We are very fortunate to live and work in areas that are sparsely populated and easy to follow protocols during this pandemic. As usual, we spent August and September in Alaska, as this is necessary work for us. We felt safe on our flights and were fully supportive of the testing Alaska required.
Back to the images, I think in terms of color, this past fall was probably the best I’ve seen in Alaska in many years. I always choose “favorite” because I think “best” is too subjective. Forcing myself to pick 20 images out of thousands shot hardly qualifies as arriving at the “best.”
My favorite landscape is always a backcountry image, one where I had to work and travel a bit off the beaten path. This selection from 2020 contains both backcountry landscapes and those from popular road accessible locations. They range from the remote Denali Highway to the Grand Canyon to White Sands National Park and right out our back porch. Each image has an expanded caption about the image.
Fall sunrise with cirrostratus clouds, Weiner Lake, north face of Chugach Mountains, Matanuska Valley, Alaska
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200F/4 lens ISO 100, 1/2 second, F11
August aurora borealis featuring the Big Dipper with reflections in an un-named kettle pond along the Denali Highway, Alaska.
This was from the first night of our Denali Country northern lights and fall colors tour. We had two nights of great displays. I love early season aurora due to the chance to capture reflections before lakes and rivers freeze.
Canon 5D, Mark IV, Canon 20F2.8 lens, ISO1600, 15 seconds @F3.5
Dwarf fireweed along the shore of Spencer Lake with icebergs from Spencer Glacier seen in background.
This is a backcountry landscape where we camped along the lake shore and floated back to the Seward Highway via pack raft.
I shot this same scene at sunset the previous night with crisper direct sunlight. The morning greeted us with this thin stratus deck and dew covered flowers with calm winds. I thought the softer light was especially more flattering on the flowers. You don’t need direct sunlight to get high quality light.
Sony A6600, Sony-Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens, ISO200, 1/2 second @f16
Backlit cottonwood trees, Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah.
This is a backcountry landscape from a 7 mile round trip hike up the Narrows during fall. The light is very dynamic and there is no time like the present. In the Narrows you respond to the light given to you right then. This view is near the beginning of the hike on our return and I was able to compose and capture this literally within the last minute of light through these trees.
Sony A6600, Sony-Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens ISO 800, 1/250th second, F5.6
Denali (right), Mt. Hunter and the Tokosha Mountains (left) at first light with fall colors and shallow radiation fog over the Chulitna River, from Denali View South State Park, Alaska.
If there was ever a “F8 and be there” shot this is it. A sunrise shoot here was and remains on my radar anytime I’m in Alaska! This was from a private tour where we left Anchorage at 3:45 AM when weather conditions and visibility (this view was often ruined from wildfire smoke even with clear skies last summer) were favorable. A view of Denali from the south takes place on less than half of all summer and fall days.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200F/4 L lens ISO 100, 1 second, F11
Alpine arnicas at sunrise, from camp, San Juan Mountains, Weminuche Wilderness along the Continental Divide Trail.
Whenever possible I try to pick backcountry campsites up high that allow for half way decent photo opportunities. It doesn’t work out every night. On this 8-day trip, this was one of two really good view camps.
Sony A6600, Sony-Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens ISO 200, 1/2 second, F11
Paintbrush wildflowers and first light on the Wasatch, above Alta, Utah.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-40F/4 L lens ISO 100, 3 seconds, F16
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.
I consider this a backcountry landscape. From the highest dune in the park, which is 700′ tall, is a commanding panoramic view of most of the dunes, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the San Louis Valley, and distant San Juan Mountains. This December image was near sunset on a crisp sub-freezing day. It took about an hour to hike up to the tallest dune where I was captivated by the warm/cold color juxtaposition between the sunlit dune and shadowed, snow covered dunes.
Sony A6600, Sony-Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens, ISO200, 1/40th second, f6.3
Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah.
This is a backcountry landscape in which one hikes 3 miles up river. the Narrows has greatly increased in popularity in the past decade almost to the point where it is next to impossible to shoot landscapes without crowds of people. Going in the winter, especially on a very cold day greatly improves your chances of getting pristine landscapes here. This was during our Zion in Winter workshop with Arizona Highways Photoscapes. In fall and winter, the river is low, slow and clear with a beautiful blue green color that contrasts against the sandstone walls with reflected sunlight.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-40F/4 L lens ISO 100, 8 seconds, F16
Little Susitna River in fall colors, Hatcher Pass area, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska.
Shot during a light rain.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200F/4 L lens ISO 100, 8 seconds, F11
Fall colors and rain, Archangel Valley, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska.
I believe it is possible to get good landscapes in bad weather. There was a steady rain that had been falling for several days. Ragged stratus clouds often form below the solid cloud base causing a widespread and prolonged precipitation even. The rain helps saturate the peak fall colors and a circular polarizer helps bring them out.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200F/4 L lens, ISO 400, 1/50th second, F7.1
Sunrise over the northern Chugach and Matanuska Glacier with fall colors.
This was a quick shot as the colors of the clouds were waning as we arrived. Fortunately I was able to set up fast enough with a graduated neutral density filter to balance out the dynamic range before the colors faded. This was the only good light of the day.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70F/4 L lens ISO 100, 1/13th second, F11
Tundra fall colors, Upper Susitna River, Denali Highway, Alaska.
This is one of my favorite locations along the 135 mile remote highway that served as our primary location for our Denali Fall Colors and Northern Lights Workshop. Here the group was fortunate to catch the remaining rays of light on the Clearwater Mountains and glowing cumulus clouds bathing the tundra fall colors in warm, soft light.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70F/4 L lens, ISO 100, 1.6 seconds, F16
Southeast side of Denali, North America’s highest peak, the peak being within Denali National Park, shot from Byer’s Lake State Park.
This is a semi backcountry shot. To reach this view we launched our canoe at twilight on a cold, crisp August morning and canoed 20 minutes to reach the far side of the lake. I’ve shot here before, but year’s earlier on smaller digital sensors so this was more of an update shoot. We timed our arrival to catch first light hitting the summit and steam rising off the warm lake in the cold dawn air.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200F/4 lens ISO 100, 1.5 seconds, F11
Full moon rising over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, South Fork and Lake Fork Peaks, above Taos, New Mexico.
With a sizable mountain range to the east, the best full moon shots are the day or two before the actual full moon rise. This way the ambient light is bright enough to capture detail in both the moon (who’s exposure is constant) and the foreground. This was a crisp December eve and I was confident I would capture a little pink sky which is quite common in fresh cold air masses. I tried to use Augmented Reality from Photo Pills to predict the location of where the moon would appear when it rose. It was way off, or I just don’t know how to use it yet. Fortunately, I raced 5 miles down the road to get the moon to rise above the high snow covered peaks.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 400F/4 DO lens ISO 100, 1/13th second, F6.3
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. View of Taos Gorge Bridge on US Hwy 64, and Rio Grande.
I am always on the lookout for colorful high clouds at sunrise and sunset. When colorful clouds are overhead of a dark chasm like this canyon, they bounce a warm soft light that reflects off the river. This light does not exist if skies were clear overhead. The glowing cirrus clouds are not just a colorful element in the image, they are lighting the canyon in a very subtle way. Using my meteorological background, I frequently use several models that will forecast a high probability of colorful high clouds that won’t be pointed out on normal weather sites. This skill is something I teach with webinars.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-40F4 L lens ISO 100, 6 seconds, F16
Tundra fall colors and the Clearwater Mountains, Denali Highway, Alaska.
A fresh dusting of snow greeted us on one of the mornings from our Denali Country Fall Colors and Northern Lights workshop. This image, as well as others from fall in Alaska hopefully demonstrates that impactful shots are possible in cloudy conditions and flat light. The overcast light and moist air add saturation to the peaking fall colors.
Canon 5D Mark IV, 70-200F/4 L lens, ISO 100, 1/13th second, F16.
Birch tree trunks with cranberry bushes, Anchorage, Alaska.
Fall this year was fantastic and what I love about the aspen/birch forests in Southcentral Alaska is the intense color of the understory-something that is harder to find in the Rocky Mountains. I played around with motion during exposure techniques and it seemed to work here.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200F/4 L lens, ISO100, 1/2 second, F11
Family of trumpeter swans on Upper Six Mile Lake, Anchorage.
I guess technically this is a wildlife image but whenever possible I like to include wildlife in context to the environment they live in. This is one of the better ones I captured this past fall so I am including it as one of my favorites in the landscape category.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200F/4 lens, ISO 1600, 1/160th second, F5.6
Sunset above the Rio Chama Wilderness from camp along the Continental Divide Trail in New Mexico.
This is from a spur of the moment overnight backpack trip to help cope with the pandemic restrictions. I didn’t bring a tripod so this is hand held.
Sony A6600, Sony-Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens ISO 400, 1/125th second, F5.
The next blog will feature my 20 favorite adventure images.