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09.03.2012

For pure photographic opportunities Alaska is one of my favorite places on the globe. So spending time there each year is always one of the  highlights of my year. Follow along with me as I share images from a recent trip to one of the most amazing sites in SE Alaska, the Hubbard Glacier near Yakutat, Alaska. This is an amazing 76 mile long tidewater glacier with a face as high as a 10 story building.  The blue ice that you see in the images below looks interesting but amazingly this ice has taken 400 years to traverse the entire length of the glacier. The face of the glacier was impressive in itself but really the glacier is even more massive than it appears in the images as it reaches a height off 300 feet above the water line and it descends another 300 below the water line.

Hubbard Glacier fracture zone close up. Nikon D4, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 290mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/1250th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 220. Ev +.3. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

Although I brought along a few lenses including 24-70mm, 70-200mm and 50-500mm or the boat trip out to the glacier I ended using one almost exclusively. The 50-500 seemed to be the perfect choice as the glacier would crack, groan and pop, then explode, then huge chunks of ice would calve off the face of the glacier and into the Disenchantment Bay waters in an explosion of white water.

Hubbard glacier calving. Nikon D4, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 140mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/1250th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 280. Ev +.3. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

When the glacier would cave, you literally had a second or two to frame, focus and shoot from the moment you heard an ice column break off the foot of the glacier. Sometimes you would not even have enough time to grab another camera if you were caught asleep at the shutter with the wrong lens.

Any 10x telephoto zoom lens is going to be attractive tool for nature photography, but one that starts at 50mm and ends with a 500mm focal length sometimes seems almost too good to be true. A zoom like this allows you to concentrate on the action and timing not having to worry about using 2 or 3 cameras to cover the same focal range with smaller zooms or prime lenses.

Hubbard Glacier with the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park in the background. Nikon D4, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 140mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/1250th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 250. Ev +.3. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

Blue layer details, Hubbard Glacier. Nikon D4, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 290mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/1250th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 560. Ev +.3. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

Glacier ice is made up of layers of accumulated snow and ice under immense pressure, over time gives this pressure gives glacial ice the unique and attractive blue appearance.

The huge columns of ice found at the top of the glacier have the appearance of being from another world. Nikon D4, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 140mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/1250th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 250. Ev +.3. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

The top layer of a glacier is know as the fracture zone complete with deep cracks known as crevasses. Crevasses can be 150 feet or more in depth but in some cases can be 1,000 feet or even deeper.

Hubbard glacier shades or blue. Nikon D4, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 420mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/1250th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 450. Ev +.3. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

Black-legged Kittiwakes riding an iceberg in Disenchantment Bay Alaska. Nikon D4, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 340mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/1250th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 280. Ev +.7. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

The bay at the foot of the Hubbard Glacier know as Disenchantment Bay has miles and mile of icebergs and large chunks of floating ice. Thanks to a nearby kittiwake rookery there is no shortage of interesting subjects perched on the ice. You spend a serious amount of time here with the endless shapes and forms of ice. The ancient chunks of glacial ice found in the bay are deep dark blue to almost black.

Lupine and spruce in an old abandoned fishing boat. Nikon D800E, Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 @ 40mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/60th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 110. Ev +.7. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

Around the town of Yakutat are miles and miles of driftwood, beaches, forest and wildflowers.

Dragonfly perched on lupine in early morning light. Nikon D700, Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 170mm, handheld, manual mode, 1/500th sec, f8. Auto-ISO at 720. Image copyright Robert OToole Photography 2012. All rights reserved.

Early mornings are great for photographing dragonflies and other insects in Alaska as they can usually be found on sunning on rocks, flowers and tree stumps when it is too cold to fly. The Sigma 50-500mm has some great close up capability down to a 1:3 ratio at 300mm.

This was my first trip to the Hubbard Glacier area and the only problem I found was the limited amount of time I was able to spend there so I am planning on returning there again in 2013. If you have the chance to visit Alaska you should make plans to spend time at one of the many glaciers there, you wont regret it.

Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com

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  1. Beautiful work, Robert! I’ve learned so much just from reading your blog alone! Thanks!

  2. Thanks Cindy.

    How is everything is FL? I was just there last week!

    Robert

  3. Hi Robert!

    I’m just now catching your reply. Everything is great over here! Lots of birds out by the shores, especially Ft De Soto. Many of the local wildlife photographers starting to make Viera Wetlands and Orlando Wetlands their most visited spots around here. Merritt Island National Refuge is a bit slow, it depends on the day really. Otherwise, the west coast is a great place to bird right now.

    Hope you had a great time last week! Did you see my image of the Whistling Duck that Jack posted as Fan of the Week in the Sigma’s FB Timeline Cover. I’m getting better thanks to your many helpful tips on the blog! Keep them coming! :)

    Have a wonderful Fall!
    Cindy J Bryant