Benny arrived from LA a few days ago and today we went on our first photo flight. Benny is a professional photographer and specializes in aerial photography. He brought with him several high-powered cameras and helped me figure out how to use the one I bought from him on ebay. My camera uses 5 inch wide negative film to take 4”x5” photos, compared to 35mm film which is less than 1” squared. One of Benny’s cameras takes 8”x10” photos. He built this camera himself, machining it out of a solid block of aluminum to be lightweight and aerodynamic. Another camera has 39 megapixel resolution, compared to my high-end Nikon which has only 12 megapixels, and it also has 12 stop dynamic range, which greatly exceeds a digital Nikon at about 6 and even black and white film at 10. So we looked forward to getting some high-resolution photos of the glaciers here within their mountain settings, both as a scientific record of their extents and to aid with interpretations of the new topographic map made with lidar.
The weather today unfortunately took a turn for the worse. Unlike the previous several days, the clouds never settled down at night and it was a clear that a new weather system was moving in. So lidar was shut down. But we had already scheduled Dirk to come in from Coldfoot and really our primary focus of this trip was to collect some GPS ground control for the lidar, and this still seemed possible. So we loaded up the plane with camera and GPS gear and headed off.
Our first stop was McCall Glacier. Before the weather got any worse, I wanted to see whether it would be possible to land there directly on the ice. Jason was ready on the ground to flag out the area he thought best. Unfortunately the snow hadn’t completely cleared and conditions weren’t suitable for landing. We still had some food and gear with us for the glacier crew, so we ended up dropping it to them. Most stuff survived, but we learned a few things about packaging. After this we headed off to take a few pictures.
Though we traveled through a few showers, in general the weather was fine for photography and we spent some time in the upper Jago and Okpilak valleys. Benny sat in the back and shot out of the open door, while I was in front shooting out of the open window. Shooting with the 8x10 camera is a challenge. After each shot, the film has to be removed and replaced with another sheet. A few days earlier we had preloaded a bunch of film into holders, which must be done in complete darkness. Given the 24 hour daylight here, this required use of a “dark tent” specially made for this purpose. Another challenge in the air is that the wind wants to rip the film out of your hand; fortunately this never occurred here, but Benny had some stories about this from previous experience and came up with a system to prevent it from happening again. In any case, in about 30 minutes we saw a lot of nice scenery and were able to capture many glaciers. We didn’t linger too long here as the weather was threatening and we still had GPS work to do.
Benny loads film inside the dark tent.
Benny shoots the enormous 8x10 camera he built.
The GPS work went well, though I did get a bit wet. Our first stop was the mid-Jago strip where we deployed the base station a week earlier. The others decided to wait in the plane has a thunderstorm passed over us, also making me a little nervous walking around with an antenna on my back as lightening crackled within the valley. But I didn’t get fried while collecting the ground points and the base station was still in good shape. Next we went to the Bitty strip, where we began our hike last year. The weather here was better, but bugs were out in medium force, and I don’t think Benny believed us when we said that they get much worse that this. But within an hour we had collected a bunch of points and we were on our way back to Kaktovik having successfully completed our missions. I think Benny was happiest of all, as he had never been to Alaska or the Arctic before, and this was a pretty spectacular up-close-and-personal visit to some of the most remote and beautiful scenery in the country. It remains to be seen whether any of our films exposed correctly or not, but the digital cameras seemed to hold out.
The GPS base station was still standing, though a bit drippy.
Dirk’s Beaver on the Bitty strip on the Jago River in the coastal plain. (Click on the panorama and drag to look around, press Shift to zoom in, Command (Mac) or Control (PC) to zoom out.) Enlarge this panorama
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Tuesday, 08 July 2008 21:50
Day 78: High-resolution aerial photographyWritten by Matt Nolan
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