Alaska, the last frontier, a land with amazing natural phenomenons, landscapes, vast wilderness and even some mythical animals which locals often share stories about to tourists. A large piece of land purchased from the Russians back in 1867, it offers its visitors an extensive range of activities including fjord exploration, cruise ships, and dog-sledding. Among these, viewing the complexity of the Alaskan sky including the Northern Lights atop the imposing mountains has become an attraction and curiosity to many photographers around the world. Getting the exclusive opportunity to document this magnificent phenomenon is not out of luck, but of persistence and a lot of patience. Long time Leica photographer, Van Styles, shares with us his pictures of his Alaskan trip, his experiences and the greatness this state inspires.
Van Styles is a New York-born and Los Angeles-raised photographer. His journey into photography started in the 1990’s skate scene. What started as him filming his friends skateboarding and learning tricks turned into a hobby and then his career.
Alaska has a dramatic and some of the most diverse terrains with it wide open fjords, mountains, lakes and animals. Describe your experience while being there and how it resulted becoming and inspiration in itself for the pictures you took.
To be engulfed in that much nature was simply beautiful. It was refreshing to be in an environment that was so new to me. I think a big thing for photographers is inspiration and finding different ways to harness it. For me I have learned the times I become most inspired is putting myself into different settings and pushing myself to photograph different subject matter.
One of the most astonishing experiences of your trip was to encounter the Northern Lights and be delighted by this unique atmosphere of activity. Please share your experience while arriving to the location and the use of your S-007.
That was one of my goals being on that trip. To at least see the Northern lights in person. Once you get up there you learn there are two things that play a crucial role. One being forecast if northern lights happening and the other is clear skies. A lot of times you will look up to see the activity of the lights only to find it is completely cloudy and you will be unable to see them let alone photograph them. We got an opportunity one night and we took it. My friends and I drove out to a remote location from Anchorage. It was already -20 degrees outside but that wasn’t stopping us. Wood was brought for us to have a bonfire to keep warm while shooting but the only problem is that it wasn’t realized till we got there that the logs were wet and not catching any fire. So we did the next best thing. Left the engine running on my rental car with the heater going. We would be outside shooting till the cold became so painful we would then run into my car to warm up a bit and then head back out. At the time it was an annoyance of sorts but I knew it would make the experience that much better. The use of the 007 was great. I was excited to be able to shoot higher than 400iso with it and have great results.
Temperatures can reach below-0 degrees. How did the equipment perform under these conditions? Did you note any difference in performance?
This was something I was curious to see how it would hold up. I have never shot in such cold temp. before but that was another reason for obtaining a 007 for this trip. It handled the weather well. Never once had any problem with it. I did notice in this negative degree weather that the screen in live view mode seemed a little slow but it still worked. No shutdowns and no image problems.
You are used to living in very urban environments like LA or NY. How was the contrast when being in Alaska?
The contrast of being in Alaska was amazing and addictive. I want to go back! It is such an amazing change of pace. It makes me think why are more people not visiting this beautiful place.
Your photography has a lot of action involved, like shooting skateboarding scenes and aerial views of Los Angeles. Is there a shift in your photographic style or objectives?
Definitely. I love photography as a whole. I don’t want to box myself in as only shooting one type of subject matter. I want to challenge myself to learn all types. Whether it be aerial, skateboarding, portraits, street, etc. Plus, I think it is important as a person and as a photographer to grow.
What differences or challenges did you find between shooting natural landscapes and action sports?
One of the big challenges in Alaska was actually getting to some of the locations to shoot. It wasn’t as easy as walking on top of a roof top to shoot or standing in the middle of a street tunnel. Hiking in those conditions was a bit intense at times. I have a lot more respect for landscape photographers who endure these settings. Aside from getting to a point you want to shoot it is also framing. While it might look easy to a lot of people I think you have to retrain your eyes. To translate a true feeling through a landscape image takes some great work. Again I have a lot more respect for the people who specialize in this lane.
Describe the retouches you gave to these images. What was your goal?
As for the processing of these photos I used Camera Raw. No VSCO or any other type of plug in. I tried to keep the images as true to the landscape I as photographing at the time. I wanted to show the details of these photos which is another reason why I used the 007 to begin with.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or are there any other projects in the pipeline you’d like to let readers know about?
I would just like to say if you have never been to Alaska do yourself a favor and make time to see it in person. As for projects I have a collaboration between my brand V/SUAL and L.A. furniture company Modernica that will be available later this year. That is all for now and thank you for letting me share my experience!
To connect with Van Styles and know more about his other projects including his apparel brand and art platform, V/SUAL, please visit this website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.