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Northwest Territories – A Sense of Adventure

Date:  January 19th, 11:24pm.

Conditions:  -30F & wind gusting to 40-50km.  Bitterly cold.  If you’ve read “To Build a Fire” by Jack London – that’s the kind of cold I’m talking about here.

Upon our arrival at the shore of the frozen Great Slave Lake, we scouted out a location that looked promising.  It was hazy and there wasn’t much visible on the horizon.  We decided to nap for about 45 minutes at a time and periodically wake up to scan the skies for any sign of the aurora.

At about 10pm, the skies had cleared and the aurora was shimmering across the sky in curtain-like webs of greenish-blue color.  After packing a sled full of camera gear, we hiked about a mile out onto the frozen lake wearing nearly every piece of extreme cold weather gear we owned.  Shortly before 11:30pm I captured the aurora image above before starting my time-lapse sequence.  It was a special treat for me, as it was also my birthday.

Let me back up a minute to tell you how this all started.

In the fall of 2011, I decided that I needed to up the ante and make a major trip to a location that would allow for some adventure and great photography.  I chose the Northwest Territories because it is sufficiently remote and contains the “adventure factor” that I was looking for.

Preparation for any trip is key, and I didn’t cut many corners when it came to gear and clothing for this one.  Fortunately with great products from Pelican and Think Tank Photo, my protection and organization needs were well taken care of.

My friend Don fortunately was able to get the time off work to accompany me on the trip and graciously offered up the use of his Chevy Suburban as our vehicle.  Before we left we made a few “modifications” that ended up making our lives much easier, which included removing both rows of seating and building a carpet-covered plywood platform to allow for a level sleeping/gear storage surface.

I also borrowed a ContourGPS camera, but it unfortunately did not come with a mount, so we “engineered” a temporary solution involving a lightstand, umbrella holder, and zip ties.

Not bad for a $20 light stand and some zip ties ‘eh?

How cold was it near Yellowknife?  Cold enough that temporary roads are made over the ice to reach remote parts of the country.  One such road is the Dettah ice road, seen below, which actually has quite a bit of traffic on it during the daylight hours.

I also lucked out on a few wildlife photo opportunities as this gorgeous red fox happened across our path on the return trip which took us through the iconic Jasper National Park and Highway 93A, commonly referred to as the Icefields Parkway.

In short, I feel the trip was a real success and I’m left with some lasting memories and experiences that I can share with others.

Does reading this give you a sense of adventure?  Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my latest photographs, time-lapse video, and writing.  I am nearly finished with my latest short HD  time-lapse clip, I hope you’ll tune in!

I am most active on Google+ where I share my latest work, but you can also find me on FacebookTwitter, and Vimeo.

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Departing to Jasper and onward to Yellowknife…

Hello Friends,

I will be leaving on another adventure in Alberta and Northwest Territories from January 13-22.  While it’s unlikely that I will have e-mail capability, I will do what I can to respond to any inquiries, but it is unlikely I will have much ability to communicate until my return on Jan 22.

Want to see where I last checked in?  I’m using the SPOT satellite messenger to guard against emergencies, and you can track my location here.

Thank you all for your best wishes, thoughts, and prayers – Will see you the week of Jan 23!

Cheers,

Ben

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My 10 Favorite Photos from 2011

2011 was my best year so far, so editing everything down to ten photographs has been quite a challenge.  There were some photographs that I did not want to edit out, but I’ve limited the list to just landscapes and nature to make the selection a little bit easier.

One of my favorite images of all time, I call “Red Sky at Night”.  It was a chilly, windy evening along the shore of Ebey’s Landing in Whidbey Island in Washington State.  My brother and his wife were with me as we enjoyed the stars for a few hours before the clouds had finally settled over the area.  This was a single image, ISO 2500, 20 Seconds on the legendary Zeiss ZE 21mm 2.8 lens.  The nearby city lights provided a dim amount of coloration on the clouds as the stars peeked through.  I looked at the scene with my tripod in hand and wondered how this would look with a longer exposure that would allow for more of the coloration to imprint itself in the clouds.

Clouds and fog are backlit by warm city lights at Ebey's Landing, Whidbey Island, Washington State.

Next, is a long exposure of one of the Moulton barns in Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming.  The landscape was barely lit with twilight when I kicked off this exposure that ended up expressing the blues and purples of an early morning twilight.

Purple and blue light colors the sky over the Moulton barn in Grand Teton National Park.

Another one of my personal favorites this year is an image I call “Moonshine”.  It was the night of the total lunar eclipse, and I left my home near Newport, WA toward Cascade County, Montana to find Crown Butte, which is the formation you see below.  I spent a few hours hiking from the road up to the base of the butte trying to route-find in the dark with a headlamp, nearly spraining both my ankles in the process as I looked for my choice spot to shoot my timelapse of the eclipse.  I failed to find a safe way up, and backed out to a backup location that I found on the way to the butte.  Before I left, I decided to shoot the butte with the full moon just out of the frame.  You can see the curtain of light cascading down onto the landscape from this long exposure with my 5D Mark II and Zeiss 21mm.

The moon casts a curtain of light down onto the low clouds and landscape in Cascade County, Montana.

Next, is a photo I captured along the side of the highway as I was headed out of Grand Teton National Park.  My good friend Don was asleep in the passenger seat and I happened to glance over and saw the sun shooting down out of the clouds onto the surrounding landscape.  I quickly pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and began shooting.

Bright shafts of light penetrate the cloud layer and add spotlighting to the scene in Grand Teton National Park.

The next image I call “Barnstorm”, and am happy to say I made when my wife Amber was with me on that stormy and cold day in Washington State’s Palouse region.  I nearly drove past this barn, deep and hidden within the Palouse on one of the multitudes of farming roads and paths that stretch over the region for hundreds of square miles.

Stormclouds loom above an aging barn along a stream in a remote part of the Palouse farmland in Eastern Washington.

I have a lot of bison pictures from my trips into Yellowstone National Park during the winter, but this one is by far my favorite.  A yearling buffalo and two mature buffalo stood in nearly a perfect line near the windblown trees at one of the stops on Yellowstone’s north road between Cooke City and Gardiner.

Three buffalo search for grasses to eat in the snow near an dead tree in Yellowstone National Park.

One of the truly awesome things about nature photography is that you can have experiences that others only can dream about.  Such an experience came for me when I had the opportunity to photograph this gorgeous red fox who was totally indifferent to my presence at the time.  I was lying on the road for a fox-eye view of this guy who was trotting up the road toward me.  I spent the next hour photographing him as he hunted through the snow in the forest nearby.

A single red fox slowly trots up Yellowstone National Park's North road in the winter.

 

If you’ve seen much of my work, you probably know by now that I have a special love for old, decaying houses and barns.  I found this along a highway in Wyoming on my way back home from Grand Teton National Park.

An empty, abandoned farmhouse sits in the middle of a wheat field in Wyoming.

I have not done much bird photography, but I could not resist photographing this gorgeous Yellow Warbler from Schwabacher’s Landing in Grand Teton National Park.

A yellow warbler is perched on a dry branch covered with lichen.

Last, but not least, I took this sunset shot from atop a rock at the west part of Deception Pass State Park.  The seagull in the frame was a good sport and didn’t move hardly at all as I made long exposures over the length of the sunset.

A single seagull sits on a rock during a sunset seen from the shore of Whidbey Island, Washington State.

 

There are a good number of other photographers who have put out their own list of the top ten photos of 2011.  Have a look here to see more work from other great photographers!

Well that’s it for this year!  Thank you for looking and have a great 2012!

Ben

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An element of adventure…

To my success or failure, there is one constant when it comes to what I choose to photograph.  It boils down to whether or not a particular trip I take contains an element of adventure.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I love seeing epic landscapes, wildlife in its natural element, and rural-themed agriculture scenes – but that’s not what truly drives me.  There has to be a spark of adventure to the trip, some element of risk, something that creates the environment where the unexpected could occur.  I have been on many trips where things didn’t work out photographically, but the experience was still memorable, and that is what is important to me.

A single red fox slowly trots up Yellowstone National Park's North road in the winter. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

A single red fox slowly trots up Yellowstone National Park's North road in the winter. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

The picture of the fox was taken on a trip where things started out pretty poorly.  My good friend Don Pratt and I were making our first winter trip to Yellowstone and planning on driving the north road from Gardiner, MT to Cooke City, MT.  We were on I-90 about 30 miles outside of Missoula at 3am when we started to smell something burning in the vehicle.  What that burning smell ended up being was a transfer case that was in the process of disintegrating itself on the highway.  We spent the night parked in the parking lot of a service station after waiting several hours for the tow truck.  We secured a rental vehicle and started out mid-day on about 3 hours of sleep. About a half a day shooting was lost.

I could have complained.  I could have been angry at the situation, but I wasn’t.  Why?  Simply because I have found that when there is some element of “something going wrong” or some element of danger that is present, opportunities seem to present themselves more often.   If we had arrived when I had originally planned to arrive in Yellowstone, I would not be able to get any of the fox images that I did.  Some would chalk it up to coincidence.  I’ve been photographing long enough now that I don’t believe in coincidences.

Hurricane force winds scream along the snowy hillside of Steptoe Butte with a road curving upward into zero visibility. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Hurricane force winds scream along the snowy hillside of Steptoe Butte with a road curving upward into zero visibility. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Winter photography, particularly when you’re in more remote locations, definitely has an element of adventure to it that drives me to it like a moth to a flame.  The idea of being in a blizzard with 60 MPH winds and driving snow makes my hair stand on end with anticipation.  Standing on a frozen lake looking for interesting patterns in the ice to complement some good light?  I’m there.  I want to be in the places where adventure is happening.  I don’t want to be where it’s nice and cozy – I want to be where I’m standing on the edge of my comfort zone thinking of how I want to communicate that element of adventure in my images.

Ben

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The Beauty of the Palouse

The Palouse region of Eastern Washington state has been called the “American Tuscany” for its many similarities to the Italian relative.  Rolling hills and rich farmland are seen from horizon to horizon in this fertile landscape.  European-Americans first started settling this area around 1874, and Lewis and Clark first encountered the Palouse native Americans in October of 1805, estimating a population of around 1600.  The Palouse Indians were also called the Palus.

Today, a variety of grains are grown here, including both wheat and barley.  According to 2009 estimates from the Washington Grain Alliance, approximately 72% of the wheat grown in this region was of the common white variety, with Whitman County as the largest producer in the state.

This combine works a large wheat field under the hot sun during the month of August in the Palouse of Eastern Washington. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

This combine works a large wheat field under the hot sun during the month of August in the Palouse of Eastern Washington.

Spring melts the snow-covered hills and transforms the area into rolling fields of green.  Some have indicated that under the right lighting conditions, the Palouse as seen from near the top of Steptoe Butte, looks like God’s golf course.  The summer brings temperatures into the 100’s, turning the wheat from green to its yellowish-tan color as it approaches the harvest season, which is typically in the last months of July and occasionally into early August.

With over a hundred-year history of the region, there are many aging and historic structures to be seen in addition to the beautiful fields of wheat.  One could drive hundreds of miles on the dusty farming roads and still not see all there is to see here.  Old family graveyards, collapsing farmhouses, and aging barns are a common sight.  Occasionally a dust storm will blow into the area from the winds. The combination of a layer of dust and the setting sun can produce images that are quite pleasing to the eye.  Thunderstorms are not uncommon and can produce some dramatic farmland scenes in the right light, such as in the bottom photo which I took on a particularly hot August day where thunderstorms had been forecast.

Wheat nearing harvest is lit in the front by the sun while a massive black thundercloud on the horizon looms nearby.  Thunder rolls in the distance. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Wheat nearing harvest is lit in the front by the sun while a massive black thundercloud on the horizon looms nearby. Thunder rolls in the distance.

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Winter is the Best Time for Photography

Everyone has their own opinion about what season the best photos are taken in. In my own belief, I think Winter is ideal for a number of reasons.

The snowy hills reflect the last light of the day as the sun sets over the Palouse of Eastern Washington State. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

Cold, clear nights allow for effective astrophotography, wildlife stands out more in its natural environment, and patterns in the snow or ice make for interesting viewing at sunrise/sunset.

In particular, the Palouse area of Eastern Washington State allows for winter images that differ from what most people would associate the Palouse with.  Rolling hills of wheat and alfalfa typically dominate the scene in late spring and summer before the harvest in late July / early August.

In winter, this area is transformed to what can appear to be a snow-covered golf course when viewed from above.  One of the best places to view the Palouse is from Steptoe Butte, which resides in the State Park by the same name.  The location is popular with photographers, paragliders, and locals that like to drive to the summit to eat lunch or enjoy the scenery.

Seeing wildlife in the winter is an experience that is different than the other seasons.

This individual red fox is seen in its natural forest environment during the winter months in Yellowstone National Park. (Benjamin Chase / Ben Chase Photography)

There is less concealment when snow dominates the scene, and wildlife can often be easier to observe.

This fox in Yellowstone National Park spends hours searching and listening above the snow for rodents that it will hope to make it’s meal.  While the fox is technically a canine, much of its behavior can be described as feline.  The way it stalks and observes its prey is very cat-like.  If you click on the picture, you can see my entire collection of fox photographs and you may decide for yourself that the fox is more feline than canine.

What is your favorite season, and why?