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Chasing Alpenglow

Aerial Photography in Southcentral Alaska

Story by Dan Bailey April 23rd, 2014

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My Little Yellow Cessna

Flying in the wintertime and during the weeks in early spring in Alaska is a real treat. The air is usually clear and stable, and the low sun makes for beautiful light all day long, which can make for great for aerial photography! I begin by doing a preflight check on my 1947 Cessna 120, warming up the engine with an MRS stove and homemade stovepipe, and clearing new snow out my parking spot at Merrill Field. Sometimes I bring passengers with me. They earn their ride by helping me shovel.
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What are these photos about?

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After takeoff, I start climbing to about 7,500-8,500 feet. When I reach an area that looks especially good for photography, I open the window, slow the plane down to about 70 mph and trim so that it flies straight. Then I pull out my camera and start shooting. At these altitudes, it’s usually about 10 degrees below zero outside of the plane. Gloves are mandatory.
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The Kichatna Spires

The Kichatna Spires are a remote group of jagged granite peaks in the Alaska Range, situated about 100 miles northwest of Anchorage. They’re a destination for hardcore alpine climbers. Last fall, I flew out there with my photographer friend Carl Battreal, and we spend about an hour and a half circling all around the different spires taking photos of these formations.

For aerial photography, I use a small mirrorless camera and set it on continuous mode. This allows me to compose images on the LCD screen and still pay attention to what’s going on outside. I never look through the viewfinder when I’m flying.

Also, I’m usually high enough the terrain and going slow enough that if anything did happen, I’d have enough room to recover. In smooth air, my little Cessna practically wants to fly itself. It’s kind of like riding a bike with no hands.

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What are these photos about?

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The Knik Glacier

The Knik Glacier cuts through the heart of the Chugach Mountains to the east of Anchorage. I love flying over the photographing the blue ice formations, it’s like another world out there! Just south of the Knik is Lake George, which often gets scoured by the wind off of the Colony Glacier. If there’s no snow, it’s possible to land on the frozen lake in the winter.

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I was much closer to the ground when I shot these photos. In these kinds of situations, I usually take another pilot friend with me. He takes over the controls so that I can safely concentrate on photography.

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The Neacola Mountains

The Neacolas are a subrange of non-volcanic jagged peaks that make up the northern end of the desolate Aleutian Range. At the edge of the Neacolas lie the Chigmit Mountains, which include Mount Redoubt, an active volcano. That’s Redoubt at the top of the photo below. Being part of the Ring of Fire, the highly volatile tectonic activity in this region causes all the mountain ranges in this area to be practically stacked right on top of each other. It’s rugged country!

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The Chugach Mountains

The Chugach Mountains sit right in Anchorage’s backyard, and it’s the area I explore most with my little plane. It’s the area I also explore the most by foot, skis and bike as well. I love chasing pink light around the Chugach, especially in the springtime, when I can head over to the airport after dinner, preheat, fly for an hour and be back before 9 or 10.

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Mt. Beezebub and the Devil’s Mistress.

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Technically the Kenai Mountains, these peaks are just a quick hop across the Turnagain Arm.

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Spring light around the Chugach.
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Flying home

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Footnote: Photos shot with the Fuji X-T1, X-E1, X20 and X10. Thanks for reading. Please share