Posts Tagged ‘wilderness’

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.

Let it snow! Lifestyle photo shoot at Coghlan Lake

Monday, 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.

The Adventures of Boots, Goldie and Propane Bear

Thursday, 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.

Snake-bitten

Monday, 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.

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.