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Documenting the Last Frontier

Vinit Modi captures the splendor of Alaska with the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC G2 and SP 15-30mm F/2.8 VC lenses.

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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Vinit Modi

When Vinit Modi was in his 20s, he watched the movie Into the Wild, about Christopher McCandless' decision to give up all his possessions and go live in the Alaskan wilderness. "That film has been formative for me in terms of experiencing life and the journey you must take to realize what it has in store for you as an individual," Vinit says.

And so the Tennessee photographer has incorporated that philosophy into his photography, capturing moments and experiences in time that he's able to share with the world. "I try to put a lot of life and feeling into my pictures," he says. "There's a quote that 'we often take for granted the things that most deserve our gratitude,' and that has been one of my inspirations in finding perspectives to show there's beauty and life everywhere."

A desire to travel to Alaska like McCandless has also never been far from Vinit's mind, and he finally got his chance in May. "I was there for eight days, and I can say I've never been to a place that put me at such a loss for words," he says. "I don't think anything can describe what this place offers, except experiencing it firsthand and letting Alaska do its magic."

Two Tamron lenses accompanied Vinit on his trip to the Last Frontier: the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 VC and the SP 150-600mm VC G2. "I definitely wanted to have the 150-600 with me for taking pictures of wildlife," he says. "And I found it useful for other logistical reasons. For example, when you're in Denali National Park, you can't take your private vehicle into much of it, so we were on a bus. Shooting through bus glass can be tricky, but my handheld pictures of the snowcapped mountains through the windows came out amazing."

As for the 15-30, that lens has long been on Vinit's wish list to take on a trip like this. "Landscape photography is my forte, and this super-wide-angle lens allowed me to achieve everything I wanted to do photographically," he says. "The images also came out so vibrant. And the fluorine coating on the lens helped get me through Alaska's rainy days without a hassle—I would just wipe the lens clean of any moisture and get right back to shooting."

Vinit's trip started in Anchorage, from which point he moved on to Denali National Park and then the Matanuska Glacier. "We also visited the Kenai fjords and Blackstone Bay and took a half-day cruise where we were able to see 26 glaciers," he says. "It was a good workout for me, because with all of the gear I had, my bag weighed 26 pounds."

At the time of Vinit's visit, around Memorial Day weekend, there were almost 21 hours of sunlight daily—a photographer's dream. "Even at 11 p.m. it's still pretty bright outside," he says. "It starts to get dim after midnight, but it never even really gets dark. There was a lot of transition during the day with the sun's movements and the reflections off the glaciers, and it was fun to work in that ever-changing light."

Vinit knew where he wanted to visit on his trip, though he didn't map out exactly what he wanted to shoot. "I did the more touristy things, but I also talked to the locals once I got there and found out about spots you normally wouldn't find pictures of online," he says. He also quickly discovered that one of the advantages of taking pictures in Alaska is that you often have a 360-degree view to tap into. "That's what I noticed when we were exploring the Matanuska Glacier with our guide, who'd dug into the glacier and inserted a metal pipe into it so we could taste the glacier water," Vinit says. "As we were waiting for our turn to have a taste, I took this photo, with the sun behind me. It's impossible not to take excellent photos when you're constantly surrounded by mountains and scenery."

© Vinit Modi

Vinit admits he has a soft spot for clouds, and he'll often wait for just the right conditions to capture a dramatic sky above his landscapes. "We were on the glacier for close to six hours, and during those last few hours I was waiting for the best light and wind conditions," he says. "To shoot cloud movement, which I did in this black-and-white photo, you usually have to have a tripod and patience for the long exposures (30 or 45 seconds) that are necessary. But the clouds here were moving so fast that I was able to capture this image handheld, shooting at 1/400th of a second."

© Vinit Modi

Because of the sweeping scenery in Alaska, Vinit tried to take some photos with people in them for a sense of scale. "I was photographing a group of people when I spotted this one lone visitor in the distance, just that small bit of yellow from his jacket surrounded by all of the blues from the sky and glacier," he says. "The 15-30 shows such a scene like no other."

© Vinit Modi

Vinit was impressed with the detail he was able to get with the 15-30. "I was standing on the glacier, right in that final space before it starts to melt down to water," he says. "I was able to break a small piece of ice off from the edge, and when I held it up, it looked like a piece of dragonglass from Game of Thrones. You can see every little bit of that piece of ice I'm holding up."

© Vinit Modi

Seeking out shadows and textures in the landscape is another way to offer a sense of place, and for Vinit, shooting some images in black and white proved the best way to depict those scenes. "The American photographer Andri Cauldwell once said: 'To see in color is a delight for the eye, but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul,' and that really holds true," Vinit says. "For one of the black-and-whites I took, we were walking along when I turned around and just shot the backdrop behind me. It was about 10 at night, so some patches were dark, but you can see the sun's rays reflecting off other pieces of the glacier. I didn't have to do much to it in post-processing because the contrasts just emerged so naturally."

© Vinit Modi

Vinit also used the 15-30 to create some optical illusions. "During one of our hikes, there was a 10-foot-tall glacier snowcap right beside me on my left," he says. "I thought it would be really cool to make it look like it was some faraway mountain, with the other mountains behind it out of focus, when in reality it was just a foot away from me. I wouldn't have been able to pull this off without the 15-30."

© Vinit Modi

Vinit plans on heading back to Alaska as soon as possible. "Next time I want to go up north, near Fairbanks, where you can actually visit the northernmost point on Earth," he says. "The thing I've learned most from all of my travel experiences is to be humble. If what we see in nature doesn't blow our minds, we're missing something."

To see more of Vinit Modi's work, go to www.vinitmodi.com.

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