Digital Eyes On Alaska
28 digital photographers shoot 11,000 pics on a cruise.

By Arthur Bleich

Armed with a variety of digital cameras, 28 photographers gathered in Vancouver, BC, during the early summer of 2003, primed to shoot images that would capture the essence of Alaska as they cruised northward through the majestic Inside Passage.

The panhandle section of the „last frontierš has a diversity of wonders. Craggy, snow-capped mountains sweep down to narrow fjords, eagles swirl through turbulent skies, whales splash noisily in the steel-gray waters, and glaciers creep relentlessly toward the sea. Russian priests still hold services in churches replete with gold icons for the descendants of Indians who converted to Christianity over a century ago. Tribal ceremonies, though, have been preserved and Native Alaskans still carve stunning wooden masks and impressive totems.

The photographers, aged 20 to 80, came from all over the United States and Canada to participate in a digital photography workshop sponsored by Digital Camera Magazine, Epson, Olympus, and Xlibris Publishers. There were engineers, legal secretaries, teachers, a financial advisor, waitress, doctor, librarian, dress patternmaker, ad agency art director, and others, all eager to get the kind of hands-on instruction that would lift their images out of the ordinary. Their cameras ranged from two megapixel, $200 point-and-shoots to six megapixel, $7,000-plus digital SLRs.

Participants attended intensive onboard lectures on technique and esthetics that quickly taught them how to see subjects in new and creative ways. They had access to Olympus ultra-zoom cameras when they needed them for wildlife and landscape pictures, and round-the-clock access to Epson printers. In the evenings, they sat in on critiquing sessions where digital images they had shot that day were projected on a large screen, allowing feedback from the instructor and their classmates.

During their time ashore, attendees planned their activities and excursions according to their interests. Some meandered around town shooting local attractions while others took float planes, helicopters, and small boats to visit glaciers, remote mountain lakes, and isolated islands teeming with wild life. This gave the photographers a chance to exercise their own vision, putting into practice many of the techniques they had learned during class sessions.

The weather in Southeast Alaska was, as usual, rainy or overcast. Ketchikan, the ship‚s first port of call, gets socked with 180 inches of precipitation a year; Juneau and Sitka have nearly as much. But the overcast days were excellent for photographyŲ colors became richly saturated, and both faces and places took on a soft and lovely look. Scenery was almost mystical, as menacing cloud formations scudded across the sky, dipping down here and there to caress a favorite mountain, or skittering up windy channels like ethereal tumbleweeds.

Even though the photographers sometimes returned to the ship looking like drenched rats, they were happy rats, knowing they had photographed scenes out of the ordinary: magnificent ice-scapes, indigenous wildlife, bits and pieces of the small towns along the way, intimate shots of the people who lived and worked there, some wonderful examples of Native arts and crafts, and more.

What impressed most of the attendees was how quickly their work improved after they started putting some of the techniques they had learned onboard into practice. And moving out on their own, instead of in a group, got them out of the herd mentality, where everyone points cameras at the same subject, usually from the same viewpoint, resulting in look-alike images.

When the week-long voyage ended, more than 11,000 digital images were submitted for editing into a book (see Publish Your Own Photo Book) and the tough task of selecting 74 of the best began. Here are some of those pictures. Enjoy!

-Arthur H. Bleich (arthur@dpcorner.com) is a photographer, writer, and educator who lives in Miami. He does assignments for major publications both in the U.S. and abroad, and conducts online photo courses and digital photography workshop cruises. Visit his Digital PhotoCorner at <www.dpcorner.com>



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