Lessons Learned In Alaska

July 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

When I have tried to describe Alaska's beauty to people, it took me a long time to try to accurately articulate just how beautiful and majestic Alaska is. I have described Alaska like this, 
"The Grand Canyon is like a speck of amazingly beautiful rice on a table. Alaska is like someone dumped a bowl of amazingly beautiful rice on the table and it is strewn from corner to corner." 

When I lived up in Alaska, I almost took it for granted. I knew it was beautiful, but I knew I'd be up there a while, and I could get the shots that I wanted. There was no sense of urgency. No sense of REALLY working to get a shot. I would drive by opportunities or shots knowing that I'd get another crack at it. Unfortunately, my time in Alaska ended, what I discovered, to be far too prematurely. When I looked at my collection of images from Alaska, I always felt that I didn't have enough high quality work, and that I had missed or squandered too many opportunities. Yes, I have some amazing work from Alaska. But I know that there were more opportunities. This time would be different.  

Arriving in Alaska, my plan was simple; maximize my time by increasing my margins relative to the shooting environment. I would step up my Aperture a step or two to when shooting the floats at Lake Hood. At Steven's, I would speed the Aperture up a stop or two vs. trying to get beautiful spinning blades inside of the nacelles. All of these decisions have tradeoffs. The number of "perfect" shots goes down, while the quantity of usable images goes up. 

My best example of this new approach lies in this photograph,:
Yentna in Red - AlaskaYentna in Red - AlaskaWhen a friend invites you to go fly out to a sandbar in his new bush plane, anything can happen. What I DID NOT expect was the amount of traffic that we experienced along the Yentna River. I was glad that I had my camera with me for this adventure. Photos and stories that will last forever were made.
But first, a story.

While I have incredible memories and experiences from Alaska the things that I value the most are the relationships. One of those is with Zach Kelley. Zach and I first met in Anchorage over a beer after talking briefly on a forum that we both frequent. From that point began a friendship. We both share a love of microbrews, Guatemalan Rum, good pizza and aviation. 

Zach has wanted an airplane for as long as I have known him. After his recent return to Alaska he had an opportunity to purchase a beautiful PA-20 Piper Pacer. I was anxious to fly with him. After a quick phone call, he asked if I wanted to go flying with him. After packing my gear, I headed over to the Palmer Airport where he picked me up. Camera gear in tow, we headed southwest from Palmer to the Yentna River. We searched the banks for a usable sandbar and landed near a very busy fishing lodge. Shortly after, the airplanes started rolling in, giving me an incredible opportunity at some very unique shots.  This Cessna U206 operated by Rust's Aviation is one of those shots.

As badly as I wanted to spin the aperture down to 1/80 or 1/60, to crank full blur big fat dinner plate shots, I resisted the temptation knowing that I wanted to have more opportunities at quality images. I feel that this image exemplifies the effort. Shot at 1/125 of a second, while the prop isn't the perfect dinner plate look that photographers strive for, it's still a very high quality shot; the airplane is tack sharp, vibrant, and standing out from the background that has some slight motion blur creating more separation from the airplane. Personally, I really enjoy the reflection of the airplane off of the water that draws your eye from the foreground to the subject, and then into the background. 

Better than that, I have 8 to 10 other shots that are as good, with the background producing a different look. My keep rate went from 1/15 or 20 to 1/6. To me, that is making the best use of my time available. As someone who relies on social media to give my clients and customers exposure to my work, the more work that I can add to my portfolio in the least amount of time means that I am maximizing my effort. 

And even better than that, is that while the effort produced good images, I managed to capture a few of the idyllic images that we aspire to shoot, like the one below.  U Are Vibrant! - AlaskaU Are Vibrant! - Alaska
There is 1 image like this. Only 1. We were out there for 2 or 3 hours. We fished some, talked some, and flew some. To have this type of image come home with me was rewarding. To have 30 or 40 that were quality images was even more rewarding. 

In summary, what I learned in Alaska was this;

1. Maximize your effort. If you're going to be in a location that you know you may not visit again, or for a while, work within conservative margins to maximize your effort. This goes hand in hand with "Knowing Your Equipment" from my previous blog.

2. In some instances quantity over quality is a good thing. Yes, it's a slippery slope. Trash is trash. But, like in life, taking a 7 home from the bar is better than going for a 10 and going home alone.  Playing conservative yields quality results on most occasions. If you're in a foreign location, play conservative. 

3. Stop and take that shot! Do it. If you see something interesting on a trip, make the effort to pull over and get the shot. 

4. Plan your time. Being on a trip in foreign places will sometimes give you access you may not otherwise have. Get there a little early to find those places. In the case of Yentna, I had no idea that the traffic would be so heavy. At Palmer, I got there early to get great shots of Zach landing his Pacer. I was rewarded with incredible views of the airplane on final over a gravel runway with the towering peaks of the Chugach Mountain Range in the background. 



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