UPDATE: I have started posting my bear photos on my Photrade account. You can see the first 10 at Photrade.
UPDATE UPDATE: I have added some generic trip photos, minus bears to my Flickr account.
Alaska Photo Diary Part 9
We finished our second rain day pretty much as we did the first. We sat around working on our images from the first two days of shooting, we ate a great deal, and we enjoyed each other’s company. I personally did something I don’t usually get to do…I really relaxed. I love being on the water. I love the peaceful setting. And I really love Geographic Harbor.
Due to the storm’s movement, we came into Geographic Harbor late, but it was worth the wait. Wow is this beautiful. Eagles, black-legged kittiwakes, puffins, harbor seals, harloqin ducks, mew and glaucas gulls and of course bears, have been plentiful. A few of the team went ashore to scout in the rain and I am sorry I didn’t go with them. They got some great shots of the bears playfully wresting in the rain. They admitted that the conditions were miserable, but since they put up with those conditions they got the shots. Lesson learned. No matter how ugly the weather is today, I am going out to shoot if ANYONE decides to go to the beach.
A few of the crew as well as some in our party went fishing yesterday. The catch wasn’t overwhelming but it was tasty. We got three 15-25 pound halibut between the group, and one sand shark as well as some fish I have never heard of. Within three hours of the catch, our cook had made the filets, seasoned them and thrown them on the BBQ! Then, he made a home-made, fresh tarter sauce that was so good, I don’t have words to describe it. He left the skin on the fish and cooked it skin-side down. When the white blood raises to the top, the fish is done and again, all I can say is wow! I have never had any halibut taste like this. It was amazing.
We have quite an interesting group. Since we’re spending so much time on the yachts during the bad weather, it’s easy to get to know everyone. We have a commercial airline pilot, a heart surgeon, a commercial real estate broker, a mortgage broker (and his wife,) the owner of a boat-based sightseeing company in Florida, a physicist, a mortgage broker, a third-generation butcher who owns a meat-packing company, and a lovely ex-nurse who is Arthur’s friend; acting as his assistant for the trip. All three of the crew have been taking turns acting as my assistant and doing a good job for me.
Our crew consists of Chuck, who owns both the yachts and captains the older boat. He’s also the bear trip guide and an accomplished photographer in his own right. The skipper of my boat is Rick, who is a 47-year-old native Alaskan who has been working on fishing boats, and guiding in these waters since he was nine years old. He’s worked on the big commercial fishing boats like you see in the show “Dangerous Catch,” and has the scars to prove it, but he’s a heck of a nice guy and also a pretty good photographer. Our cook is Aleksey (Alex) He’s Russian and in his 20s. He also helps casting off lines, helping keep the boat clean, and entertaining the group with his friendly smile. All of the crew have been taking turns assisting me with my gear on this trip and I really appreciate their help.
Since this IS a photo trip, I’ll get back to photography for a minute. I had time to look through all my images (except for those I made with the D700) and I got some amazing shots. My favorites include a bear standing up, a bear walking around on the mountain in the volcanic ash, and a shot of a big boar walking up the river.
I noticed that the images with the 1.7 teleconverter are still pretty sharp, but lack some detail of the images made without. I am looking forward to using the Nikon 600 mm VR lens next time I need more focal length. I am also very impressed with the D3’s low noise performance. I shot several images at ISO 1100 during the heavy overcast. While I see an almost imperceptible loss of detail there, I see virtually no noise, and am confident I could print those images in the 16×20″ range with superb results. It’s wild. If I’d had ISO 1100 in the film days, I can’t image how many great shots I would have gotten that I had to let go due to lack of light.
I am feeling more and more confident about the decision NOT to bring the Nikon SB900. I can’t see any situation here where it would have helped. And since I feel VERY comfortable shooting all the way to ISO 3200 and maybe a bit beyond, I won’t miss flash.
This morning, the weather looks pretty rough but, the thing about Alaska’s weather is this – it can and will change. I’m hoping it clears up this morning. After today, we have two more mornings here, then the seaplanes come back for us and it’s off to civilization. While I’d be happy with the images I got if we didn’t get another chance to shoot the bears, I’m hoping for at least one more shot.
We might also go after some more kittywakes today. Artie has an idea that we may be able to bring them in using some chum off the side of the boat.
Alaska Photo Diary Part 10
I’m about to turn in for the night but thought I’d jot down an extra entry. Today was fun and frustrating all at the same time. We had terrible weather which meant we were shut out again in terms of bear photography. But the good news is we did have some fun photographing birds outside the harbor. We went out in some pretty rough seas, and three of our group got sea sick. The rest of us stood on the stern of the yacht and did flight shots of gulls and other sea birds fighting for chum.
It was cold and rainy but we had decent light. Add to that the challenge of six-foot swells and more than half our shots were wasted. But heck, it’s digital so why not? I did have fun shooting the birds, but would have rather shot the bears. We came back “inside” as the seamen called it, to the safety of the harbor. There we spent the rest of the day telling jokes, looking at images, talking gear and of course eating. We had what appeared to be tuna – salad sandwiches that were actually halibut – salad sandwiches. If nothing else, we’re eating well.
Tomorrow’s forecast is encouraging and we’re probably going out to find bears no matter what the weather. Our first float plane is scheduled to land here Wednesday morning at 11:00 am to bring the first group back to Kodiak so we can catch our afternoon flight to Anchorage. I am hoping to be in the last group that flies out so I can maximize my chances of one more bear shoot.
It’s hard to believe it will all be over in a few days. While I have been challenged physically in the first few days of the trip, I have been rewarded with a real sense of peace and rest the last few days, despite the frustration of no bear photography.
Alaska Photo Diary Part 11
Today was a great day for bear photography. Even though the weather started out wet, it cleared up enough to get some great shots. Since we’ve moved to Geographic Harbor we’ve been tracking the same five bears – two cubs, the sow that’s with them and two sub-adult boars. Much to our surprise we also found a two-year old blonde cub separated from its mother, a giant 900 pound boar, a large black and another four-year-old male.
We were on a point that was literally surrounded by bears on all sides. The sow and her cubs walked within 15 feet of us. The sow hissed at us a bit because the cubs were so curious about what we were doing. But other than that, we had no close calls. We did have one funny event…a boar started guarding our skiff. In fact, our captain was worried the bear might try to climb into the skiff so we started making noise to scare it away. It decided to sit down blocking our way back home. We decided to wait on the bear.
We headed in for a late lunch and some of the group went out to photograph gulls. I stayed behind to process the 600 images I made today.
I can’t believe it’s all about to end. We might be moving back to Kinak Bay tonight to wait for the seaplanes. If we get decent weather, we’ll take one more run on the skiff to photograph the bears before the planes start arriving at 11:00 AM. It’s about an hour flight to Kodiak where we’ll collect our belongings and go to the airport for the commercial flight to Anchorage at 4:45 PM. Most of the group is flying straight home. I am staying the night in Anchorage and flying out the next morning.
I still have hundreds of images to edit and that will no doubt keep my busy on the flight home.
Alaska Photo Diary Part 11
This is the last morning. A portion of our group went out to shoot, but between my aches and pains and the fact that I got scheduled to go out on the first seaplane, I decided to stay back at the yacht and pack so I could be ready when it was time to go. Fortunately, I did not miss much according to the captain.
I walked around the ship and did some photography of all the small ship-board details. I also just took in the final views I’ll have of beautiful Geographic Harbor. We decided to anchor here last night instead of going back to Kinak Bay. I’m struck by how minute-by-minute the engine that is Alaska works. Everything is VERY closely tied to weather and that changes VERY quickly. Kinak is fogged in. Geographic isn’t fogged in. So we stayed in Geographic.
I count 29 seasonal waterfalls that I’ve seen on this trip. I’ve been so focused on the wildlife that I almost forgot to do some documentary shots of the natural beauty of the harbor. Last night I made a couple of HDR images and shot some panos of the bay. I’ll post them if I think they turn out well.
Our final dinner was prime rib, served up with the Alaska twilight. Everyone who is not shooting this morning is hunched over their computers looking at what will no doubt be, the best grizzly bear pictures many of them have ever seen, let alone taken.
I am ready to leave, but not ready to go. Nevertheless – the seaplane is on the way.
Alaska Photo Diary – The Final Chapter
Our trip back to Kodiak Island on the floatplane was great. We saw a Fin Whale pod. We ate lunch at a local pub that featured more great seafood. We breezed through security and made it to Anchorage where some of us spent the night and still others went on home.
I’m sitting on the plane headed back to Seattle. I’ve looked through most of my images, and am happy with the results. I’ll be sharing those results here on the TWIPPHOTO.COM blog and perhaps via my Photrade portfolio. I’ll put some of the travel stuff shot with the G9 on Flickr and I’ll also post some video on Vimeo as soon as I get time to edit it. It might be a few days before this all gets done, since I have to get re-aclimated to civilization.
I think the G9 is toast due to moisture – oh well, I guess I’ll have to buy a G10. 🙂 Just kidding – the G9 is fine, but I’ll still get a G10!
This trip was informative. I didn’t learn that many new lessons, but old lessons were brought to mind and it’s good to be reminded of things you learned long ago.
And most of what I learned had little to do with photography. I learned that life is hard (and very expensive) in Alaska. I learned that you have to work together with people just to survive up there. I also learned that you have to go with the flow. While I was originally hoping for a chance at the larger Kodiak bears, what we found were the small (800-900 pound Grizzlies.) While I hoped we could spend the majority of our time in Geographic Harbor, we ended up spending half our time there and the other half in Kinak Bay. But what did it matter? By relaxing and letting the trip just happen, I ended up with more than 1200 images to work with. I leave on every trip hoping that I get just one great photo every day. I got dozens of great shots and dozens more that I can publish. I got to spend time with some old friends, and met some new ones. I got to see one of the most beautiful parts of America, and I got to have fun, relax, and break my routine. I also found out that even though I am challenged by age and some medical issues, I am still able to “cut it” when it counts. That part of the trip was really edifying to me.
I want to thank all those involved in the trip. My pal Artie Morris, the world’s greatest avian photographer – for arranging it; the crew of the Coastal Explorer I and II – Alex, Rick and Chuck; the bush pilots of Seahawk and Andrews Air who flew us and our supplies into and out of Katmai; the great photographers I met on the trip and of course; last but not least, I want to thank the bears and other wildlife of Alaska for allowing me to be a guest in their world. It was a great trip. I encountered more than 25 different bears – at times surrounded by half a dozen or more.
In addition to overcoming any technical issues involved with a shoot like this, my medical problems didn’t keep me from success. My mental state is improved. My portfolio is fatter. My sense of accomplishment is great.
Whether or not I get to do big trips like this in the future seems less important to me than the fact that I did this one, against tough odds – and I flourished. It makes me proud and happy to know that I’ll have these memories for the rest of my life, and I thank you for letting me do my best to share them with you, and for your patience in reading through this diary.