I really, really didn’t think I could be this lucky but it turns out I was wrong. I am this lucky. I am making yet another journey north to photograph eagles and co-teach two workshops with my good friend Robert O’Toole. We’re heading up near Homer, AK where there are tons of bald eagles. Combined, we’ve made more than two dozen trips over the last decade and a half to this very spot. There’s simply no place like Alaska for eagle photography. It’s wild, it’s harsh, the temperatures can swing 50 degrees in one day and it’s hard work. Survival in Alaska is never a given. The people I’ve met there over the years are some of the toughest I’ve met anywhere. Even the eagles, as successful as they are up here, have to work at it.
To make it in Alaska you have to have grit and purpose and passion. I can muster all three on a short term basis for this 15-day trip.
Robert and I are leading two sold out workshops full of eager and talented photographers. But there will be personal shooting time before, in between and after the workshops for both of us. I am planning to test my new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera bodies and the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO Lens on this trip. I have shot with this combo for a couple of months but the eagle trip is the ultimate camera workout. The Micro Four Thirds stuff makes up the bulk of my photo gear which is a Godsend. But I might find myself in some tough low-light conditions which makes autofocus hard and dealing with digital noise harder. For that I am relying on my trusty Canon 1DX (the original not the MK II – I’ll explain why I prefer this body in a future post) and the newest version of Tamron’s brilliant SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 zoom lens. It’s probably the best value for the money full-frame DSLR lens there is for sports, wildlife and bird photography. It’s lighter than any of it’s competitors and very sharp. The only compromise using this lens is that it isn’t as fast as the big name glass from Canon and Nikon but that’s rarely an issue for the kind of work I am doing these two weeks.
Speaking of gear – Without a doubt I am taking the least amount of gear I’ve ever worked with in Alaska and that is a trend. Turns out that has been the case the last three trips. Each time I took less than the previous trip and the reasons are simple. It’s easier to manage less gear, I can save money and worry by not shipping anything vis UPS or FedEx, and I can have everything I need make the journey with me on the very planes I am traveling on. While there is always the fear that I will end up leaving something at home I could use on the trip, experience has taught me that more times than not I will get shots I wouldn’t have simply because I am less burdened with lots of gear. It took me a long time to realize this but it’s true. I used to justify bringing the kitchen sink with me on these big trips, but I spent so much time lugging around and managing all that gear that it got in the way of some shots I could have made if I simply has less STUFF. Try it for yourself. Work with less gear. It not only makes the trip easier, saves space, saves money on shipping, etc., but it trains your eye to work within the creative limitations of the gear you have.
The weather looks pretty good for this trip. In the past we’ve seen everything from warm sunny days to blizzards. I have one full suitcase with nothing but winter clothing inside.
I will concentrate on still photography on this trip but I will shoot some video footage, mostly as a test of the new Olympus camera system’s new 4K video.
Flying to Alaska is always a surreal experience. The terrain is like no other. As I look out the window of the plane I see a patchwork of frozen ice and mountains which look like a lunar landscape.
Because it’s just so beautiful up here I will also shoot some landscapes and maybe even a few time lapse productions. It seems a shame to waste the opportunity given the target rich environment.
Over the next two weeks I’ll post a few times here on Photofocus to share my expedition. If you want to follow along you can do so here or follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook for more frequent (and shorter) updates.