Ice Alaska World Ice Art Championships

Every February and March in Fairbanks we get a host of world class ice carvers to compete in the World Ice Art Championships. This year we saw some amazing artists including Junichi Nakamura the artist who with his teams took first in both the realistic multi block and single block events this year! The park is still open for people to look at the ice art, but the longer you wait the more the sun takes its tole on these beautiful sculptures.ice art


Red Fox in the City

Red Fox in FairbanksWhile driving through downtown Fairbanks the other day I spotted this little red fox trying to cross an empty clearing. He was shy and you could tell that he was more than a little weary about crossing a big field without any cover. I pulled my Jeep over got out and started shooting from behind a snow berm from about 300 ft so that he would not be disturbed.

A few things that helped get this shot were my Canon 20D’s 1.6x crop sensor which allowed my 200mm lens to act like a 320mm lens and create a much better zoom range. Another trick that helps to shoot brightly lit snow scenes is to overexpose your images by 1-2 stops. This is needed to get nice bright white snow as opposed to the gray that point and shoot images come out looking like.

Common place in an uncommon place

When most people think of water in their homes they give very little thought to how it got there. Why would they, aside from knowing that it is drinkable the process for which it got there is probably very uninteresting. In Alaska however, people take a very hands on approach when it comes to their drinking water. Littered throughout the state and in many different settings there are watering holes. These watering holes can come in many different shapes and sizes from large banks of pumps where one can drive up and fill 250 gallon tank in the back of their truck, to small pipes stuck into the hillside were a spring slowly fills a 5 gallon jug. The idea is all the same, good clean water that you know exactly were it came from, your local watering hole. I wanted to share with you a few photos of my favorite watering hole near Fairbanks, Alaska.

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The Fox water shelter has been around for many years and has seen some improvements over the years as well. It started out as a small pipe you could hold a jug under, and is now a nice shelter complete with a holding tank and two dispensers. One thing hasn’t changed though, the people you meet there are friendly and will not think twice about holding a conversation with you. That’s because they’re your neighbors, it doesn’t matter if you don’t live across the street, when you are at the Fox watering hole you might as well.

Now it might seem strange to some people that Alaskan’s go through so much trouble to get water when they can just turn the faucet on right? …Wrong. Due to the remoteness, cold weather, and expense of putting in a well or water tank, many of us Alaskan’s simply do without. And why not, you wont miss it when you hear about your friend who’s heat quit and he ended up with a nasty flood when the heat came on and revealed all his burst water lines.

……

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I took these shots after work when I got the idea to go and photograph common places for locals that would seem uncommon to many others. I took along my new wireless flash triggers that I mentioned in my previous post which allowed me to get creative with the lighting. By placing a flash behind the half wall on the ground I was able to illuminate the inside of the shelter and show the people filling up even though I was loosing sun light (it is only February in Alaska).

PT-04 wireless flash trigger

Just picked up a set of these wireless flash triggers from cowboy studios off Amazon. I am excited for the possibilities they can create in my portrait and wedding photography. Off camera flash is advantageous for many reasons not the least of which is more flattering and natural light since shadows are revealed and not removed. The flat 2D image look with harsh highlights you get with on camera flash rarely turn out worth keeping.

More info about off camera flash and how to use it can be found at the Strobist blog.

I plan on testing these units out and putting them through their paces to see if they are as capable of some of their more expensive competitors. First impressions make me think they will not be as durable as the pocket wizards but if they are as good of performers then in y opinion it may not be an issue.

And for those of you who just want a nice picture, here you go

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Yukon Quest 2011

So looks like as of this morning Hugh Neff is leading the pack ahead of Hans Gatt having just left the Central checkpoint on their way to Fairbanks during the 2011 Yukon Quest.

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The racers are running in temps close to -35 F and some pretty strong winds is what I hear. Good luck to them and hope they can manage to keep warm and safe! I’ll be looking for them at the finish line.

Follow this link to see more mushing photos

DeRaps family portraits in Florida

While down in Florida for the holidays Meagan and I had lots of time to hang out with her family and do some pretty cool things, one of which was go and watch cirque du soleil at Disney. I have never been more enraptured by a show than I was while watching cirque du soleil. It was a 3 hr show and I tried not to blink through the whole event.

Another great thing about getting the family together is it gives me a chance to work on my photography. We spent thanksgiving with Meagan’s grandmother and while we had most everyone together we headed to a local park and took some fun family shots. Now keep in mind this was done with no flash and all natural lighting. It was getting late in the evening so the warm light was caused by the setting sun.

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We had a lot of fun playing with different poses and locations but my two favorites were lined up on a flipped over boat (above) and then playing in the reeds down by the pond (bellow).

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Sometimes the best photos come from not controlling the situation. In the reeds my lovely family decided to start shaking the seeds into Derek’s face. I like these shots the most because they show the playfulness that these siblings have with each other at every opportunity.

Mallorca, Spain and the Balearic Islands

This winter’s escape came in the form of a Honeymoon to Alcudia, Spain on the island of Mallorca. My wife Meagan and I who have just celebrated our first year wedding anniversary had a fantastic time wandering about the Mallorcan back roads in our tiny euro rental car. The food consisting of mainly olives, breads, and seafood with a wonderful array of wines, which we were sure to try as many as we could, kept us both energized and excited about the days adventures. I will share a few of my photos from this trip and invite you to check back soon as I may be posting a more lengthy article with more photos…

Castle Spine
Cathedral walk
Port Alcudia Beach
Swirling Boat Launch

Lunar Eclipse on the Solstice

Total Lunar Eclipse Alaska

Lunar Eclipse- f/8 1/100 sec ISO 100

Many Alaskans braved temperatures pushing -35 F on Monday to watch an incredibly rare astronomical event. We had a total lunar eclipse between 9:20 PM and Midnight on the Solstice or very near to it anyways. So not only was it the longest night of the year, but it also was pushed into further darkness by the blocking out of the Moon!

I put this composite together from two images I took of the eclipse from around 9:50 PM

Alaska Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipse on the solstice- f/4.5 30.0 sec. ISO 100

Blurring backgrounds on portrait photographs

An important thing to consider while doing portrait photography is depth of field. In short, the area of the image that is in focus. You can get depth of field in a variety of ways that I may cover in a later post but the simplest is simply by adjusting your aperture to a large size (smaller number) or a small size (larger number), the larger the aperture i.e. 1.4, 2.8 etc. the less depth of field you will have in your image. Portraits are usually focused on the person as your subject and thus they are typically what you want in focus with the eyes being your primary focus point.

Now that we have talked about the usual way we get the DOF we want lets look at how you can use photoshop after you have gone home and realized you didn’t get enough of a blur on the background and it is still too distracting. I am no expert in photoshop and so I will leave the full step by step process to someone else (there are plenty of writings on this if you search Google). Basically what you are going to do is this:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop
  2. Duplicate the layer
  3. On the bottom layer go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian blur
  4. Set the blur to a level that is not too overdone but removes the background distraction
  5. On the top layer hit edit in quick mask mode
  6. Use the brush tool to highlight the area that you want to blur (just paint with a black color, to erase paint in white)
  7. Exit quick mask mode
  8. Go to Layer>Layer Mask>Selection
  9. At this point you should see your image almost the way you want it
  10. While highlighting the mask in the layers pallet go back and brush any edges that don’t look right, it helps to experiment with brush hardness and opacity to get the edges to look natural.
  11. Save your new image and marvel at the difference.

That is a very basic list of the steps involved, my intent was to only inform you of the possibilities when your equipment alone cannot give you the results you would like.

Bellow are some images I edited in about 10 minutes to highlight the effect.

Violinist Good Daze PortraitViolinist portrait with blurred background

Funny Juggler

I just recently received a request for some of my 2010 Tanana Valley State Fair photos. On one of my visits to the fair this year I was lucky enough to see Paul Isaak’s juggling skit. It was evening and the sunset that night was particularly spectacular so I decided that a few photos during his fire juggling skit might come out quite nice.

funny juggler Paul Isaac at 2010 TVSFIt was difficult to get both the detail on Paul’s face and clothes as he was back lit. I also did not want to use flash as this would have ruined to feeling to the photographs. The answer presented itself when Paul lit up his juggling stick and the flame lit is face and body quite well. I was still hand holding the camera without an image stabilized lens so getting the proper exposure was more difficult requiring me to bump my ISO to 800. On my Canon 20D an ISO of 800 produces a photo with a fair amount of noise. So these photos are only suitable for smaller prints and web use.

funny juggler Paul Isaac at 2010 TVSF