Kenai Fjords

Yesterday we took a Kenai Fjords tour to see the wildlife and Glaciers characteristic of the Alaskan Wilderness.  I was a little disappointed in the pictures that we took as the conditions were very challenging.  In photography, light exposure comes from balancing three things:  f/stop, shutter speed, and ISO.  If you have low light conditions, you can open the aperture by choosing a lower numbered f stop, you can choose a slower shutter speed, or you can increase your ISO making the sensor more sensitive to light.  There are tradeoffs however to doing any of these.  If you choose a larger aperture, you sacrifice depth of field so that not all of your subject will be in focus.  If you shoot at a lower shutter speed, you will have motion blur, and if you increase ISO you introduce grain, or noise into your image which can be removed post processing, but you end up with a softer focus.

Add in the fact that the longer the lens, the less light you have to begin with, and the slower your lens or f/stop.  Yesterday on the tour, we had dark skies, a lot of rain, and the motion of the boat, which created really challenging conditions.  It was hard to be on the boat and look around thinking that if the sun had been shining it would have been without a doubt the most spectacular scenery on this planet.  As it was, peaks and mountains were shrouded in mist, fog and clouds which have their own intrigue, but make photography nearly impossible.

So, it was an exercise in mastering bad conditions to the best of my ability, which is probably not a bad thing, except that I felt like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and not one that I wanted to be tested on.  Still, I did the best I could, the results of which I will include in this post.  We saw whales, puffins, a variety of other birds including an eagle, otters, sea lions, dolphins and seals.

The tour left the dock at 8:00, and returned at 5, and it was a very long day.  We were told that the ocean swells in the gulf of Alaska were reported to be a very good day at only 6 feet.  I slapped on a scope patch, a sea band, and prayed.  I have a tendency to succumb to seasickness and was slightly worried that I’d be stuck on a rolling boat in heavy seas for 8 hours with no help for it.  As it turns out, there was only one really bad section that lasted 30 minutes or so, and they handed out ginger candy, which helped.  We ate lunch in front of the Glacier, where it rained like mad, and looked way less impressive than I had expected.  The trouble with Alaska is, you lose all perspective when it comes to size.  When you look at something, you think it looks big, when really it is gargantuan.  Take for example a crevice that was at K2.  When we asked the guide how deep it was, we guessed around 10 feet from out viewpoint.  He said it was likely greater than 50 feet deep.  The same holds true for Glaciers.  Unless you have something to put next to it for perspective, there is no way to appreciate how big it truly is.

Back to the camera problem of light, Since we did not own a long lens, I rented one to take with me.  At 400mm, I thought that would most likely be fine.  Turns out for a Fjord tour, probably 500mm would have been better.  The only problem with 500mm is the smallest f/stop you can get (for a reasonable price anyway) is 6.3, which does not let in enough light, especially for the conditions we encountered.   The other caveat of a long lens is, handheld you would have to have a fast shutter speed such as 1/500 of a sec. which also means a higher ISO.  Then your image is so full of noise, you might as well put the camera down and just forget it.  So, many of my images, well, most of them, have been severely cropped.

So without talking too much more about it, I will start with the wildlife pictures:

Here are a few of the scenery pictures I was able to capture.

The glacier pictures I’ve saved for last.  If you look at the first one, on the left side towards the bottom, you’ll notice an arch in the ice.  These occur from the melting of the ice.  The hole is big enough for a boat to enter, even though it doesn’t look it.  Right as we pulled in, there was a cracking sound and the glacier calved a chunk of ice from the topmost left side.  The piece that came off was the size of a large home.  The water was estimated to be 40 degrees, and we frequently encountered ice in the water everywhere we went.  The guide estimated the height of this glacier at about 400 feet.  He also said that over the years it has receded, and that where we parked the boat 20 years ago was the front face of the ice.  The third picture my oldest son took with the boat in it to give perspective.  The ice reflects it’s true blue color on cloudy days, and in fact only appears white in bright sunlight.

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Sea Life

Unfortunately, the sinus thing didn’t really get much better, and even now two weeks later I’m still treating it.  That didn’t stop me from doing as much as I could, however.  I did shore dives when my balance was off and couldn’t take the rough pitching of the boat, and did the boat dives when it was a little smoother.

The class on buoyancy was fantastic, and brought to light the issues regarding different BC’s or buoyancy compensators.  I was using a BC with a rear bladder.  When these inflate, they have a tendency to hoard air in pockets unevenly, and if you don’t know how to handle it, it will cause you to roll.  DH uses this model and loves it.  Me, not so much.  I spent more time being rolled over on to my side or back, and fighting it.  It was not very enjoyable, so by the third day I decided to rent one that did not have that type of inflation.  It made the difference between have a really good time underwater looking at creatures and spending all my energy trying to stay in the right position.

So that problem solved, it was time to start photographing some sea life.

I loved the coral, I think because I tend to like landscapes.  But getting the white balance to work underwater proved pretty tricky.  You really have to keep an eye on your depth, because you lose wavelengths of light as your depth changes (or gain back if you are coming up).  As a result, you really have to WB every couple three feet.  If you are not paying attention, then your photo’s color will be off.  Also, once you get below 30 feet, WB really isn’t effective at all, and you need to go to flash.  The thing about flash is, unless you’ve invested a ton of money on strong flash equipment, your effective distance with a flash has to be pretty darn close.  Which is easy with coral, but fish have different ideas.  My first day with a camera was rather a disappointment.  I found I really needed bifocals in my mask, because I thought they were good pictures underwater, but many turned out to be blurry.  We spent a lot of time in the shallows just shooting with white balance.

I did find out what happens when you are trying to use WB and also turn on the flash…

Yikes!  If there is a way to fix this with photo editing, I have no idea what it is.  And believe me, I tried.  I read an article that said it is always better to get the picture correct when taking it than to rely on correction after the fact.  And I tend to be a purist anyway, I don’t like spending time correcting photos or tweaking them on photo software.  I’d rather just have a beautiful photo.

Here, I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.

CoCo View Resort

My sinus and ear issues sidelined me for a couple of days, so I wanted to take some time and show pictures of CoCo View Resort.  The dive master of the group we traveled with (and his wife) have been coming here for 31 years, and they had some stories to tell!  One they told of years before was about having to choose between having hot water for showers or air for the dive tanks, because they had been having electricity issues.  They couldn’t heat the water and fill the tanks, so they took a vote.  Air for tanks won, of course, because why would you come to a dive resort and not dive?

For me, the first time I was here was nine years ago, and they have made steady improvements over the years.  They have added more lounge chairs and hammocks for the docks, the food is better than I remember, the rooms are of the Island Bungalow type–very relaxing–they have a slew of bikes (which I admit, I don’t remember from the first time, but I wasn’t looking either), walking paths, beautiful flowers, a fountain, a dive shop and everything you need to take care of your gear in the easiest manner possible.  There is a nurse if you get sick, and very knowledgeable staff who are happy to help you with anything you need, including but not limited to reminding you to actually put your regulator in your mouth before you jump off the boat, as happened to me one day. (I’m sure he was thinking, How do you plan on breathing underwater if it’s not in your mouth?)   I cannot say enough about the guys that run the dive boats.  They will be right behind you helping you walk with all your gear, making sure everything is in order.  They find the even the tiniest sea life that I for sure would miss.  Tripadvisor ranks them highly in places to go for scuba diving.

The grounds are beautifully cared for and the temperature of the water is consistently 79 year round.  Winter day time temps are around 82, summer 87.  It doesn’t get any easier than this for scuba diving.  The setup is amazingly simple.  There are tanks for rinsing gear, and separate tanks for camera equipment.

They now have wifi throughout the property, and it’s lovely to sit at the outside seating area and look and the ocean while you sip on a drink from the bar and look at your photos, answer email, or blog.  There is also an exercise/spa building where you can get pedicures, manicures, and massages.

So even if you are stuck and can’t dive, there is plenty of relaxation.  They also have kayaks to take out and paddle around in, and the beach snorkeling is lively as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This little anemone crab was by the dock in 5 feet of water as was this little guy.  Just like fishing, by the time tomorrow comes around, the fish will be bigger.