Part I: Chasing the Light with Light in Alaska

All photographs © Rick Sammon

This is the first in a series of posts I am writing aboard the Northern Song, the boat the Light Photographic Institute is using for its first Alaska photo workshop of 2011. I'm co-leading the workshop with fellow Canon shooter Hal "Bull" Schmitt, the lead instructor and director of Light - which also produces the California Photo Fest – the must-attend photo event of the year. 
Each day, we chased the light, as photographers do every day - and night.

(I hope to see you on one of my workshops - perhaps in Alaska in 2012. Shoot me an email to get on my workshop list.)

Because there is no internet on the boat, I'll actually be posting when I get back on land - so each Alaska post you read was actually written about a week ago.

I'll be including some of these photographs (with composition tips) in my next Kelby Training class: Composition - the Strongest Way of Seeing, which is scheduled for release later this year. For info on all my Kelby Training classes, click here.

Hey, I know there are a lot of bald eagle shots in this post. A wider variety of shots, which "tell the story" of my Alaska adventure, to come.

First, some tips for photographing bald eagles - which, by the way, have an average wing span of 82 inches.

• Before leaving home, practice getting a good exposure of a small, light subject (eagle's head) again a dark background (water).
• Practice following a fast-moving subject in the viewfinder.
• Practice your patience.
• Use shutter speeds higher than 1/500th of a second.
• When hand-holding your lens, make sure Image Stabilization is turned on.
• For extra steady shooting, use a gimbal head and a sturdy tripod – but master using this gear before you leave home.

Technically speaking, this was one of the hardest subject I've ever photographed – because the boat was moving slightly and the birds were moving very rapidly. I say technically because going into a remote village in Bhutan, for example, and getting the people to accept me and allowing me to photograph them was indeed a challenge – just one of a different nature . . . a personal nature. Photographing the nerper (fresh water seal) while scuba diving in a dry suit under three feet of ice in Lake Baikal, Siberia, was another challenging photo situation.

Okay, here are some general tips for photographing fast-moving subjects.

Choose the AI Servo (focus tracking) focus mode when photographing fast-moving subjects.

Make sure the focus point is on the subject.

When it comes to photographing animals, make sure the eyes are well lit and in focus - and try to shoot eye-to-eye to the subject.

Use back-button focus when the subject is moving fast.

Expose for the highlights. If the highlights are more than one f-stop overexposed, you can't recover them in the digital darkroom. Check you histogram!

When the subject is moving, leave some space in the frame into which the subject can "move."

Watch the background - it can make or break the shot.

Shoot at the fastest available frame rate.

For more photo tips, see my iPad and IPhone app: Rick Sammon's 24/7 Photo Buffett.

For all my workshops, click the tabs at the top of this page.

I'm big on setting goals, photographically and personally. The opening shot for this post is the result of setting the goal of getting a good reflection shot. Hey, if you don't know where you are going, how the heck are you going to get there?

Above is a look at the kind of view we saw from the boat each day at daybreak. HDR process: Photomatix. See my Creative Plug-ins page for info on and a discount on Photomatix.

For the pictures that have a painterly look, I used Topaz Clean. Info on all Topaz Plug-in on my Creative Plug-in page.

I used my Canon EOS 7D for all my eagle photographs. I shot with either my Canon 100-400mm IS lens, my Canon 400mm DO lens (most of my shots), or my Canon 70-200mm lens. For the wheelhouse HDR photograph, I used my Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon 15mm fish-eye lens. All images were hand-held.

Explore the light,

P.S. For more Alaska photos, click here.