Posts Tagged ‘Parks Canada’

Anatomy of an aerial shoot over Yukon’s Mount Logan

Friday, 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.

Feeling the shakes over Mount Logan

Tuesday, 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.  

Commercial Photo Update

Tuesday, 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.

Kluane’s Surging Glacier

Thursday, 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.

Evoking experiences

Sunday, 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.