Land of fire and ice
The very name Yukon summons up thoughts of wide-open space – and Simon Blakesley is capturing its full beauty
I’m fortunate to live in an incredibly scenic part of the world. Canada’s Yukon Territory still has wide-open spaces untouched by the human hand, and a wide variety of wild animals. The weather conditions can be challenging, particularly in winter; at times the temperature can fall to -40°C, making outdoor photography as much as a survival pursuit as a hobby! I’m a former Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft mechanic, and I love shooting aircraft as well as nature.
That the Yukon is north of 60 degrees makes for short days where the sun sets at 3:30pm. In December, the light is never pure ‘white’ sunlight, but always has a warmer colour temperature due to its low angle to the horizon. A benefit of
At times the temperature can fall to -40ºC, making outdoor photography as much a survival pursuit as a hobby!
this is that sunrise and sunset take much longer to transpire, resulting in long dusk periods where the light is very colourful.
Preparation is required when shooting in cold climates, both for comfort and safety. Warm clothing is a must; skin freezes in less than a minute at -35°C (and it burns if your bare fingers touch an aluminium tripod at that temperature!) so adequate mitts and gloves are crucial. Checking the weather report is important, as a cold, clear
forecast can make for great conditions, particularly if the aurora borealis is predicted.
Materials snap more easily when frozen, so it’s important to treat equipment gently. I keep my equipment well insulated in a Kata pack, and on longer trips I carry a plug-in charger in my car to top up my batteries as they drain faster when it is cold. I always use a lens hood to keep the snow off my lens. Once home, I allow my gear to ‘thaw’ in the backpack for an hour or more before taking it out, to avoid condensation build-up.
I use a Nikon D800 with a D600 as backup, particularly on shoots for aviation clients where they’re paying dearly for the flight time. Both cameras perform flawlessly in tough conditions. I use a selection of Nikon lenses – the 80-400mm for animals and aircraft, a 24120mm as an all-rounder, and a 16-35mm for landscapes and cockpits. I carry a 50mm f/1.8G for emergencies, as I’ve dropped and destroyed a lens before.
On really cold nights I enjoy processing my images, using Lightroom 5 for regular adjustments and Nik Silver Efex Pro to convert to black and white. I believe the photographer’s creative vision makes the photograph.
01 Fire an d Ice, Kathl een Lak e Nikon D300s, Nikon AF-S 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF VR DX, 1/80 sec, f/10, ISO320
03 CP-140 Aurora in a snow sto rm Nikon D80, Nikon AF-S 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF VR DX, 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO250
03 02 Frost on th e Yukon Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED IF VR, 1/250 sec, f/22, ISO200