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Perfect Shot: Japanese photographer spends months in Alaska Range to capture aurora

by KTNA Staff ~ January 17th, 2013

Northern Lights

Northern Lights photographed from Denali Base Camp – photo by Norio Matsumoto

The beauty of the Alaskan landscape draws photographers from all over the world.  Most of them arrive in the summer, but KTNA’s Phillip Manningspoke with one repeat Talkeetna visitor whose camera is targeted at a distinctly winter phenomenon.

Spend any appreciable amount of time outside at night during an Alaskan winter and you’re likely to see the ghostly lights of the aurora dancing along the horizon.  Even long-time residents will stop and stare at the natural light-show that plays out across the northern sky.  It’s hardly surprising then, that many winter visitors have their hearts set on witnessing the Aurora Borealis.One repeat visitor, however, is not content with merely witnessing the northern lights.   Photographer Norio Matsumoto, native to Japan, has traveled to Talkeetna for nearly twenty years to fly into the Alaska Range for a chance to take some of the world’s most breathtaking aurora pictures.  Inspired by the photography of Michio Hoshino, he decided before going to college that he wanted to capture Alaska’s beauty through his camera. Matsumoto agreed to share some of his experience spending his winters in the shadow of Denali.  Given the cold temperatures and frequently brutal weather, many people would not voluntarily spend hours on a glacier in January, but Matsumoto spends weeks.

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Survival on the mountain in winter is not a trivial obstacle.  Matsumoto has measured temperatures as low as fifty-eight degrees below zero, so shelter is essential to his survival.
He builds a large snow cave that becomes his home for the long stay and subsists on dehydrated food, mostly rice and beans.  The conditions, while extreme, offer an unparalleled opportunity to photograph the aurora against the backdrop of the Alaska Range and Denali itself.  I asked Matsumoto what would make his “perfect shot.”

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The Alaska Range is not all that finds itself in Matsumoto’s viewfinder.  He spends nearly half the year in Alaska, photographing caribou migration, humpback whales, and the turning of the fall colors.  He says he will continue photographing the beauty of Alaska for as long as his body will let him.  When I asked if he had any advice for aspiring Aurora photographers, Matsumoto replied, “Just keep shooting.”

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