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Techniques
Pictures on Ice, Tips for Photographing Glaciers



Depending upon the weather, time of year, location and time of day, a glacier can be overwhelmingly beautiful or disappointingly dull.

But that's just at first glance. Look at a glacier through a camera lens for a while longer and that massive chunk of ice takes on a life of its own.

For nearly 10 of his past 25 years as a professional photographer, Hal Gage of Anchorage has explored the intricacies of ice, learning with each trip to the Matanuska Glacier that ice is artwork in motion.

Gage, who has spent his professional career focused on black-and-white photography, offered a glacier photography workshop earlier this summer. It's tricky, he said, because the light-colored ice is a challenge to expose correctly on film.

"Exposures are always an issue because you are photographing light subjects and the camera wants to darken that," he said.

But it's also rewarding because a memorable photograph of a glacier is an accomplishment. Once a photographer masters the challenges of lighting and depth with a glacier, it improves any photographer's ability.

Gage said this is the first year hosting a workshop in which every participant used a digital camera. That technology makes it easier to review and discuss student work. Print film made it harder to analyze work in the field.

"In some ways, having digital makes it easier, but in some ways it is more difficult," he said. "The cameras are so much more automated, and it is sometimes hard to explain what an f-stop is and about shutter speed and increasing exposure.

"But once people get the feeling of those things, the digital is a really good way to go."

After all, the camera is only the tool, not the artist.

The two-day workshop took participants to Matanuska Glacier, one of the most easily accessible glaciers in the state. Gage said he could teach photography techniques without worrying about the participants' safety because everywhere they travel on the glacier is free of crevasses and other hidden dangers.

Participants were warned about the dangers of falling ice, or ice that breaks off in huge chunks as the temperature rises.

"We went where they could go with crampons, which we provide," he said. "There was no need to rope in or do anything technical."

The Matanuska Glacier is Gage's favorite ice.

"It's like old Alaska. This family owns access around the glacier, and you have to pay them your access fee, which is pretty nominal. Then there is nothing -- a picnic table and a couple of Porta Pottis, and they call that improved. I love it. That's the kind of Alaska that I grew up with."

And it's constantly changing.

"I look for the big cutbacks and the caves and those monumental shapes that are out there," he said. "In the spring, when there's a little bit of melt but it's still cold, the streams cut through and make these wonderful canyons. That's why I do the workshop.

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