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Sunset Rays over the Alaska Range


Sunset light and colors over the Alaska Range and the Susitna River - Talkeetna, Alaska

Sunset light and colors over the Alaska Range and the Susitna River – Talkeetna, Alaska

Caught this rare moment of evening light rays filtering through the clouds on to the Alaska Range and the Susitna River in Talkeetna. Alaksa, land of the midnight sun, does have beautiful summer sunsets.

This image shows the south view of the Alaska Range. Mt McKinley is off to the right of the frame. Looking for a good sunset location in Talkeetna? I’d get to the banks of the Susitna River.

I wished I could have gotten on higher ground or hiked beyond the tree lines to get a cleaner frame, but didn’t have enough time.


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Chugach Mountain Range Alpenglow


Sunset sky over Chugach Mountain, Alaska

Sunset clouds over the Chugach mountain range – Girdwood, Alaska.

Photographing this sunset scene on Mt Alyeska near midnight was a surreal experience. In front me, the sky above the Chugach Mountain was on fire. Behind Ragged Peak, lighting flashed sporadically. To my right, the Seven Glaciers sat high above the northern-most rain forest in the world. To my left, Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet bathed quietly in the soft twilight colors.

My photos don’t do this place justice. Earlier, I did a solo hike up Alyeska North Face trail; out of breath, I stumbled into the Seven Glaciers bar to recover from my hike. A couple hours later, I walked outside, and the view took my breath away again. I hiked further up the ridgeline away from other visitors, planted my tripod, sat there for hours and waited for twilight colors. I was supposed to take photos, but I didn’t want to do anything else but to sit back and soak it all in. Up here near midnight, time seemed to stop; words, non existent…

Here is an Alyeska aerial winter image from Google image search results showing a bird’s eye view of the area. The North Face trail is underneath the snow on the west facing slope. Turnagain Arm is to the south-east. North-west view is Seven Glaciers.

PS: final image above is a composite of two horizontal frames.


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Ruth Glacier Landing


Ruth Glacier Landing, Alaska

Ruth’s Glacier landing during McKinley flight from Talkeetna, Alaska.

During a sunny summer day, Alaska is as spectacular as it gets, especially from the air. Here’re two sample aerial shots: a pilot view of McKinley and one of the many snow peaks along the Alaska Range. After I finish posting other Alaska photos shot during my trip, I might return to this series and select more to post as I shot many aerial photos during our flight from Talkeetna to see Mt McKinley up close.


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Passage To Heaven


Denali Park Bus and Mt McKinley, Denali National Park

Denali National Park bus and Mt McKinley in the morning light, Alaska.

This is a classic view of Denali. I love how the park road seems to connect to the base of the Alaska Range and extends up to the Harper Glacier splitting Mt McKinley North and South Peak. I converted this image into black and white to heighten a sense of darkness and light hinting by the dark foreground shadow and the brilliant morning light on the Alaska Range. Prior to this shot, I had been shooting for nearly two hours, but could not find an interesting foreground object to frame Mt McKinley. Then our bus slowed down, and this story telling composition showed up out side my window. All I had to do was to steady myself for a few shots to catch that bus.

The majority of Denali visitors take a six hour school bus ride into the park, have lunch, then spend another six hours on a bus ride back out. Statistic says only 30% of park visitors see Mt McKinley since Denali is typically shrouded in clouds. On our way into Denali, a park ranger informed us that only 5% of park visitors decide to stay over night inside the park. Of those 5%, I am not sure how many get to see Mt McKinley at sunrise or sunset.

Aside from Mt McKinley, with two million acre of wildlife preserve, the main attraction of Denali is wildlife viewing. Occasionally, our bus driver would point to a small dot far way, “See that rock there? It wasn’t there yesterday. Its a caribou!” We saw young caribous and adult male caribou with massive antlers. I took a few wildlife shots, but my main interest was the Alaska Range since there is only one Mt McKinley on earth. I suggested to our bus passengers, “This is a very rare opportunity to see Mt McKinley in this beautiful morning light.” Our bus got quiet; everyone sat back in their seats and took it all in until we lost sight of the mountains. “Its gone now!“, the gentleman in front of me quietly whispered to his wife; she nodded.


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Morning Light on Mt McKinley & The Alaska Range


Morning Light on Mt McKinley & The Alaska Range, Denali National Park

Mt McKinley & The Alaska Range in the soft morning light, Denali National Park – Alaska.

Recently, I spent three days in Denali National Park and did some photography works after two years of inactivity. This is a 6:1 aspect ratio panorama from merging four horizontal frames. One could see both Mt McKinley’s North Peak, South Peak and Harper Glacier on the far right; other prominent peaks near by, Mt Foraker & Mt Hunter. I wish I could post full size image (21 megapixel/frame) so viewers could feel the full impact of this beautiful sunrise light on the Alaska Range. Since it might be difficult to see all the details from such a small image, here is an example of a single close up frame shot a few minutes earlier.

After two days in the park and countless hours sitting by Wonder Lake waiting for Denali to show up, I had lost hope to get a glimpse of what Ansel Adams saw when he photographed that famous Mt McKinley over Wonder Lake scene, but I got lucky on this third day. I shot all of these frames hand held while leaning out a window of a school bus rumbling its way out of Denali on unpaved park road. I wished I had ten minutes off the bus with my tripod to line up all my panoramic frames from a single axis, but our bus driver would not let me off the bus due to bear and bull moose sightings. I shot this grizzly bear on the other side of the road, then turned around and resumed photographing the Alaska Range. When friends found out I was going to Alaska again, a few asked why Alaska? This scene is one darn good reason why.

Will post more Alaska images as I have time to process them.


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Peyto Lake


Peyto Lake -  Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Peyto Lake under the midday sun – Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada

Peyto Lake is one of those rare locations that is best photographed under a brilliant midday sun to get the full impact of its turquoise water from suspended glacial flour in the lake refracting the green spectrum of the sun’s light. The three most famous glacier-fed lakes with bright turquoise/emerald water color in the Banff-Jasper area are Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Peyto Lake. Each has its own beauty, but perhaps this view of Peyto Lake seen from Bow Summit is the most visually striking of them three.

This is a single exposure shot at 16mm with a two stops soft-edge GND filter.


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Storm Clouds over Herbert Lake


Herbert Lake, Icefields Parkway -  Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Passing storm over Herbert Lake, Icefields Parkway – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Woke up on a rainy morning, wanted to stay in bed; but couldn’t go back to sleep, so I put on my rain gears and headed out. I took refuge from the rain staying under the trees on the shore of Herbert Lake. The rain stopped for a while, and Herbert Lake’s surface settled as the morning light broke through just enough to add dramatic colors to the storm clouds passing over the Bow Range. Standing alone in the woods, I thought perhaps I should have stayed on Lake Louise, but I was bored from shooting sunrise there with over a dozen other tripods. On Lake Louise, I felt like a tourist, on this small Herbert Lake a few miles away, I felt like a traveler. The difference between a tourist and a traveler? Not so much in term of semantics, but state of mind. Perhaps G.K. Chesterton said it best, “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” On this cold and rainy sunrise, this was what I saw.


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First Light on Pyramid Mountain


Morning light on Pyramid Mountain -  Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Golden sunrise light on Pyramid Mountain – Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

I waited for nearly two hours to get this shot. It wasn’t a spectacular sunrise, but eventually, first light lit up the side of Pyramid Mountain for a few minutes. I love catching first light on mountain peaks mirrored by a perfectly still lake surface.

There is a sense of separation in this composition: the distant cloud formation seems to mimic the rock formation under water, and a piece of driftwood serves as a lone element connecting with the distant trees on the other side of the lake. The ethereal light on the mountain is the force that binds these displaced elements together. As I wrote in my previous post, light is what you see. I hope you see what you seek.

PS: Perhaps this scene looks familiar? It is the same location where I shot Every Man Should Paddle His Own Canoe.


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Layers of Stillness


Sunrise on Patricia Lake, Jasper National Park - Alberta, Canada

First light on the snow-capped peaks of the Trident Range reflected in the stillness of Patricia Lake, Jasper National Park – Alberta, Canada

I mentioned in my previous post that I spent two hours on Patricia Lake for a sunrise that didn’t materialized; undeterred, I went back the next morning and caught this beautiful sunrise: first light struck the snowy peaks of the distant Trident Range as the Autumn fog slowly rose from the stillness of the lake water surface. Everything seemed to move in super slow motion in the quiet dawn hour. Being a city dweller, my sensory gets assaulted every day from every possible directions; thus being out here in this quietude was nirvana as I found myself lost in these layers of stillness …




Every Man Should Paddle His Own Canoe


Morning light and autumnal reflections on Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park - Alberta, Canada

Morning light and autumnal reflections on Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park – Alberta, Canada

This photo is one of my favorite landscape shots that I’ve done to date. Technically speaking, this shot was difficult for me to pull off. I went to Patricia Lake for a sunrise shoot. After two hours of flat light and choppy water, I decided to move to Pyramid Lake where I found calm water just as the morning light began to light up the aspens on other side of the lake.

I setup my tripod inside this canoe, thinking that I’d get plenty of opportunities to experiment with different compositions; but every single movement I made caused ripples in the calm lake water, ruining the reflections. Then the wind started to pick up, sending ripples across the lake. So I sat inside this canoe and waited patiently for my shots as the morning light dappled in and out of the clouds. To get a good exposure was also a challenge. I stacked a two stops soft edge and a two stops hard edge Lee GND filter to keep the highlights in checked and to prevent the mountain details from getting lost in the shadows.

I love this shot not because of the technical challenges, but because how I felt so connected to this scene as I sat inside this canoe with my tripod and remote shuttle release cable. The wind was a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to contemplate about what I wanted my image to convey. Since I was in Canada, it’s fitting to quote Wayne Gretzky, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” In this shot, I aimed the canoe not at the light directly, but where I anticipated the light would be when I reached the other side of the lake. I’ve been paddling my own canoe since I was sixteen. Although my canoe might be old and leaky, it always takes me to where I want to go. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically. This canoe didn’t move at all during the time I sat in it, but it took me on a journey, a self-discovering journey that I will always remember.


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