This turned out cool. Doing the other one now too.
This turned out cool. Doing the other one now too.
I took about four timelapses last month out in the eastern Sierras during the Perseid meteor shower. I still need to finish editing them but in the meantime here’s an image I created playing with photostacking. It’s not super awesome, but I don’t know Photoshop that well so this is as close as I got to what I was imagining.
I created it by going through the 300+ photos I took at ~20 sec @ 2.8 with around probably 4000 ISOish, and selecting the frames that had decent streaks captured and then using Photoshop’s image stacking process. I was following a How-To online but it was a while ago and I can’t remember which site I was referencing.
Using a shot after the moon had already come up as the background image the rest of the images are filtered so that only bits that are “lighter” than the background image show up – hence, star trails.
One thing I notice while posting this now is that there’s still the static stars in the background image, which makes it look weirdly contrasted and well, amateur. I need to go back and erase that section of the background image somehow. I tried to use all 300 photos in one image stack for crazy star trails but it would have taken forever to process and I gave up.
Composition, especially for night shots, remains a challenge for me but I’m relatively happy with how it turned out for now. I’ll have more to post soon. I just need to edit edit edit.
This is one of those moments I need to remember that everything happens for a reason.
There’s a huge cell going off just ahead and I’m 35 miles from being able to shoot it and trapped in a road closure. I can see that the lightning is starting to paper off, and I spent the last hour and 15 minutes barreling down and trying to get to it in time.
This is just a quick edit on one of the shots I took over the weekend. I’m working on “image stacking” this week along with processing the timelapses I took of the shower overnight on Thursday.
Slow going, since I don’t know much about Photoshop but it’s ‘fun’ to learn something ‘new.’ (I want to claw my own eyeballs out right now.)
I was never afraid of whales until I was surrounded by them and one of them came flying out of the water about 75 yards away. Fully airborne, I realized instantly there would be no time to jump, no time to clear the boat, no time to dive deep enough if one decided to breach and land (accidentally) on our little boat. Terrifying creatures.
And they were everywhere. You didn’t need to go looking for them because, like the bears, they would just pop up all around you. And on quiet early mornings, you could hear their breath all the up on the deck of our lodge – big, slow exhales. The occasional slapping sound as a fin smacked the water. Echoing everywhere.
The Kachemak Bay isn’t very big, but it’s nutrient rich so there can be a lot of whales in a small area on a good day. And on the two or three quiet mornings we were out on the boat, they seemed to be everywhere. Slow moving, huge, cautious.
The full gallery is below.
A hand on my ankle was shaking me awake. It was early, or late, or maybe I had only been asleep 20 minutes. The light barely changed overnight and the sun barely dipped below the horizon for sunset, turning everything a creepy orange-gray for a few hours.
Michele in a direct but quiet voice, “Wolf.”
I sat up quickly, 80 percent still asleep. I shuffled my bottom to the small opening in the tent and Michele slowly made room for me to poke my head out. I expected to see a wolf in the distance, on the opposite beach from the tidal river in front of our camp.
What I saw was a white wolf directly in front of me, six feet away or less, standing facing me squarely, staring right back at me with amber eyes.
For a moment completely frozen in my memory, every single thing on our beach was still. No crickets, no flies, no birds. Just us. Staring.
And then with nothing else to say or do, the wolf turned and slowly and confidently trotted away down the beach.
I flopped back into the tent, immediately falling back to sleep. My last thought was wondering how many times that week we had been under surveillance from a distance, never knowing we were being watched.
# # #
People see a shot like this and go “Wow!” and they might think for a few seconds about being that close to a grizzly bear and then they move on with their life.
What they don’t see is how wet your clothes are, or how much your leg is bleeding from the waders digging into the side of your calf after the second mile. They don’t know how far you walked, what time that morning you got up to set out and they don’t care how hungry you were.
Now that I’ve posted all my bear shots from our glorious camping experience with Sasquatch Alaska I wanted to take some time to talk a little behind the scenes action of what went into getting some of these shots.
What most people don’t realize is that most of the time, whether it’s out in the desert, up in the Sierras, or on the high plans of Arizona, I look like this. This is me:
I’m either layering up, or down, or tying my shoe, or switching the lens, or blowing dust off the lens, or wiping the ice off the lens because it’s -29 out and I just blew on the lens, getting something to eat, putting a wrapper away, applying sunblock, wiping sunblock out of my eyes because I put it to close to my eyeball, getting a filter, putting a filter away, dicking around with the tripod, readjusting the 35 lb gear pack, checking my map, checking my compass, crying because I am lost and don’t know if my map and compass reads are correct, or [enter *ANYTHING* here.]
And all of that is happening in a race against time because time = light. And light doesn’t stay the same for very long.
And you are only as good as you are prepared. And no matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you’ve prepared, no matter how many miles you have hiked, something. always. happens. So you have to be prepared or you’re fucked.
To be the most prepared, in addition to the 10 essentials in our packs we needed gear. And we needed GOOD gear. We had two rentals: a 500mm Nikon fixed / prime lens that stayed in camp. The one we hiked with was the new Nikon 200-500mm – slower, lesser clarity but lighter and more compact. And it wasn’t $8,000 dollars like the prime we rented, so if we broke it or dropped it off a cliff, so be it.
And when we were hiking, the fixed lens was out and attached to a tripod which we carried over our shoulders, taking turns for the most part as we covered 15-20 muddy, sandy, loose-rock-y, spongy, wet miles. This way, we were prepared to deploy our gear quickly since many times you only have less than 1 second to get a shot off. So, you’d better be prepared.
Except nothing prepares you for quicksand.
The shot above was taken while we were *actually* stranded for a short while in almost the exact spot I was when I took this photo. It was our fourth day and we (Michele and I) were beatdown so physically nothing was helping. Not the extra coffee we had. Not the extra water we were drinking. Not the sugar. And certainly not the rain that was relentless in its consistency. In fairness, we signed up for this trip to kick our ass, and on that fourth day, our asses were kicked.
We had hiked to the “small” island near our camp to see bald eagles nesting (the shot above are different bald eagles because it was raining that morning.) It was low tide, and the tide went out for miles every day for about 5 hours before coming screaming back in. After checking out the nest, we hiked up onto the island, which you can see in the photo above was sort of a raised plateau. Trekking across the spongiest ground consisting of a carpet of wild berries, seeds and other flowers we came across some remains:
Sadly, these were the remains of a baby bear. Wolves in the area have been known to nip a baby bear until it can no longer walk.
We got to the other side of the island and began to scale down. When we climbed down back onto the beach we started following a set of bear tracks (one big, one small, one huge) that all lead off to the south around the back of the island. It was soft sand, so the going was slower than it would have been. We started to zig zag around the tidal sand puddles leftover from that morning’s tide.
That’s when Marcus got stuck. And then Michele got stuck. And then I started sinking. I jumped quickly to my left as Ann Marie then called out that she was stuck. Our guide raced over to help Marcus out, who was now almost up to his knees. He in turn helped Ann Marie. Michele managed to free herself but the three of them were left on a tiny patch of sand unable to move, unsure which direction was perilous.
I was walking at the tail end of the group, and I had fortunately managed to free myself backwards up on to drier land, and I watched as our guide spent a good 10 or more minutes instructing them not to move while he found a path out of the sand swamps that wouldn’t eat us. I was exhausted and drained and I can’t remember how long it was exactly but I remember having enough time to get my camera out and tripod set up, get some shots off like the one of the island above and then put it all back again so I was more stable on such unstable ground.
So it was a while and a couple people got stuck a couple more times.
At some point Ann Marie, from her small island of solid sand, sighed and said poignantly, “This is why photographs are so expensive.” And I laughed to myself as I watched Marcus drop his heavy pack to the ground after unsticking himself from an area he stepped into and our guide Brian ducking into quicksand patches and back out again, figuring out the safest way to get us back across the channel. And I realized she had a really good point:
Here we were, stranded (almost, for a short time) in a minefield of quicksand with the tide on its way in in about another hour, after trudging, all day, in the rain, in search of the lone baby cub and her mother that we saw on the first day.
Again, I’m certainly not complaining, I’d have done it all over again just to see the vivid greens of the island meadows and views from above but at that moment I knew this blog post was coming – all the things you DON’T see in photographs. All the stories you don’t hear. All the miles, all the pre-dawn alarm clocks, the blisters, all the hours sitting at waiting for eagles that don’t show up even though you’re temping them with flounder fish you placed on the bank of the harbor that stink to hell:
Sitting in the Alaskan sun waiting on other eagles:
But the payoff, when it’s big, it’s big. It’s like Vegas-blackjack-on-a-double-down-bet big:
And I did finally got my eagle shot:
# # #
The fifth and last morning at camp we set out on a hike down to the far side of the bigger island in search of the elusive Sunshine Gang, three 3-year-old female bears who were hanging out together. It seemed the two days before, the big aggressive males had dominated the meadows after probably gorging themselves on the dead whale for a couple of weeks and the females weren’t really around in the meadows. It was kind of disappointing that we hadn’t seen more babies – we hadn’t seen much in the way of spring cubs that week other than that one mother and cub way far out on our first night. But the sun was finally shining with clear blue skies so we at least, for the first time all trip, had weather on our side.
After wading across the slick low tide channel inlet (I took a spill when I got stuck but managed to save the lens from going right into the mud thankfully) we got to a sandstone rock formation and it was clear that a mama and her babies had been staying around that area – there were beds dug out of the hillside on the far side of the rock, lots of poop, and flattened grasses and footprints in the sand. But no bears. It was also around the time for the bears to start making their way to the river a few miles away, as the salmon were starting to run upstream for their annual trek to spawn at their birthplace.
Our awesome guide, Brian:
But then, emerging right out of the shrubbery that we had just walked by not 10 minutes prior was a mother and three spring cubs. BABIES! Headed our way. We all scrambled up the rock structure to a perfect flattened out view of the low-tide streams where mom was walking. She kept her distance out in the middle of the mud flats but did stop directly in front of us to clam.
We stayed there for probably two hours, and she must have eaten about 100+ clams during that time – big, fat clams bigger than the size of my entire outstretched palm. One of the babies was “helping” (and Michele has an amazing photo of one of the little stupids figuring out what to do with a clam he got from his mother, I’ll post it once she’s done editing her photos.) The other two decided clamming was boring and not for them, so they settled down for a nap. It was windy as hell, so they cuddled right up to sleep piled on top of each other, the third eventually joining in.
From the north, a massive adult male emerged onto the beach from the far side of the island. He started making his way toward us down the beach in that slow, deliberate pace that looks so sluggish but covers a surprising amount of ground in not a lot of time. A sandbar prevented him from seeing the mother bear, and vice versa.
My stomach knotted up: would she smell him in time? Would he attack the cubs? Literally the last thing I wanted on my last day was to finally spend time with babies only to see them mauled because nature is a cruel existence that I will never fully understand. Thankfully, for whatever reason, by the time she smelled him and he saw her it was enough of a distance for her to move away safely – and the babies clinging to her the whole time. He ignored them, making his way over past us to the west meadow – but not before he saw us ahead of him on a direct collision course. We had the high ground, but no where to go past that.
He sniffed the air, clacked his jaws once (a warning), and stared at us (another warning.) I was so intent on getting “the shot” I wanted while I was there I didn’t realize he was so close until he was *so* close. I stopped shooting and just like one of the baby bears went to scramble for higher ground – he was 15-20 feet away, and I was the lowest on the rock of the group. Had he charged, I’d have been screwed. But everyone remained calm, I may have peed a little, and he passed by us on his way to the meadow.
But I got my shot:
He was a big bear. After that, mom moved further north to clam with the babies and we had to start making our way back to camp to pack up and wait for our plane. We had the big male in front of us by a couple hundred yards, but when he went into these shrubs and started standing up and rubbing himself on them and shaking the branches and snapping them – a sure sign telling us, “Hey, stop following me. I’m a big bear, okay?” Brian had us hang back a bit more and give him even more space.
Overall it was the perfect end to the trip – I got all the shots I had come for and left a very happy camper. These bears are now all for the most part a few miles away over at the river catching salmon – and you can see the Grizzlies on the other side of the mountain range fishing on Explore.org’s Bear Cam: http://explore.org/live-cams/player/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls
Donate a few bucks to them if you can – it’s a great service and a wonderful way to experience nature from afar.
I’ll be making one more “total bear” gallery that’s shareable and talking a little about the actual experience from day to day of shooting and techniques, etc. for anyone who’s curious about what I learned in terms of gear (what I brought, how it worked, etc.) It seems from the bear photos that it was all just so easy, but what you don’t see in the past three blogs are the hikes in the rain, the mud, getting stuck in quicksand (actual low tide quicksand), the back aches, the foot aches, the waders cutting into the sides of your calves, pooping on a beach as fast as you can so you’re not caught by a bear in a compromising position, having your shots interrupted by bears, and middle of the night wolf encounters when you wake up to go pee.
Still, I loved every minute of it and there’s more soon – I haven’t even posted about the whales yet. <3 The full gallery is below.