Arctic Adventures: Documenting the Classroom at the Top of the World

By Jaslyn Gilbert/Radford University


While many of our students at Radford University in Radford, Virginia were heading home or off to warm weather destinations for spring break, a group of 12 undergraduate students, two high school students, and three faculty braved bone-rattling temperatures and shivery Arctic winds in Barrow, Alaska—the northernmost city in the United States—to conduct scientific research. As multimedia producer for RU, I received funding to document the trip, less than two months before takeoff, with a mission to send videos and photos of this experiential research learning opportunity back to the university daily to post on a website ( dedicated to the trip.

The approximately 5,000-mile journey from RU to Barrow took nearly 30 hours, with a number of airport layovers, lending the travel to a quick timelapse video.

Alaska: A 5,000 Mile Journey from Radford University on Vimeo.

The purpose of the trip was for students to explore the correlation between the surface temperature of the Arctic Sea ice and its thickness. This meant that a vast majority of the video footage and photos would be on the ice in some pretty extreme cold temperatures.

Time Lapse: Dressing for -47 from Radford University on Vimeo.

I really had no idea how well my equipment was going to hold up in this environment. Since this is a biannual research trip, the faculty had already been there before and experienced scientific equipment failures due to the temperature. I did some online research and corresponded with Todd Paris at University of Alaska Fairbanks in hopes of gaining a few tips.


Even though it was well below zero, the students and faculty show their toughness in shorts and Hawaiian t-shirts.

The biggest challenge wasn’t necessarily keeping the camera equipment functioning, but keeping my hands warm enough to continue operating the camera. My outer mittens were toasty with hand warmers, but impossible to use when trying to record video or take stills. There were instances when I would have to pause a video interview on the ice just so I could warm up my hands for a few seconds, but the students were very understanding because they were equally as cold!

Alaska: Whistler – A Thermal Infrared Sensor from Radford University on Vimeo.

The whole time I was there I only had two minor equipment failures. I learned rather quickly after being on the ice for any good length of time it was best to drop the camera body and lens into a large plastic sealed bag with silica gel desiccant packs before bringing it inside. The one time I did not go through this process (because of a situation when I needed to get inside fast), the lens frosted over as it started to warm. The other problem occurred when I stayed out on the ice longer than normal, attempting to grab a number of video interviews, allowing the camera to get much colder than it had on previous outings. The LCD started to really lag and finally the Canon 5D Mark III flashed Err 80, which gave us a great excuse to head inside to warm up and eat lunch! After lunch the camera was warm enough to remove from the plastic dry bag, so I removed the battery and all was good again.

Corey Roadcap collects data with Whistler, the thermal infrared sensor.

Corey Roadcap collects data with Whistler, the thermal infrared sensor.

The sun never really gets too high above the horizon that far north, making almost any time of the daylight hours ideal for photos and videos, well that is as long as there is a blue sky to provide definition between the ice landscape and the sky.


Melissa Brett and Rhett Herman, professor of physics, prep the OhmMapper for collecting data on the ice in Barrow, Alaska.

The students and faculty were great throughout the trip, willing to be interviewed at a moment’s notice, and since I was up there as a one-woman photographer/videographer/interviewer/director/producer/editor, they stepped in to help haul and setup gear. I only had to ask and I had a student to help hold lighting or hit record on the camera while I conducted the interviews.


After having the camera turned on them constantly, the students reverse roles and take photos of me!

The excitement the students conveyed throughout the trip and the enthusiasm we were receiving from those back in Virginia watching the trip unfold through my photos and videos, kept me going through the long, cold days of capturing media in layers and layers of protective clothing and very late nights spent hunched over a little laptop screen editing. My uploading internet speed averaged 256kbps at most, which made sending videos back to RU quite tedious, but I also had support of colleagues back on campus helping with the posting of videos to the website and various social media channels.

The trip was a huge success in many ways. Our students had the opportunity to participate in a real research project, while receiving one-on-one attention from the faculty. The local media in Virginia have done a number of news articles and news broadcasts regarding the trip. And the media I produced has been well received and will be used in many ways to market the university. I had such a blast during the 10 days I was with this group. It refreshed my passion for telling the stories of the great people we have at RU and their unique educational experiences. I’ve already put forth an idea to document an upcoming research trip in 2015. It’s never too early to start planning for the next adventure.

Here is the final cumulative video on the trip:

Alaska: Classroom at the Top of the World from Radford University on Vimeo.

It Was Bound To Happen – Michigan’s Eric Bronson

By Nick Romanenko, Rutgers University

Photos by Eric Bronson, University of Michigan

Photo by Eric Bronson, University of Michigan

Photo by Eric Bronson, University of Michigan

When you’re famous Sports Illustrated photographer Peter Reed Miller, you’d expect everyone at a UPAA symposium to know who you are. How heady is it that Peter Reed Miller would have heard about you? That was one scene following Miller’s Canon Explorer’s of Light presentation when this year’s Photographer of the Year winner Eric Bronson found himself amidst a crowd of other UPAA members asking Miller questions. When Eric introduced himself, Miller acknowledged he knew who Eric was and had seen his work, and that led to a rather lengthy conversation about the future and opportunities in sports photography ensuing on the spot. Continue reading

February MIC Winners Announced

Father John Malone, vice president for mission, poses for a portrait December 3, 2013. Malone holds a pair of "groucho glasses," representative of his sly sense of humor. Taken for St. Thomas magazine.

Father John Malone, vice president for mission, poses for a portrait December 3, 2013. Malone holds a pair of “groucho glasses,” representative of his sly sense of humor. Taken for St. Thomas magazine.

Congrats to Mike Ekern for his Best of Show winning portrait of Father John Malone. Check out the rest of the Monthly Image Competition winners on the MIC Gallery Page.

Remembering John H. Huffer

John A. Huffer, Ball State University Photographer

May 2,1959-Sept. 26, 2013

The UPAA Board of Directors was saddened to learn that John A. Huffer, Ball State university photographer and two-time UPAA Photographer of the Year (2003 & 2005), suddenly passed away on Sept. 26, 2013. He was 54 years old and is survived by his wife Pam and his two daughters, Emily and Jordan.

John’s images made a huge impression, especially in his uncanny ability to capture the decisive moment in sports action. His images were way ahead of the quality curve during the earlier years of digital fast-action photography that seemed to challenge so many of the rest of us.

John was a lifer at Ball State, having moved up from the ranks as a student shooter to university staff photographer to coordinator for Photo Services. He also had been teaching two classes a week in photography for the High Technology Department.

John left an incredible archive and legacy of photography in his more than three decades of shooting at Ball State. He was beloved and respected as much for his personality as for his photographic eye. John’s impact and the enormity of his loss were evident in the enormous turnout by the student body and Ball State faculty and staff at his memorial service, which was held on campus.

John’s legacy in photography at Ball State continues as his daughter Jordan is now excelling as a student photographer in her own right. Donations are being collected by the Ball State University Cardinal Varsity club in John’s name, with proceeds going toward construction of a new baseball stadium.

Making Swan Lake

I’ve wanted to shoot a dancer on the water for the longest time, so when I found out that our Theatre Ballet would be presenting “Swan Lake”, I knew that I finally had my opportunity.  Shani Robison, the Director of BYU’s Theatre Ballet, liked the concept and we set about to make it happen. My idea was to put the dancer on a platform about an inch below the water, and take the photo at sunset with a simple background. I used Google Earth to scout all the small lakes within an hour or so of campus, and I found one that was about 45 minutes away. I went up to the lake early one morning to see it for myself and found a spot that would allow me to get the shot I wanted in about 2-3 feet of water.

Next came the platform. Stability was the most important thing about the setup, because I didn’t want the ballerina to end up in the lake instead of on top of it. My dad is a general contractor, so of course I went to him for ideas on how to make this happen. What we settled on was a metal platform that is used by guys that hang drywall. It was about 12 inches wide with very sturdy adjustable legs.

Bella Torgerson and Todd Wakefield find the perfect place for the platform in the mud. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

Bella Torgerson and Todd Wakefield find the perfect place for the platform in the mud. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

My plan was to set the platform in the mud where the water was 2-3 feet deep and then carry the dancer out to the platform. Continue reading

Hello, Old (new) Friend – The Nikon Df

Oooh! That 'new toy' smell!

Oooh! That ‘new toy’ smell!

By Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame

I suppose you could say I got serious about this whole photography thing around 1990, give or take.  The first “serious” camera I bought for myself was a used Nikon FE-2.  Black.

I got my first digital camera in 2002 and shot my last roll of film for a paid job around 2004.  So you can arguably say half my photographic career has been in the film world and half in the digital world. Continue reading

The Battery Challenge – by Robert Jordan

Photo by Robert Jordan

Which Withstood the Test of Time – Alkaline, Lithium or Ni-MH?

Past experiences with lowest-bid AA alkaline batteries and poor performance from rechargeable AA batteries has made me a devout Duracell Alkaline user for years. But battery technology has improved greatly in recent years and I was eager to test some of the new AA battery and battery charger technologies.

Armed with three brands of popular single-use batteries, three brands of Ni-MH rechargeable batteries, three different AA chargers and a strobe that closely matches the features of the Nikon SB600 I started my testing.

My battery testing methodology was quite simple, four identical batteries were tested using a Nissin Mark II Di622 strobe. The Di622 is comparable to the Nikon SB600 with a guide number of 44 and many of the same modes and features. For this test, the strobe was used exclusively in manual mode at full power.

Continue reading