Arctic photographers

March 14, 2008 at 1:25 am | Posted in Links, Photography | Leave a comment
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I am not the only one who has the head on the north and the body in the south. This couple, Bryan and Cherry Alexander, are specialists in arctic and antarctic photography, and they made a living of that. You may take a look at their website here. They have also a very interesting FAQ section:

What film do you use?

Bryan prefers to use Fuji Astia for his shoots as it gives the flesh tones and snow colours he likes, he is still testing other films now that Astia is being withdrawn.

Cherry uses a combination of Fuji Provia and Velvia depending on the colour saturation required, she will use the Provia 400F which is good in low light.

What camera does Bryan use?

Because Bryan frequently works for weeks on end in temperatures of -40 and lower, he chooses to use his old manual Canon F1’s. They use zinc and air batteries, have fast, light lenses and he doesn’t have to carry a ton of batteries with him. In more temperate climates he uses a Leica M5.

What camera does Cherry use?

Cherry works with the Canon EOS system using EOS1N bodies and 17-35mm/2.8 28-70mm/2.8 80-200mm/2.8 and the 300/4 IS lenses. This is possible because she usually has access to battery charging facilities and doesn’t work below -40. The Blue iceberg picture was taken on a Canon T90 with the manual 80-200mm zoom.

What accessories do you use?

Working in the extreme cold makes it tough to work with fiddly accessories, filters often lock onto the lens at temperatures below zero, so Bryan tends to rely on nature for special lighting effects. Cherry however, when time allows, uses polarisers, ND graduated filters, starbursts and fill flash, all carried in a backpack.

Can I carry your cameras?

You wouldn’t want to! They carry heavy backpacks, work long unsociable hours and get really mean when they don’t get the shots they want!

How did you start specialising in cold areas?

Bryan and Cherry met while they were both studying photography at the London College of Printing in 1967. Bryan did his thesis on ‘Photography in Cold Climates’. He also won a Royal Society of Arts bursary which allowed him to spend three months in the North of Greenland living with the Inuit people there. Bryan & Cherry travelled together with a Sami family on their spring migration in 1972. In 1980 Bryan photographed a book on North West Greenland for Time Life Books and they gave up their other jobs and concentrated on photography. Every year finds them visiting new, exciting places.

How do you keep warm?

Layers! Good thermal underwear close to the skin and a suitable selection of thin layers under a windproof outer garment. For serious extremes a hooded down jacket and padded trousers are welcome.

Summer in the arctic or Antarctica doesn’t require nearly as many clothes, but you will need a windproof outer layer and good insect repellent for the sub Arctic.

How do you keep your cameras working in the cold?

Bryan’s manual cameras usually stay outside any tents at the ambient temperature. minus whatever. Care needs to be taken about condensation, taking a freezing camera into a warm environment will result in a layer of condensation. Never take off a lens or change a film in these conditions or you will get moisture in side your camera. When changing temperatures either leave your camera bag closed for many hours until it is the same temperature as the room, or put the equipment you need into sealed plastic bags, the smaller amounts of equipment warm up much quicker.

Cherry recently had her Canon 5D and 20D at the South Pole with her and they worked well at -25C. All her L lenses continued working and autofocusing at that temperature but the 28-135mm wasn’t at all happy and refused to autofocus.

The Canon 511a batteries soon got cold and stopped working and to avoid the inconvenience of constantly swapping batteries from warm pockets into the camera, Cherry had purchased external power packs from Digital Camera Batteries The 40 Watt NiMH never ran out on her even when she was using it to run both the 5D and the 550 Flash gun for several hours and many exposures. The power pack is slim and fits snugly under a warm jacket, they are so unobtrusive that Cherry often didn’t bother to take them off while indoors for meals, she just unplugged the camera and left it outside in the camera bag. This is an excellent piece of equipment that overcomes many of the problems of working with battery powered cameras and flash at low temperatures.

Handwarmers are very good for keeping the ambient temperature of a camera bag above zero and Cherry put several in her camera bag both for overnight and before starting shooting in the morning but the LCD displays weren’t as unhappy in the cold as she had expected.

What is your favourite Charity?

Survival International, the charity that supports indigenous people.

Do either of you do talks?

Not without the offer of huge amounts of money or unusual locations!

I have to find more information about that charity, for a next post!

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