Jon Cornforth took to the water to capture the wonders of the great northwest.
Capturing the Landscape
The biggest challenge in photographing dramatic landscapes in southeastern Alaska is limited sunlight—it’s just too cloudy most of the time. The image from Khadashan Valley conveys what it usually looks like: lowhanging gray clouds and rain.
Even in these conditions, I use a polarizer to reduce glare on foliage to make the green more vibrant. For most landscapes I prefer a focal length around 28mm or equivalent, which allows for a balance between foreground and background subject without exaggerating one over the other.
The photo of floating icebergs in front of the Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park is not a picture you can get from the deck of 10-story-high cruise ship. I spend a lot of time drifting among the icebergs in my little inflatable, a serene experience to have a place like this all to myself.
Since the weather is so consistently awful in Southeast, the rare days that I get to shoot dramatic sunrise or sunset colors are all the more rewarding. Usually, there are plenty of dramatic clouds in the sky when that fleeting golden light appears, as in the shot of Johns Hopkins Inlet. When my alarm went off at 3 a.m. and I saw blue sky to the east, I jumped into my inflatable and sped off to the low tide that I knew would strand hundreds of icebergs on the moraine bar in front of the Lamplugh Glacier. I used a Singh-Ray 3-stop split neutral- density filter to balance the contrast in this dramatic scene.
One early May, I was lucky to have golden light while exploring Leland Island in Glacier Bay. I tied my inflatable securely to the shore and set off for the shellcovered beaches on the island’s south side. The clouds parted that afternoon, and sun bathed the Beartrack Mountains.
The most difficult location that I have photographed with the aid of my boat was outside the Inside Passage—Letuya Bay, located on the outer coast of Glacier Bay. It took me two summers of waiting for the right weather conditions to safely motor there and back. I spent a week waiting for the right light to photograph the incredible display of wildflowers along La Chaussee Spit.
While I never got the epic sunset light that I was hoping for, this image still captures the drama of this impossible-to-reach location.
Seattle-based Jon Cornforth grew up sailing and has more than 20 years of backpacking experience. He leads photo tours everywhere from Alaska to Patagonia. Check out his website, www.cornforthimages.com.