Photographer and northern lights, Fairbanks, Alaska

Photographer [Julian Cohen]( braves the cold Alaskan night to photograph the northern lights.
Here's [his shot of me](
It's 4:20am, and we've just returned from a full night shooting stars and the northern lights in Fairbanks, Alaska. The sky was *incredibly* clear tonight, and although we only saw obviously-visible *aurora borealis* for 15 minutes or so, it was an extremely productive night, photographically. I shot some timelapse sequences that I'm excited to process, and had to made some tough decisions (e.g., take timelapse of the aurora, or relocate camera to a place with good foreground subject?).

It's way too late for me to process all of the pictures, now, but I suspect a good chunk of tomorrow afternoon will be spent on the computer. ;)

Photographing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Night 1

I arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska this late afternoon, picked up a rental SUV, and checked into the Hampton Inn, which is a fantastic (and inexpensive) little hotel. [Julian]( and Ildi had arrived at 2am this morning, and after a day's rest, they were ready to head out for our first night of looking for the aurora borealis (northern lights).

None of us have spent a lot of time in cold places, so we bundled up in a way that seemed like it would, theoretically, keep us warm in the freezing Alaskan night. After driving around for awhile, we ended up at Chatanika Peak, which is about 30 miles north of Fairbanks; it was our first night out, and we didn't want to drive too far. The sun didn't set until nearly 8pm, and by then the temperature had already dropped from 19º F to -1º F—freezing! By 10pm, it was completely dark, and the temperature had dropped further to -9º F. There was no sign of the northern lights, so Julian and I shot the sky and warm light pollution coming from Fairbanks. 30 miles away, the lights from Fairbanks still lit up a considerable portion of the sky.

The first picture in this post is the first aurora we saw. It was extremely faint, and there was a cloud obscuring most of it—we almost missed it! Strangely, there was also a green laser shining straight up into the sky, which also came out clearly in the picture. At around 11:30pm, the clouds had moved in, and we decided to call it a night. We packed up and started to head back. By then, the temperature had dropped even more, to -16º F, and Julian and Ildi were starting to really feel the cold. We have some work to do tomorrow to make sure we can make it through 6 hours of shooting in the extreme cold.

As we approached Fairbanks, we noticed a bright green stripe spanning the sky: aurora! We pulled over and took some more shots.

Northern lights over a random highway isn't so exciting, but it was still pretty cool to see. A few minutes later, it was almost too dim to see any green. Also, when we pulled into the hotel parking lot, there was another bright aurora, just sitting there in the sky. Aurora is everywhere, here! (but we couldn't shoot these effectively—clouds had moved in)

**Equipment notes:**

My 5D Mark II did very well at -16º F. I shot nearly 300 pictures in 3 hours, and the battery was still half full. By the end of the evening, the metal parts of the camera were too cold to touch without having gloves on. I packed all my freezing camera gear into a Pelican case and brought it into the warm hotel room sealed; the gear inside will warm up slowly (to avoid condensation). Per the advice of experienced cold-weather shooters, I kept batteries in my inner pockets and only put them in the camera when I was shooting.

I wore:

Head: synthetic, wind-proof beanie, parka hood Top: capilene base layer, fleece pullover, Canada Goose Expedition parka Bottom: capilene base layer, fleece pants, shell Shoes: liner, wool socks, Sorel Caribou boots Gloves: Thinsulate fingerless w/pull-over mit (these are magic)

For the most part, I was toasty warm during the 3 hours I spent outside. By the end of the evening, my toes were just starting to get cold, so I'll probably throw a couple toe warmer heat packs in there tomorrow night. Hand warmers were useless when they were in contact with the outside air, but were very effective when sealed in insulated parka pockets (and would warm my hands when I stuck them in there).

Off to Alaska

I'm heading to Fairbanks, Alaska tomorrow with [Julian Cohen]( to photograph the northern lights (I've only [seen it once before](/journal/2006/11/22/my-first-aurora-borealis/)). Land trips are so easy—there is so little gear to bring. I'm going to try to focus while I'm there, and am only bringing a few wide-angle lenses for my Canon SLRs. I will, however, bring a big zoom for the Sony NEX-5N. The goal is to shoot timelapse/stills with the Canon and stills with the Sony NEX-5N (no intervalometer for the Sony). Camera equipment I'm bringing:

- Canon 5D Mark II body - Canon 7D body - Canon 16-35/2.8L lens - Canon 14/2.8L II lens - Sigma 20/1.8 lens - Canon 580EX Speedlight - Canon remote - Sony NEX-5N body - Sony 16mm pancake lens - Sony 0.75x WA adapter - Sony 18-200 lens - Lytro cameras (2) - Tripods with RRS heads (2)

Other stuff:

- Cold weather gear - extra batteries - headlamps w/red filter - flashlights - hand warmers

I think that should do it. Is there anything I'm missing, cold weather gurus? ;)

Diving the Eastern Fields of Papua New Guinea, 2012

Hello, everyone. I'm back from the remote [Eastern Fields of Papua New Guinea]( We only had 6 days out there because two strong tropical storms moved into the area, but the diving was good (until we moved back to the coast). My 4-week cough turned into a 6-week cough, so I only did 3-4 dives in the Eastern Fields. It was extremely frustrating, but I enjoyed being out on the ocean with a great group of people. Here's the video slideshow I made for the group:

Music selection by [kozyndan]( End credits by me and Dan.

Tony Wu (my co-trip leader) has posted a [fantastic write-up of the trip](, and a [Wetpixel thread]( is tracking more pictures and experiences.

As always, you can see the expeditions we run over at Wetpixel:

Underwater Indonesia: Alor and Komodo, November 2011

Underwater footage from a 26-day Wetpixel underwater photography expedition to Alor and Komodo, Indonesia. Footage taken by me, with Canon EOS 7D, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye zoom lens and Canon 100mm macro lens. Macro footage was lit with dual Light & Motion SOLA 1200 video lights. Additional footage captured with GoPro HERO cameras in modified Eye of Mine underwater 3D housings.

Leaving Hong Kong

Good bye, Hong Kong! See you next time. Good bye, Hong Kong! See you next time. Thanks to everyone who made time to see me while I was here, including the AsiaD folks; [Rae Chang](, [Adam Tow](, and his family; [Winnie Cheng](; [Ryanne Lai](; [Timothy Redel](; Edward and Jacqueline Lai of [Nauticam](; [Aey Komson](, [Mean Mora]( and Jan; [Tammy Loh](

I'm off to Indonesia tomorrow for the Wetpixel Ultimate Indonesia Expedition 2011. I'll have sporadic access to email while I'm away, and almost no image-sharing ability (except for posts to my journal via Flickr). See you when I'm back!

Shark Diving in French Polynesia (podcast)

Support us: [download the podcast on iTunes]( ( find "Shark Diving French Polynesia!")
In July, I went to French Polynesia with Fabrice Charleux of []( to capture stills and video of the incredible schools of gray reef sharks that call its remote atolls home. At that time, I [posted only a few still frames](/journal/tag/frenchpolynesia2011/) from the trip—not because I didn't want to share, but because I had something larger planned. When I returned home, I called up Mary Lynn Price of [DiveFilm]( and asked her if she would be interested in collaborating in a podcast episode. Luckily, Mary Lynn was excited about the project, and together, we have finally finished and published a new DiveFilm HD episode on the sharks of French Polynesia. To see the video, please download it from iTunes. DiveFilm is currently the only ocean-related podcast featured by Apple, and the only way to make sure it stays there is to have folks download and view it through iTunes!

Links to podcast: [DiveFilm HD on iTunes]( The episode is called "Shark Diving French Polynesia!"

Special thanks to [Fabrice Charleux]( (gracious host and organizer; translator; subtitling), [Mary Lynn Price]( (editor; podcast goddess), Don Kehoe (grumpy photo assistant), [Dave Patchen]( (supporting friend), [Adam Tow]( (interview camera assistance) and Rae Chang (interview assistance). This would not have been possible without all of you!

Footage taken with Canon 7D, Canon S95, and [GoPro]( Hero camera in [Eye of Mine]( flat-port housing.

Hurricane Irene, New York

A jogger hurdles a fallen tree in New York on the morning after Hurricane Irene
I flew to New York for a Friday meeting and ended up getting stuck here for a few days during Hurricane Irene, which prompted the first MTA shutdown from bad weather in history. While in New York, I have been generously hosted by [Heidi](—thank you, Heidi!

Luckily, the hurricane turned out to be rather mild, and we slept through the high winds and heavy rain, waking up to a calm day outside. The only signs of the hurricane were a bunch of downed trees and the folks whom had come out to photograph them. I put a few pictures up [over at Flickr](

Whale shark feeding in 3D

Here is a 3D video of a whale shark feeding at the surface during a huge whale shark aggregation in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I shot it on August 15, 2011, using a [GoPro 3D HERO System]( and an [Eye of Mine 3D flat lens housing]( (a flat-lens solution is required for a GoPro to focus properly underwater). The video is best viewed at 720p in some sort of 3D mode.

If you own a 3D display at home, you can [download a higher-quality side-by-side version]( for local display (~99MB; link is good for 500 downloads; if it fails, please [let me know](/contact)). The downloadable video is still highly-compressed and doesn't quite convey the same 3D coolness that original version does, but it is still effective!

Chase United Mileage Plus VISA ends foreign transaction fees

I just got this note from Chase Card Services:

> Designed from its inception to provide unparalleled travel benefits, your United® Mileage Plus® Club Visa® Card has now been further enhanced.

> As of February 15, 2011, you will no longer be charged foreign transaction fees.1 That means that you'll now save 3% on all international purchases made using your United Mileage Plus Club Visa Card.

> This exciting new benefit is sure to make your international travel experience even more enjoyable. Best of all, you needn't do anything to take advantage of it – the change will automatically take effect on February 15, 2011.

This is huge for international travelers—there are very few credit cards that do not charge foreign transaction fees. Good call, Chase; you've just ensured that I stick to your card for the foreseeable future![^1]

[^1]: I'm not sure whether this benefit extends to all Chase Mileage VISA cards—check your cardmember agreement to be sure.

Why Blackberry is the only viable international phone (for USA residents)

If you travel out of the country a lot like I do, you need a Blackberry. Here's why.

I was in Taiwan and Japan in December / January and used email, web and apps (Twitter, Facebook and others) pretty much constantly on my Verizon Blackberry Bold 9650. The total data usage was 40MB in Taiwan and 20MB in Japan -- not too bad, because Blackberry web and email are so efficient in data transfer (read: intelligently compressed at proxy). My total roaming charge for data? $0.

I'm on the $64.99/mo. unlimited international email, web and app data plan, which some people consider to be expensive. But consider what would have happened on an iPhone. AT&T's "affordable" [international data packages]( are as follows:

Using 60MB of data would have cost an additional $119.99 (per month) over a domestic data plan if you had the foresight to sign up for the 100MB plan. If you didn't and say, signed up for the $59.99, 50MB/month plan, you would have ended up paying $59.99 plus (10 * $20/extra MB) = $259.99. If you hadn't signed up for any international data plan, 60MB would have cost an obscene $1,200 (60MB * $20).

This isn't all. The iPhone is like a real computer, which means that it connects directly to all of the data services you use. If someone embeds a 500KB image in your email, it downloads the entire image, and you get charged $10 for the 0.5MB transfer.

In countries with low data quality of service, it is likely that an iPhone trying to connect to your email server via POP or iMAP may never even finish negotiating the handshake required to start receiving or sending data. I was in India with an iPhone, and a Blackberry downloaded 100 emails before the iPhone started downloading its first email. Even though I used the iPhone lightly, I blew through 20MB in 3 days, leaving me in a bad situation for the rest of the 3.5 week trip because I had signed up for the 20MB monthly international data plan.

If you live in the states and travel internationally, spare yourself the burden of trying to use an iPhone or Android device overseas. Get a Blackberry.[^1]

[^1]: If you're on Verizon or Sprint, make sure you get a Blackberry with both CDMA and GSM so it roams properly overseas.

Kyoto Tower Hotel intersection tilt-shift timelapse

A timelapse video of the intersection in front of the Kyoto Tower Hotel taken from a room at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto. Shot with Canon EOS 7D. Individual frames processed / exported in Lightroom and lens-blurred with alpha channel depth map in Photoshop. Timelapse video created in Quicktime 7 Pro. Shot and processed to emulate tilt-shift miniaturization videos.

Kyoto taxi stand timelapse, Japan

I took this timelapse from my window at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto. There was an excellent elevated walkway above the train station as well, but I didn't have time to shoot it.

Frames captured with Canon EOS 7D, processed/exported in Adobe Lightroom, and built into a video using Quicktime 7 Pro.

Happy New Year 2011!

Pam and I are in Taiwan for our post-honeymoon wedding banquet. Happy new year, everyone!

The fireworks at Taipei 101 were short, but somewhat spectacular. I imagine that it would have been really impressive from close up, but my mother and I were unwilling to brave the insane crowds and stayed one MRT stop away.

It is still 30 minutes from the new year back in San Francisco. Weather reports claim that it might rain tonight. I hope the fireworks aren't cancelled!

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Oh hai! (Food in Japan)

I love food in Japan. The kaiseki at our hotel in Shibu Onsen was incredible. Even the rice was delicious -- the best rice I've ever tasted: perfect mouth feel. We had some rice at a restaurant in Kyoto just now which paled in comparison, so the variation in quality is extreme.

Wasabi! I wish it were this easy to get in the States.

I don't know what this was, but it was AMAZING. Tasted like a green onion wrapped around ginger.

Looks amazing, doesn't it? Fooled ya'! It's plastic!

All of the food looks exactly like its prominently-displayed plastic counterpart (not that the kaiseki meals had any plastic models shown).

Lush coral window (Yilliet, Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia)

Beautiful Dendronephthya soft corals ring a window in a boulder
During the 30-day trip to Indonesia I'm currently writing from, I've focused on taking still images and video with my insect eye setup (wide-angle macro) and a 3D underwater housing. I didn't even bring a traditional wide-angle dome port, which has made it a little frustrating to be diving in some of the healthiest reefs in the world. Luckily, Don Kehoe is here and lent me his wide-angle rig for 3 dives. I went down and banged out some colorful reef images -- felt like I was at home again. :)