Photography equipment that I use

What's Inside my Camera Bag

One of the questions I get asked most often is in regards to the camera equipment I shoot with. Over the years I have owned many different brands of cameras. I started photography with a Minolta film camera, then moved on to own other brands including Pentax, Olympus, Mamiya, Canon & Nikon. When I was shooting as a beginner and amateur, I constantly sought the guidance of those established pro photographers whom inspired me. I wanted to know what camera gear they used to capture their amazing images. I have put this page together to provide info and answers to frequent questions I get from people. In this blog post, you will get a chance to take a peek inside my camera bag to see what I carry with me.

Cameras & Lenses

I have used Nikon cameras since 1980 after switching from a Canon system. At the time, I was using Nikon pro-film cameras such as the Nikon F4. Today, my current gear bag includes two camera bodies, a Nikon D3s and D4, both full-frame digital SLRs or DSLR. Among some of the lenses that I own, I have a Nikon 16mm f/2.8 fisheye which can be a fun lens to work with and one that sometimes use for northern lights photography.

My choice of lenses covers a versatile focal length. My telephoto Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 is my 'go to' lens. It is a very nice lens, somewhat heavy but the image quality and ability to diffuse backgrounds make it an essential for my kit list. I absolutely love this lens! I keep this lens on my D3s camera body most of the time while shooting in Alaska. For me, the 80-200mm f/2.8 is a great all-round lens and covers many situations such as shooting from our vehicle to people portraits. I often use this telephoto zoom for scenics as you can isolate distant compositions, essential for landscapes and seascapes from a sightseeing vessel in the fjords. Sometimes I use my Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8  if I want a wider angle when working from vessels.  This lens is capable of capturing pin-sharp images at very low shutter speeds, even when handheld.

Lastly, I have a huge 300mm f/2.8 monster telephoto lens! This lens is amazing and the clarity is phenomenal. This is a hefty lens which requires a lot of respect, therefore I always use this with a tripod. I have used it handheld along with a Nikon 1.4 Teleconverter but you need to make sure you have high shutter speeds to maintain sharpness. I use this lens for most of my wildlife photography. With the teleconverter on, it gives me a total of 420mm without loosing any image quality. This converter is amazing and I have yet to see any image quality issues!

How I carry along two cameras

I am convinced that sling straps are the way to go for me. They are easy to use, comfortable to wear, and are safer if you are climbing around to get a shot because the camera is less in the way. If you need to carry two cameras like I do, the Black Rapid Double is an excellent choice. From a purely material perspective, it is expensive for what it is, but it is not unreasonable for what it does which is make shooting faster, easier, and more effective while reducing muscle stress and physical fatigue. It kind of depends on your perspective, but for me it rates as one of my better gear buys. There is no better way to carry and shoot with two cameras in my opinion.

The Black Rapid Double is great for shooting with two cameras using hand holdable lenses. For example, I put a 80-200mm on my Nikon D3s on one side and a 300mm F2.8 on my Nikon D4 on the other and loved the ease with which I could change cameras. Lower one and pick up the other; I can’t imagine anything quicker.

Camera Support

For those days when you want to catch a sunset or the northern lights, you won’t want to be without your tripod. Traveling with a heavy, bulky tripod is no longer painful. I own a carbon fiber Manfrotto tripod with a Giotto ball head. My tripod has travelled thousands of miles and has seen all types of weather conditions.  All my lenses and camera bodies are fitted with Kirk Enterprises quick-release plates. I've replaced the lens foot on my Nikkor 300mm and installed Kirk L-Brackets on both cameras which make it very easy to put on and take off the tripod and adds ease switching from horizontal to vertical mounting positions.

Remote Camera Release

I've recently invested in a Hahnel Giga T Pro II remote release which operates wired or wireless. This set up works well for northern lights photography or long exposure shots. This is a very handy addition to my gear. Very reliable.

Memory Cards, Storage and Image Processing

When away from the office, I use an Apple MacBook Pro 15" to review and edit images, storing them on LaCie 1TB Rugged firewire drives. I use a LaCie RAID hard drives to store my images. For image storage for my Nikon cameras while shooting, I use SanDisk 64Gb memory cards for the simple reason that I have never had an issue with them. Each of my Nikon cameras have dual memory card slots for a combined storage total of 128Gb each!

When I get done for the day, I will edit all of the photos using Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. Post image processing is part 2 of making a great photograph.

Accessories

For lighting, I use Nikon SB800 Speedlights and I also carry a Photoflex 20" reflector disc. For cleaning, I use lens cloths which are critical for dust, sand, and dirt that appear on your lenses. A “puffer style” blower will keep your mirrors and sensor spotless. I also carry several sizes of zip lock bags especially if I am heading off to a wet or rainy location. I like to keep a couple spare gallon sized zip lock bags to hold lenses and camera when you need to keep shooting in spite of the weather. I also use them to put my camera inside the bags to avoid condensation caused by moving camera from very cold temperatures to room temperature. I also carry a few filters with me such a ND 9-stop filter which I use for waterfalls or other cool effects; Circular polarzer filters and a few graduated filters.

Traveling with all that gear

No tourist bags here. When you are traveling on a photographic journey, you need to protect your gear with something durable, water resistant, and maintain accessibility. After many years trying to find the right bag to carry all of my stuff, I found the F-stop bags. This is my bag of choice to transport my gear around when traveling and I have their Tilopa backpack. The main compartment has enough space for my Nikon D3s & D4 camera bodies, 80-200mm 2.8 lens, 24-70mm 2.8 lens, 16mm 2.8 lens, 300mm 2.8 lens, two Nikon Speedlights, and a 1Tb external hard drive. In the zipper top inside, I can keep my lens cloths and cleaner, my card reader, my extra CF cards and any other small items I may need. There are other pockets and webbing on the outside of this bag to carry a tripod, rain jacket or parka, etc. Finally, the there is a zipper compartment on the front of the bag where I can keep my iPad. I love this backpack not only because it holds all of my camera gear pictured here but the fact that it also fits perfectly in the overhead compartments of airplanes.

When is the best time to travel to Alaska?

Much of Alaska can turn quite frigid in the winter; summers there can best be described as generally comfortably warm, or on the cool side, but not cold. The largest number of visitors reach Alaska on cruise ships, often beginning and ending in Vancouver, BC., that travel the Inside Passage most of the way to Alaska. This route takes you through the chain of islands that stretch up the Pacific Coast of Canada and southern Alaska.

One of the best times to visit Alaska is in the shoulder seasons, May and September. Alaska has a short visitor season and during the peak summer months, availability is limited, particularly in the popular destinations such as Denali Park. Generally, the earlier you reserve space, the better. Alaska does not handle the volume of tourists that many other National Park destinations
experience, so availability can be limited.

The advantages of early season travel are numerous. The weather is consistently good in May and drier throughout much of the state. Warm spring days aided by long hours of daylight bring Alaska's wildflowers out in full bloom. The wildlife viewing is also excellent in May since the larger animals are migrating and in lower elevations where the snow has disappeared. Alaska is not as crowded and you are able to take advantage of early season specials and
lower rates statewide.


September is also a good time to visit Alaska. Fall comes early to Alaska and many of the trees are blazing yellow and red by early September. Combine the bright yellow colors of the aspen and willow trees with the blazing red tundra plants and you have the best fall colors experience Alaska has to offer. In Denali National Park, Polychrome Pass earns it name. As a backdrop, the tallest mountains, will have fresh snow on their peaks while the lower elevations are still dry. Wildlife search opportunities also improve in late season, as the larger mammals begin feeding in the lower elevations in an attempt to pack on as much winter weight as possible.

During the summer months Alaska averages 19 hours of daylight in Anchorage, 22 in Fairbanks, and 18 in Southeast. But from early May through September, days are considerably longer than at lower latitudes. Alaska's sky is light nearly all night long from late May to late July. Alaska's summers are slightly rainier than the rest of the U.S. Alaska's summer temperatures are surprisingly pleasant. Daytime highs range from 60°F – 80°F. Nighttime lows are cool, dipping into the 40's – 50's. May and September are 5° – 10° cooler.

So When's the Best Season to Visit Alaska?

June 15 – July 15 as the best time to visit Alaska. But not everyone can visit during that month window, and that's no problem. Alaska weather is not predictable. You can come in August and bask in sunshine or in June and face driving rain plus strong winds.

Alaskans have learned not to let weather interfere with their plans or mood. If the weather were better, it wouldn't stay Alaska for long; it would start to look more like Los Angeles. If you're worried about Alaska mosquitoes come the last week in July or first week in August. Night frost will have killed off a lot of the mosquitoes, but you will have to put up with chillier evenings.

Many visitors to Alaska see the state from large cruise ships. While these ships allow people to “visit” Alaska, they don’t offer opportunities for any more then passive viewing from a distance. Land tours allows you enjoy Alaska in the way that you desire. With a land tour, instead of being forced to do what the cruise ship is doing, you can do what you want to do. Visiting Alaska can and should be a trip of a lifetime. The majestic waterways, mountains, glaciers and wildlife provide an ideal environment for sightseeing. Touring the Alaskan wilderness by land is one of the most rewarding and most unique experiences available.

Large cruise ships and the cruises they embark on are not geared toward optimizing your experience, they are geared toward optimizing profits. The large cruise ships don’t have any regard for what you want to do on a particular day, or where you would like to go. They may attempt to ensure that you have a good time while on your cruise, but the large number of passengers hampers their ability to cater to those aboard.


Many of the large cruise liners that cruise Alaska's waters carry over 3,000 passengers. Their immense size and huge number of passengers greatly reduces the Alaskan experience for visitors. Alaska's amazing wilderness should be experienced rather then merely passed through.

Planet Earth Adventures keeps its groups small to keep that unique individuality and personal touch. We combine land tours with day cruises. We use smaller cruise boats that allows for travel into the most remote and inaccessible places in Alaska. So come to Alaska this summer . . . and Discover the Real Alaska with Us!

 

The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous (Fur Rondy) - Truly Alaskan!

Anchorage's annual Fur Rendezvous Winter Festival also known as the Fur Rondy has celebrated the start of spring in Alaska since 1937. The Fur Rondy Festival is a significant part of the history and tradition of Anchorage. The name "Fur Rendezvous" derives from swap meets at which fur trappers would gather to sell their winter harvests. In the early days of Anchorage, these swap meet usually took place in mid-February. Back then, Anchorage had a population of roughly 3,000 people and it was very isolated, so to bring the community together, resident Vern Johnson organized a three day sports tournament, called the Winter Sports Carnival, which was timed to coincide with the rendezvous. Now days, this annual event takes place at the end of February and ties in with the Iditarod.

only in Alaska . . .

One of my favorite events, the Running of the Reindeer, which I consider to be a parody to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, has also been the crowd favorite since it began. On the first Saturday in March, after the Iditarod Ceremonial Start, several tame reindeer (called caribou in North America) are let loose along a two block section in the middle of downtown Anchorage, as costumed participants run with them in a mad dash to the finish line.

Some of the Fur Rondy Events:

  • Rondy Grand Prix - The Oldest Street Race in the U.S.
  • Official Fur Rondy Fur Auction - the descendant of the original fur trade rendezvous, present since the earliest days.
  • Miners' and Trappers' Charity Ball.
  • The World Championship Sled Dog Race debuted in 1946 and has become the cornerstone event of the Festival bringing teams of sled dogs and mushers to Anchorage from across Alaska and all over the world.
  • World Championship Dog Weight Pull (since 1967) - sled dogs attempt to pull the greatest weight
  • Snow Sculpture Competition.
  • Fur Rondy Carnival.
  • Frostbite Footrace - Costumed competitors run through downtown Anchorage
  • Rondy Grand Parade.
  • Running of the Reindeer.
  • Rondy on Ice - figure skating show.
  • World Ice Bowling Championships.

Click Here for Complete Event Schedule

Event Registration and Forms

Official Fur Rondy Website

This 10 day annual event has something for everyone, from contests and culture, sled dog races and snow sculptures, fur auctions and fireworks. Don't miss the Running of the Reindeer, the Miners & Trappers Charity Ball, the Native Arts Market. If you happen to be visiting us during this time of year, make sure to stop and visit the Rondy Shop at 4th & D in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.

Event Date: February 21 to March 2, 2014

PHOTOS: COPYRIGHT © 2014 ALBERT MARQUEZ/PLANET EARTH ADVENTURES, LLC.

Dog Sledding in Alaska

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For thousands of years, sled dogs were an important method of transportation for the people of the north, hauling supplies in areas that were inaccessible by other methods. Until snowmachines became reliable, dog teams delivered mail and supplies to rural communities in Alaska. Sled dogs today are still being used by some rural communities in Alaska. The beginnings of sled dog racing began in Alaska in 1908 with the All-Alaska Sweepstakes. In 1925, there was a diphtheria outbreak in Nome Alaska. There was not enough serum in Nome to treat the people infected by this disease. There was serum in Nenana but the town was over 700 miles away, and it was inaccessible except by dog sled. A dog sled relay was set up by the villages between Nenana and Nome, and dog teams worked together to relay the serum to Nome. It took six days for the serum to reach Nome.

In 1973, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race got started, and its popularity grew over the years. Today, the race is the most popular sporting event in Alaska, where the top mushers and their teams of dogs are local celebrities. This popularity is credited with the resurgence of recreational mushing in the state since the 1970s. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long distance sled dog race that starts on the first Saturday in March on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage. The Iditarod trail goes from Anchorage to Nome (1,049 miles) and it takes about 8 - 10 days to complete. There is a northern route and a southern route and these are used on alternate years (north in even numbered years). The winning musher takes home a large cash prize and the last musher to finish the race extinguishes and wins a red lantern at the finish line.

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No one who races sled dogs is going to get filthy rich any time soon, even if they win Alaska's Iditarod Race. The prize for winning the Iditarod race is roughly about $50,000 and a brand new Dodge Ram truck. That money doesn't even pay for the annual dog food bill for many competitive mushers, who keep dozens of dogs in kennels geared to breed the sturdiest, fastest runners. Some mushers spend upwards of $70,000 per year to feed and care for their dogs. For many mushers, they solely rely on sponsors, part-time work and prizes from other smaller races.

Now I bring out the controversy over dog sledding and I know that this may upset some folks out there. There is a lot of people and groups like PETA portraying that the Iditarod is an inhumane race that kills dogs. Some people feel it is cruel to make a dog run or pull people for our pleasure, similar to saying it is cruel to make a horse carry a person. Those who want the race to end are disseminating information that can be misleading at best and inaccurate at worst. What many people who are against the Iditarod don’t realize is that the people who work with sled dogs love for and care for their dogs. Only the people who abuse their dogs end up in the news because our society is far more interested in all the negative stories than in positive ones. The Iditarod is a race, which when run responsibly, is a way for these animals to fulfill their athletic abilities and for mushers to bond with their dogs in a way most pet owners can’t even comprehend.
Mushers have a very close relationship with their dogs and consider them as family. These dogs are work dogs, meaning they need to have a job to do or they can become restless and self-destructive. These dogs actually like doing their job unlike many humans. These dogs need to run long distances, which is why huskies have a reputation for running away. Most home owners think that a 30 minute walk twice a day is sufficient exercise for their dogs. Sled dogs need several hours of exercise every day. They are pack animals and need the company of other dogs.

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I am a dog/animal lover and the last thing in this world I would want to see are animals being treated badly or made to do something un-natural. Over the last 20 years in Alaska, I’ve seen all of it, with my own eyes, experienced it, visited many dog kennels and talked to a lot of mushers and I am here to tell you that I completely disagree with that point of view. You cannot force a dog to run. If a dog doesn’t want to run they will likely lie down or back out of its harness and there is nothing you can do to get the dog back up. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to see a team get hooked up knows that the problem is not getting the dogs to run, the problem is getting them to stop. When you put harnesses on the dogs, they pull forward in harness. They have not been taught or trained to do this and this is natural for them. These animals love what they do. Their excitement when they see the harnesses and sleds come out is beyond words.

I challenge you to witness this first hand before you make any judgement or make up your mind that making these dogs run is the wrong thing to do. The wrong thing to do would be to not let these dogs do this! We offer tours to see this Last Great Race. Come and see for yourself what this event is all about and watch as thousands of excited dogs pack downtown Anchorage on their personal quest to Nome.

Check out our up-coming Iditarod & Northern Lights Tour.

NASA Predicts Great Aurora Viewing for 2014

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Right now, there’s huge excitement among those of us who hunt for the aurora borealis, also called the northern lights. The lights are historically at their most frequent and spectacular when the sun reaches the peak of its 11-year cycle of activity. This peak is known as Solar Maximum, and NASA is predicting it for the autumn of 2013. NASA’s prediction is based in part on the number of sunspots originating on our star’s surface and, as the name would suggest, Solar Maximum is when the frequency of sunspots peaks.

Senior NASA scientists have predicted that the current period of solar maximum activity will reach a new peak in December affording travelers to the far north the best possible conditions for seeing the Northern Lights in the next decade. The intensity and frequency of Northern Lights activity is governed by a solar cycle that lasts for 11 years and the point of a “solar flip” is the one at which the conditions for viewing the lights (also known as the aurora borealis) would be at their best. The current period of solar maximum activity has already had one peak – towards the end of 2011 to early 2012 and for the past two winters there have been reports of spectacular sightings involving the full range of colors associated with the phenomenon. With the second peak now coming at the end of this year, strong sightings are set to continue this winter and into the winter of 2014-2015. All of this is great news for travelers who are planning to travel to Northern Lights destinations as the experts have now accurately predicted the peak of the most intense period of activity for the next 11 years. With scientists now putting a date to the peak of the solar max, there is no better time to visit our top northern lights destinations and we are seeing a huge increase in the number of people contacting us that want to get a glimpse of this incredible phenomenon.

Viewings of the northern lights are never guaranteed even at times of a solar maximum as cloud cover inevitably prevent you from seeing the show. We suggest that you allow yourself at least 3-4 days dedicated for northern lights viewing. The longer you allow yourself in the aurora borealis region, the greater your chances of a viewing. Planet Earth Adventures is an Alaska travel company that specializes in tours to view the aurora. In Alaska, we recommend Fairbanks as the ultimate place to see the lights. Located about 359 miles north of the Anchorage, Fairbanks is located under the aurora oval. Some good spots for lights-viewings as both are behind the University of Alaska near Ester & Murphy Domes; Cleary Summit and Chena Hot Springs which are all located away from any detracting artificial lights. Many companies offering northern lights tours have recorded a surge in demand for trips during the period of solar maximum and many have expanded their itineraries.

What are the Northern Lights?
Displays of the Northern Lights occur when solar particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere and on impact emit burning gases that produce different colored lights (oxygen produces green and yellow; nitrogen blue). The scientific term for the lights is the aurora borealis (named after the Roman goddess of the dawn). A similar spectacle in the southern hemisphere is known as the aurora australis.

Where can I see them?
The aurora borealis occurs in an oval shaped area located above the magnetic pole. The best sightings are within the “aurora oval” (rather than at the pole itself), and away from artificial light and moonlight.
The oval rotates with the sun, and it may grow and shrink in size considerably in only a matter of hours. The most spectacular displays occur in the northern parts of the following areas: the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland (including all of Greenland and Svalbard), Alaska, Canada and Russia.

When is the best time to go?
Displays of the lights are notoriously unpredictable and cannot be forecast in advance. In the northern hemisphere, the aurora season runs from late September or early October to late March. The lights may be seen at any time during this period, but late October, November, February and March are the best bets.

Displays are governed by an 11 year cycle and are at their most dramatic during times of high solar activity, such as now, but sightings can be recorded at any time. It is impossible to guarantee a viewing even during a period of solar maximum but if the sky is cloudy, the lights will be concealed. For more information about Northern Lights Tours, call us at (907) 717-9666 or click the link below.

Check out our Northern Lights Tour