August can be a tough time in Southcentral Alaska. By then, the days are getting shorter, and it’s usually the wettest of the summer months. August rarely sees the kinds of long, glorious sunsets that June tends to bring.
During the past three weeks, we’ve had a steady bout of clouds and rain here in Anchorage, especially over the mountains. Despite the occasional peeks of blue sky over town, the Chugach Mountains have largely remained socked in, which means I’ve had very few opportunities to get good photos around the glaciers and surrounding peaks.
I missed the last really good day. I sacrificed a beautiful clear evening on Aug. 3 by going to a friend’s party. I really like the guy, but looking back, I’m not sure I made the right decision. Oh well. Live and learn.
The weather finally broke yesterday and we had our first big sunny day in weeks. After taking a nice warm, dry bike ride and relaxing in the sunshine in my yard for a good half-hour, I grabbed my flight bag and my camera gear and headed over to the plane, looking forward to a few hours of flying and photography.
The mountains weren’t totally cloud-free, but there was more than enough visibility to safely navigate my little Cessna. Also, it made the scenery look more dramatic.
I puttered around for a good hour soaring over the vast landscapes of rock and ice, shooting aerials in the vicinity of the Lake George Glacier and Peak 7460. (This is one of my favorite areas to shoot in the wintertime.) After that, I landed on the Knik Glacier gravel bar, grabbed my pack and hiked over the moraine to photograph glacier scenics.
By then, the glacier itself was already in the shade, although the sunlight was getting pretty good on the higher terrain. I always get lost in the scenery when I’m here. Even if I’m not shooting photos, it’s so much fun to just walk around and look at the icebergs and enjoy the quiet mountain solitude.
At one point I heard a large ‘berg calve off one of the bigger blocks, although I didn’t see where it was. A few minutes later, I saw all the ripples it caused the propagated throughout the entire lagoon. I also saw a moose tromping around in the brush.
Eventually, it started to sprinkle, so I packed up my gear and started making my way back to the plane. As I got higher on the moraine, I saw an orange tinge in the light up in the sky to the northwest, which is where the sun was about to set.
My heart started to race, because I suddenly had a feeling that the light was pretty good on the other side of the hill.
I quickened my pace and climbed higher, and when I reached the crest of the moraine, I looked out and saw this:
I dropped the pack and pulled out my Fujifilm X-T2 (which are currently $500 off), and was suddenly glad I had brought along the XF100-400 super telephoto zoom lens. As soon as I clicked it on the camera, I heard another airplane coming in low right behind me. Instinctively, I reached down and quickly configured the camera for shooting fast moving subjects, just in time to grab a few frames of the Citabria as it flew right overhead and circled around in front of the mountains.
It was such an amazing scene that I wished he’d done more than one pass. I only had a chance to grab a few frames, and then he was gone. No big dial, because I still had that orange light on the hillside, which was only getting stronger.
I shot a few different compositions, making good use of those bold Veliva colors, which has been my go-to color palette for scenes like this for 25 years. Another plane flew by a few minutes later, and although it wasn’t very close, I was still able to capture him high in the sky above the orange landscape.
The light kept going for a few more minutes before it begun to fade from the distant hillside. It was the kind of light that we outdoor photographers dream about.
The show ended with a brilliant ray above the ridge on the other side of the valley. I shot until it too faded, then walked back to my little Cessna, elated that I finally had the evening I’ve been waiting for.
I hope you get some truly magical light soon, wherever you are. Have a great weekend.