bears are closer, I’ll test the difference shooting without it.

I’m starting to rethink my theme – as often happens. I might shift to a theme that revolves around bears and water. Water plays such a big part in these animals’ lives that it’s hard not to include it.

We’re working Kinak Bay again today because there seem to be fewer bears in general, and fewer bears in Geographic Harbor than we found when scouting.

For those of you wondering, we’re about an hour (by boat) from the place where Timothy Tredwell found out you can’t pretend bears are like people. It’s called Kaflia Bay and we’ll probably avoid it since the bear maze is supposed to be fairly well devoid of bears at this time.

Back to the images…
I’m using Aperture to go through and select my best images from the first day.

My workflow is pretty simple. I import into a new project, use the auto-stack feature to get similar photos in a group, then I move to full-screen mode and shift through the images. I start by rejecting (using the “9” key) the images I know I don’t like. These are still in the library, I just can’t see them once I reject them. Then I mark the remaining images with four or five stars. The five-star images are those I know I’ll keep for further editing. The four-star images are those I might keep for later.

Then I go back through and reject any images that are remaining. I do some basic metadata work like adding simple captions, etc., and I’m done.

I think it’s a mistake to edit in the field. You’re too close to the subject to be objective. In my case, there’s also the problem of working on an underpowered computer. The Air is not a machine I’d want to use as a regular photo-editing machine. It’s just a way to do basics and nothing more. I’ll save the real work for when I get home to my color-calibrated 24″, fully-loaded iMac.

Time to get geared up for today’s shoot.

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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store