Interview with Alaska Photographer Michael DeYoung
Michael DeYoung is a new workshop instructor for RMSP in 2012. He will be teaching an incredibly unique workshop in Alaska. I was able to catch Michael via Skype before he made his annual journey from New Mexico to Alaska for the summer. It was so much fun to talk to him and hear about the plans for this workshop. His passion for photography, teaching and Alaska is absolutely contagious.
POP: You teach quite a bit, everything from photography workshops to whitewater canoeing. What is your favorite aspect of teaching?
MD: I just enjoy people who have the same passion, who are willing to learn and carry on the passion and the motivation–whatever it takes.
POP: You’ve spent tons of time in Alaska. Is there a specific place you find yourself going back to and photographing regularly–more or less your favorite place? I’m sure that is a pretty hard thing to narrow down.
MD: It is, but there’s a couple. The place that I have visited most is Denali. Part of that is because they have a professional photographer program, which, if you qualify for it, allows you to take your own vehicle into the park. Otherwise, you travel within the park via the park shuttle bus system. There are a handful of permits for qualified media people–not just photographers but filmmakers and artists. It gives me anywhere from 4-10 days to go up there and completely absorb myself in the park. I’ve been doing it for twenty years and I never get tired of seeing anything there. It’s always different. It’s familiar, but there is always some different element of discovery that takes place when you are there.
Closer to home there are several spots that I have gone back to time and time again. That’s one of the things I advocate for photographers. Shoot close to home. Find a place or two nearby where you like the lighting or something about it and go back to it repeatedly. Because you know it intimately you can consistently produce good photos there.
There are two places like this for me in Alaska. One of them is Portage Valley. There is a road that goes out to Portage Glacier … well, it’s near Portage Glacier, which according to the Alaska Bureau of Tourism, is the most visited tourist spot. I don’t go there, per se, but there are places along the road there that I go to frequently.
Another place, surprisingly, is a lake off of Elemdorf Air Force Base that I go back to time and time and time again because the evening light is absolutely fantastic.
POP: The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is America’s largest National Park but not nearly as popular a destination as Denali National Park. What is it about the Wrangell-St. Elias area that made you choose it as one of the primary locations for the workshop?
MD: I chose that location because it is a relatively undiscovered national park with an enormous amount of natural scenery. Wrangell is pretty much no man’s land. The plus side is that there are great photo opportunities. The Chugach Range north of Anchorage along the way to the Wrangells has some phenomenal scenery. The mountains along the Glen Highway are just as stunning as Denali or the Brooks Range. We get to see this stretch of country twice traveling to and from Kennicott from Anchorage.
The last sixty miles is an old railroad bed that still has railroad ties. The Kennicott River is at the end of the road. You have to cross a foot bridge and then continue to the tiny town of McCarthy. It’s like a wild west movie set. Five miles up the road from there is the old copper mine of Kennicott. The Park Service has done a great job restoring some of the buildings there. This is basically the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Most of the park is not accessible by road, only by air and/or river travel. There is a phenomenal view of two glaciers that come down. There is also the perpetually snow-covered Mount Blackburn which is a 16,000 foot-tall peak. I think it is as graphically appealing, if not more, than anything in Denali. There are a couple of quaint cozy lodges up there and it’s just a nice place to immerse yourself for a few days.
It has historical value, it has a sense of adventure, just getting there is an adventure, and it has natural beauty that is unparalleled to anything else I’ve seen in the state.
POP: What would you like participants to take away from your Alaskan Adventure workshop?
MD: Obviously my hope would be that people, without trying to sound like everyone else, become better photographers. I want people to get the value out of seeing small things and learning how to work in difficult lighting and weather conditions. The best light is going to be around 5:00-6:00 in the morning or 10:00-11:00 at night.
Alaska is also the land of water. Water is my favorite subject to include in basically all the photographs I make. It takes a special skill-set to learn how to work with it effectively.
POP: What are one or two pieces of equipment in your camera bag (besides your camera) that you can’t live without?
MD: Well, its not in my camera bag but I think a good sturdy tripod; carbon fiber with a very nice head and a good quick release system that will give you no trouble at all using it.
For Alaska specifically, I’d say a polarizer. It’s the one filter that you really can’t recreate. All other filters can be replicated in post processing. I carry a polarizer with me because we are photographing around water and wet vegetation a lot. Those subjects definitely benefit from glare reduction. So, it is far more useful than for just bright blue sky.
POP: It’s time for a non-photography related question. Name one thing you can’t live without.
MD: (without hesitation) Dark chocolate. 90% dark chocolate.