Few people have the patience and determination to do what the Wards do, however. Karen said a typical day in Alaska begins with coffee at 3 a.m., followed by several hours in the field. By 7:30 a.m., the light is too bright and the photographers retreat for a midday nap, only to rise at 4 p.m. and shoot again until midnight. "You work seven days a week and never sleep eight hours in a row," she said. "You're pretty much on call the whole time. You can spend months waiting, and then something happens for two minutes. If you miss it, you're heartbroken."
The difference between a good shot and a great shot is timing, she said, adding that many summers they've had "fourth quarter" success. One summer, on the very day the plane was coming to pick them up from their remote location, the caribou migration began, with 180,000 animals moving through in a few hours. "Kennan shot 10 rolls," she recalled. "That made our whole summer."
Ward grew up in the Midwest, moved to California by himself at the age of 19, and put himself through school working as a park ranger. "I wasn't supposed to go to college, but I was really curious," he said. Awed by the beauty of California, he started taking photographs in earnest to show his family and friends what he'd found. "I couldn't believe it," he recalled. "Photography was my only tool to describe this place."
Three decades later, UCSC undergraduates in environmental studies and biology regularly intern with the Wards in their Santa Cruz based business. "As you get older, you have a need to help somebody on their way," he said. "Ray Dasmann did that for me."
Ward's images are available on note cards, on posters, and in limited edition fine art prints from Kennan Ward Photography. "I'm a surviving artist," said Ward. "I'm one of a handful who has the freedom to do this. We have the luxury of time and our own resources."
Ward's next project draws on the wisdom of his mentor. "Ray always said, 'If you want to know the predator, watch the prey.' So I'm going to do salmon. It involves all my pals foxes, wolves, otters, eagles, orcas, seals, and bears."
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