Yukon: A Wilder Place – now in softcover!

November 12th, 2017

We’re excited to announce that we’ve published our Yukon photo book in softcover. The hardcover edition of our Yukon book went out of print a year ago.


The second edition is the same handsome book printed by the same printer here in Canada on the same high quality FSC paper, this time with a scuff-resistant matte softcover and a more competitive price. Go to our online store to purchase (Canada/USA addresses only). Price per book: $29 plus GST and shipping.

Gulf Islands National Park and Reserve

April 19th, 2017

This summer we did a combination marketing/special event photo shoot in Gulf Islands National Park and Reserve near Victoria, B.C. Parks Canada hosted a 2-day BioBlitz at Sidney Spit, and then we spent several days visiting some of the outer islands in the marine park.

Saoyú-Ɂehdacho National Historic Site

November 2nd, 2015

In August Fritz was invited by Parks Canada to photograph the week-long Sahtu Dene Knowledge Camp in the Saoyú-Ɂehdacho National Historic Site.  

Saoyú and Ɂehdacho are two peninsulas at the western end of Great Bear Lake, a cultural landscape of significant spiritual and historic importance to the people of Délįne. At over 5,000 sq km it’s Canada’s largest national historic site — about the size of Prince Edward Island!

Nahanni National Park

November 2nd, 2015

This was Fritz’s first trip to Nahanni, and what a trip it was. Parks Canada took a small team on a 10-day whirlwind tour to many of Nahanni’s great sites – Glacier Lake, Cirque of the Unclimbables, Rabbitkettle,  tufa mounds, Virginia Falls – to refresh the park’s photo collection.

Naats’ihch’oh National Park

November 2nd, 2015

This summer Fritz was invited by Parks Canada to photograph one of the country’s newest park reserves. Officially established just a year ago, Naats’ihch’oh is an extensive wilderness adjacent and north of Nahanni National Park. The small crew spent a week exploring the park.

Klondike National Historic Sites

November 2nd, 2015

It’s always a good time in Dawson City! Parks Canada was looking to rejuvenate their image collection for the complex of national historic sites in the Klondike, and they invited Fritz for a 2-day power shoot this summer.

Winter and Whisky

October 8th, 2015

[by Fritz] Last April Air North called about a pretty unique shoot: “We’re hosting Yukon’s first-ever whisky tour, we’ve teamed up with Edible Canada, and we want this to look good!”

A couple of weeks later I was shoulder to shoulder with top chefs, food bloggers and whisky purveyors as they welcomed two dozen well-heeled visitors on their first Yukon culinary tour. The Yukon Whisky Dinner started with huskies and ended under the northern lights, with stops along the way to sample some of the Yukon’s finest fare. It was an impressive package of experience and tastes, and clearly things went well – Edible Canada is offering two Yukon tours next April.

See more from the Yukon Whisky Dinner shoot on our Facebook page

Drones and Aurora

September 2nd, 2015

[by Fritz]  Here in the North we’ve been enjoying an auroral peak over the past few years. From September to April, if skies are clear and geomagnetic activity is good, there’s a decent chance of seeing the northern lights. Over the past four winters I’ve been shooting the aurora around the circumpolar north, from Alaska to Norway, which is why I got an unusual call last March from a colleague in Vancouver.

Gyronimo Aerials is a production company that specializes in low level aerials. But this crew stands apart from all the drone upstarts out there – almost everyone on the Gyronimo team has a background in film production and cinematography. They’ve been around for awhile and they do beautiful work. Patrick had pitched an idea to their partners at DJI (the multinational drone manufacturer), and the company bought in.

They wanted to come north with some new technology and a Sony A7s to shoot aerials of the northern lights. This is the first time the aurora has been filmed in real-time from a UAV. Patrick used to live in the Yukon, and he knows you don’t just show up and decide to shoot the aurora. There are lots of variables, and it can be quite a chase. They also wanted to tell a story, so he also brought along a director to craft something more than a reel.

They scrambled north and we crisscrossed the Yukon – from the Dempster to Kluane to the South Klondike Highway – in search of dramatic locations and aurora pulses. I worked on this production as an assistant producer, but being in front of the camera was new for me. They were a great crew to work with, and I believe they nicely captured some of the experiences that I’ve had over the past few winters. You can also read about this shoot on the DJI blog

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zTYn7vQmM8&feature=youtu.be

Yukon Quest “pup-arazzi” at Casavant Kennels

January 9th, 2015

[by Teresa]  If I was a sleddog, I know where I’d want to live: on an acreage near Tagish, Yukon, where I’d be fed stew and given massages and tucked into a cosy building on those frigid winter nights. It’s also the home of Normand Casavant and Karine Grenier, subjects of a documentary film being shot by Red Letter Films that follows veteran musher, Normand, as he prepares to race in the Yukon Quest.

The production company hired us to do a portrait shoot of Normand’s dogs. The portraits are under wraps until the race, but here are some of the behind-the-scenes shots from our day at Casaventures Kennels. It was overcast so we set up an outdoor studio right in the dogyard, and Karine worked with us all day as we shot portraits of their 30 dogs. Normand and Karine are lovely, and their dogs were fun to work with – it was one of the more delightful shoots we’ve done.

The Yukon Quest is a month away. The legendary 1000-mile dogsled race starts in Whitehorse on February 7. Good luck to Normand and the team – we’ll be at the start line watching!

 

 

 

Shooting Canada’s National Parks

January 9th, 2015

[by Fritz] I’m fortunate to often shoot in our national parks system, trying to capture experiences, moments and landscapes that make people want to visit these special places. Working with Parks Canada has been one of the highlights of my decade as a photographer.

Recently Parks Canada put their photography services out to tender. It was a competitive process – required 10 years of professional experience and fairly rigorous technical and portfolio qualifications. Excited to be selected by Parks Canada as one of six photographers shooting in the national parks and heritage sites system over the next couple of years. And a few parks are already queueing up shoots for summer 2015.

With warm summer thoughts in mind, here’s a selection from a shoot in Ivvavik National Park last summer with the team from the Western Arctic Field Unit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MōVI DEMO: Over Whitehorse

September 29th, 2013

[Fritz] Testing our new MōVI gimbal for helicopter aerials. We used our MōVI in both single and dual operator modes and tested with two different helicopters: the Bell 206 and Robinson R44. We ended up flying on a very windy day – see flapping flags at 1:12. Aerial footage was shot in 4K with a Canon 1D C and a Canon CN-E 24mm lens using a Freefly MōVI M10 stabilizer. We haven’t done any post-stabilization of the footage but because it’s 4K warp stabilizer has lots of potential.

We learned a ton. Of course, after our flights I discovered the MoVI’s aerial setting – we shot in handheld. The safety line to the rig was crude, we need to work on that – appreciate any suggestions. We found that shooting aerials with the MōVI takes some practice but we’re excited about the potential. This rig makes it possible to get clean aerial footage at a fraction of the cost of other high-end setups.

A big thanks to Sam, Tyler and Delmar.

Camera + MōVI – Fritz Mueller Assistant Camera + MōVI – Tyler Kuhn, Sam Reimer and Teresa Earle Editor – Teresa Earle Music – ‘Here’ by Shadows on Stars under license from Audiosocket Pilot – Delmar Washington, Capital Helicopters

Filmed in Whitehorse, Yukon. Copyright Fritz Mueller Visuals, 2013

First test of our new MōVI

September 18th, 2013

[Teresa] We recently added some incredible new technology to our motion kit. The MōVI M10 from Freefly Systems is a handheld 3-axis digital stabilized camera gimbal that is changing the world of filmmaking. This weekend we took it out to put it through its paces. Chasing kids around in the forest was a pretty good test – here are the results.

This demo, The Berry Patch, was shot entirely handheld using a Freefly Systems MōVI M10 with a Canon 1DX and a Zeiss 14mm distagon lens.

Camera and MōVI – Fritz Mueller
Editing – Teresa Earle
Music – Serena Ryder Mary Go Round under license from Universal Music Canada

Filmed in Whitehorse, Yukon. Copyright Fritz Mueller Visuals 2013

Gigapixels at Kluane National Park Visitor Centre

June 8th, 2013

[by Fritz] Last weekend I attended the official opening of the new Kluane National Park visitor centre in Haines Junction, Yukon where I got to see the results of a commercial shoot I worked on over the past two years. The client was Parks Canada, and they first called me in 2010 about commissioning a series of gigapixel images for their new exhibit hall. Read an earlier blog post about Gigpan Epic Pro and Mars Rover technology.

My job was to follow the exhibit designer’s creative direction to create half a dozen wall-sized gigapixel images to be incorporated into interpretive installations. This wasn’t a photographer-driven beauty shoot – they provided detailed concepts and image sizes, and I scouted locations and completed the shoots to their specs. It was very time consuming and involved lots of technical challenges and computer time. We all had to stay flexible as the project evolved, and the results are impressive. Lots of photographers are creating gigapixel images, but few are fortunate to have them printed at their full size.

It’s exciting to see how veteran exhibit designer David Jenson and his team created an immersive space where you can experience being in the park. When entering Parks Canada’s exhibit hall, you first approach a ceiling-high mountain structure in the centre of the room draped with a gigapixel photograph of King’s Throne at Kathleen Lake. Hiding beyond King’s Throne is a 10-foot high photo of a wall of glacial ice: the toe of Donjek Glacier, with lighting that creates the feeling of clouds and changing sunlight. Other stitched gigapan images anchor habitat exhibits on the surrounding walls.

In the end we made 7 giant photographs, and many of my images from other shoots for Parks Canada are used elsewhere throughout the exhibits. Below you can explore and zoom into five of these gigapixel images of Kluane – click on bottom-left button for full-screen mode. Or better yet, visit the new interpretive centre in Haines Junction!

Daisy’s Christmas

December 18th, 2012

A short film about the spirit of Christmas. Happy holidays!

Daisy yearns to be included in holiday festivities with her family. But what she finds is more enduring…

Credits:

A film by Fritz Mueller and Teresa Earle
Story and editing – Teresa Earle
Camera – Fritz Mueller
Composer and sound designer – Jordy Walker
Daisy’s family – Robyn Mueller, Stella Mueller, Teresa Earle, Bill Earle
Thanks to Jayden Soroka

Filmed in Whitehorse, Yukon
copyright Fritz Mueller Photography 2012

 

The Wind River Variations

November 8th, 2012

[by Teresa] This month Oolichan Books released The Wind River Variations, a collection of poems by award-winning B.C. writer Brian Brett on his travels on the Yukon’s Wind River. The collection is accompanied by Fritz’s black and white photographs from the Peel River watershed. Our friendship with Brian goes back a decade when we paddled the Wind River together on the Three Rivers Journey. This collaboration has been years in the making, honed over wine and spirited conversation.

Gear update: Cold cameras, warm fingers

October 25th, 2012

[by Fritz] I’m a big fan of a fingerless glove made by Sportees that I depend on for winter photography – so much so that I blogged about it. Over the past year I’ve been doing lots of wintertime night photography. Cold hands have prompted me to further refine my glove system and I’m tickled with the results.

In deep cold I used to wear polypro liner gloves underneath the Sportees gloves, but polypro seems to transmit the cold, is slippery with lenses, gets smelly and hooks dry skin. Last winter I tried a pair of merino wool finger gloves made by Icebreaker, and they’re amazing. They don’t catch on dry skin, and they’re actually warm and pleasant to wear. I wouldn’t have thought that such a small item of clothing could make such a difference to my work, but photography is impossible without happy hands.

For anyone who spends a lot of time shooting in the cold, I strongly recommend this system: Icebreaker’s merino wool Glove Liners under Sportees’ Michie Dog Musher Gloves with chemical hand warmers tucked into the wrist pockets.

Making gigapixel murals with Mars rover technology

October 23rd, 2012

[by Fritz] In 2010 I got a call from Parks Canada asking if I could make 65-foot long photo-murals for their new visitor centre in Kluane National Park. I boldly said yes, having just a month earlier read about the new GigaPan Epic Pro robotic camera mount. This device incorporates technology developed by researchers at NASA and Carnegie Mellon University for the Mars rover missions to make detailed stitched panoramas of the red planet.

I was keen to use this technology to photograph Kluane’s oversize landscapes, so I scrambled to buy the device, which had been available for less than a year. I’d never made an image this size before, and I was fortunate to have a client who was open to exploring this with me. The 1,704 megapixel image below of alpine waterfalls in White Pass was a test shot in preparation for Parks Canada’s mural project. It was stitched from 196 photos taken with the 21-megapixel Canon 1DS Mark III. This photo isn’t particularly special, but it becomes much more interesting when you zoom in and explore the water, rocks and plants at full resolution. If you want to view it on an iOS device or the full-screen version go to the link at GigaPan.

In the end we made 7 photographs for Parks Canada – the largest mural will be 46-feet long and 16-feet high and is being printed from a 2,400 megapixel file. The exhibits are being installed this winter – check back in the new year when I’ll share these gigapixel images from Kluane.

Robert Service in full color

October 22nd, 2012

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

                                    from the Spell of the Yukon, Robert Service

[by Fritz] Last month I headed to Dawson City to shoot the Klondike National Historic Sites for the Canadian Tourism Commission. Most of the talent we pulled in were Parks Canada staff whose jobs had just ended for the season, along with some keen locals and a few tourists. It was supposed to look like a ‘summer’ shoot, but fall was in full swing here in September so we embraced it.

One afternoon we spent some time at Robert Service Cabin. Most visitors to Dawson seek out the home of the famous poet known for his verses about the Klondike Gold Rush. The weather had been cloudy and cold, but while we were there the sun beamed into the historic site. For a short time we were surrounded by magic light and golden fall colour.

While leading us around town on a walking tour, Parks Canada heritage interpreter Fred Osson became Robert Service. By the time we arrived at the cabin, we’d been listening to Fred recite Service ballads and spout off tall tales like Service. I found myself lowering the camera so I could watch the famous bard. I caught myself thinking: this actually is Robert Service, and I really am standing here on the boardwalk in 1903.

It’s easy to think about historic times in monochromatic black and white like we see in the old photos, yet Service’s life was full of colour. That afternoon Fred animated Robert Service’s world for us. Fred is incredibly gifted at what he does, and he took us back a hundred years. We re-created a historic photograph in front of the cabin porch, with Fred teasing us in and out of the past. Oddly, it was 100 years almost to the day since Service left the Yukon for good.

I’ve been to Dawson many times, yet I felt something significant at the cabin that day, like I’d travelled through time and found Klondike gold myself. It was a testament to the power of interpretation.

It’s a big land with magic light and unlimited possibilities for a photographer

October 16th, 2012

[by Fritz] YukonWild’s ad in this month’s issue of PhotoLife magazine promotes the Yukon. It’s a pleasure to endorse our wilderness tourism friends at YukonWild, and it’s great to see Yukon being marketed to photographers.

Finding the aurora borealis

January 24th, 2012

[by Teresa] This week Fritz happens to be in the right place at the right time: above the Arctic Circle with clear skies under some of the largest solar storms in years. Living north of 60 we’ve seen many aurora, but it sounds like yesterday’s auroral show in northern Norway was something special. His email home says it best:

(January 22)… M3 class magnetic storm. I’m alone along the road to the small fishing village of Tromvik. It’s perfectly clear, calm, maybe -3° C. I’m at the end of a fjord surrounded by snow-covered peaks and it’s a completely magic evening with brilliant stars and aurora are going off everywhere, twisting and rippling, light green and pinks, breathtaking. Then super-strong winds hit going north, buffeting me and the cameras, one tripod without a camera blows over (are winds associated with strong aurora events?!). For awhile I feel like I am standing right on the very edge of the earth looking into space. It’s awe-inspiringly beautiful, exhilarating. I feel almost frighteningly exposed. This was considered an M3 class event, imagine what an X-class event must be like?

It looks like he won’t have to wait long to find out. Within hours of yesterday’s peak, space weather forecasters warned of a massive solar flare due to arrive later today (Jan. 24). Fritz reports he’s eagerly awaiting this next event, which is reportedly the biggest solar radiation storm in seven years. Hopefully the clouds stay away!

 

Photographers advocating for copyright reform

December 13th, 2011

[by Teresa] Each year at tax time when we tally up all the business memberships, we usually have a brief debate about the merits of the various industry and business associations we support. It really adds up, so when you’re looking to trim the fat it’s a logical expense to examine. But we rarely cancel a membership – we believe in the strength of collectives, and most of these organizations work very hard to create value for members.

This year we’ve been watching the work of the Canadian Photographers Coalition, a partnership of CAPIC and PPOC that works to extend copyright fairness to working professional photographers. Canada’s copyright legislation is now being modernized, so the coalition has been very busy over the past year preparing for submissions and presentations and lobbying efforts in Ottawa. Ownership of first copyright on commissioned works is a core issue for image creators; as authors of these works photographers are seeking a small amendment to the new Copyright Act to ensure their rights of authorship are protected.

The Coalition produced a limited edition portfolio featuring 22 Canadian photographers from a range of regions and genres to present in Parliament to Ministers and committees working on Bill C-11. As one of the photographers profiled, we are pleased to have contributed to their efforts to push for copyright fairness for photographers. 

Anatomy of a portrait shoot on a blindingly bright day

November 30th, 2011

[by Fritz] This summer I got a call from Shell Canada and Canadian Geographic to shoot the Kitchen-Kuiack family of Marsh Lake, Yukon. They’re one of six Canadian families competing in The Energy Diet Challenge. For three months Brian, Marguerite, Simone and Marika have been reducing every aspect of their energy consumption in a battle to win a 2012 Toyota Prius.

The busy Kitchen-Kuiack family were only available for two hours and the Shell Canada client was flying in for the shoot. The day before, I drove out to the house to quickly scout the location and meet Brian Kitchen. That day, the light conditions were perfect: overcast with bright open shadows.

Next morning it’s a brilliant, cloudless sunny day and by 8 am it already feels like high noon. When we arrive at 8:45 everyone cheerily points out that the weather is perfect. Not exactly! This kind of light is a photographer’s nightmare, with contrast so high that it exceeds the camera’s dynamic range. We have a long list of shots to cover in less than two hours so we get right to work. My mind is scrambling trying to figure out how to reduce the contrast with the location options we have.

We start with interior shots because it’s easier to manage the light by tacking black fabric over the windows to create an instant studio. I’ve brought my Einstein strobes and Paul C. Buff modifiers – Rob Galbraith has good reviews of this gear. We work through a series of individual and family portraits in the Kitchen’s cozy living room, including Thomas, the agreeable family cat. Because the energy challenge will be in the fall and winter, we light a fire in the fireplace, even though it’s July. I’m already sweating, and within 20 minutes everyone else is too.

Next we move outside, and though it’s a hot sunny day the Kitchens gamely wear jeans and sweatshirts. The locations I scouted yesterday don’t work today in the bright sun, so we change the plan. I’ve decided on a couple of distinctive backdrops where we can hide from the sun behind their sheds so I have more control over the light. I’m underexposing the camera and pumping in light with the Einsteins with 1 CTO gels to create a warm low-sun feel. Whew… less than two hours after we arrived, we’re packing up our gear and saying good-bye.

Our Yukon photo book is here!

November 2nd, 2011

[by Fritz and Teresa] Last week our first book, Yukon – A Wilder Place published by Greystone, hit bookshelves across Canada. This book has been ten years in the making. Back in 2001, we thought it would be “neat” to make a book about a place we felt passionate about. It turned out to be more challenging than we could have imagined. When you pick up a book, or watch a movie, or walk through a gallery, the finished product looks so easy – like it all just fell into place. Making a book has given us a much better appreciation of how hard creators work!

All along we’ve been driven by a question that we posed to ourselves on a winter night a decade ago: what do we find so compelling about the Yukon? For us this journey has been defined very much by our desire to explore Yukon wilderness. Many of our richest life experiences have been in the northern wilds. We also know that we are incredibly fortunate to live in such a place. Vast, wild landscapes like the Yukon are increasingly hard to find. This week, as we celebrated the arrival of our book, the world population reached 7 billion people. We hope this book helps build appreciation for how special, rare and valuable Yukon wilderness truly is.

Let us know your thoughts about our photos and stories. Better yet, we’d love to hear your stories about the Yukon. What is it that YOU find compelling about the Yukon? If you’’ve never been to the Yukon, tell us about your “wilder place”. You can share your thoughts here or on our Facebook page.

Our book is available in bookstores across Canada. Here are some other options:

  • Canadians outside the Yukon: We are offering a book launch special through our website: Buy online from us before December 31 and receive a signed copy of our book AND a free 2012 Yukon calendar (available to Canadian addresses only). You can also request a personalized book inscription.
  • U.S. residents: The book will be launched in the United States in March 2012.
  • Overseas: Please contact us directly for a shipping quote.

We’re a national tourism award finalist!

November 2nd, 2011

Fritz Mueller Photography is one of three finalists for the 2011 Corporate Partner of the Year award presented by Canada’s national tourism association (TIAC). It took us awhile to get our heads around what this means, especially since the other two finalists are Montreal Airports and Halifax Waterfront Development Corporation (…does TIAC know how little our business is?).

We love working with the tourism industry and are extremely honoured by this nomination. Here’s what TIAC said: Fritz Mueller Photography (FMP) is the passion of Fritz Mueller and Teresa Earle, two extraordinary Yukoners whose invaluable photographic and literary contributions to the tourism industry have captivated locals and visitors alike for over 10 years. FMP makes an indispensable contribution to the Yukon tourism industry with their passion and dedication to producing extraordinary images and stories showcasing Yukon. This creative team of two is known for their professional product and contagious enthusiasm for our territory, and as a result, literally millions of viewers and readers across the globe have experienced Yukon for the first time through Mueller’s lens and Earle’s words.

The national tourism awards will be presented in Ottawa on Nov. 24 … stay tuned!

Hollywood gets cut: the first of many tough book edits

June 27th, 2011

[by Teresa] We’ve decided to cut Hollywood from our Yukon book – she’s a magnificent old Coast Mountains grizzly celebrated for her cub-rearing success. Sometimes the emotion embedded in an image overshadows its photographic merits. In this case, I sat quietly with my daughters over several days watching Hollywood with her cubs, and whenever I view this image it evokes my empathy and memories of relating to her mama to mama. We have a surplus of great bear shots in a book that distills a decade of northern photography, so we must be ruthless. Hollywood’s portrait is lovely and it shows her gentle character, but we see no cubs or behaviour and little sense of the place that defines her family and habitat. I may see a sweet, selfless, hard-working mother, but the composition doesn’t hold up against photos of bears feeding or fighting or exploring their environment.  

You’d think we’d be able to quickly put together this book, but as our colleague @OutcropJay likes to say, it’s an iterative process, which really means we keep revisiting and rehashing the edit until we get it right. As National Geographic photographer Sam Abell told us: “the book of assembly is the rare book, and the most delight for readers. It’s also more challenging for the creator—a project that requires significantly more thought, more effort. Assembling a book is a thoughtful, deliberate process—often undervalued and hastily done by most book publishers.” As we make these tough calls, we’re trying to take those words to heart.

Summertime photo shoot in Nunavut

June 14th, 2011

Little critters on Herschel Island

June 3rd, 2011

[by Fritz] If you ever have the opportunity to visit Herschel Island off the Yukon’s north coastline, jump at the chance. The first time I went there I was a 21-year-old university student and I spent a month in a tent all over the island assisting Swedish researcher Anders Angerbjörn on his study of Arctic foxes. I’ve been back several times since, most recently with my friend and colleague Don Reid, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society, who is involved in a study of Arctic food webs and how a changing climate is affecting wildlife populations. Lemmings and voles are key prey for a number of predators on Herschel, and their abundance affects the population dynamics of many wildlife species. I photographed this collared lemming in the tundra meadows of Herschel nibbling on one of its favourite foods, Dryas flowers. They’re important to the food web, and they’re also really cute. Contrary to the myths fabricated by Disney, lemmings don’t commit mass suicide or jump over cliffs. The shorebird is a semi-palmated plover nesting and feeding on the beaches on Herschel.

Mother Caribou

May 24th, 2011

[by Teresa]  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about mothering and maternal instincts and motherhood. I’m going to lose my Mum to cancer, and walking this difficult path with her has brought on waves of introspection about what it is to be a mother. Having my own kids offers some lessons, but when you’re immersed in something you don’t always see things clearly. Plus, mothering is an incredibly tough job and, since my kids aren’t even in school yet, I figure I’m still on probation. Also, I’ve always known I’ll never be half the mother that mine has been to me.

I’ve also looked to nature for lessons in parenting. At this time of year I’m always reminded of incredible mothers I’ve witnessed during birthing season in the North. Feigning injury and putting themselves in harm’s way, nesting birds flutter about in front of predators to lure them away. Grizzly sows dedicate two all-consuming years to nurse, protect and rear their young. Tens of thousands of caribou cows cross half the Yukon Territory to drop their calves in a safer place. They’re all compelling, but it was the caribou mothers that made me cry.

My Mum and some insights about mothering converged on a knoll in North Yukon during one of my richest Yukon experiences. Fritz and I were spending much of June in Ivvavik National Park trying to find the Porcupine caribou herd. One afternoon Fritz fixated on a distant ridge, so we hoisted our packs and crossed a hellish patch of tussocks that followed us for hours, and as I stumbled in the ruts and mud I cursed his route and his impulsive ideas and his heavy cameras and his cheery mug. But we got there, and the site was glorious, and the tent overlooked a greening slope dotted with caribou.

For three days we watched thousands of caribou cows and calves graze and stream across our ridge. The exhausted cows had patchy fur and skeletal frames, while their calves were the picture of good health. The mothers grazed constantly, interrupted only by calves that nursed the nutrients out of them. Heavily pregnant, they’d migrated thousands of kilometres, swam icy rivers and dodged predators to reach their calving grounds, and they were already preparing to return south trailing young. In the caribou migration I found searing lessons about birth and death, survival, and the fragility and fortitude of nature. I pondered their capacity to endure horrendous conditions. I was awed by the instinctive, selfless acts of these mothers.

We carried a satellite phone with us for safety, but one evening, under the intense glare of the June sun and in the company of thousands of caribou, we dug it out for a couple of personal calls. We phoned our parents, who’d unconditionally loved and supported us through years of crazy adventures and dreams, and I stood on that remote ridge with tears streaming down my face as I described to Mum the spectacle around me. She listened intently – she knew satellite calls were precious – and in her voice I heard a mother’s empathy for these hardy caribou and their unthinkable journey. For years she would retell our conversation to others in great detail; she got a huge thrill from that call, and I felt so privileged to share my experience with her. Someday I will stand among the cows and calves with my daughters at my side, and we’ll remember my Mum – their Grandy – and all that she enabled us to be.

Searching for our Yukon Top 200

April 27th, 2011

[by Fritz] I’m selecting and preparing 200 Yukon images for a project we started ten years ago. We’re scrolling through tens of terabytes of images archived on raw hard drives and poring over filing cabinets stuffed with 35mm and medium format slides looking for top images representing a decade of work. We started in the world of film, and our business is now fully digital, so this project spans huge shifts in technology – definitely one of the challenges of building a business in an industry that has experienced enormous change. Scanning, final edit and processing in Lightroom. Tight deadlines and lots to do. More to follow soon.

Anatomy of an aerial shoot over Yukon’s Mount Logan

April 1st, 2011

[by Fritz] After two years of false starts, an aerial photography project to shoot the St. Elias Icefields finally came together last summer. See the Mount Logan and St. Elias Icefields aerial portfolio here.   Below, an account of one day’s aerial shoot over Canada’s highest peak.

6:30 pm – For the first time in weeks, the weather looks promising and there’s no wildfire smoke in the air. The Internet connection from Kluane Lake Research Station is sporadic but I manage to preview a couple of weather sites and some satellite imagery. Forecasts for the St. Elias Range are coarse and the mountains create their own weather, so in the end the decision to fly is a guess. Weather has been plowing into the Yukon from the Pacific Ocean for a week, but a small window of high pressure seems to be building over the range, which is why I’ve driven out from Whitehorse again. I’ve lost track how many times I’ve come out only to be turned around by weather or smoke.

7:30 pm – I spread my gear out in the empty mess hall and start packing. I clean my lenses and sensors, charge batteries, check CF cards, arrange my pack and sort through a pile of winter clothing. And then I check everything again.

9:15 pm – I can’t find Donjek Upton (the pilot) and he doesn’t have a phone, so I walk to his house to set things up for the morning. He’s exhausted from a long day of shuttling researchers out of the range and not so keen to hear that I want to fly early tomorrow. This is probably the tenth time I’ve tried to line things up and everyone is getting a little frustrated. I’m pretty sure they think that I don’t know what I want, and to some extent they’re right. Lining up good light and reasonable flying conditions in the St. Elias is a crapshoot.

9:45 pm – I call Lloyd Freese (Parks Canada) at home in the Junction to tell him that we’re on for the morning. I’ve teamed up with Parks Canada to do this shoot. We set up a check-in routine: I will phone by 3:15 am if I’m calling it off, otherwise he’ll head out for the half-hour drive to the base at Kluane Lake.

10:30 pm – I walk over to the Wood Building to log onto the weather sites again. Things look about the same. I stand outside watching the weather. I spend awhile looking at maps and walking through the shoot again before going to bed.

3:00 am – My watch alarm goes off. Though it’s July, I put on long underwear and dress like it’s winter. I splash water on my face, trying to wake up. I check the satellite images again and I’m disappointed to see the high pressure system started to break down overnight, but there may still be a hole over Mount Logan. If we don’t go today it could be weeks before we try again. Should I cancel, or do I mobilize everyone and spend the money?  

3:30 am – Donjek is out wiring his GoPro Hero to the wing because he’s excited about alpenglow on Logan. He never has to fly this early and he doesn’t say much. The plane didn’t get refuelled last night and now the fuel pump isn’t working, but we sort it out. I’m already anxious about being late. It takes 45 minutes just to get to where I want to start shooting, and last time we arrived too late for alpenglow.

3:50 am – Donjek takes the rear door off. I’m wearing a harness and I also tie my cameras, gyros and bags to the plane. Lloyd arrives, we load into the plane, and I start spinning up my gyroscopes. Sunrise is less than an hour away.

4:05 am – We finally take off and head up the shadowy Slims. The Helio Courier labours to gain altitude all the way to Mount Logan.

4:40 am – We’ve crossed Divide and Logan looms in front of us. One of the challenges is to show that this is one of the largest landscapes in the world. Light plays all kind of tricks in the icefields, and Logan is huge with no references for scale. And there’s no sign of humans anywhere. It turns out our timing is good and the weather is perfect. Sometimes it’s really bumpy, but this morning it’s not too bad and that bodes well for sharpness.

4:55 am – Now I’m reframing and shooting pretty much continuously. The morning sun rakes across the peaks, and it’s exquisite. I line up a great composition and have Donjek circle around and then around again. Lloyd has a tougher stomach than the Parks staffer on the last flight, who was keen to be there but was airsick with all the circling.

5:30 am – The light is gorgeous this morning with layers of fog swirling around. It’s all coming together: after two years, the magic moment is here. I keep working more compositions, each time asking Donjek to circle around, banking to get the wing out of the way. Logan is so big we don’t even get a quarter of the way across before we start to run out of time. Donjek is starting to fuss about fuel. I keep ignoring him, lining up new shots. Eventually he swings away from the mountain to head home.

5:50 am – I keep shooting even though it’s clear the magic is gone. My arms and neck hurt, the rattle of the plane is wearing, and I’m feeling fried. In the end I had less than 20 minutes with Mount Logan.

6:05 am – We fly down through the Front Range. I prefer being over the snow because you have the option of landing on skis. Once we’re below the firn line I’m always reminded there’s nowhere to get down safely.

6:20 am – We land at the research base. People are just starting to stir. Now we have way too many layers on and I’m dripping with sweat. We peel clothes off and head to the mess hall for coffee.

See the Mount Logan and St. Elias Icefields aerial portfolio here.

Let it snow! Lifestyle photo shoot at Coghlan Lake

March 21st, 2011

[by Fritz] Great to work with Tourism Yukon, Outside the Cube and Up North Adventures on a recent two-day winter photo shoot at Coghlan Lake, Yukon.

Cold weather, warm edit

February 17th, 2011

[by Fritz] It’s definitely easier to edit photos from a tropical trip when it’s -35° C outside. For the last few days I’ve finally gotten around to editing and processing photos from a family camping adventure to Hawaii last year. I don’t know how other photographers keep up with the processing backlog, but I find that months can go by before I get time to process my personal shoots. Here’s a portfolio of images from Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Kea and Honolulu, Oahu.  

And they’re off! The 2011 Yukon Quest start in Whitehorse

February 5th, 2011

[by Teresa]  All of Whitehorse turns out for the start of the Yukon Quest, especially when it’s -10 and sunny like today. The girls and I visited with friends and watched the teams race by while Fritz did a bit of shooting. The highlight was a dog who broke loose at the start line and pranced around ahead of his team as they left the chute. I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking: “Should I run for it, or should I rejoin the team for the 1000 miles to Fairbanks?” It’s billed as the toughest sleddog race in the world, and these dogs are incredible athletes.

Mama, please take my Kodachrome away

January 3rd, 2011

[by Fritz] Last week online forums were bursting with sentiments about the end of Kodachrome and the shuttering of the last processing facility. Since 2009 Kodak stopped making their signature slide film. Yet, there was still a crush of exposed film arriving for a guy named Dwayne in Parsons, Kansas, before he closed the world’s last Kodachrome processor.

I don’t mourn the passage of Kodachrome and I definitely don’t miss film. However, reading about Kodachrome did send me digging in my archive for a favourite photo from Africa. In the summer of 1989 I was a wide-eyed zoology grad student working in Tanzania’s Serengeti. I had my own Land Rover and was free to explore the national park. Dreamy stuff. One of my most memorable experiences was following a pride of lions and photographing a resplendent male that we later darted and radio-tagged. He was a magnificent animal with a massive face and mane. I recall being struck by the size and weight of his tail, which I could barely circle with my two hands and had trouble lifting. My photos from the Serengeti evoke all kinds of memories: the smell of wildebeest dung, the night sounds of lions, strange encounters with army ants and porcupines. I had a Nikon F3 HP in Africa, and I happened to be shooting with Kodachrome.

Lion on the Serengeti.

Are people sentimental about Kodachrome, or are we sentimental about the experiences we photographed? I think we’re sad about the passage of time, and this is also a retrospective time of year. Images evoke memories, and we just happened to capture them on Kodachrome, then Fujichrome, and now the latest CMOS sensors. I think many people who are sentimental about Kodachome never used the stuff in a serious way. Professional photographers don’t seem to be filling online forums with Kodachrome nostalgia. The advantages of today’s professional digital cameras, compared to all of the constraints of the film world, are too numerous to count. We have almost grainless images at ISO 12,000, essentially unlimited number of frames, and instant feedback so we can learn from our mistakes as we go. We don’t have to worry about film damage or storage and can almost instantaneously distribute images to anyone anywhere through the Internet. Stills cameras make movies and movie cameras make stills. And we can emulate the look of Kodachrome with a few simple moves in Photoshop or the latest iPhone app. Why hang on to Kodachrome?

Kodachrome reigned during an era when good photographers were revered. They’d mastered a complex craft that was a culmination of 100 years of chemistry, mechanical apparatus and the unpredictability of light and art. Viewers still thought that photos represented the truth. But it never was: photographers and labs and editors were always capable of great manipulation. Digital technology broke that belief and people became wise to it, but images are no more or less truthful than they ever were. Back then there were relatively few photographers, and the images they made felt more precious. Today, everyone is a photographer and we’re awash in a sea of low-grade imagery. Still, profound images and memories are being made every day with digital cameras. The creative possibilities with today’s high-end cameras and the latest software are almost unlimited and we can also be more accurate with our photos than ever before.  I think there has never been a more exciting and challenging time to be a photographer.

Winter photography: My favourite fingerless gloves

December 6th, 2010

[by Fritz] Shooting in the cold is hard on your hands. Most gloves are thick and bulky and don’t allow the finger dexterity to adjust small dials on camera equipment. And bare hands quickly become useless when holding cold metal equipment in freezing temperatures.

A couple of years ago Andrea Rodger introduced me to her technical glove that quickly became my favourite for cold weather shooting. I was spending a morning at Andrea’s Sportees Activewear in Whitehorse doing a photo shoot profiling successful Yukon businesses. I’d just finished a week of shooting in minus 30 and I was probably whining about my hands. I was pawing through baskets of gloves when Andrea quickly produced a pair of her Michie Dog Musher Gloves and told me I had to try them.

They’re as good as Andrea said they would be. They’re definitely warmer than regular fingerless gloves, and the design provides lots of flexibility for someone who needs to use their fingers. The glove is made of neoprene and has a little pocket over the wrist where you insert a hand warmer, those chemical heat packs sold by Canadian Tire, MEC and others (in cold weather I sometimes tape heat packs to my camera, to batteries etc). The pocket holds the heat pack right over the inside of your wrist, so it warms the blood as it moves into your hand. I use the Sportees gloves in winter, and I also use them for aerial shooting – when the door is off it can be really cold in the back of an airplane or helicopter.

Feeling the shakes over Mount Logan

November 30th, 2010

[by Fritz] The thermometer is dipping down, so I’m finding excuses to stay inside and edit photos. I’m working on a collection of images from some collaborative aerial photography shoots I did this summer with Parks Canada. It took a couple of years for the timing and conditions to come together, but in the end we managed to do some pretty extensive shooting of the Kluane icefields.

It’s one thing to get the right weather and light, but it’s another to make a sharp, high-quality photograph while you’re hanging out of a doorless old bush plane over the north face of 19,551-ft Mount Logan. Despite 14 layers of long underwear, I’m still freezing cold. It’s way too early and I’ve probably had too much coffee, and the plane is bucking all over the place. So it’s fair to say that the shakes are a problem. What do you do?

For many years I’ve used an external stabilizing gyroscope to improve sharpness on aerial shoots, but this year I built a new rig that reduces camera shake even more. I use two KenLab KS-8 gyroscopes connected at right angles to each other to stabilize the camera on all three axes, clamped to a Really Right Stuff rail with Arca-Swiss-style clamps to attach the whole beast to the bottom of the camera. It’s crazy heavy, and I should work out more to strengthen my arms, but it significantly reduces camera shake for the first hour or two (before I get tired and my arms give out). Watch for future blog discussions about shooting sharp aerials at night.  

The Adventures of Boots, Goldie and Propane Bear

October 28th, 2010

[by Teresa]  Thanksgiving is behind us and Hallowe’en is ahead, and the forecast says a snowstorm is rolling in. I’m reminded of a mid-October blizzard two years ago at the Arctic Circle where I sat at the edge of a river with my friend Phil Timpany watching drowsy grizzly bears plodding up and downstream along the base of Bear Cave Mountain.

Phil – and his partner, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation – runs what may be the most unique bear viewing operation on the continent. Grizzlies congregate here in wintry conditions to feast on a late run of chum salmon before hibernation. Within an hour of arriving by helicopter at North Yukon’s Ni’iinlii Njik (Fishing Branch) Territorial Park, I was seated in the snow on the bank of the Fishing Branch River a few yards from a sow named Boots trailing young-of-the-year triplets. Soon after, Mrs. Tucker presented her one-year-old twins, and Goldie brought around her cocky two-year-old, a stinky teenager that would test our – and his mother’s – boundaries on several occasions. It takes a lot to stun me speechless, but that afternoon I had few words to voice how it felt to be in the company of bears.

Fritz spent a month shooting at Bear Cave Mountain the previous year, so I knew that a confined, quiet routine awaited me: walk to a viewing site, watch bears, return to the cabins for meals and sleep. Imagine my surprise to be awakened at 1am on my very first night by terrific banging and shuffling around my tiny cabin. The building trembled and I sensed that a bear – surely that’s what it was? – had leaned against the wall I was curled next to. The ruckus continued for an hour, and I cursed the last cup of tea I drank before bed. Making a midnight dash to the outhouse clearly wasn’t an option so a spare bottle provided relief.

Turns out a mystery bear paid a visit to camp that night. It was the first time in years one came onto the deck, and this rogue fellow did a bit of redecorating. The clatter was an empty propane tank that he pried loose and batted about like a bowling pin, and we found a few other items scattered among the trees. But Propane Bear never came back. I was thrilled when we were weathered in longer than what was supposed to be a very short stay. When the snow starts to fly, I think about this unruly young grizz playing on the deck as winter took hold. Season’s short and sometimes a young fella just needs to blow off a little steam before hibernation, right?

Read our story about Ni’iinlii Njik (Fishing Branch) Territorial Park and Bear Cave Mountain in Up Here magazine.

Commercial Photo Update

October 19th, 2010

[by Fritz] You probably know me for my signature scenics, but we do commercial shoots too. This year we landed some of the top commercial photo assignments in the North. Read on to learn about my recent commercial photography work with organizations like Yukon Economic Development, Outside the Cube, Parks Canada, Canadian Tourism Commission and Government of Nunavut.

Yukon Business Success Stories

To promote the Yukon as a fantastic place to live, work and invest, Yukon Economic Development wanted to showcase fifteen successful Yukon businesses and let their stories carry the campaign. Calgary-based Trigger Communications produced the creative; their direction was for journalistic portraits to accompany interview-based articles, and they wanted cinematic-style dirty edges. Fritz collaborated with Trigger’s art director on location: an airstrip, a lodge, a brewery, a studio and such.

Economic Development in Nunavut

This summer Fritz Mueller Photography partnered with Wildman Productions to complete an ambitious multi-community photo and video shoot for Nunavut Government. Over a three week period, Fritz and Phil and their Inuk assistant logged almost 18,000 km and shot stills and video non-stop in Iqaluit, Pond Inlet, Rankin Inlet, Igloolik and Cambridge Bay. It was a fast-paced shoot that focused on some of the companies, entrepreneurs, artists, resources and communities fuelling Nunavut’s growing economy. Though airports, construction sites, processing plants, ports and other infrastructure formed much of the shoot, environmental portraits of enterprising Nunavut residents was a core part of the shoot.

Canada’s North at Vancouver 2010 Olympics

It’s not every day you get to shoot the Olympics, and it’s also not every day that you get such a multi-layered assignment. We joined our colleagues at Outside the Cube during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games to help deliver the Canada’s North campaign. This was an intense 18-day shoot that saw Fritz juggle everything from social media coverage to grin-and-grips to long-term legacy needs for the three northern territories. He crisscrossed the Greater Vancouver area photographing Nunavut, NWT and Yukon artists and performers on the world’s stage. We’re proud to have been part of this landmark campaign that has been named one of three finalists for TIAC Marketing Campaign of the Year.

Kluane National Park Photo Collection

Parks Canada is building a new Kluane National Park & Reserve visitor centre in Haines Junction, Yukon, and planning new visitor publications, interpretive installations and multimedia. Over the past year Fritz completed several shoots in different seasons covering a wide range of activities and locations in the park. This was an ambitious, multi-faceted project involving complicated logistics, dozens of enthusiastic talent and typical Kluane conditions like -30° C temperatures, forest fire haze and high winds. Fritz worked closely with Parks Canada staff and an art director, and the shoot was guided by Parks Canada’s national photography guidelines.

Snake-bitten

September 27th, 2010

Update June 4, 2011: This time last year I was preparing to go down the Yukon’s Snake River with writer Leslie Anthony to shoot a story for Canadian Geographic. Our story on how the clash between conservation and exploitation is playing out in the Peel watershed is featured in this month’s (June 2011) issue of the magazine.

[by Fritz]  September 27th, 2010: This summer I returned to the Yukon’s Snake River to work on a new story. Last time I was in the Snake it was a very different trip. Seven years ago Teresa and I joined our friends Peter Mather, Marc Champagne and Christine Cleghorn in the upper Snake for ten days of hiking at the beginning of their month-long canoe trip. We’d hike off each morning and they’d paddle a short way downriver to the next camp, and we’d meet up in the early afternoon – all very mellow. They carried our food and unnecessary gear in their canoes to lighten our packs, and they cooked incredible meals that we hikers weren’t used to eating in the backcountry. We loved canoe-supported hiking.

We camped for four days at Reptile Creek at the foot of Painted Mountain. I knew there was a gorgeous photo of the valley from somewhere on that mountain. Each day we’d scramble to a ridge halfway up to wait for magic light. It took three days and lots of trips and waiting, but eventually we got the shot I had envisioned (we made a Peel Watershed poster featuring the Yukon’s Snake River). Late June light is intense, and the bright green leaves on the dwarf birch had just burst open. I shot many beautiful scenes while we were camped at Reptile Creek including the cover of our 2010 calendar.

On this year’s trip, in contrast, I spent many sleepless nights in the tent stressing about the next day’s rapids and wondering what would happen if my Pelican case got crushed against a rock. I’m not a skilled canoeist, and I found it hard not to get anxious thinking about $50,000 worth of gear getting wet. The pace was fast and we stayed just one night at each camp before pushing on, so it was a lot more rushed than I like for landscape photography. Writer Lesley Anthony was in the stern, and he’s a very competent paddler (he was a canoe instructor years ago in Ontario), and we were under the capable guidance of wilderness outfitters Blaine and Mary Walden. Everything went very smoothly and my capsizing fears never materialized. Without question the photography highlight of our trip was the 2-day layover at Mount MacDonald – it’s an extraordinary place.

Linnea borealis froggilus

August 11th, 2010

[by Teresa] Yesterday the girls and I found a wood frog in our front yard. It’s likely this fellow came from a pond teeming with frogs ten minutes down the trail from our house; in the spring we can hear the din from home. Not exactly a remarkable discovery until you think about where we live.

The Yukon isn’t the most hospitable place for amphibians; the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is one of just a handful of amphibians that can survive our northern winters. This handsome little frog is the northernmost amphibian in North America, and it doesn’t just survive—it thrives in many ponds in the Yukon. Their story of adaptation is incredible; in winter their cells fill with glucose which acts like antifreeze, helping the wood frog survive as its body temperature drops well below freezing.

Watching the frog with the girls reminded me of a special photograph Fritz took at the pond four years ago this summer. In July 2006 I was hugely pregnant and barely getting off the sofa, and with just a couple of weeks to go I was keeping Fritz on a pretty short leash. He’d gone on a few quick trips in June, but by July I wanted him shooting well within cell phone range, and in Whitehorse that means not leaving city limits. No day trips to White Pass, no afternoons in a blind at Kluane. He found stuff to do and things to shoot, but it was frustrating to be stuck so close to home at the height of the northern summer.

One morning he headed to the pond and found loads of frogs and wildflowers—the twinflower (linnea borealis) was in bloom. We spoke a couple of times through the day; I’d had faint contractions and set up a doctor appointment for the next morning. Fritz was home by dinnertime, and that evening he showed me some of his day’s work. One series stopped me short: a pair of frogs flanking a twinflower.

Given that we were expecting twins—and I had basically started going into labour that day—I was struck by the symbolism of the shot. But Fritz had been so absorbed with shooting, the significance didn’t dawn on him till I pointed it out. That night he sent this photo out with a mock baby announcement to our families declaring our “hoppy” arrivals.

Some Photo Sites and Blogs I Follow

July 15th, 2010

[by Fritz] I check Rob Galbraith’s news site every day. It’s really well done and quick to read. Rob is Canadian (Calgary), but the content is of broad interest and he’s popular on both sides of the border. They filter through all of the photography noise out there – new gear, software, announcements, photographers, web launches, trends, events, awards – and present a couple of postings with a good summary and a bit of opinion. Rob and his colleagues also do their own technical analyses of gear performance, and they understand the business of photography. A couple of years ago we were lucky enough to have Mike at Galbraith write a post about my portfolio, and we enjoyed a spike in web hits for weeks.

I monitor the Luminous Landscape website which is run by a Canadian from out east, Michael Reichmann. The site design is horrendous, but they have passionate gear reviews and they’re right on top of camera technology. They do pretty detailed analysis and opinion pieces that can be very useful.

Joe McNally has more Facebook fans than the population of the city where I live. Joe is a working photographer who’s been in the biz for years, and he’s a master of social media. His blog entries are always good for a chuckle. Sometimes they’re informative in terms of photo technique and business, and occasionally his philosophical entries verge on profound. Joe’s self-deprecating, guy-next-door style makes for a good read.

I actually do follow Vince Laforet’s blog. It can be hit and miss, but he’s a good photographer and he’s an early adopter. I think some of his suggestions are so heavy from his technology love affair that they’re a bit ridiculous, but he’s so into it that he’s on top of the trends and he’s an industry leader.

To help stay on top of developments on the software front, I occasionally check Photoshop News, Lightroom Journal and Jack Nack on Adobe.

For a creative hit, one of the places I occasionally check is Burn magazine. This used to be David Allan Harvey’s blog and now it’s evolved into Burn. It’s photojournalism – issues, often dark and moody, controversial, weird, inspirational, all over the map. Sometimes I wonder, what are they smoking? Other times I see something amazing and am really inspired.

High-ISO nights on the world’s tallest mountain

July 12th, 2010

[by Fritz] Recently I had the chance to do some night shooting on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea using my new Canon 1D Mark IV. I spent five evenings shooting on the summit in the freezing cold, and like a lot of visitors to Hawaii, I resorted to using socks for mittens. Low-tech gloves, high-tech camera – feels like science fiction. With fast lenses and ISO settings of 6,400 or higher, I can shoot in almost complete darkness and freeze stars as single points just as they look to the human eye – no more long exposures with circular star trails. Canon’s high-ISO camera combined with the new noise reduction in Adobe Photoshop CS5 produces phenomenal results.

The real sci-fi story is at the top of Mauna Kea where there’s over a billion dollars worth of telescopes, radio dishes and lasers searching the sky. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano with an elevation of 13,800 feet, and from the ocean floor it measures 30,000 feet, making it the world’s tallest mountain. In the middle of the Pacific with clear, stable conditions above the clouds, it’s one of the best places in the world for astronomy, which is why 13 international observatories are clustered on the summit. It’s the most outrageous stargazing I’ve ever done.

Kluane’s Surging Glacier

June 24th, 2010

[by Fritz] A couple of weeks ago I joined a team from Parks Canada and Yukon Geological Survey going to Lowell Glacier in Kluane National Park. The Lowell is a stunningly photogenic glacier that spills into the Alsek River, and it’s currently surging. Normally glaciers move at a “glacial pace,” but occasionally some glaciers surge. Scientists are following its movements using time lapse cameras and webcams, and they were installing a monitoring station. Apparently the Lowell has advanced 1.5 km since last October. If a glacier can gallop, this one certainly is.

Teresa and I first visited the Lowell in 2001. It was gorgeous, and we stayed a few extra days. One day we got a surprise from the other side of the world. At the time we attributed the pink glow in the sky to forest fires but we found out later that global wind currents had carried clouds of dust to northern Canada from a desert storm in Mongolia. The Lowell was bathed in desert dust—a photographer’s dream. Mountain Goats and Glaciers won the Landscape category in the Banff Mountain Photography Competition in 2003. We also made a poster of Kluane National Park featuring this photograph.

Feeling the Freedom

June 9th, 2010

[by Teresa]: This summer marks four years since the arrival of our two new roommates. As friends and family know, having twins pretty much blindsided us. After a dozen years as a totally self-absorbed, adventuring couple, our household doubled in size and practically everything came to a screeching halt. No sleep, no perspective, no ability to work: that first year was a blur.

Fast-forward to last summer, when our intrepid three-year-olds tagged along on all kinds of adventures. For a week they sat at the edge of a remote river watching grizzly bears feast on salmon a few yards away. They camped out on the back of a ferry. They went on assignment for Canadian Geographic. And now they play together while we get back to what we used to do a lot more of: talking shop about photography, about stories, about shelved plans that are being dusted off. These kids rock.

It took a lot of effort and adjustment to get from two sets of diapers to two pairs of hiking boots, but we made it. Their enthusiasm for ‘bentures’ is infectious, so this year promises lots of family-friendly exploits: scaling volcanoes, learning their wildflowers, more helicopter flights, loads of time sleeping in a tent.

Evoking experiences

May 16th, 2010

[by Fritz] Last year I was fortunate to land several shoots for Parks Canada and the Canadian Tourism Commission. My edge was delivering a new look they’re bringing into their marketing campaigns. Scenic pictures of mountains and wildlife used to be the currency, but those images are a dime a dozen (I know because I shoot a lot of scenery and wildlife). They’ve found that pretty photographs of nature only go so far in luring people to visit parks.

Instead, the marketing experts say that the key to attracting visitors to these special places is to show people experiencing it through their own eyes. The main thrust of these campaigns is to evoke feelings and experiences. For example, instead of showing a vast landscape with a distant red canoe, you might show the visitor’s point-of-view from inside the canoe. This means getting in close, playing with angles and trying some fun photography techniques.

As the population becomes more urban, national parks and historic sites are having a tough time attracting visitors. Most people grow up in the city, and an image of a big empty landscape feels inaccessible and perhaps even scary to them. If they see an image that captures a compelling moment, with people having fun and experiencing a place rather than just looking at it, they’re more inclined to want to visit.

Hopefully this new strategy succeeds in building visitor interest, because our parks can always use more friends.

The Stuff of an Olympian

April 12th, 2010

[by Fritz] I remember watching this vibrant Australian blonde win gold in aerial ski jumping during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. She made it look so easy, and the Aussies went mad when she won. Four years later this same feisty girl took bronze at Turin. In a TV interview she talked about overcoming a string of injuries and broken bones and multiple concussions to do it. I remember wondering what motivated her to compete in such a crazy sport.

A few months ago I got a last-minute call from the Canadian Tourism Commission to shoot one of the 2010 torchbearers in the Yukon. Australian sports superstar and double-medallist Alisa Camplin was coming to run through the streets of Dawson City. I read that Sports Illustrated once listed her as one of the world’s ten sexiest Olympians. Only after reading about the shocking physical challenges she’d faced – she’d broken this and broken that and re-tore ligaments just four months before Turin – did I remember seeing her on TV.

It was a dark morning in Dawson, and Alisa’s torch run was short with disappointing backdrops. That was one shoot I could have really used my new high ISO camera (Canon 1D Mark IV). She was being covered by a pack of media, but in those few minutes she was really gracious and worked hard to give us good shots. She seemed to appreciate the attention in a genuine way.

Later, in the empty bar at the Downtown Hotel, I spent a couple of hours with Alisa and her boyfriend while they played pool and I was uploading files. They were really nice people, and I got to ask Alisa my questions about how she did it.

When she was about four years old she remembers deciding that some day she was going to win the Olympics, only she didn’t know yet which sport. She tried some typical Australian sports, and somehow ended up a skiing aerialist in a country with little snow.  She said she had lots of momentum to win the gold medal, but she had to work much harder and is way more proud of her bronze medal four years later. The physical and mental challenges sounded huge the second time around.

In Dawson she talked about wanting a family, and that her new dream was to be a doctor of sports medicine. But she also seemed doubtful and thought it was probably too late, so instead maybe she’d become a nurse or physical therapist. It was amazing to hear these crazy stories of how hard she pushed herself as an athlete, and you’d think someone with her willpower and courage would have it all figured out. But like lots of us she’s also grappling with unfulfilled dreams and lack of confidence.

I really enjoyed meeting Alisa, and I appreciated her openness about her personal triumphs and challenges. I hope she finds success with her new dreams.

Aerial Photography

April 8th, 2010

[by Fritz] Some stories can only be told by getting into the air. A good example is the Alberta tar sands. If you only work with what you see from the ground, you’d guess there’s not much going on. It’s only when you get up high that you realize the vast scale and impact of all of the open pit mining.

I like the fresh perspective from up high. You get the big picture, and often it’s an uncommon view of something that’s commonplace. Aerials can be really helpful telling stories about complex systems. You can describe concepts like connectivity, habitat fragmentation or urban sprawl better with photographs.

Aircraft are expensive to charter, they move fast and often you only get one chance to get a specific shot. For a helicopter, you’re paying around $1,500 per hour, so to justify that kind of money you need a clear idea of what you want to get from the flight. Here are some aerial photography tips:

  • Thorough research and planning. I try to pre-visualize my images. I used to pore over topographical maps, and now Google Earth is an amazing tool to help with this. You can even frame your photographs in advance and get 3D coordinates to plot your flight path. I save a flight path and imagine images from perspectives that I think are interesting. Then I share those ideas with the pilots, and I work closely with them to plan the route. I want to make sure they’re comfortable with what I’m asking for.
  • Getting the right conditions. I spend a lot of time watching the weather, and thinking about light and air quality. Dusty or grubby air can have an interesting effect, but it also makes images look soft. Air turbulence is also a concern – often the air is calmer in the morning.
  • Preparing my equipment and the aircraft. I try to visit the aircraft the day before to check things over. Having my gear well organized reduces surprises during the shoot and results in better images. I make sure I have access to a large slider window or can have the door removed from the aircraft for a wide unobstructed view. You can’t shoot through Plexiglas.
  • I also spend a lot of time planning my safety gear. If you’re leaning out of the aircraft with the door off, you need to have a harness in addition to your seatbelt. I tape the lenses at focus infinity, so I have one less variable to think about in the air.
  • Getting sharp images. Shooting with the new digital cameras has revolutionized aerial photography. You no longer have to change film constantly, and you can get very clean images at high ISO settings that even just a few years ago were science fiction. I set the ISO as high as possible, but not so high that noise degrades image quality. During the flight I attach the camera to an external gyroscope to reduce vibrations. I handhold the camera, and I’m very careful not to lean any part of my upper body against the aircraft. Good pilots also work with you to minimize aircraft vibration for short periods when you have an important shot coming up.