Litte Daylight, Cold Temperatures, A Long Ski.

Above: At 10:28 a.m. the sun has yet to rise above tree line, snow can be seen blowing off peaks in the Alaska Range. Elliott Highway, 37 miles north of Fairbanks. 

It was an… ambitious adventure. Nordic ski 14 miles into Colorado Creek Cabin, in White Mountains National Recreation Area, starting about 55 miles north of Fairbanks. Distance wasn’t the issue. The problem at hand was twofold: temperatures around -35 degrees fahrenheit, and less then 5 hours of daylight. Stopping more then 2 or 3 minutes meant quickly becoming chilled, and wasting precious daylight. 

It’s fascinating to review the time-of-day pictures were shot, tracing the sun path.

At exactly noon, the sun is already hidden behind some trees, with a frozen lake in the foreground.

At exactly noon the sun is already hidden behind trees, with a frozen pond in the foreground.

At 12:16 p.m. some of the only direct sunlight to be had.

At 12:16 p.m. some of the only direct sunlight to be had.

Nick pauses partway into a long uphill on a cold cross-country ski.

Nick pauses partway into a long uphill on a cold cross-country ski.

Sporting thick  fur mittens and hauling a moose skull, the only person we encountered on the 6-hour ski said “you have a ways to go.” Taken 2:21p.m., Nov. 30, 2013.

By the time darkness really took hold Nick and I had just slogged up the final ascent. I was far too exhausted to stop and fumble with my camera, and risk chilling off again.

When not sleeping or eating the cabin was a blast, but the next day brought another 14-mile ski back. Luckily the return was all downhill. 

Even two weeks later, as my blisters and frostbite continue to heal I wonder why we thought it would be a good idea. It really comes down to mind over matter, living in Alaska requires perseverance and toughness. Sometimes a little personal reminder is necessary. 

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Northern Lights: Long exposures, a Satellite and a Satellite-Receiving Dish

The Northern Lights visited last weekend, thanks to a solar flare that sent charged particles towards Earth. In a news brief, alerting northern residents to the likely lights display, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner quoted a NASA scientist saying “This is the strongest flare seen so far in 2013.” It will likely be the last significant show of 2012-2013 winter, Fairbanks already has over 15 hours of sunlight, with dusk and dawn expanding far on either end.

I work late on the weekends, Friday night I had my tripod, but the lights weren’t very dramatic. Saturday night the lights were much stronger, but I foolishly was without tripod. I tried to find adequate surfaces to rest my camera and relied on the 2-second self timer, effective, but far from ideal.

2-second self timer, camera on the ground. A 40-second exposure allows the photographer to step back and enjoy the show, even while photographing.

2-second self timer, camera on the ground. A 40-second exposure allows the photographer to step back and enjoy the show, even while photographing.

Although April 10 recorded the strongest solar flare of the year, it did not produce the most dramatic lights I have seen this winter. Those came over the nights of March 16 and 17. I went out with a tripod that night.

Earth's originally satellite the moon, a satellite receiving dish and radio tower, all visible on top of Ski Boot Hill as northern lights streak overhead.

Earth’s original satellite – the moon, a satellite receiving dish and radio tower, all visible on top of Ski Boot Hill as northern lights streak overhead.
Setting the camera pointed straight up creates a fun, abstracted form. The Big Dipper is visible in the top-left portion of the photo.

Setting the camera pointed straight up creates a fun, abstracted form. The Big Dipper is visible in the top-left portion of the photo.

Thanks to all the wonderful visitors I’ve had over the last few days. I’ve greatly enjoyed viewing your blogs as well.

Sporting Thursday: Christmas day jog.

It may be a little dated, but as I mentioned in my last post, winter has decided to stick around in Fairbanks. It was probably a lot nicer out Christmas day, 2012, then it is now in the middle of April.

I was capturing some of the gorgeous light from the sunset walking to my grandma’s house, just before 3 p.m., . Suddenly a pair of runners turned off a subdivision onto the main road. I had time to capture one frame as the ran off into the winter wonderland.

Christmas day run in a white wonderland.

Runners make their way up Steel Creek Rd. on a Christmas-day run in a white wonderland.

The winter sun in Alaska never gets very high. Here it is seen setting through trees just before 3 p.m.

The winter sun in Alaska never gets very high. Here it is seen setting through trees just before 3 p.m.

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‘Tis the season to ski: Nat’ Geo’ Extreme Photo of the Week and more.

First things first: A huge shout out to my friend and fellow (former) Fairbanks resident, Luke Smith, who is the skier in this weeks National Geographic Extreme Photo of the Week. Photographer Ryan Kruger captured Luke skiing Frazier Basin, Bridger Range, Montana.

Here’s the image, click the link above to see the full story. I especially like the delay between the initial viewing and noticing the skier, and of course, the monochromatic image.

luke-smith-frazier-basin_64842_600x450

photo by Ryan Krueger

Photographing skiing and snowboarding is a very delicate balance for me. Often my love for snowboarding overpowers my desire to take photos on the hill.  It’s easy to worry about my camera, ducking under and squeezing through trees at Skiland, where I ride, and the fartherst north chairlift in North America.

I am becomming more comfortable with it though. The hardest part is forcing myself to be less agressive while riding.

While neither of my photos offer the extreme enviornment of Krueger’s, they have their own qualities. Both with a strong sense of light, the Sun peeking out behind my friends Nils and Nick in the first, illuminated hoar frost on the lift in the second. The first image is also a pan shot, my movement, parallel with the subjects, keeps them in focus while blurring the background.

Nick and Nils gather speed for the traverse at Mt. Aurora Skidland.

Nick and Nils gather speed for the traverse at Mt. Aurora Skiland.

Hoar frost on an early morning chairlift ride.

Hoar frost and an Alyeska sticker on a chilly, early morning chairlift ride.

Tractor and barn illuminated by norther lights

For one reason or another, the northern lights are something I don’t photograph enough. Being a heavy film shooter until recent probably played a factor, digital cameras are more cooperative in cold weather. Cold, lack of tripod, poor location  and early-morning hours have all played a role in deciding as well.

As the wind whistled and the lights danced overhead a few weeks ago, I said, “no excuses.” Less then a mile to get to my house I had a revelation: the hay field about half-a-mile up the road. Seems silly I had never though of it before.  Not wanting to miss a second, I decided to forgo finding my tripod and zipped to the field. I used the two-second self timer and the roof of my car. Directly off Farmers Loop Rd. subsequent cars driving by helped illuminate the farm equipment and barn. Foreground helps any picture, especially northern lights.

The image is actually two pictures placed next to each other. Photomerge, which creates panoramas, wouldn’t blend the images. The color is off and the horizon isn’t perfect, but I like it.

Worth noting, the Big Dipper is noticeable,  just up and to the left of the barn.

Northern lights dance above a hay field off Farmers Loop Rd., Fairbanks Alaska.

A Halloween murder… of ravens.

The wind whipped all Halloween. Soaring and swooping ravens took advantage of the strong drafts to have some fun. A flock of ravens is also called a murder, fitting for this last day of October.

Ravens have long held a place in lore. Tricksters and shape shifters are among the most common Alaska fables. Raven Steals The light is a popular North-West Native American story where the earth begins bathed in total darkness. Accounts vary, but the plot often involves the character of Raven pretending to be the grandson of an old man who holds all the light. Raven then steals it and shines it over earth and water.

“And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”  – Edgar Allen Poe

Here a murder of ravens flies above UAF. © Robin Wood

Ravens and tree. Oct. 31, 2012.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign. National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week

Winter has arrived. Sparkly-white snow dominates the landscape, already scarce daylight will continue to diminish and temperatures hitting negative numbers will likely drop another 50 degrees. Though these are conditions I have enjoyed my entire life thanks to stable housing and adequate clothing, not all do. My weekly photo challenge of “foreign” will focus on the life of those who do not.

Every year UAF takes part in National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. Volunteers stand outside all day, even camping in tents if UAF deems it’s not too cold, to raise awareness for the homeless in Alaska. I’m used to cold weather, but these people are brave.

Alaska has scary homeless statistics. According to University Alaska Anchorage Justice Center Alaska ranks 10th nationally for estimates of homeless people based off total population, one-quarter of one percent, and it’s rising quickly. When including those people who stay in shelters, with friends or in temporary housing the number is estimated at  4,500.

These pictures do not illustrate actual homeless people, just those trying to raise awareness. Perhaps I will use this occasion to find some truly homeless people in Fairbanks and document their trails and tribulations.

© Robin Wood

Volunteers warm their hands around a barrel fire, November 16, 2011.

Volunteers during National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Month at University of Alaska Fairbanks.