SEPTEMBER 2014 TRIP TO DENALI NATIONAL PARK, AK
This was my first trip to Alaska and well worth the wait. I think Alaska is a place on everyone's bucket list for one reason or another. The expansive open space and majestic Alaskan Range is something to behold. There's only one way in and out of the park so the drive takes 3-4 hours to get to the "End of the Road" in Kantishna. Plus, there are many opportunities to stop along the way to see wildlife, scout locations, and talk to rangers about the current conditions of the park. The road is windy, gravel and you have to give right-of-way to the park buses who shuttle in tourist all day long…but the upside is you are one of the few private vehicles allowed in the park for the 7-day permit you have.
This is probably my favorite image from my 2014 trip to Denali National Park. It was a clear and crisp evening as the sun was going down this day and the Alaskan Range looked undisturbed. I decided to take a long exposure to see if I could smooth out the faint clouds in the distance. Just as the sun was setting it lit the mountains with a nice, soft even light. The snow appeared even whiter than normal... and with the redness of the tundra and green forest down below, it made a breathtaking composition. The long exposure aided in giving the faint clouds a fluid effect while capturing a pink hue from the afterglow.
Mount McKinley, Mount Hunter, Mount Foraker, Mount Hayes, all visible and brilliant! I can't imagine a better image to encapsulate all the majesty of Denali National Park and the Alaskan Range.
This was one of the first shots I took on the trip. It was also one of a few cloudy days I had that whole week... which saw clear blue skies and 70 degrees during most days. The tundra was this great burgundy color with yellow blooms mixed in. The cliffs along the riverbed were as high as 500 feet... and really gives you a scale of the vastness here in the park. This image almost looks black & white and gives the impression of old classic mountain scenes. The Alaskan Range has so many perfect peaky mountains that you just want to capture all of them in different lighting and climates conditions. Having only a week to photography lead to a very busy schedule and not much sleep, but the rewards I captured during this trip will last a lifetime.
I've seen hundreds of images from this location in Denali National Park and it's hard to not follow suit and shoot the same composition. So I decided to photograph this spot during the day instead sunrise or sunset like so many other photographers and take advantage of the sunshine lighting up the foliage around "Wonder Lake"... and to also take a long exposure to soften the water and get the clouds wisping by. Luckily Mount McKinley stayed exposed as the clouds rolled behind it which added a dramatic effect by the long shutter speed. I likewise got the reflection I wanted from sky to water since it was early in the day and the wind had not picked up yet.
I know many landscape photographers do not like to add human elements into their nature compositions but for me it's about balance and symmetry and the pier just added the perfect touch to a scene that has been photographed many times without such elements.
Now this was a fascinating perspective from flying atop Denali National Park in a Cessna 206 airplane. The owner and pilot of Kantishna Air Taxi, Greg, let us remove the doors from one side of the plane so we can shoot without any obstructions. I have to say, the flight was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced. To fly over Mount McKinley and the Alaskan Range in such close proximity was just astonishing. At times I felt like I could reach out and touch the mountains as we flew so close to them. Over glaciers, down valleys and threw mountain peaks... every turn was breathtaking! This was a fun image in regards to the Fall colors just turning in the trees and the sediment still lingering at the bottom of the river bed. I love to capture all these patterns and abstract lines whenever I can and flying high above Denali allowed me to do that.
Photographing in Denali National Park and having Mount McKinley unveiled from clouds for the majority of my trip was just plain luck. Heading out every morning you just never know what the weather will bring and just about every morning I had clear blue skies with clouds forming later on in the day. Most photographers would not like the clear blue skies but for me, I like to take advantage of every situation and shoot images most photographers would find dull and pass on.
This day I spent the whole morning and afternoon on two ridges about 1/4 mile apart. The Alaskan Range peaks in front of me were visible with the colorful tundra in the foreground. As the evening progress a band of clouds starting working its way to the north over the territory soften the light and adding subtle shadows just where they needed to be. This image is pure Denali and reminds me of that day just watching the shifting light in total silence with the largest peak in North America staring back at me. One of the most memorable moments days of my trip.
The access in and out of Denali National Park is a two-lane gravel road with a 30mph speed limit. Unless you're lucky enough to win a "private vehicle" pass in the lottery they hold every year, your only transport into the park is old converted school buses. Having the "private vehicle" pass allowed me to travel along the park road whenever and wherever I wanted, but I always had to give-way to the buses which had priority.
This image was captured on my second day there... which it hadn't rained or snowed in over a week. So the road was very dusty and you have to travel slow not to kick up too much dust. Unless you're this guy! I was up on a ridge waiting for sunset when I could see this one bus one the road behind me from miles away driving up a streaming, billow cloud. I was wanting to photograph the landscape behind me but need an extra element to make the image dynamic. The bus hurling down the gravel road was perfect... and the pronounced veil of dust stringing out from behind balanced the composition.
This photograph was shot in Denali National Park, Alaska. This pond was the only one with these white flowers, cotton grass, blooming along its edge. Throughout my week long stay in Denali I would pass by this pond and contemplate what composition I would like to try. Late one night after shooting a sunset Jeff Mitchum and I decided to take a look at the pond before the moon came up. I thought the refection of the moon on the pond would be a nice added dimension to the white flowers, colorful hills and mountain tops in the far distant. Even though this photo looks like it was shot during the day, it was actually pitch black at night until the moon arose. The long exposure I took created a "Mystical" feel for the image and gave it its blueish elements. I also like the fact that you really can't tell this is Denali National Park… which was an aspect I was looking for.
If you've ever experienced the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, then you know what a sight it is to behold. I had spent the first four days of my trip to Denali National Park photographing all day... then staying up every night till midnight to capture this phenomena with no luck. As fate would have it, it was the week of the full moon also so complete darkness was out of the question and confirmed my reasoning why I hadn't see them yet.
On the fifth day I was having breakfast at the lodge when a few of the staff members told me the lights had appeared around 1:30am... and proceeded to show me pictures they had taken with their phones. So that night I headed up the canyon valley and set up next to a creek around 12:30 am. Sure enough, around 1:15am the lights started to appear so I began to take 30 second exposures until the lights faded around 2am.
During that time two large gravel trucks with red caution lights on their cabs decided to stop on the bridge over the creek and have a discussion among themselves. Why were these guys working at 1:30am in the morning I do not know but their lights lit up the trees with this red glow and an unsuspecting element was added to my composition.
It was quite a memorable night for my first time seeing the Northern Lights and an experience I will never forget.
After a week in Denali hoping for a brilliant sunset I finally was blessed the last night of my stay. The clouds rolled in perfectly and seem to be the right altitude to capture all the amazing colors at dusk while leaving the Alaskan Range entirely visible. I set up my camera in a new location and waited for the show to begin. All alone at the top of the world watching Mother Nature paint her picture was a moment in my life that I will never forget… and this image put an exclamation point on my unforgettable trip.