Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hittin' The Road: Day 34

Casey, Reef, and I are hitting the road this morning for a quick getaway from Fairbanks. For this New Year's Eve we've rented a small public use cabin on the east side of the Alaska Range, about a 3.5 hour drive from home. Public use cabins are scattered throughout Alaska, mostly in remote regions that require a lengthy hike in the summer or ski in the winter, but this one on Fielding Lake is only a 2 mile trek in from the main highway. There's predicted to be 3-10 inches of fresh snowfall today and tomorrow, so we'll likely be ringing in the New Year by the woodstove. We anticipate having little trouble keeping the champagne cold.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/20 @ 6 sec, 3 images +/- 2EV

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tiny world: Day 33

On our recent walk around Ester Dome, I took a series of photos of the frosty landscape surrounding Fairbanks, and stitched them together with Photoshop to make a 360 degree panorama. The resulting mosaic was too long to easily display on a computer screen, so I distorted the image into a tiny world. It's a fairly easy trick in Photoshop, and can yield some interesting results depending on the type of panorama you work with. In this image the snow sort of took on the shape of the south pole, Antarctica fringed with a boreal forest.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 1/2000 sec, 14 image panorama

Monday, December 29, 2014

Denali: Day 32

The silhouetted granitic pluton pictured above is of course Denali, the tallest point of land in North America. Also known as Mt. McKinley, the native name Denali, meaning "The High One", seems more appropriate. Standing an impressive 20,237 ft above sea level it certainly is the highest one around. Forged by titanic forces of the Pacific Plate subducting beneath the North American Plate, and gouged by relentless ice and fierce winds, it symbolizes just how unimaginably powerful earth's processes can be. Even from a distance, it catches the eye and dominates the southwestern horizon here in Fairbanks.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-640 f/5.6 @ 1/2000 sec

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Walk in the snow: Day 31

Casey and I booked a public use cabin near a frozen lake for New Years, which potentially requires a two mile hike in the snow to access. We've been living a rather sedentary lifestyle over the holidays, surviving mostly off cookies and other baked goods, so we thought it might be wise to go on a few practice walks in the snow before trekking out into the wilderness. The photo above is from yesterday's walk around Ester Dome. It just so happens that we picked the coldest day this winter to do it; for the first time this season temperatures dropped below -20F at the Fairbanks International Airport. A few things we learned: Reef's paws get cold easily and he's a big baby about it, and snow shoes are a must.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 1/500 sec

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Bird Count: Day 30

The end of 2014 marks the 115th year of the Christmas Bird Count; an organized census of local birds across North America that began in December 1900. Ornithologist Frank Chapman, opposed to the "Christmas Side Hunt" tradition of his time, suggested that rather than shooting all the birds for sport, people could simply count them. His idea seemed catching, for what started as 27 observers in a handful of locations has grown to tens of thousands of citizen scientists all over the US and Canada. The idea is simple; from December 14th to January 5th, organizers assemble groups of volunteer birders to identify and count all birds seen within a specified 15 mile diameter wide count circle. Observers are broken into small teams and follow predetermined routes within the count circle, including watching feeders. Data is compiled at the end of the day during a pot luck and submitted to the National Audubon Society, where it is archived and available for public use. This long term data provides valuable insights into regional trends of bird populations, collected by the public for free. I was the boat driver for a pelagic Christmas bird count in Monterey one year, and today is the count for Fairbanks. Casey and I were too late to sign up this time, so for fun I compiled a list of birds we've seen or heard from around the neighborhood so far.

Willow Ptarmigan
Great Horned Owl (call)
Boreal Owl (call)
Hairy Woodpecker (feeder)
Gray Jay (feeder)
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee (feeder)
Boreal Chickadee (feeder and pictured above)
Pine Grosbeak
Hoary Redpoll

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-1000 f/5.6 @ 1/400 sec

Friday, December 26, 2014

Leftovers: Day 29

Is there anything better than homemade apple pie for breakfast? No, the answer is no. Actually maybe homemade raspberry muffins. Our first Christmas in our new cabin was a success. Casey got me a sturdy new tripod and a 'Jon-E-Warmer' for photographing aurora, and I got him a pair of Sorel caribou winter boots that are a half a size too small. The turkey was dressed and in the oven by 11, and later we feasted on stuffing, rolls, kale salad, champ-wine, and apple pie with a good friend Alexis and her two pups. Finished the evening with a riveting game of "There's a MOOSE in your house!" and a dog walk around the neighborhood. White flakes of fresh snow began falling as we made our way to bed. All in all a good day,

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 1/50 sec

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Time For Turkey: Day 28

With a turkey to roast and many dozens of cookies to consume, I'll keep this brief. In fact that's all I'll say. Happy Holidays for now.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 20 sec

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Poem: Day 27

'Twas the night before Christmas, far to the north
Not a creature was stirring, to try and conserve warmth.
The stockings were hung by the Toyo with care,
In hopes that tomorrow they’ll contain long underwear.

Casey and Reef were both snug in the bed,
Their sleep talking and dream twitching close to my head.
Away to the window it danced a bright curtain,
The sky was alive, the aurora was certain.

Cosmic wind on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave the luster of green to objects below.
And as we nod off to this awesome sight,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 3.2 sec

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Project 365: Day 26

When friends ask us where exactly in town we live, we often start by saying just off the Old Steese past Hagelbarger. If that doesn't get them oriented we usually follow up with, "have you seen that random DC6A parked in the woods off the Old Steese?". There are some serious collectors here in Fairbanks, and while I'll admit an airplane is a bit out of the ordinary, it's not uncommon to find all sorts of bizarre junk in people's yards. Even some of the houses are strange. Just down the road from this plane is a house on stilts, elevated above the treeline. Which just so happens to be another good landmark for navigation.

Paste the following coordinates into Google Earth to see this lost plane for yourself:

64.918526, -147.623259

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/20 @ 1.3 sec, 3 images +/- 2EV

Monday, December 22, 2014

Project 365: Day 25

Casey and I read in the Daily News Miner that the city of Fairbanks was planning a winter solstice fireworks show downtown, set to kick off at 8:00 pm. So after Casey finished up in his lab at UAF, we drove to a lookout we discovered while dropping off a rent check one day, parked and waited for the show to begin. We sat there in the dark for about an hour, starting the engine every so often to keep the cab warm, until finally 8:00 pm, time for the show. A few minutes passed, then a few more...something was not right. Seems we failed to read the fine print stating the fireworks were scheduled for Saturday night, not Sunday. Damn. Fortunately the aurora puts on a light display nearly every night, and we watched that instead.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, ISO-3200 f/1.8 @ 1/20 sec

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice: Day 24

Today is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice. From here on out the far north will begin its gradual advance towards brighter days. Due to the axial tilt of the earth, northern latitudes face away from the sun this time of year, shortening the overall day length. This becomes more exaggerated as you move towards the north pole. Looking at the photo above, you can see here in Fairbanks the sun barely manages to creep above the mountains before dipping back down again to the south. The lines between sunrise and sunset become blurred. To achieve this photo, I drove up to Ester Dome to escape the valley ice fog, and positioned my camera so that the sun would rise on the left side of the frame. Unfortunately my intervalometer stopped working, a device that automatically trips the shutter on a programmed interval, so I had to manually get out of my warm truck and take a photo every twenty minutes. This took a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes, from 11:10am to 2:30pm. I then brought all eleven frames into Photoshop and used a simple blending tool called "lighten", which takes the brightest information from each photo and mergers them into a simple image. The same tool works great with star trails.

If you're curious about what our days are up to in Fairbanks, or wherever you are, you can check out the following link.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/20 aperture priority, 11 frames 20 min apart

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Project 365: Day 23

In warmer climes, when humidity reaches 100% and the conditions are just right, moisture in the air condenses into tiny droplets of water and forms fog. Here in the interior of Alaska, winter temperatures hover around zero Celsius and below, so when humidity reaches 100%, ICE fog forms and settles into the low lying valley. This can make the days feel even darker down in the valley, and is another reason people prefer to live up in the hills. Above is the UAF Museum of the North on a foggy day. The red trails are the lights of a passing truck. 

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/20 @ 8 sec. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Project 365: Day 22

Vomiting all day. Not sure why. Too weak to write. Here's a pretty picture of a spruce.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Moving Right Along: Day 21

What's black and white and virtually colorless all over? Well...just about everything up here. When the sun is stuck behind overcast skies, color can be a precious commodity in Fairbanks. In this photo I wanted to exaggerate the warmth of our cabin buried within shades of grey, by desaturating all color except the yellows and oranges in the scene. This really brings the cabin into focus as a cozy refuge nestled in a cold winter landscape.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/20 @ 20 sec

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Project 365: Day 20

Every morning like clockwork, usually around 11am, a flock of about 20 black-capped and boreal chickadees invades the trees of our yard. They come through in a flickering wave, taking turns grabbing a few bites from our feeder before fluttering off again. Always on the move. This photo was taken on our back road during one of Reef's walks, after a fresh dusting of snow. I was watching the morning parade of chickadees pass by and Reef decided to plop onto the snow bank and watch them too.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/6.3 @ 1 sec

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Project 365: Day 19

I got a part time job as a cashier to make a bit of money over the holidays, until I figure out my next move, and had planned on getting a good night's sleep before my first day. The aurora forecast had been down for a couple of days, so while in bed I curiously looked out the window and sure enough, a thick band of green stretched across the sky just above the treeline. Damn. We hadn't had a clear night for aurora viewing in a while, so after several minutes of internal deliberation, I got up. Casey had a final the next day, so he stayed in bed. I warmed up my truck and drove down to the nearest frozen bog and watched the colors dance in the sky for over an hour, just long enough to lose all feeling in my body. It was worth it though, arguably the best display I've seen yet.

Canon 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-800 f/4 @ 10 sec

Monday, December 15, 2014

Project 365: Day 18

Behold the noon day sun. Overcast skies have been dumping snow flurries and blotching the sun for a little over a week now, but yesterday the clouds parted and let a little light in. The bright oranges and yellows dappled on the birch trees contrasted nicely with a dark backdrop of approaching clouds. My pupils have been dilated for so long they had trouble adjusting to the increased light levels, especially when driving south on University Avenue. With the emergence of the sun comes slightly higher temperatures, warming up just enough the melt and refreeze the frozen roads like a Zamboni, making then slick once again.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/1250 sec

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Project 365: Day 17

The right sunset can make any photo look good, even this steamy industrial scene from a coal fired power plant on the UAF campus. The Atkinson heat and power plant was built back in 1964, and provides some of the heating and all the electricity for the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus; including classrooms, offices, housing, and research labs. The aging boilers have become an area of concern for university organizers. If they were to fail in winter, our local utility GVEA would not be able to supply enough power and heat to the campus facilities, and lectures for UAF students would become a very cold experience. A 250 million dollar upgrade is scheduled to break ground this spring, with a projected completion date of 2018. Let's hope the boilers hold out until then. This is what 3PM looks like in Fairbanks by-the-way.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40 f/4L USM, ISO-400 f/11 @ 1/100 sec

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Project 365: Day 16

Yesterday we received a care package from Casey's family in Washington, full of homemade cookies, puzzles, and ornaments for our recently harvested Christmas tree. There were many gems, including a banana slug from UCSC, a sequined brachiosaurus or diplodocus (still under debate), and this penguin, which of course doesn't exist in the arctic but we allowed it to hang anyway. Thanks Leslie, PJ, Collin, and Ciara.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, ISO-100 f/1.8 @ 1/8 sec

Friday, December 12, 2014

Project 365: Day 15

One way to make simple subjects more interesting is to create a "High Dynamic Range" or HDR photograph. HDR images typically combine a range of varying exposure values (EV) from several photos to create a higher range of luminosity in the finished product. My camera has an "Automatic Exposure Bracketing" (AEB) setting that takes three photos of the same scene; one underexposed, one correctly exposed, and one overexposed. These photos can then be merged in Photoshop to create an image where the highlights and shadows are more balanced. For example I wanted the subject in this photo of our living room to be the post in the foreground. Had this been a single image correctly exposed on the post, the shadows in the background would have looked too dark and the highlights in the windows would have been too bright. Instead I set my AEB to +/- 2EV, meaning take three pictures; one underexposed by 2 stops, one correctly exposed, and one overexposed by 2 stops. Merging all three photos brings out the detail in both the brightly lit trees outside and the dark features of the living room, along with the subject in the foreground. These days digital cameras and smart phones have HDR features built in, and spit out a ready to use JPEG, but the principle remains the same.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-100 f/4 @ 2 sec, 3 images +/- 2EV

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Onto Week Three: Day 14

Moving to an entirely new location can be stressful, and it's import to find hobbies that help take your mind off of life's troubles. I recently received news that my plans for this summer have changed, leaving me to frantically line up something else before spring. Without access to surfing as a stress relief, I've turned to photography, and went out and recklessly bought  myself a new portrait lens. I have this unrealistic fantasy that someday I'll start photographing weddings, although the pay can be terrible and the industry is already flooded. Even so it wouldn't hurt to practice photographing some faces. This is my boyfriend Casey, who will likely be making frequent appearances on this blog, scoping out potential Christmas trees. Just look at that face. 

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. ISO-200 f/2.2 @ 1/640 sec

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Project 365: Day 13

In the middle of cooking chicken mushroom risotto last night, just as I was trying to get the white wine uncorked, the lights began flickering for several seconds and went completely dark. Our first Alaskan power outage. With temperatures approaching zero outside, power outages that last longer than an hour or so can start to become more than just an inconvenience. First of all our cabin is heated by an oil furnace with electric elements called a 'toyo', unfortunately we don't have a woodstove. Without the toyo everything inside begins to solidify. Secondly our plumbing is wrapped with heat tape under the house and if he power stays out for too long the pipes turn to ice. With a natural freezer outside, at least the food wouldn't go bad. Fortunately we regained power within 30 minutes and there was no need to break out the propane heaters. Apparently someone slid into a service pole somewhere down the hill. The chicken mushroom risotto was just OK. 

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40 f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/6.3 @ 1.6 sec

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Project 365: Day 12

Avid surfers habitually check the swell forecast to plan their next surf session. Those interested in the night sky, and who live in the far northern latitudes of our planet, frequently check the aurora forecast. The aurora borealis, or northern lights, are amazing both in terms of the visual displays they produce, and the explanation of their occurrence. Violent storms in the sun's atmosphere hurl electrons and protons towards earth at supersonic speeds. This solar wind of charged partials travels 150 million kilometers before battering earth's magnetosphere, a kind of protective shield generated by our planets iron-nickel core. Waves of charged particles are bent towards weak spots in this magnetic field at the poles, known as the magnetopause, and are allowed to penetrate earth's atmosphere. This is when the light show begins. Molecules in the atmosphere become excited, like the gas in a fluorescent bulb, and emit colorful bursts of light. Pale green is the most common color, caused by excited oxygen molecules in the lower atmosphere; while the occasional pinks and purples are the result of nitrogen molecules. The patterns created in the night sky during these solar events are infinitely complex and beautiful, from diffuse blotches to vibrant streaming curtains of light.

During extreme solar activity, northern lights can even be visible in some of the lower latitudes, so you might want to keep an eye on the following links.

Canon EOS 60D, Bower 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye CS, ISO-1000 f/3.5 @ 8 sec

Monday, December 8, 2014

Project 365: Day 11

I would imagine this is the sort of view a bison might have during a standoff with a wolf. Eyes locked, the wolf desperately trying to snag a meal in lean times, the bison poised to charge in defense of its life. Luckily for me this is my dog Reef and not a wolf. I get this look from him by saying the word "treat". Gets him focused on the camera every time. You should see the look he gives me when I say the word "bath", a lot less intimidating. 

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, ISO-200, f/2.2 @ 1/250 sec

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Project 365: Day 10

One of the many perks of living in this part of the world is, due to the low ratio of people to tree, it's legal to drive out into certain parts of the forest and cut down your own Christmas tree. No need to spend 70+ dollars on a cultivated import from Home Depot. Yesterday Casey, Reef, and I drove up Chena Hot Springs Road to an area designated for tree harvesting and chopped down the best black spruce we could find. Many of them were either too thin or too wide, but the one showering Casey with snow in this photo was just right. 

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, ISO-400 f/2.2 @ 1/400 sec

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Project 365: Day 9

Fairbanks is situated in a  low lying plain of rolling hills, sandwiched between two great mountain ranges; the older Brooks Range to the north and the younger Alaska Range to the south. 400 million years ago, when most of life on earth was still soft and squishy and restricted to the seas, a rim of mountains emerged from what is now the Bering Sea. The bedrock of these oceanic mountains was eventually lifted and folded as the Asian Plate collided with the Arctic Plate 150 million years ago. Slowly and steadily over millions of years accreted material built the Brooks Range high above the landscape. Alaska was beginning to take shape. Plate boundaries shifted as time passed, slacking to the north and adding pressure from the south. The end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago marked the beginning of the Alaska Range. Two Goliaths began butting heads as the Pacific Plate initiated its subduction beneath the North American Plate. Fueled by unimaginable heat and pressure, great towers of the earth's crust were thrust into existence, while bellowing volcanoes dumped fields of molten material over the landscape; a process still happening along the margins of the Pacific Basin today. The Alaska Range is one of the world's most majestic natural features, and contains the highest peak in North America, Denali; which stands tall and proud at 20, 237 feet.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4 ext, ISO-200 f/5.6 @ 1/1250 sec

Friday, December 5, 2014

Project 365: Day 8

Black spruce (Picea mariana) is the most abundant conifer in interior Alaska, forming a dense band of forest stretching in an arc below the arctic tundra all the way to the Atlantic coast. Heavily laden with snow in the winter the tallest trees tend to bend back towards the ground, forming a rather Dr.Seuss-like landscape. Black spruce are highly tolerant to nutrient poor soils, such as the stand in this photo growing along the boundaries of a frozen bog. Incidentally due to the lack of nutrients and acidic nature of bogs vegetative growth is stunted, making them the perfect open space for viewing aurora borealis. 

Canon EOS 60D, Bower 8mm Fisheye CS, ISO-200 f/3.5 @ 13 sec

Thursday, December 4, 2014

One Week Down: Day 7

Week one of this photo-a-day project finished with a bang, well more like a slide...of Casey's car off the road. As I mentioned in yesterday's post we've received a fair amount of snowfall in the past 48 hours which has led to hazardous road conditions. Casey discovered this the hard way last night when his Honda CRV gently slid off of Little Fox Trail just before the turnoff to Waterloo Lane where we live. He lost traction going over a bump and ended up in the ditch. Luckily Casey and his car were both fine and his insurance covered the tow out. It was all over in 15 minutes and we went home to barbecued pork chops and veggies with cranberry chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Just another day in Alaska. 

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40 f/4L USM, ISO-2500 f/4 @ 1/13 sec

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Project 365: Day 6

A winter storm warning was in effect yesterday for the Tanana Valley. Steady snow fell all day coating the landscape with a lofty layer of white powder. Up to ten inches of snow buried highways, concealed parking lots, and flocked the spruce trees. Despite the monochrome palate there are still colorful remnants of fall frozen in time and clinging to existence. I found these two leaves while shoveling our driveway for the second time in one day, something that just doesn't happen in non-mountainous California.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM, ISO-1250 f/4 @ 1/640 sec

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Project 365: Day 5

Temperatures in town regularly dip into the negative teens and consistently stay well below freezing,  yet the Chena River remains open in sections. The Chena cuts through the heart of Fairbanks before joining the massive Tanana River to the south. This water connects to the Yukon River and eventually flows all the way into the Bering Sea. Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA), the local utility in Fairbanks, generates some of its energy from a coal fired power plant in town, which discharges warm water back into the Chena. A one mile stretch of the river remains free of ice and steamy all winter long. If my kayak didn't give my fingers instant frost bite when touched I might even consider going for a paddle. 

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/5 @ 1/125 sec

Monday, December 1, 2014

Project 365: Day 4

This is a Muskox, a distant cousin of modern day goats and sheep. Once widespread during the Pleistocene epoch, Muskoxen crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia somewhere between 200,000 to 90,000 years ago and thrived throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. The species eventually died out in Europe and Asia roughly 9,000 to 2,000 years ago during the Pleistocene/Holocene extinction event reducing their range to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. Populations in Alaska were wiped out in the early 20th Century likely from a combination of shifting climate patterns and excessive hunting, however due to reintroduction efforts there are now an estimated 4,000 animals in Alaska's arctic wilderness. Insulated from the most extreme colds by a hefty coat of underwool, Muskoxen remain in high latitudes throughout the harsh winter months. You can even catch a glimpse of them standing near the fence at the Large Animal Research Station (LARS) run through the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/5.6 @ 1/500 sec