Over the last year and a half I have developed an awesome relationship with Jeff and KattiJo Deeter at Black Spruce Dog Sledding. When they approached me about shooting a video about their kennel to dive into their operation and put on their website (www.blacksprucedogsledding.com), it did not take any convincing to get me on board! After a lot of discussion on what the final product would look and feel like, we decided to feature daytime and nighttime activities at the kennel, and that it should remain conversational. Of course, in the winter in Fairbanks night is a predominant period of time anyway! With those ideas in mind, we spent several sessions through the winter filming. The night scenes that you will see in the final product below were targeted under the full moon, but happened to be on a night of sub 40 below temperatures. Needless to say, by the time we ended the shoot early in the morning we were ready to warm up! I found out the next day when my thumb lost a lot of feeling that I had nipped it with frost. Such is life! I was more than happy with the footage shot by the Sony A7S under the moonlight.
The final product really displays the amount of time that Jeff and KattiJo put into their dogs, their training, and their business. They are very dedicated to their sport, which shows not only in their daily lives, but in their connections to the rest of the mushing community as well. I hope this video can help you appreciate the lifestyle and dedication of these two mushers, and realize that the same dedication emanates from many other mushers throughout Alaska. Enjoy!
On Martin Luther King day I got to take a new ride out for a spin.This ‘ride’ was not like many you find in the lower 48! It had 16 legs and accelerated like a drag racer; when the dogs at Black Spruce Dog Sledding take off they do so with gusto! Check out the video below for an excerpt of an afternoon of mushing!
This actually wasn’t my first dog-sledding rodeo, but it was 11 years ago that I was on a on a dog sled. Some things I remembered well. For instance, I remembered the excitement! As you stand on the rear of the sled and the dogs are baying and pulling against the gangline the feeling of thrill builds! When the quick release (a rope and pin tied to a non-moving object) is pulled the team takes off like a race car. Rule #1 is to hold on! From the kennels we headed out with our tag-sled team for a 13 mile loop. The dogs settled into a rhythm of about 7 mph on the uphills and ~10 mph on the flats. That is the pace that Jeff tries for when racing his dogs for mid-distance (300 mile) and longer races (1000 mile Yukon Quest or 2000 mile Iditarod). The constant pace of the run is essential for the dogs, they perform the best by establishing that pace.
On this particular trail it’s not long before the beginner’s baptism-by-fire comes into a view. A 90 degree turn after a road crossing was looming and my senses were keen as I considered how to navigate the obstacle. Jeff coached me by telling me to lean into the turn and try to stand on one ski while peddling one foot on the outside of the turn. He deftly performed the lesson he gave to me and I deftly tipped the sled into the snow bank! “I’m Down!” was all I had to call before Jeff had put on the break and I righted myself. Rule #2 – hold on during a fall! Fortunately, it was the only time I dumped the sled on our tag-sled tour. However, that doesn’t mean other section did not feel harrowing! On steeper down hills it was critical to keep plenty of weight on the drag to slow the sled and the team down. Zipping between black spruce trees we hurtled over snow drifts, wound through tight corridors, and leaned around turns. It’s amazing to me how mentally active you have to be when riding with a dog team in those conditions! Anticipating the turn or terrain ahead was essential to placing my weight correctly in the sled. Being centered, on the left ski, or the right ski changed how well I coped with the turns and the terrain.
I think it took me about five miles to start to feel comfortable in the sled. I no longer felt that I was going to tip at each turn and I began to feel my body relax. The smile which had not left my face since take off was still glued on. The joy of running with the dogs is infectious and the beauty of the scenery was unforgettable. During the night and morning a heavy ice fog had built up scales of hoar frost on the trees. The encapsulated trees glinted in the sun that burned through the fog bank. We concluded our 13 mile tag sled run (2 sleds pulled by a larger team), and then I took my own 4 dog team out for a short, local loop. It was great to test my skills with my own (albeit smaller, but more manageable) team! By the time I left that day the sun, now low in the sky, ricocheted through the gem-encrusted limbs in an orange light ending a truly great day!
I want to share a few images with you from the aurora a few nights ago. I spent the night shooting some great aurora, and in the downtimes of the show played around with a couple of fun, long-exposure techniques. So, as a result some of these aren’t my ‘normal’ aurora shot with a static tripod for a period of time.
First, in these two images I performed what I am calling a “focal pull”. During the exposure which lasted 15 seconds I moved the focal length from 16mm to 11mm. I chose objects to be featured at the center of the image, however, everything else becomes very blurry, but the blurs still hold the shape of the original object. It feels like we are entering lightspeed! What I like about the effect is how the star lines draw your eye to the center of the image. It certainly is an abstract technique!
In these next two images I did a pan across the landscape during the long exposure. This, in effect, exposed the standing trees in multiple locations on the camera’s sensor and created the ghost-like trees shown. What I really like about the effect is this how it makes you perceive the dark. It’s eerie and full of shadows – these images seem to capture that for me. This stand of spruce was recently thinned – perhaps these are the ghosts of trees that once were.
Both of these artful experiments, and are first attempts at techniques I would like to continue to develop. So, now that I have explained and showed my experiment I would love to know what you think! What do you find appealing about these images? What don’t you like? What else could I try? One of the appealing aspects of these techniques to me is that noone does them! Naturally, I would love to be a pioneer of it, and your feedback is helpful!
For the rest of the night I did not take any more time to mess around with my aurora photography. This was the first night of a high amount of incoming activity. NOAA had released a ‘geomagnetic storm warning‘ for December 19-22 based on incoming coronal mass ejections (CME) from the sun in the previous days. This night was the first that these particles were scheduled to produce a show. As night progressed, the aurora came in fits-and-spurts (I think due to a flipping magnetic field which controls aurora intensity). When it was ‘on’ it was really on! And I wanted to make sure I captured that. The night ended up with some great reds and an aurora ‘selflie’ on one of the sleds from Black Spruce Dog Sledding.
The incessant baying of sled dogs, a starlit night, and a beautiful red aurora. When I went out to Black Spruce Dog Kennels to capture the aurora I was waiting for the effects an X-flare to hit the earth. Two days before the sun had let loose one of it most powerful class of flares. Even though the flare was not directly headed to earth, the ejected plasma was expected to react with our earth’s magnetic field and cause some auroras! My goal for the night was to tie together two cultural pieces of Alaska – dog mushing and the aurora. Incredibly, the aurora started showing up on my camera at 6:00 PM on my camera along with the moonrise. On an ‘ordinary’ night the aurora will begin at 10PM – the early aurora was a good omen for what was to come!
From a technical standpoint this is one of my favorite auroras I’ve captured. The stars were pin-point sharp and as you’ll see the pan over a dog-sled adds a ton! Shooting over the activity of the dogs was a lot of fun – but I had to leave so they would kennel up. If you have ever been around a group of sled dogs they bark, bay, and howl when strangers are around!
Artistically, the reds are some of the nicest colors I’ve captured. They only appeared for about 25 minutes during the night, but it was stunning! Sitting under the aurora, I thought of the old adage “Red Sky At Night, Sailor’s Delight”, and thus the title of this post was born!
I arrived home at 5:00am and the aurora was still dancing over the Sustainable Village. I snapped a couple of captures for finally calling it a night, which you’ll see below. Overall the aurora was visible for 12 hours due to the x-flare activity!
The timelapse video here captures the reds of a beautiful aurora and a little slice of life at the Black Spruce Dog Kennels.