Blog en-us (C) Art Within Nature Permission must be granted in writing before any type of use what so ever. use my last name ( Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:03:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:03:00 GMT Blog 90 120 A Dragon Appears

once I saw this Dragon shape in the frost on the frozen bubble, I couldn't not see it. I've spent dozens of hours shooting hundreds of frozen bubbles and luck and just plain looking are two of the biggest factors in success.

use my last name ( bubble frost dragon winter frozen Fri, 23 Dec 2016 03:51:33 GMT
How to freeze your toes and have a great time doing it shooting the Aurora My Aurora Shoot Checklist

Finally last night I came home at 3:00 a.m., wired, tired and contented.  After weeks of watching the Aurora storm forecasts and cloudy skies I was lucky enough (amazing the harder I work, the luckier I get) to be in the right place at the right time as the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis put on a fantastic show. The combination of shooting a moving light show, in the cold winter, and at night presents a unique set of circumstances. If you are going out to try your luck here is a practical list of 12 Tips and Tricks you can use when going out to shoot the Aurora. Those of you with experience feel free to add your comments to the list too.

Things to remember:

1 Patience.  A forecast is a highly educated guess, but it is still only a guess. Imagine you are driving to your favorite spot and THERE THEY ARE you yell.  That's OK, don't crash.  More than likely they will come again. It seems to me it's in waves like minutes or sometimes hours apart. They come and they go.  Be prepared because the peaks may only last a few minutes.  If you are sitting all snug and warm in your car and you don't have your camera outside ready to record, it could be over by the time you get set up. Hey if it was easy then everybody would be doing it.

2 Get off your butt. I once was an hour from town, along a frozen river and congratulating myself on getting there when a guy pulled in next to me from Washington state.  He has seen the forecast, bought an airline ticket and flown to Alaska, then he rented a car and drove around the state for two days before ending up next to me. It made me appreciate how easy I have it.

3 Make friends not just photos. Some days it seems like everybody is doing it, taking aurora shots I mean. So when you are not alone keep your light pollution to an absolute minimum.  That means blacking out cars interior lights, remove the bulb if you have to. Same for when you open the hatch back. Drive in the last few hundred feet with just parking lights on, or if you can your headlights off. Its much easier if there is a moon out. Use a headlamp and don't flash it into the other guys face. A red lens or red plastic taped over the light helps keep from destroying your night vision. A small penlight, red of course, hanging on a cord around your neck is good too because you can point it where you need without twisting your neck off to do so. And you can keep the battery warm inside your jacket. Head lamps can drain in the cold and also get in the way of peaking into your view finder. Turn off that automatic led review that you always have on during the day.  If you want to review a photo, do so by playing it back and cover the screen bleed with your hand.  Imagine you've come a thousand miles or spent weeks to get this photo and some oaf smears light across your video or your otherwise amazing 'National Geographic here I come' shot.  If someone does this to you, count to twelve and then walk over and very very politely mention that if they have any questions you'd be glad to help them out, and that you hope none of your light is ruining their shots. If they were there before you, ask if it's OK to set up off to the side, or which direction they are planning on shooting. I have had a bunch of kids start a fireworks war just as I was hoping to have a quiet evening shooting. After I got over myself, I realized there was a unique shot happening right in front of me. Basic rule to all shooting: Go with the Flow.

4 A tripod is a must.  Well you could set the camera down on a rock or stump but really?  Get a tripod, even a used one.  After years of lugging around a 20 pound aluminum anchor I finally bought a carbon fiber tripod. Just think of all the money I saved by skipping those pesky chiropractor adjustments.

5 Getting the shot . Do Not delete in the field. This should go without saying but especially at night.  Many times I've discovered a gem at home on the computer that I would never have seen on the back of the camera.  Two reasons to check your image is the field is for focus, tricky at night, and light levels. If there is a moon out then you probably can use it for an auto focus set up.  Then switch it off without moving the lens zoom or the focus. Some people use tape to hold the zoom and focus in place, and it reminds you to check your setting if you recompose your shot. If you change the zoom then you should probably re-calibrate the focus. If there is no moon, you might be able to use the live preview option, or some bright stars will work as you manually twist back and forth for the best sharp stars image.  It's actually not as critical as you might think if the stars are the tiniest bit out of focus. 

Learn how to shoot in manual mode and you will avoid a lot of grief. Your exposure level can be more of an art and less obvious than out of focus.  And your settings are going to vary with your camera and most importantly your lens.  I used to try and keep the ISO down to avoid the 'noise' in the image, but hey what do you want? Noisy image or no image? So last night I was shooting ISO1250 which on the newer cameras isn't too noisy anyway. Mine is the 1Dx and I carry the old 1Ds Mark II also, which is quite noisy above ISO400. The lens I used was the Canon 16-35 at F2.8. On the older camera I used a fish-eye lens but I didn't like how small the lights over the horizon looked. If they fill the sky overhead I may try it again. It's always good to experiment and think out of the box. At 4 seconds the stars are nice and crisp and the aurora not as blurry as they are if the shutter is open for 10 seconds or longer, but some times the exposure was 10 seconds because the aurora was faint and slow moving.  If you are going to stitch them together for a video then pick something that will work and don't change it because it almost impossible to bring all the exposures to the same level after the fact. If you are going for still portraits then check often and try both extremes of exposure.  There is some discussion as to which is a noisier image, one shot for 20 seconds or one at a higher ISO. It's too technical for me so I'm not loosing sleep over that one.

A remote trigger, wireless or otherwise keeps your gloved hands from fumbling around on the camera body and messing up your focus or composition etc. For $30 you can get a programmable one that will keep shooting while you stand and watch the show. Be sure and check over your shoulder. Sometimes those lights can be sneaky.

6 Composition is key.  There are lots of aurora shots on the web these days but the memorable ones have something added to them.  A house, a person, a river or a tree to frame the image give the eye somewhere to travel. If you are lucky enough to have a long duration storm then try several compositions. It also helps to check out your destination in the daylight. It might just save you from driving into a pot hole or soft spot in the river bed, or missing a 'No Trespassing' sign. Ask your friends if they have a spot they'd be willing to share. Going out alone is my usual operation but it can be fun to have someone ohh and ahh next to you, and giggle out loud "Did you see that shooting star? I hope I got it."

7 Before leaving the house. Get a good size memory card.  I like 16 gigs and have two loaded in the camera.  One really big card means that if the card fails or I do something stupid then I've lost it all. Same for the camera body. If I'm going to all the work to get out there then I take every camera I own along for the ride. They may not leave the car but it's comforting to know they're there if I need them. I don't like changing lens out in the open because I really really don't like cleaning sensors. That's a subject for another blog post.  So before I leave the house I set up the cameras and try not to change them.  It also means less fumbling around in the dark and flashing my light around while someone else is shooting. If I am shooting repetitive frames for a video stitch later on I leave the noise reduction option off. The longer the exposure the longer the noise cleaning up takes inside the camera. That then leaves little gaps in my star trails. For portrait still shots it is OK to have on.

8 Batteries. At a minimum you must have one back up, two or three backups would be better. I met a guy who traveled for a week in the snowy mountains and he taught me if you change your batteries before, I repeat, before they start getting low they will last much much longer.  If you wait until one freezes and dies and then change it, well that cold one won't come back up near as well as if you had changed it frequently with the one under your coat. Personally I keep a small generator around the house in case we loose power. It might annoy other folks so that's another reason I go it alone, or else let them know you will be bringing power and they can hook into it as well. The beauty of that is then I set the camera up, and turn on the automatic interval function, so I can go back into the car and warm up.  Yeah I know it's cheating but I didn't get this old by being foolish.  Well actually I did, but an old dog can learn new tricks.  If you are looking for a generator you can get a nice 1000 watt, with a smooth sine wave for under $400. It weights around 25 pounds which you might not take to the top of the mountain but it will travel from the car to the beach and back easily enough.

9 Dress warm and warmer.  It's easy to stay warm when you're hiking but standing around listening to the camera go clickity click starts to let the chill in.  Cotton is a NO-NO.  Layer up, synthetics, wool, mittens with gloves underneath, and bunny boots are the best.  I will put my $60 big white funny looking military surplus rubber boots up against your $500 REI trick boots any day. Unless of course we are talking about mountain climbing, different story. Trappers up here wear Bunny Boots because if your foot punches through the ice over flow into the water underneath you can still drain the boot, squeeze your sock dry and get home without loosing a toe, enough said.

10 Leave your camera outside. The worst thing you can do it to take your camera in to the car to warm it up.  If you have a break, pull the battery out and put it under your overcoats next to your skin to warm up, or take the battery with you to the car.  When your done for he night or if you're changing locations then put the camera in a plastic garbage bag or two and wrap it up. Then if your moving to another spot don't heat up the car's interior. You can take a warm camera outside and shoot but once you take a cold camera into a warm area you are done for a long time. The warm air condenses moisture on it and probably inside of it. Some have advocated putting a hand warmer on or near the lens. Last night I had some frost build up after a couple of hours so that might have helped but so far I've never tried it. So when I'm done for the night I take the memory cards out and put them in a little baggie, then I wrap up the cameras and put them in the cold case and zip it shut. I won't open the case then until the next day, but I'll be able to look at my images from the cards I've ejected.

11 Backup your Backup. Once home your regular work flow ensues and I won't go in to that now but just as a reminder, have at least two back ups to your hard drive. Do not delete or format the card until you've made your back ups. Sometimes formats vary so when it's time to delete last night work, format the card in the camera to avoid any issues.

12 Other preparations

File a flight plan. Let someone know where you are going and if you change your mind let them know that too. There are lots of places up here that cell phones don't work. Did you pack your charger? Take a book, or DVD to listen too. I usually stop and the store and stock up on my favorite road food. Hey I'm out working when everyone else is in bed. I deserve that 1,000 calorie pint of Ben and Jerry's. In my favorite valley even radio reception is a bit spotty. But sitting out under the stars and listening to alien ghost stories on Coast to Coast with George Noory is fun even if the Aurora doesn't show up.

Unlike someone who travels here for a winter wonderland vacation, I admit I have the advantage of living where the Aurora lives. So I don't usually go out to look for Aurora unless the storm level is at least 5 out of 10, and the skies are reported as clear. Here's a list of sites I use before I fall into a troubled sleep, and get up at midnight wondering, 'should I have gone out?'.

Want to watch my short video...   

The FAA has a weather link, learn to use it and you can find out up to the minute sky reports for anywhere.

There are subscriptions you can get where if the storm level is happening you'll get a tweet. The one I find easiest to read is at

If you are wondering will the moon ruin my shot check out when it rises at

And here's a really cool phone app if you want to know where exactly the moon rise will be




use my last name ( alaska aurora aurora borealis cold light night northern lights photo safari photography sky snow stadsklev stars the aurora tips and tricks weather winter Sun, 13 Dec 2015 03:31:16 GMT
Summer 2016 Day long flight Safari half price sale  This is the first announcement of a very limited offer.  A day long flying photography Safari for just $495.

 Each year there is a "shoulder" to my season of flying tourist  around Alaska.  It is a short window of opportunity when Rusts flying service planes are sitting in the water but not very busy. So I have arranged to book the plane for the entire day and take a small group of 5-7 people flying to amazing remote photography destinations. Normally this tour cost $950.  A $100 nonrefundable deposit will be required. Full payment will be required one month prior to departure.  Space is limited so contact me directly to get on the schedule. 

The two dates available now are May 14 and September 24. More dates may become available on demand.  You can learn more by contacting me directly, or going to my Safari gallery page. Please be sure and  share this information. 

The BBC travel show did a wonderful short video viewable at this link.


use my last name ( Alaska Photo safari Photography Prince William sound Stadsklev Whale aerial glaciers iceberg nature sea otters shoulder season special waterfalls Sat, 05 Dec 2015 15:53:55 GMT
Six minutes of fame on the BBC Hi Everyone, Under the Glaciers EdgeUnder the ice overhangThe ice is sculpted by the wind and warmth. The incredible blue color is not 'photoshop' but what you would actually see if you were there with me. Note the long scratches in the boulder I'm kneeling on, from wear of decades of glacier ice moving across it.

As winter has finally tightened it's grip on Alaska I now have time to look back fondly on the summer of 2015.  Other than nearly breaking my leg on a slip and fall at work, the highlight of my summer may have been one particular trip into Prince William Sound with a BBC film crew.  As a result of my flying them around for a few hours and being interviewed, they came up with this short six minute video.

You can never be sure what will be the end result after the editing process but what I am particularly happy about with this piece is the underlying tone of discovery and respect for Nature.  If you are at all thinking about taking a trip to Alaska and want to do some extraordinary off the beaten path shooting with someone who knows his way around this part of Alaska, then drop me an email or contact Rust's Flying Service (907-243-1595) and tell them you want to set up a Photo Safari with Mark.

Here's the link to the BBC piece. Let me know what you think.




use my last name ( BBC Travel Travel Show alaska art bush pilot flying nature photo safari photography scenic stadsklev wildlife Tue, 24 Nov 2015 16:58:15 GMT
Think Before You Shoot Think before you shoot.

I was listening to another excellent interview by Krista Tippett on the program 'On Being'. Her guest was Maria Popova and the subjects of wisdom and the meaning of life came up. Maria said that as a society we are much more inclined towards the trivia of life, and about getting more knowledge than wisdom. That meaning, which we all want for our life, comes as a result from the work of thinking. That all to often we shirk from doing the work.

In my own experience with photography and the subject of Art I have found the same tendency. Too often (and I will use myself as an example) I am interested in getting the picture and I hurry by what the image means. I get so engrossed in the technique and the technology that the message gets buried. During the interview they talked about the internet and sifting through the mass of information. In our digital image capturing age a similar sifting needs to occur. With the speed and size of our cameras we can now shoot 360 degrees every second. Or we shoot such large files we think we can crop to the good stuff later on. But with such a mass of visual information how do we pan for the nuggets of Art in an image? If I'm shooting a sport, or an event then maybe my goal is just to record the action, but if I have the chance to interpret the scene, nature and wildlife being my favorite targets, then I need to stop and think before I shoot.

If I will slow down and ask what does this scene mean, what is the story here, what am I feeling, what makes me feel this way, then I can start the selective process of editing, focusing, and composing for effect. Have you been in the field and heard the rapid fire of frames per second? More is not better, it's just more camouflage. I would rather have one good image than a thousand mediocre ones. Some days I surrender and admit that I'm not yet artist enough to capture the feeling in one image. If I don't stop and contemplate Nature's Art in the field I will often get home and find my images are flat, repetitive. It's when I calm down in front of the computer I think, if I'd only stepped closer, or tilted this or zoomed in on that, or waited, or or or... Which is why I also will often revisit a subject if I can.

So my advice is to engage the brain before tripping the shutter. Sit for a moment with eyes closed. What do you hear? What do you smell? Is there a breeze brushing your face? Some have suggested going out and pretending you only have 12 exposures to capture the scene. You may find that the light isn't right that day, or wait a few hours for it to get better, or don't shoot at all if it isn't going to be a 'keeper'. Why have a library of 100,000 images if only 10 are keepers. True, it sometimes takes looking at 100,000 images to learn what is keeper, but after the learning curve has started to rise the shooting curve can start to descend. I think this is a natural stage that we go through in our progression as visual artists. I am just encouraging myself and my friends to be aware of that curve.

The joy of photography and the meaning of life is what I hope to represent in my images. It doesn't matter if they are wide scale panoramas or winter macros, what matters is they say, “Look here's the great big wide world we live on together. Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it precious? Isn't it worth keeping and think about? These are questions of wisdom. Math tells us that all the water on the world amounts to the same volume as the skin on an apple. Wisdom tells us to appreciate and take care of natural resources.


“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein

Paddling under a glacierPaddling under a glacierThis was the first time I was under a glacier and I will never forget it. I felt honored like a visitor to the moon might feel. It's as close as I'll ever get to unexplored virgin earth. For thousands of years the glacier covered this soil and only now becomes ice free as the glaciers recede. It was like being in a church designed by god. It lived, it breathed air through it, it dripped water in a symphony of tones, and little stones plopped down from the ceiling. Only a few weeks later this alcove was gone. Thank you, all that is.

use my last name ( Alaska Rust's Stadsklev adventure alaska photo safari art blog glacier ice journal nature photography pilot safari scenic travel trip wildlife Fri, 22 May 2015 16:34:15 GMT
Alaska Is Over the Rainbow ALASKA IS OVER THE RAINBOW


Yes Dorothy, here in Alaska you can fly Flying Through the Rainbow over the rainbow, but it helps to have a good pilot if you want to see Kansas again.

I came to Alaska and began my bush pilot career in 1991. A challenging trip from Fairbanks to Barrow was one of my first charters and it and proved to be a memorable one. I had been hired by the owner of a four seat, Cessna 172, to fly to Barrow so a politician living there could campaign to the nearby villages accessible only by airplane. After a thorough pre-flight of the plane I was to pilot, I left Fairbanks that morning and flew into a spring snowstorm which had developed around the town. I started my journey by following city street lights leading to the Elliot Highway, the Trans Alaska Pipeline and on into the mountain passes. Sitting in an icy cockpit, with gloved fingers, I pulled on the carburetor heat lever. This makes it so that the water vapor in the fuel will not ice up in the carburetor venturi and starve my engine of gas. A small heater vent warmed by the exhaust pipe, barely kept a clear spot on the inside of my windscreen. In the days before GPS, pilot navigation required I had one eye on my map, one on my compass and one out the window. Eventually I exited the first snow storm to land 180 miles later in Bettles and have a well deserved hot lunch.

After a short rest and refueling the Cessna, I left Bettles for Anatuvik pass with the map on my knee and a compass heading. While Atigun pass to the east did have the advantage of the Dalton highway in case of emergencies, it would add 100 miles to my flight. Due to fuel and flight planning I needed to fly as direct as possible through the Brooks Range. About half an hour out of Bettles I began to fly into the Endicott Mountains and the Gates of the Arctic National Park. As I flew along the National Wild and Scenic John River, I noticed my magnetic compass was 60 degrees different from my engine driven gyro-compass. So, thinking I had forgotten to set it before take-off in Bettles, I twisted the reset knob and matched the vacuum gyro to my present magnetic compass heading. Then a few minutes later I noticed the same problem again, this time 120 degrees in the opposite direction from my last correction. Puzzled I thought I had somehow reversed my correction when I dialed it into the gyro, so again I twisted the reset knob. After watching the magnetic compass steadily for the next five minutes it then became apparent that the mountains around me contained so much metal ore my compass was swinging back and forth looking for North. Hence the footnote on my aviation map, “Compass headings may be unreliable in the vicinity of these mountains”. Now my magnetic and gyro-driven compasses were both unreliable. I was left navigating strictly by comparing landmarks, that I had never seen before, to those depicted on my aviation map. In the mountains that was a fairly straight forward task as long as I kept track which I did with little pencil marks. As I left the mountain pass for Barrow I made my best guess at a northwest heading.

I had never seen the north slope from the air and was in for a shock. The terrain ahead appeared as flat as the Nebraska plains I had grown up in. All I saw were hundreds of ponds and tiny creeks but nothing easily recognizable as a landmark. The shape of some ponds only a few acres in size might match the shapes on the map, but aviation maps are made from aerial photos ten to twenty years old. It was like flying over a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle but with lots of pieces missing. To keep from getting lost I began tracking my way across the broad tundra making little pencil marks besides possible pond shapes. Soon the clouds began to return and then even the pond shapes were smothered under an increasing blanket of snow. The worsening weather ahead forced me to fly lower and lower to remain clear of the clouds and potential icing. This reduced my ability to pick out land features or to receive the distant navigational radio beacons. To add to my anxiety, due to the nearly 400 mile leg I was on, I only had enough fuel to reach Barrow plus the required 30 minutes reserve. If the winds aloft got stronger from the northwest even that little reserve would be lost. Still, I continued on believing that as I got closer I would be able to pick up one of the radio navigational aids in Barrow and home directly to the runway. Finally uncertain as to my actual heading, I decided I had to have instrument navigation or I would end up another Amelia Earhart, so up I climbed back into the clouds, gaining altitude that would allow me to receive Barrow's distant beacon. Because I had lost all outside visibility, I called flight control center in Anchorage for an instrument flight plan and clearance. Proceeding on towards Barrow I nervously watched my fuel gauges and computed and recomputed my time to the runway. What most people don't realize is pilots do not figure miles to the gallon, because strong head winds aloft can change that figure from 100 miles to 50 miles for 15 gallons. We compute in time aloft. The only thing I could do was set my throttle and mixture for best economy performance and stretch out my fuel endurance. After what seemed like an hour I was finally able to pick up the VOR beacon and correct my heading directly towards Barrow. I had been within fifteen degrees and patted myself on the back for having navigated so well.

Flying along in the clouds I then unexpectedly got a call from flight center to hold my present position. What a “hold” means is that I have to remain flying in circles over a given point until Anchorage center tells me it is safe to continue into the airport. The Barrow flight service agent who monitors local flight plans, had suddenly closed the airspace around their airport to all instrument flying traffic because of an overdue aircraft. A twin engine Otter had filed a round trip flight plan north over the sea ice and hadn't been heard from. If the overdue aircraft came back without radios the fear was that no one would know they were inbound and this could set up a possible midair collision. As I began my race track patterns in the clouds I watched as small bits of ice compacted on my wings leading edges. Most small planes, mine included, do not have de-icing features. The Cessna would handle some small amounts of ice but how much? I was not a test pilot and I didn't want to challenge the placard plainly visible on the control panel, “Do not fly in icing conditions”. All it would take is a small layer of ice to change the shape of the wing and turn my aircraft into an uncontrolled falling leaf. That early in my career I had never experienced watching ice build on the wing of an airplane. I tried to think of what options I had left to me. Being flexible is an important part of flight planning but in the northwest corner of Alaska alternate airports for a limited range small plane are not an option, and with my dwindling fuel supply I had long since flown past my point of being able to return to Bettles.

I knew that if I continued to let others dictate my flight path that I would loose control of my situation, so I called Anchorage center radio back and told him I would have to descend out of the clouds to lose the ice. This meant I no longer would have a valid instrument flight plan as I would be below their radar's airspace. But once I was out of the clouds the ice stopped building. I felt I at least had a controllable airplane again. I spent another tense few minutes continuing my hold circles under the clouds and over the white landscape. Finally I called the Barrow flight service agent and told him I was beginning to get worried about my fuel, and asked how much longer he anticipated holding the airspace for the overdue aircraft. He replied, if I could get to the airport while remaining free of the clouds and maintaining visual separation from any aircraft, that I could come on in to his airport. Having heard that clearance it felt like, after listening to hours of deliberation on my fate, a judge suddenly smacked his gavel and pronounced “case dismissed”. At last I was in charge of my planes course again and I was able to relax, dial in my navigational beacon, and follow it the last few miles to the Barrow airport.

The next day I learned that the twin engine Otter actually had never been over due. The flight service agent had made a one hour mistake in his math and the Otter arrived safely in Barrow behind me. In the morning my charter showed up with a couple of her friends and off we went to continue the battle against the odds, the low weather, low fuel, long distances and frozen runways. I had made it through one Alaskan storm and would by luck and by cunning for the next 20 years continue to carry my cargo and passengers over the magnificent wilderness that is Alaska.

On this side of the rainbow, the opportunities for adventure are only limited by your imagination and your ability to plan ahead. Hiking, boating, flying or just driving thousands of scenic and remote miles will lead you to discover what makes Alaska the last frontier and why despite the challenges or maybe because of them, there is no place like Alaska. Alaska is the place we call home.

Mark Stadsklev is the author of “Alaskan Air: Nature's Artwork on the Alaskan Landscape”. A book of award winning photography available on or for a signed copy through his website, or by email to [email protected]

Remember the discount code at checkout, expires December 31st.  ( -20%for-20degrees )

use my last name ( Barrow Cessna Cessna 172 Fairbanks alaska bush pilot diary flying photographs pilot story weather Mon, 17 Dec 2012 21:20:16 GMT
Frosted: Alaska Hoar Frost Creates a Wonderland  

Art photography is like jazz music. A strict understanding of the rules and elements of the craft which are then subjugated while jamming with Nature.  As an example of how these come together for me let me tell you why I am sitting here with sore muscles, chilled to the bone and yet excited too.

For weeks now I have been spending hours on end at the computer, editing, key wording, uploading, filling orders and printing. And during all that time I had not gone out shooting. Then the weather forecaster said that snow was on the way. Our house is on the edge of the Chugach State Park and nearby there are small game trails, water seeps, a small creek, spruce and birch trees and all the little things that make up a mountain woods. Every time I walked our dog Charlie I would see these delicate unusual formations of hoar frost clinging to the grass and bushes. My panic mounted, this was all about to disappear if the TV was right. That threat was what I needed to blast me out of the house. Hoar Frost

So what's entailed in making these frost photos? I often hear, “How did you do that? Or where was that at?” As if I could tell them in a couple of sentences and then they could just go out and get the same shot. For me, it means the night before cameras are charged and packed, I pick the lens and put it on so I don't have to expose the sensor to the cold and frost while I fumble around in the dark. I get together a collection of flashlights and their spare batteries. Hint: to make your batteries last keep the spare inside your coat and switch it out before it gets depleted. It means peeling open my eyelids and climbing out of a warm cozy bed at 6 a.m. when the sun will not show up until 10 a.m. Then I am too excited to eat more than a quick breakfast and put on all my winter layers, fingerless gloves, over mittens, face mask and bunny boots.  A last check to make sure all the gear is ready, kiss the wife, pat the dog and head out the door. 

A walking stick helps me to keep my balance while navigating the steep slopes, stepping over dead falls and sliding across ice sheets. I might wear a headlamp with a red lens to save my night vision and make the battery last longer, or if it's cloudy the reflected light pollution from the nearby town lights up the snow. It helps to have checked out potential sites in the daylight because the moonlight and flashlights will make things look very different.

Lighting is the key. Yes, you could go out in the daylight and shoot frost but it all looks washed out with no drama or path for the eye to follow through the image. So for added control I prefer shooting in the dark. I find a likely area and then I set my gear down nearby but out of the way. I then get down on my knees or better yet lay down on my elbows and look around. When I find my interesting object to shoot, I start moving my head back and forth, up and down, checking the composition for elements that I do or don't want. With the lighting I may be able to keep some elements hidden and bring out others. With frost it's important to think before setting into the scene for a closeup. The smallest act will set off a shower of frost and destroy what Nature has built up over days of freezing weather and moist air. So I usually take a wider angled shot first and then move in for the close ups. I carry two camera bodies so I don't have to change lens. It is helpful to have a tripod that will get down to a few inches off the ground or wad up an old towel and put the camera on that.

Using flashlights to paint the scene is both luck and art. I usually shoot at least a dozen shots for each separate camera setting. The macro lens I have is a Tamron 90mm which will go to f/32. Of course at that setting every speck of dust on your sensor will show up, so shoot a variety of f/ stops so you can pick your favorite later on. Check your depth of field before you finalize your camera position otherwise you'll get home and find the image does n't look like you even focused. If you have live view fine tune your manual focus.  The newer cameras can even be calibrated for an adjustment to be factored in, dependent on which lens is on the body. There are many phone apps for easy computing of the depth of field for each lens. My 90 mm has to be two feet away to get 3 inches DOF. Shooting branches and grasses all bent over with frost will require all the depth of field I can get, or maybe I will isolate one interesting piece.  This is where thinking ahead can come in and save me from wasting my time and battery life. With the cold seeping into my clothes now wet from laying on the ice it becomes essential to cut my work time.

I don't know about you but I usually have to go back to a scene several times before I really get a feel for what it is that I'm trying to say with my image. So for the last three days, early morning and late nights I have been crawling around with numb fingers, frosted up reading glasses, dying batteries and sore knees. Was it worth it? I think so. The hunt, the collaboration with Nature, the unexpected jewels, this is why I love photography.

For more macro photography of frost, follow this link.

use my last name ( alaska artwork canon closeup frost ice lighting macro nature night photography Wed, 05 Dec 2012 15:21:27 GMT