Thursday, June 26, 2014


When we planned our Alaskan vacation, among my photographic goals were to capture Mt. McKinley and some whales on our whale watching excursion.  And I felt I was lucky to accomplish both of those goals.  Another goal was to photograph the aurora borealis, but that proved impossible because of the amount of daylight as close as we were to the summer solstice, as well as the cloud cover we encountered during the latter part of the trip.  A final goal I had was to shoot some seascapes that reflected the remote beauty of Alaska's Inner Passage, and I felt I was able to get some of those shots also that I am including on this post.

I found myself shooting two different sorts of seascapes, one kind that included sunlight or at least ample light and another that made the best of cloudy, lower light situations.  Here, first, are some examples of shots that included sunshine or at least well illuminated scenes.  I took this first photo  in Glacier Bay National Park as we were approaching one of the glaciers.  I liked how the foreground mountains framed the higher, snow-covered peak in the background.

I took this second shot also in Glacier Bay, looking back down the fjord following a visit to one of the glaciers.  I liked how the clouds were being reflected in the relatively calm, but ice-strewn waters of the fjord.

Here is another shot from Glacier Bay taken with an almost cloudless sky.  I thought the small island in the lower right helped the overall composition, although it would have been better if the top of the islet had been below the water horizon.

I especially liked this fourth shot that I took as we were leaving Skagway en route to Juneau.  Skagway had been very overcast and wet, and everyone was complaining that the sky was clearing up only after we had endured a very rainy day in Skagway.  (By the time we got to Juneau, the clouds and rain had returned, of course.)

In this shot I allowed the cumulus clouds to dominate the image, but noted that there were two ships ahead of us that the mountains on either side served to draw attention to.  The resolution on this shot was quite good also.

I took the balance of the shots on this post in much cloudier, darker conditions, nearly all from the balcony of our stateroom, as we were moving from one port of call to another.  The low-light conditions were a bit more challenging.  The ship was moving (usually at around 15-20 knots, I believe) which meant that the scene was also moving and I had to be a little concerned about subject blur.  In addition, the low light conditions meant that I had to cope with slower shutter speeds and more ISO "noise."  There is simply more noise in lower light as the sensor has to rely on fewer photons to establish an image.  But enough of excuses.

I took this first, moody shot in early morning, as we were approaching Glacier Bay National Park from the southwest.

Here I set the horizon near the middle of the frame.  That's usually a no-no; however, here the dark clouds didn't hold much interest, but I wanted to include enough of them to create the mood that I think this shot conveys.

Contrast that with the following couple of shots in which I thought the clouds added a lot to the overall composition.  In these shots I placed the horizon close to the bottom of the image to put more focus on the clouds.

I especially liked the clouds and overall lighting in this second shot.  I considered cropping out the upper portion of the image but decided that keeping it in the shot helped to emphasize the lower bank of clouds.

There there were a number of shots that featured the many islands situated at varying distances from the ship (and my camera).

I worked a lot with this last shot to create some definition in the trees on the island in the lower middle of the image.  I thought this shot also worked as a black & white.

Here's another shot that I thought worked OK as a black & white.

As we were cruising down the British Columbia coast on the evening before our arrival in Vancouver, I spied this lighthouse and got a fairly sharp shot, despite the ship's cruising speed.

Playing around with the shot a bit, I cropped it down some and converted all of the colors to black & white except for the buildings' red roofs and the accompanying yellow tanks.

I thought it worked as sort of a novelty shot.

Finally, here are my two favorite photos from this group, based on their color and composition.  This first was the only one of this group not taken from the cruise ship.  Instead, it was shot from the jet boat that we took in Juneau to get to the whale watching location.  A close look reveals that there is another boat located on the horizon near the center in the low mist hanging over the water. 

This second photo was shot in the late evening as the ship was cruising from Juneau toward Ketchikan.  It was late, after 10:30 pm, but obviously the sun had not yet set.  I liked the colors of the sky, the rows of mountains with clouds further back, and the bright white line that the sea was making at the horizon.  For the record, this low light photo was shot at f/4 with a shutter speed of 1/50 second and an ISO of 400.



By design, our trip to Alaska occurred close to the summer solstice.  As a result, there was abundant flora on the trip, and I tried to capture some of it on sort of a haphazard basis.  Ideally, I might have brought my macro lens and tripod, but that would have entailed lugging a lot more stuff, so I had left that equipment at home.  Here is some of what I got handheld with my 24-120 mm lens.

On a street in Ketchikan.

Outside the visitor center at the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau.

I thought these last two were especially nice, as I was able to isolate the flowers by blurring out the background.  And the daisy-like flower in particular exhibits the raindrops that characterized our hike while visiting the glacier.

And finally on our hike of the Chilkoot Trail in Skagway.

This last of ferns was my favorite of the bunch.  That I was able to darken the background helped, as did the series of well placed raindrops that the ferns were holding.



Early morning on June 21, we disembarked from our Alaskan cruise ship in Vancouver, British Columbia, but we spent a day there before flying home the following morning.  After visiting only small Alaskan towns over the prior 10 days, Vancouver seemed the height of cosmopolitanism, and it clearly is an attractive, sophisticated city.  I was surprised to learn that, at 600,000, it is only the 8th largest city in Canada, though it has the 3rd largest metropolitan area, at about 2.5 million.  The one day we had in the city was gorgeous--sunny and warm--quite a change from the four days of rain we had experienced prior to that.  And I'm sure the weather influenced our overall view of the city.

The city does have a fairly impressive skyline, though a large proportion of the taller buildings appeared to be devoted to urban housing rather than to commercial offices.

We didn't have a car while we were in Vancouver, so we did a lot of walking from our centrally located hotel, over 9 miles by Geri's count.  We focused on two areas, a shopping district known as Granville Island, and the city's large and beautiful Stanley Park.  Although I took a large number of photos, a lot of them were indifferent and I have kept only a few that somehow caught my fancy.  So this is more a little potpourri than any attempt to capture the spirit of the city.  So here goes.

First was a row of cement trucks on Granville Island.  I thought the last in line had been painted to resemble a watermelon, but when I looked at the shot on my computer, it was obvious that it was stalks of asparagus.

The following piece of wood carving art in a gallery window also caught my eye.

This was really a very nice piece as the grain of the wood served to accentuate the work's three-dimensionality.  Unfortunately, I had to shoot the piece through the window glass and simply couldn't avoid the reflections that appear on the right side of the image.

We also visited a broom store (and wound up buying a little broom as a souvenir).  I asked the artisan at the store if it would be OK to take pictures and she said that people did it all the time.

I liked the following shot of these boys playing chess in one of the city's many park areas.

I have been concerned that, with the advent of computer chess, the game is becoming something of a lost pastime, but these kids seemed to know what they were doing.   I especially liked their concentration on the game.



Ketchikan was the last port of call on our Alaska trip before we disembarked in Vancouver BC.  We didn't have time to explore the town because we had scheduled a couple of excursions for that day, a lumberjack show, which wasn't very good, and a visit to Totem Bight State Historical Park, which was.  Part of the reason the totem pole park was so worthwhile was because our guide was excellent, well spoken and patient in explaining the history and significance of the totems located in the park.

All of the totem poles in the park are authentic and have been restored and repainted only to show how they would have looked when originally erected.  Interestingly, the history of totem poles among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest is actually quite short--less than 200 years--although the history of wood totem carving in that area is probably much longer.  It's also interesting to note that for a time Native Americans were forbidden to practice the art of totem pole carving, on the theory that they needed to leave their native culture behind and to be integrated into the prevailing American culture.  (I do not know if the the Canadian authorities invoked similar prohibitions.)  Even so, fortunately the tradition was maintained by the Indian tribes in secret until the American government realized the value of retaining such cultural traditions.

I made a few attempts to photograph entire totem poles, if only to provide an overall context, but I felt the results were less than satisfactory.

So I reverted to my usual approach of photographing details of some of the totem poles to show better their craftsmanship, as in the following.

I particularly liked this last image and decided to show just a portion not obscured by foliage.

As is typical of Ketchikan, it rained the entire time we were in the town, including our visit to this park.  (Ketchikan is the rainiest city in the U.S., averaging 150 inches of precipitation annually.)  Even so, I thought this was one of the better excursions we took during our trip.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014


One of our excursions while we were in Juneau during our Alaska vacation was to go whale watching.  This involved traveling 15-20 minutes in a jet boat to some location in the Juneau area that the guides knew were frequented by humpback whales.  They essentially guaranteed whale sightings, though the quality of the sightings could vary.  It was cool and cloudy during the excursion, but at least it wasn't raining.

Shortly after we arrived at the location we started seeing signs of the whales, distant sightings of spouts, a couple of tails as the whales dove down, and what I would call fin slapping.  But the whales were a long way off, perhaps 200-300 yards or more, and the photos I was getting were marginal at best, despite the fact that I was using my 300 mm zoom lens.

Conditions for taking photos were less than ideal.  The sea was pretty choppy and I was struggling to keep my balance without holding on to one of the rails, not to mention the havoc the choppiness was wreaking with my trying to keep the camera still and the horizon level.

Despite the cloudy conditions, I felt the light was adequate to leave the ISO setting at a fairly low 200 and the aperture at f/11.  That left shutter speeds in the range of 1/200 sec. to 1/640 sec., fast enough, I thought, to avoid camera shake or movement in the whales.  In retrospect, I probably should have increased the ISO a bit and opened the aperture to f/8 to increase shutter speed.  Next time.

Then things started to happen much closer to our boat.  The first close shot was of a whale's tail as it dove.

There appears to be a red frond-like object hanging off the end of the whale's tail in this photo.  I have asked a number of people if they can identify it, but no one has been able to give me an answer, yet.

Although this whale was really close, mine was a side rather than rear view.  Even so, I was delighted to get a shot at such close range, though this shot did involve a little cropping.  After that we began getting breaching at very close range, at least a half dozen occurrences.  Fortunately, I had remembered to set my camera on rapid fire mode, so I could get six or eight shots in a couple of seconds, hopefully ensuring that one or more of the shots would catch the whales at peak breach.   Here are a couple of those shots.

In this second shot one can even see the spume coming off the whale's "chin" and fin, as well as the water cascading off the it's body.  Pretty good.  These were close enough that I really didn't have to do much cropping, other than to level out the horizon.  I had a few more similar shot sequences but just let them go either because they didn't have quite the quality or because there were other boat passengers who obscured some of the view.  Perhaps the best shots were those of the following breaching that I got in a continuous sequence, over about a two-second period.

Needless to say, I was extremely happy with the occasion and the results.  And the guides were equally happy. 

When our boat returned to the marina and shuttle bus, it had begun raining, and close to the bus was a bald eagle patiently perched on a pole at the dock.  I was patient in turn, waiting for the eagle to turn his/her head for a profile shot.  Here is what I got.

 A close look reveals the rain in the air, which didn't seem to be a concern to the eagle, who I'm sure is very familiar with Juneau's weather.