Aurora Borealis, Starry Night. Yukon.
Setting sun on cloud and muskeg, NWT.
Last month I took an 8,000Km trip (plus a 15-hour ferry up B.C.’s incredible Inside Passage) up to Inuvik (68°21′42″N 133°43′50″W), past the arctic circle. It was an amazing journey in a country that I’ve called home and yet spent so little time exploring because I’ve always been photographing something much further away. But this fall it was the Canadian north, and, as I so easily do, I fell in love with this country all over again. I’m not sure what accounts for my love of vast, empty places, but I’m beginning to think it’s the way the beauty fills in those empty spaces, gives me nothing but light and lines to work with. Or it’s the serenity and the way these places seem to bring me back to center, and re-calibrate my heart and my imagination.
I wish it were the case, given how serene and beautiful these places are, that my muse were more easily wrestled to the ground, but it’s not so. I still struggled against my own expectation, still had to wade through the muck in order to really experience and see the place. Still had to quiet the voices in my head before I could become receptive. And I still had to shoot a lot of frames to get past the obvious and find something different. But to be doing that while so often gasping at the light or the beauty around each corner, made that process so much less difficult than it has been at times. As with every trip I give myself some homework, and this time it was playing with and discovering the possibilities within, the Lee Big Stopper, a 10-stop Neutral Density filter that allows the shutter to stay open much longer, blending time, and creating lines and colours that just wouldn’t be there in a much shorter exposure. That play and experimentation took me to some fun places, taught me some new lessons, gave me a few more tools, and helped me jump some of the ruts I tend to find myself in.
In late August the colours in the North begin turning, much earlier here than further south. While I missed the best of those colours, what I got was the first snow and the contrasts created with white on reds, oranges, and browns. The aspens and birches were turning too, and if the journey had a colour it would be the gold of the aspens, reminding me so much of Ladakh in the Indian Himalaya at this time of year. To be out in this wilderness, most of the time camping on rock beaches well up a river or creek, and so far from the light pollution and noise of populated areas, for so long at once, was glorious. Next year I’m returning to do a similar trip, leaving a week earlier and, I hope, staying a week longer.
While the trip had a lot of highlights, by far the most magical were the nights, two of them, when the aurora came out. Learning to shoot the night sky was a tough learning curve. I learned, a little too late, to set my tripod up before bed, focus the lens manually and tape down the focus, because it’s impossible in the 2am darkness to do it. I learned that 30 seconds is about as long as I can expose for without the stars moving from pin-points into streaks, and that my D3s and Adobe Lightroom together make ISO 4000 pretty useable. And I learned these lessons all just in time to come home, so next year I’ll return with lessons learned and some new ideas.
Find the GPS track of my journey HERE on my SPOT Adventure page. If you’re interested in Jeep geekery, you can read up on Emily, my travel companion, partner in crime, and 2011 Jeep Wrangler, HERE.
Now home, it’s time to keyword and sort images, begin printing them and selecting some for the next book. Speaking of the next book, I head into the printer’s next week to give them a big cheque and begin the process of creating my first real art book. I’ll tell you more when I can, and take you along for the ride on its creation, too. Tomorrow I’m on an early ferry to Vancouver Island to photograph the Orca, or Killer Whales, for the weekend. See you next week.
Abandoned Mine, Keno City, Yukon. (Photo: Al Smith)
Fixing the bullet hole, Dempster Hwy. Yukon. (Photo: Al Smith)
Taking a break, waiting for pizza. Keno City Snack Bar, Yukon. (Photo: Al Smith)
Day at the office. Importing images. Tombstone, Yukon. (Photo: Al Smith)
Dempster Hwy Mud. Stuff of Legends.
I hope you go into details about the creation of a fine art book. It’s an expense but would like to hear the process of going outside of the on-demand Blurb route and producing something as high quality as Bruce Percy’s latest book.
Stephen, your timing is perfect. I’ve just written the first post about the beginning of the process and it’ll go live tomorrow morning (October 12).
Love the dramatic skies in your shots David! I always appreciate your musings and how willingly you share your adventures and experiences with us. You are a true inspiration to me! I’m looking forward to seeing your new book.
David ~ I’ve really been enjoying your landscape work! I appreciate their simple elegant designs, strong statement of intent/vision, emphasis on color to create or enhance mood, and the fact that although you’re dealing with some grand landscape scenery, you’ve come up with more than trite “trophy” views. Beautiful art.
Great images as usual. Looking forward to the book progress. There is an excellent article in the September PDN regarding night photography. Royce Bair discusses his techniques in an interesting interview.
Awesome and stunning photography. Thank you for sharing these beauties. It must have been amazing out there under the stars. Like it was just you and God. Incredible.
Some really great images here, David. I really like the B&W’s but the Birch Impressions, just WOW!
I am off to the coast of Maine tomorrow for a week…. hope to find some of that peace and serenity of less busy places. I know it’s not the Yukon, but still…… who knows, maybe I’ll be lucky and get a few images as well!
I love those b&w pictures….”Abandoned mine” is absolutely great 🙂
About taking pictures of the night sky, let me tell you that I started on this taking pictures of the sky. Next time take into account that not all the stars on the sky are moving at the same relative speed. Those stars near the north sky move ‘slower’ than those on the south. When I say north and south I’m talking about the sky, not the hemispheres. It depends on where we are that we see the north of the sky over our heads (this happens at the north pole), or near the horizon (this happens at the equator). Furthermore, if you are shooting at a short focal length (wide angles like 10, 18, 24…) you can leave the shutter opened a little more time than if you were shooting at long focal lengths (telephoto 85, 100, etc). The more focal length, the sooner you will notice the trails of the stars in your pictures. So, if you’re shooting wide angle, and pointing to the northern constellations, with a full frame you can leave your shutter up to 50 secs. more or less. If you’re shooting wide angle pointing to the southern stars you’d probably want to stop at 20 secs. more or less. The fact is that pointing to the north let us a little more time to expose, and pointing to south is a little more tricky…
Hope this helps for the next time you go under the night sky with your camera!
As always, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us David. You’re great!!
Thanks for the comment, Javi. Night sky photography is new for me, but what an exciting learning curve! 🙂
Again, thanks for sharing your experience and tips. Love the pics… the two sets show different aspects of the adventure, that’s really cool. Good luck & take care!
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I fall in love with almost every wild place i visit. And I find each of them beautiful, each in a new way; deeply amazing; and full of light that takes my breath away. that is why i picked up a Real Camera again after 20 years away, to help me work with the love and the awe. not so much to “capture” as to “wrestle with” – to engage with and experience more deeply. Sometimes, binoculars or a sound recorder are my tools of choice and sometimes, just my eyes and ears and awe. but for me, the real point of it all is the practice and the discipline of interacting, one way or the other, with what is Out There.
I love that your way with words is as compelling as your way with images. thank you.
Wow…I am very gracious that you make the effort and take us along for the ride. Blackcomb mountain is as far north as I’ve been–but have always longed for the very trip from which you just returned. Your art continues as an inspiration for me. Thank you.
David, your work seems to be at its best when you travel like this. If the price you pay is confronting the chorus in your head so be it. I think you said to me once, “that’s art.” At least that’s what I heard, the ever shifting landscape of Ladakh was distracting me at the time.
Did I say that? There must have been beer involved. 🙂
Some glorious photos there, David, and quite the adventure. Thank you for sharing it!
You continue to inspire where ever you go!
Great post David. Love the Five Mile Lake shot. And that door handle image. A great intimate yet telltale shot of the Dempster!
I like that candid shot of you.
Traveling the Yukon has been a wish of mine since I was a child when the wildness captivated me. Looking at your images has certainly affirmed that desire to be in the great expanse of near nothing-ness and find all the great things that nothing-ness holds. Thanks for sharing the journey and the images.
Wouldn’t mind having any one of those first five images for October wallpaper. Just sayin’.
I came back a couple of weeks ago from a 3 months photographic road trip to the north of … Europe. And here you were, traveling to the north of … America to keep the dream alive.
Now that you are back, I need to find another road tripper to follow. Argh!
Thanks for the ride David! 😉
Being from Northern Ireland it’s hard to comprehend the distance you have travelled. What an adventure!
Dude those images are incredible. I want to step into those landscapes and just sit there for a while.
I just ordered a big stopper today and should have it by the weekend. I have never really done much long exposure work and looking forward to giving it a try… We have a week at the beach booked for Christmas and I’ll definitely be taking it with me!
New Zealand, down in Tekapo, has a dark sky reserve which I will be visiting as soon as possible when we finally go home.
Thanks for the updates and sharing your travels.
The story of the last image is so vivid in my mind… I can feel the cold wet slush of snow chilling my bones to the core… I can imagine the smeary mess on the windshield and tension in the neck as you try and see the road to navigate Emily on remote gravel/mud roads… and knowing “she”is doing her very best to keep you safe and warm inside and in the driver’s seat…
After a journey,how much difficult is come back to city life?
Thanks to sharing with us your experiences.
Corrado , Italy.
Corrado – To be honest, it’s hard. Even leaving the Yukon to come back into BC, which is a long way north still, felt like a return to busy-ness and traffic and all the things I’d so enjoyed living without for a couple weeks. But tomorrow I’ll be on a boat with whales (they won’t be on the boat, but you know what I mean) and I find the sea very peaceful.
Ah, I remember that kind of mud on our truck and balloon trailer when my husband and I drove from San Diego to Alaska. We also made it as far as the Arctic Circle.