I was invited to take a trip up the Taku River this past weekend, and since the adjacent glacier has been on my list of must-visit location for several years now, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The visit proved to be so packed with adventure that a narrative describing it would be far to long to fit the format of this blog. Instead, though it doesn’t include the moose sighting or glacier calving, I think a photo essay will best sum up the experience.
A late night drive to the Shrine of St. Therese proved to be a real treat when significantly more clouds than expected hung around to catch the light. Then, while working on another wide-angle composition, I heard it. The explosion of air and saltwater spray nearly made me jump, and I turned to see the arching humpback not thirty yards from me, not thirty feet from the water’s edge. I scrambled to my bag knowing that my wide angle lens would do nothing but diminish the sense of proximity I wanted to illustrate. I watched another spout as I hurriedly but carefully started swapping to a short telephoto zoom. Finally, so nearly ready, I looked up to see the whale flash her beautiful fluke and dive deep under the water. By the time she resurfaced, I was ready…but the spout was an eighth of a mile away. In the end, there was no artful record or even crude documentation, but what a rush! I wouldn’t trade having the experience for having the photo any day.
It’s unusual in the realm of digital photography that a couple of hours spent on location results in only two images being recorded. It’s unusual, but then again, so is everything else about a place locked under ice that is a hundred feet thick and thousands of years old. To say that light levels are low would be an enormous understatement, and so these photos are a tribute to both the photographic medium and the human eye. A visitor is fully able to perceive the beauties of the place while distracting elements within a scene are lost in the dimness. The camera, through the use of exposures stretching up near ten minutes and potentially beyond, is able to unleash a wealth of intricate and splendid details. The challenge to the artist is to merge these two disparate points of view within cramped quarters and with failing sight. While successful compositions are difficult to muster under the conditions, the lengthy exposure times (with the related long-exposure noise reduction) offer just a handful of chances. Fortunately, the sheer spectacle of the environment allows viewers to overlook small imperfections in the photographer to enjoy the magic of the cave.