Monday, November 24, 2008

Solutions - Tom Kline on Photographing Salmon in Alaska

I had a phone conversation with photographer Tom Kline recently. He lives in Alaska and does very interesting research and documentary photography with marine life of the region. We had been chatting about a polecam system he was using to photograph herring at night from a boat, which made me think of other photo-ops he might encounter that might be particularly challenging. Like, photographing salmon in local streams, for example.

Aside from the obvious challenge of not wanting to be where a grizzly bear might be working the same salmon, Tom said the biggest problem is light. He said the days are very short in Alaska in the particular season when the salmon are running. The issue is further complicated by the mountainous terrain. The sun drops behind the ridges very early in the day, and even when it is "piercing" the canyons, it is like dusk in the Caribbean. So, Tom decided he needed to take his daylight with him.

To that end, his salmon-shooter involved building an aluminum "sled" that would hold his Seacam housing and Nikon D2X solidly on the stream bed. Then a set of rails held one Inon strobe (chosen for their small weight and easy maneuverability ... a huge issue when schlepping the system back into the woods) hard wired to the housing. That strobe pointed not towards the water, but up to an array of 5 other Inon strobe heads. In Tom's words "There are 5 strobes being slaved - two on the L and R ends, one in the middle, and two on the lollipop" Each of these four strobes are set to slave mode, and would fire when the hard-wired strobe went off. It is these 5 strobes that aim back towards the stream, in front of the lens, at the point where the salmon are meant to swim. At that point, Tom takes a long remote cord, sits on the bank of the river, and fires the camera once the salmon swim into view.

Very clever solution to a unique photographic challenge.


ch said...

Very interesting. Thanks for this post.

Photographing trout in small freestone mountain streams and wooded limestone spring-fed streams presents similar challenges, albeit without grizzlies here in the Mid-Atlantic region ('though cows can be an issue).

It would be great to be able to get more details about design aspects of the sled and pole system Tom created and used.

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