Our definition of a ‘dream job’ would probably be an epic backpacking trip through a magnificent mountain range with a great group of friends, total creative freedom and continuously amazing light. That’s pretty much what we got handed to us last year. We were asked by the Black Diamond’s creative team for a short list of our top ‘must do’ backpacking adventures, one of which would be chosen for a fall catalog shoot. We outlined a handful of options, but pushed hard for the Sierra High Route; a 200-mile off trail scramble across the mountains between Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks. They wanted a project that could offer up all the ingredients for an inspiring long-form photo narrative for their mountain catalog. We felt the SHR was the answer and we’re stoked that they did too. After a month of logistical planning and preproduction prep, the crew was assembled pool-side in Fresno.
This was one of the most authentic commercial shoots we have ever done. Once the client gave us the green light on the SHR, we were told simply to go do what we do. The creative brief had 10 bullet points (for a 16-day assignment). We hand picked four of our friends that we felt could handle the rigors of the two-week traverse while maintaining good spirits. Shipments of prototype equipment for six backpackers filled up our gear room. Food prep took a week and we got the maps down to 20 broad sheets (double sided). Everyone was flown into Fresno, where after a quick stop at In-N-Out Burger and a six-pack pre-pro meeting poolside we got shuttled to the end of the road in KCNP. And embarked on one hell of a walk in a generally northern direction.
Matt & Agnes | HagePhoto
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Agnes is a lover of animals. Mostly the furry four-legged kind, but there is a picture of her kissing an enormous slug in our files. If they are deemed ‘cute’, she has to hold them or scratch their ears. The yak along our treks in the Himalaya didn’t respond so well to this. And she really tried to get a lamb for our van while on tour in New Zealand. Good thing those guys can move. But most of the time she can get her hands on whatever it is that’s caught her eye; baby goats in Nepal, lamas at a state fair, sled dogs at the Iditarod. There is no stopping her, even when it’s not in her best interest. Like handling every baby farm animal in a third world country or loving on an arm-load of kittens, which she’s allergic to. Ask her though and she’ll tell you that it’s all worth it because it makes her happy. And if you’ve ever seen how her face lights up when the fuzzy wobbly baby moose show up in our yard in early summer, you’d be hard pressed to argue.
Now this isn’t the kind of work we usually highlight on our photo blog. But we felt like this recent commercial shoot here in Anchorage was an interesting bit of problem solving. We were hired to produce photography that would show communication giant Verizon’s move into the Alaska marketplace before they actually fully arrived. Working with the agency as well as the VP put in charge of their Alaska operations, we had to come up with a handful ways to put a lens on this. Let’s also add in there that the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce wanted to use the work in their upcoming publication slated for the spring.
One of the key locations that we had to work with was the Verizon office, which was under construction. The bare-bones ninth floor did offer an unobstructed view of downtown and we decided to capitalize on that. What we came up with was a strong horizontal full-body portrait of the VP against a background of the Anchorage skyline. A couple strobes placed in the office were set to mimic the warm evening light that bathed the downtown buildings in the distance. The strobes also worked to bring our subject out from the background. The construction lights overhead were a bit of luck; they solidify the under construction theme we were going for. Most of the take is the VP going through a few typical poses, but we like the spontaneity in this shot of him checking his smart phone. It’s a part of life that most of us can relate to.
The last part of the job was to produce something that showed off their location in Midtown Anchorage. The building is located in a generic part of town and looks pretty bleak in March. After trying to get a couple different angles up on the building, we decided to work on a couple setups at street level. A composite of a dozen different images shot at sunset with traffic streaming by was used on the cover. Using multiple exposures helped with the super contrast created by the low setting sun and glass building. Also the light trail exposures had to be shot about a half hour after sunset.
Matt & Agnes Hage | HagePhoto
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The skis are finally going away and we’re tuning up the mountain bikes this week. It’s not quite ‘go time’ here in Southcentral Alaska, but was reminded of a stint of riding we did down under. We took a solid week to sample the single track goods around Queenstown and Wanaka while shooting some work around New Zealand. The trails around there were full-featured cross-country tours of steep mountains, knee-deep river crossings and gorgeous alpine lakes. Oh yeah, and you can’t forget the obligatory sheep pasture. Racers Edge in Wanaka hooked us up with top of the line rentals and pointed us in the right direction with trail info. We’re still blown away by how many point-to-point rides end at pubs that give you (and bikes) a free lift into town after you’ve had a few pints. Brilliant!
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Lowepro sent us another photo pack to try out on our recent skiing assignment in Iceland last month. The Photo Sport 3oL is a new super-sized addition to their Photo Sport AW lineup. We test drove the smaller ’200′ on a trail running assignment last year and busted it out this spring for light days backcountry skiing. Since it could fit a shovel and a small camera body, it has become our ‘grab-n-go’ pack for casual ski days in the mountains. But when we’re actually trying to produce ski work, we prefer to use fast cameras and lenses, both of which are too big for the Photo Sport 200. Not too mention adding a down parka and couple sandwiches for longer days in the field. The 30L model has twice the volume and can fit a Nikon D4 in it’s camera pocket. That’s a good start. After giving a once over at the house, we decided to slate it for an upcoming two-week ski shoot in Iceland.
The PS 30L gets an A+ for ease of access to the camera. We were able to pack a D4 with a 24-70 f2.8 lens and the lens hood attached in the camera pocket. Just one zipper and you’re camera in hand ready to shoot. Truly an ideal situation. The camera pocket also had room for two more lenses; usually a wide angle and a fixed large aperture lens for us.
The biggest challenge of using the PS 30L as a ski pack was when the skis needed to go on our backs. The side pocket access leaves only one strap on the left, which was adequate when skis where connected a-frame style with a ski strap up high. But this configuration totally negated camera access because it blocked the pocket. We also tried putting the skis down low on the two straps under the pack. This also kinda worked, but was a pain in the ass. Literally: the bindings dug into your glutes and lower back as you kicked up a couloir.
Otherwise the PS 30L fit well on the back and handled a moderately heavy load like a champ. The air-flow back panel was really appreciated while sweating it out on the up track or booting up a snow slope. It’s definitely a full-featured backpack and we’re looking forward to getting it out on the trail this summer.
PS Thanks to our good friend Andy Milauskas for shooting some BTS
Last summer we contracted with Cascade Designs to shoot a three-part campaign for the launch of their new sleeping bag line for Therm-a-Rest. One segment was shot in the Selkirk Mountains of Northern Idaho, another in a Washington pine forest and lastly a backcountry skiing set-up in Southcentral Alaska. The prototypes arrived in July and the work needed to be done before the August outdoor retail show in Salt Lake City. Both of the overnight shoots in Idaho and Washington went down like clockwork. Getting the winter scenario was a bit more challenging. Last summer was plagued with fierce storms and cold temperatures. This simultaneously allowed us to shoot backcountry skiing in July and kept us from doing any work at all due to the constant precip. Plus there are few things more miserable than rain on a glacier. In the end, the conditioned abated just enough for us to get the job done after a couple stormy trips into the mountains. Good thing we had a tough crew; getting to those locations involved some seriously rugged miles with skis and boots on our backs. And just because the heli can’t fly is no excuse to skimp after hours beverage service. Wonderful Machine posted a more detailed BTS on their site. The work is being used for web, catalog, point of purchase and trade show displays by Therm-a-Rest.
Matt & Agnes Hage
We launched our business six years ago with a jammed packed summer in Alaska followed by a year-long road trip around the American West. The plan was to be shooting projects around Canada’s Yukon Territory and British Columbia beginning September. But continued assignment work in AK delayed us a month and we found ourselves driving the ALCAN Highway in the torrential monsoon of October. Nonstop rain killed every project that we had set-up for the start of our inaugural road trip. Sooner than expected, we found ourselves just above the US border sitting in a coffee shop more than a bit discouraged. It was still raining outside. The idea to embark on a hot springs tour surfaced as the best thing we could do with the continually dismal weather forecast. We pitched the idea to a regional travel magazine and spent the next week hunting out wild hike-in hot springs in central BC. The precip never really let up, but we were determined to make it happen. The work produced during that week looked different to us when reviewing each take. It was the first time we could actually see our style starting to emerge from the months of working together. Hunkered down in our old Chevy Tahoe at the end of some logging road with the rain beating down on the roof and all the gear soaked to near failure, we watched as the pictures loaded on the computer. It’s still one of the most exciting times of our career together.
Matt & Agnes | HagePhoto
Last month we were back in the Andes of Argentina for an assignment and once again enjoyed traveling these mountains with the ‘cowboys’ of South America. The gauchos act are the muleteers who direct these beasts of burden that haul our equipment and supplies into base camp. They’re on the go during the day and we only see them in passing. Usually tailing a large dust cloud. But at night they camp with us, throwing down a bed roll on the rocks and cooking a whole chicken over a fire. Their style is from a bygone era. Some of them are pretty gruff and most are shy, but in the end they’re happy to strike up a conversation if your español is up to snuff.
Matt & Agnes | HagePhoto
Lowepro has sent us a few packs to test drive this winter. Since most of work over the past few months has involved skiing or climbing, we’ve been spending more time with those bags that are better suited to these sports. The Flipside Sport was originally slated for our month-long ski trip to Japan at the beginning of this year, but got cut once we determined it wasn’t appropriate for backcountry use. The pack doesn’t accommodate an avalanche probe and shovel along with the other things you’d want for a day of backcountry skiing. We did find the Flipside Sport well suited for shooting at the ski area; it carries a solid kit for working in this genre while keeping a small profile that’s appreciated while spending a day on chair lifts. Lowepro has sent us a prototype pack more suited to backcountry use for our upcoming shoot in Iceland next week. We’ll keep you posted.
Every year we do a spring commercial shoot at Alyeska Resort, our local ski mountain here in Southcentral Alaska, and the 20L Flipside Sport has been our dedicated pack for the last couple weeks. The FS20L was a solid performer for this kind of work and has become a favorite for shooting ‘on mountain’. It’s design puts most of the gear mass right in the middle of your back which really helps when skiing with a full kit. The pack actually skis really well, keeping the load in place and not shifting around. It’s also small enough to wear while riding chair six. If you’ve ever spent a day doing rounds on a chair lift with a large pack, you can appreciate this. There are also a couple attachment loops on the back that are perfect for stowing ski poles when you just need to ski with camera in hand. We love the back panel access for working in the snow. Most of the time the pack gets taken completely off and put on the ground before opening, even though Lowepro’s intention is to access your gear while wearing it. Getting out of the pack straps and rotating it around to the front was not so smooth while wearing winter layers and jackets. Also it seems a leap of faith to trust the entire 35 pound load to the tiny plastic buckle that secures the waist belt.
Another feature that makes the FS20L suited to work in the snow is the storm closure inside the bag. Once you open the back panel, there is circular flap that pulls open by grabbing a tab and cinches shut via a pull cord. On snowy days, it’s nice to know that your whole kit won’t be exposed to the elements every time you open up your bag. Often we would leave the back panel open while we shoot and keep the storm flap cinched up. The other side of the pack has a handful of zipper pockets which we used for cards, cords and filters. The main zipper compartment is designed to fit a small MacBook or iPad. Even though bringing a computer and hood on an outdoor shoot is not unusual, it does give the pack an urban feel. The two mesh pockets on the hip belt are a mystery to us. Without zippers or any way to close them, they seem pretty useless. But that’s it. Everything else about the FS20L is solid. Rounding out the tour of features is an easy to deploy full rain cover (or snow cover) along with n attachment system on the side for a tripod or monopod. Opposite that is a hydration pocket that fits a liter sized water bottle or two cans of PBR (this is a ski shoot after all).
Last spring we took part in a ski trip that can only be described as ‘classically Alaskan’. With a couple phone calls Queen of Scheme Kellie O started a chain of events that would sweep up eight of us, some at the very last minute, and land us out in the middle of Cook Inlet on top of a steaming volcano. We chartered with the M/V Milo, a 58-foot converted fishing vessel, for the overnight crossing from Homer. By morning we were sitting in glassy calm water just offshore of a 4,000-foot perfectly conical volcano. Mount Augustine (4,134 ft) is still very much active with it’s last eruption in 2006. A plume of steam rose from it’s summit crater for added effect. The last of the hardcores (Eric) decided it was time to close down the all-night bender and get our boots on.
Climbing to the summit was a fantastic tour through a wild volcanic landscape, which also presented some hazards. The number of fumarole’s around the summit crater made further exploring pretty dangerous and Matt got to see the inside of one on the way down. The ski descent was pretty scrappy with a lot of hard wind slab and rime ice features. But on such a perfect spring day in such an utterly wild place, it wasn’t about the snow. Après was back on the Milo where we started with quart-sized margaritas and seafood chowder before moving onto our healthy supply of ‘pretty good’ bourbon. Some mild weather moved in overnight, which was quite a surprise to those who had an unplanned open bivy on the aft deck. We continued to explore around the island over the next couple days before a rough crossing back to the Kenai Peninsula.
Matt & Agnes Hage
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