Saga of Ice is a Beautiful Chronicle of Glaciers in the Arctic

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All images by Michael J Quinn. Used with permission.

Photographer Michael J Quinn is a landscape photographer who does some of the coolest things in the world that makes us all incredibly jealous of just how incredible cool his life is–pun totally intended. We discovered Mike’s work on Behance and for some beguiling reason in the middle of New York’s hottest summer on record, we were attracted to his images of the cool Arctic. He tells us that he tried to inspire others through his work and that after going to University pursuing two Engineering degrees and a Mathematics degree, then starting a family, he decided to just follow his passion of photography.

Michael has had the photo bug since his early teens. He went on to study under John Paul Caponigro, Ragnar Th Sigurðsson, Julieanne Kost, and Seth Resnick.

With all that knowledge, we asked him to share some of his expertise with us on when to actually snap the shutter when you’re surrounded by so much beauty.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Michael: My photographic journey began in my early teens. My mother recognized the creative side in me and she gave me my first SLR. It was such a surprise and such an enlightening experience. I rather enjoyed shooting nature scenes and I was always drawn to the local parks.

I continued my journey during high school by joining the photo club and being a staff photographer for the yearbook club. After that, life got in the way and I set aside my desire till I moved to Colorado in the fall of 2000. Then with a renewed desire I jumped from film to digital with the purchase of a Nikon Coolpix. I shot my adventures around the state and my travels of the west.

After 10 years of shooting, I finally decided to see how far I could take my talents. I started to come to the conclusion that my images were not fully conveying the emotions that I felt during capture. They need something more, something to take them to the next level.

I began by getting a DSLR and moving away from a JPEG shooter. I started to experiment with image processing in Lightroom and Photoshop and made gains but my images were still lacking that intense emotional feeling to them. Then in the fall of 2010 I took a Photo Workshop in Iceland. I was just mesmerized by the images of Iceland and the thought of a grand adventure was so appealing. I started to research the Instructors that were teaching that year. I was instantly drawn to John Paul Caponigro. Something about his style, his approach, his words and speech. I knew that I was meant to do this, so I took the leap. This was going to be my first International adventure, my first photo workshop, I was a total newbie and amateur. But I had vision. I was fortunate enough to arrive in Iceland a few days early to take a Lightroom class from Julieanne Kost. She was very instrumental in forging a foundation for my Lightroom skills and igniting my creative vision. JP and Julieanne were running side by side workshops that year.

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We would leap-frog each other’s groups during the day and spend our evenings and meals together. Our local pro photographer Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson has this intense knowledge of our locations and of photography and of just life in general. He has played a major influence in my skills and sensibility.

My new journey really began after that trip. It stirred my deep-rooted emotions to become the best that I can be, to put some significant effort into my art. A passion to share my adventures and art. If that adventure had not been the way it was, I don’t know if I would still be on this path. It really gave me a new pipe dream, something to chase after, something to aspire to.

Phoblographer: What got you into landscapes?

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Michael: Part of it is rooted in my childhood. That sense of freedom and adventure that arrises from exploring the local parks. Walking in the woods and having the crunch of the leaves under foot. Splashing in the local creeks chasing frogs and tadpoles. There was always a draw to the folds in the earth and at the margins of the water and the land. The places where in the heat of the summer, felt cool and serene. I spent most summers at my Grandmother’s lake house. Exploring around the lake, the hills and the dam. That intersection of concrete, rock and water. There was always something interesting about water falling over the edge of the dam. How the water interacted with the rock and its surroundings. The scale of the dam was always inspiring. I remember standing at the base and gazing at the immense wall of concrete. I felt so small.

This was then reinforced when I discovered the beauty and majesty of Colorado. Being from the midwest, the scale of the mountains were awe-inspiring. I enjoyed reading about the railroad history in Colorado and how difficult it was to cut a path through the mountains, bridge it’s streams and tunnel under it’s high peaks. This also exposed me to some fantastic photography from the late 1800’s. When it was difficult and required a high skill to achieve excellence. The aesthetics of the prints from glass plate negatives is something I still cherish today. All this was reinforced when my Mother took me to Colorado as a teenager for a vacation. I had only seen these images through the eyes of people like William Henry Jackson, but now I got to experience them in person. This just reinforced my desire to live among these grand landscapes, to photograph them and to share my travels and images.

After moving to Colorado I started to explore more of the Rocky Mountains and the west. I was amazed by how the water had carved the desert southwest, how the glaciers had carved their way through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, how the water had shaped the coastline of Oregon and Northern California. Traveling to the Arctic – Iceland, Svalbard and Greenland – just took this desire to entire new level.

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Saga of Ice chronicles specific ice floes and scenes in the arctic. So when you were selecting images for the project, what thoughts did you have going through your head to choose these specific images?

Saga of Ice tells the story of the Ice, the life of ice – from birth through to what lies beyond death. The story begins with the conception of ice. Every glacier is conceived with the falling of a single snow flake. These flakes come together to form something more, a glacier. Here in the glacier an iceberg is incubated for a period of time. It is formed and shaped. Broken apart and reformed as it travels from the ice sheet to the terminus. When ice breaks away from a glacier, it forms an iceberg in a process called calving. Here is the birth of an iceberg. An image like “The Glow” is meant to represent an Iceberg seeing the birth canal and the light at the exit. An image like “Blue” is a continuation of the theme. Once an iceberg is born, it is free to travel among the fjords. Here in its adolescence, they toss and turn and transform into something more sculpted. They shed what is unnecessary and keep their essence, represented here by “Reflection i”. During their journey into adulthood, they are nurtured and supported by their fellow icebergs, represented by images like “The Cradle i”. Eventually they all start to diminish due to age and life’s tribulations, represented by “The Storm i” and “The Storm ii”. Here the elements begin to weigh on an iceberg, shrink it to something less than it had been. This is where it begins to contemplate it’s existence. Where it has been, where it is going, “Reflection ii”. During an icebergs last portion of life, some are beached where they will remain till they melt, “Ice Jewel”. Some are set out to the oceans where sun, wind and waves will take their toll, “The Passage i”. Some will contemplate the afterlife and after their death will return to the atmosphere and rejoin other spirits, “The Passage ii”. Where they will wait to be reborn in a new snow storm.

Phoblographer: When you’re surrounded by so much awesome beauty from nature, how to do control yourself and not take pictures of everything?

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Michael: In the beginning, I did take pictures of everything. Not uncommon for me to shoot 10,000 images during a week trip, which is way too much. It makes editing and pairing down images almost impossible. The sorting process becomes daunting and thus does not get done. It is only after repeated trips and mentoring by both John Paul Caponigro and Seth Resnick, that I have begun to see better in the field. Make much fewer captures but at the same time increase the quality of the images that I am capturing. I am able to pre delete images before capture. That is to say that I can mentally edit.

Is this shutter click going to result in at least a 3 star image? If not, don’t click. This is a learned trait and must be practiced. I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress. During my recent 4 week trip to the Arctic, I shot less than 5,000 images. This makes the editing process much easier.

I have more confidence in my abilities which plays a role too. I have the confidence that I can capture the scene with enough depth of field, exposure and focus. Slowing the capture process helps as well. If there is time, taking a moment to really look deeply at a subject, interpret my emotional response to a scene and then make the capture. Having a plan also helps in the capture process. Plan out what type of story or stories that you have going and where the holes are in your story. Then when you are in the field you have a shot list of images that you are looking for. It makes it much easier to sort through the chaos in the field and find the gems. You have to be prepared for the new opportunities that arrises as well – like when a Polar Bear pops his head out around a rock, but having a plan will focus your attention. Reviewing while in the field is also a valuable tool. You can confirm that your technique is working. You can look for new patterns and themes in your images. Finding new stories to tell is always exciting.

“Is this shutter click going to result in at least a 3 star image? If not, don’t click. This is a learned trait and must be practiced. I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress. During my recent 4 week trip to the Arctic, I shot less than 5,000 images. This makes the editing process much easier.”

Phoblographer: How do you go about preparing for a trip like this?

Michael: Trips like these generally take more than a year to prepare for. Expeditions to these remote locations are few and highly sought after. So when the word goes out about a new expedition, you have to be prepared to commit to it. The notice is generally 14 – 24 months in advance.

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This gives me time to prepare the camera and computer equipment. Pairing this down to only the essentials because less is more in this case. The less equipment you are carrying around means the less weight you are hauling, always a positive. Also the less camera equipment you have with you, prevents decision paralysis concerning which lens am I going to use today. I bring two camera bodies, one rigged with a telephoto zoom (70-200). The other is rigged with a wide-angle zoom (14-24). You need something wide to capture the entire scene. You also need it when you are up close and personal with an iceberg. You need a telephoto to capture the distant scenes and to pull details from the icebergs. It is also a useful tool for capturing wildlife. A good laptop is a must along with enough drive space to suffice your needs. Remember that backups are a must. You spend a great deal of money on the expedition and it would be a shame to lose all of your shots due to a drive or laptop failure.

You have to plan and prepare your clothing choices as well. Once again less is more. A single light weight high performance jacket is worth the price. I use an Arc’teryx insulated waterproof jacket. The same goes for the pants. Bringing only the minimum amount of clothes and using the ship’s laundry is the way to travel. You really only need a couple of days worth of clothes, not a months worth.

Looking through your past work is also an integral part of preparation. You need to see what has worked in the past and what did not. Where can the improvements be made? This will help you focus when in the field. You need to see where the holes in your bodies of work are and what type of image you need to complete it. I generally will create collections in Lightroom for my different bodies of work. I will also create sketches of the missing images to make the recognition easier. Having these images together is key since looking at them as a whole allows you to see the full set.

You also have to prepare yourself mentally. You have to put yourself into the travel mode. You have to put yourself into a creative mode. You have to allow yourself to be in the moment and forget about all the other distractions of daily life. I highly recommend a book called “The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey of Self-Discovery”. It will change the way that you think about travel and enrich it all at the same time.

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