Bald eagle, near Juneau, Alaska, 2013
The largest concentration of bald eagles is found in Alaska, and we were welcomed by one of them just a few hours into our cruise. Drifting high above our ship, the eagle’s huge seven-foot wingspan is echoed by the golden cloud that stretches across the frame above it. The juxtaposition of wing and cloud suggests not only the physical majesty of the bird, but its symbolic role as the national symbol of the United States.
Rainbow over Admiralty Island, Alaska, 2013
While having our first dinner in the ship’s dining room, I noticed a very thick rainbow forming over the northeastern end of Admiralty Island. One end of it vanished into the clouds, while the other led directly into the base of a snow-covered mountain in the distance. My camera is always at my side, and I was able to catch it before it disappeared. Rainbows are symbols of good luck, and I could only assume that this scene represented a positive omen. Within two hours of making this image, my hunch would bear dividends.
Whale aloft, near Admiralty Island, Alaska, 2013
I have photographed whales for many years, but had never been fortunate to see one throw its huge body out of the water, let alone photograph such an event. But on the night of June 7, 2013, I was able to do both. Not only was I able to capture this humpback at the apex of its leap, but also the backdrop and the late Alaskan evening light offered a memorable context for the scene. This whale had been following our boat for a mile or so, swimming in wide circles around it. The sun was due to set within the hour, due to the very long Alaskan summer night. The angle of the sun plunged the rounded island in the background into shadow, and muted the light on the mountains and sky behind it. Yet the water itself appeared as a golden sheet of shimmering ripples. The whale has been releasing golden puffs of water, known as spouts, for more than ten minutes. I photographed many of those spouts, and was very pleased with the results. More importantly, my “spout shooting” forced me to remain focused on the ripples the whale was making from just below the surface, so that when it decided to vault into the air, I able catch the decisive moment. The angle of the light turns the splash around the whale, and the water pouring off of its massive body, to gold as well. I had prepared for such a moment as this as best I could, but in the end, it is the whale that made the picture by deciding to breach right in front my camera. In my post processing, I kept this golden leap true to life. My most significant processing addition was to slightly darken the tree, mountain, and sky backdrop, leaving center stage to the breaching whale shedding its curtain of golden water.
Point Retreat Light House, Admiralty Island, Alaska, 2013
This lighthouse sits at the northern tip of the ninety-mile long Admiralty Island. In 1794, the English explorer George Vancouver sent an officer ashore here to find food and water. However the fellow encountered a band of celebrating natives, and beat a hasty retreat. The tip of land had found a name, and 110 years later, it had its first lighthouse. The lighthouse is now automated, and stands as a historic reminder of Alaska’s Inside Passage history. In this image, the setting sun leaves its last light upon the top of the massive mountain rising behind the lighthouse and gilds the tiny-whitewashed structures below. The last light of the day symbolically echoes the function of the lighthouse itself.
Last light on Chichagof Strait, near Funter Bay, Alaska, 2013
This memorable sunset capped our very first day in Alaska. I made this about fifteen minutes after the sun had set (at 10:15 at night), turning Chichagof Strait into a copper and turquoise channel carrying the eye to the brilliantly colored snowcapped peaks on Chichagof Island itself. In just our first five hours of cruising, I had already photographed a bald eagle, a rainbow, and a breaching whale – a fitting prelude to this image, one of the most striking dusk scenes I’ve ever encountered.
Frigid sunset , Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 2013
Just 250 years ago, Glacier Bay was all glacier and no bay. It was a 100-mile long river of ice, thousands of feet deep. That ice has retreated to the north, leaving us with national park that covers three million acres of mountains, glaciers, forests, and waterways. It anchors a 25 million acre world Heritage Site, one of the world’s largest protected natural areas. Fifteen glaciers are within this park – the ice in this image has fallen from the face of Margerie Glacier. Shooting with a 24mm prime wideangle lens from the deck of our ship in the late evening light, I juxtapose the effect of a warm setting sun against the chill of floating ice that seems to extend forever.
Blue ice, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 2013
Shooting from a skiff, I came within a few yards of this massive chunk of floating ice that had broken away from Margerie Glacier. I was drawn to its translucence and its odd blue color. The color is due to air bubbles trapped within the ice being squeezed out. As the size of the ice crystals within the ice increase, they become clear and blue. The blue color is intensified by the blue reflection in the water. I was also drawn to the diagonal thrusts of the ice itself, and the way it seems to glow at the base. The jagged blue translucent ice symbolically provides a metaphor for a rugged yet magical place.
Tlingit canoe, Bartlett Cove Visitor’s Center, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 2013
The Tlingit people built this canoe, now on display at the National Park’s visitor’s center. The Tlingit were driven from their homes by advancing glaciers three hundred years ago, but as the ice retreated they have returned to the area and claim Glacier Bay as their spiritual homeland. I made this image to symbolically evoke such spirit. Using spot metering, I was able to emphasize the effect of a warm sun emerging from the dark shadows within the hand-made wooden canoe.
Life upon death, Bartlett Cove Visitor’s Center, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 2013
While glaciers are prominent in the northern half of Glacier National Park, temperate rainforests dominate its southern part. Evergreen trees such as Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce thrive in the mild, moist climate of these rainforests. Such trees drip with lichens and mosses, and share space with layers of vegetation that include blueberries, fungi, liverworts and wildflowers that blanket the forest floor. The vast quantity of things living or that once lived but that are now decaying produces some of the largest accumulations of organic material on earth. A National Park Service Ranger took us on a walk through just such a rainforest adjacent to the park’s visitor’s center. During that walk, I came upon this scene. In this image, I attempt to express the essence of rejuvenation itself. Using a prime 24mm wideangle lens, I emphasize the sheer scale of these massive fallen trees, now covered in moss and lichen, yet providing a platform for new growth everywhere around them.
Tourism, Glacier Bay Lodge, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 2013
Millions of tourists visit Glacier Bay National Park each summer. Most of them view the park from the decks of massive cruise ships. We saw it from small skiffs, spending three days and nights exploring the park by day and anchoring in its coves by night. Some tourists chose to stay at the Glacier Bay Lodge, or hotels in the nearby town of Gustavus. As we entered the park, we waited to meet our National Park Service ranger in the busy lobby of the Glacier Bay Lodge. The ranger would stay with us for our entire trip through the park. While we waited, I found this pair of tourists planning their own visit, via laptop, from the comfort of a Glacier Bay Lodge sofa. The expressions on their faces and their body language make us wonder what they must be thinking at this moment. They face many choices, choosing from a menu of full day boat tours, hiking, camping, kayaking, birding, fishing, and berry picking.
Forest Journey, Bartlett’s Cove, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 2013
I photographed many different creatures during my eleven-day shoot in Alaska, ranging in size from huge humpback whales to the tiny red bug shown in this image. This insect, which I’ve learned is most likely known scientifically as "Dictoptera Hamatus," was extremely difficult to shoot at close range. It was scuttling quickly across a flat rock in a rainforest near the National Park’s visitors center. I put my camera in Macro mode, and moved in as far as my wideangle lens would allow, and was able to make several images before it fled from sight. The insect vanished into my shadow in my first few images, but eventually the little red bug emerged from my looming shadow and broke into the clear. It seems to be laboring uphill at the moment, its head down but antennae held high as its six little red legs churn forward. This kind of insect is related to termites and cockroaches, but is far bolder in color. While this photo is a far cry from a breaching humpback whale, it does depict a legitimate native of Southeastern Alaska’s rain forest in action.
Mountain goats, Gloomy Knob, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 2013
Mountain goats are among the largest mammals found at higher altitudes, but they often descend to sea level as they forage for food. We spotted this mother and her kid moving along a narrow path of rock high on a massive cliff. They were well out of camera range, but my long telephoto lens and a couple of strong crops reveal a sense of vulnerability within this image. A very young kid rests on the ground, while its mother stands alongside, ready to prod it into action. The massive rocks seem unforgiving. The scale of the kid is far smaller than its mother, and seems tiny and helpless when compared to the rocky context.