Photographing the Backcountry with Melissa Meade
We met Melissa Meade of Anchorage, AK through social media last year. We were immediately impressed with her photography chops and enthusiasm for the outdoors. We wanted to get to know Melissa a little better and asked her to contribute to an article. Make sure to follow Melissa on Instagram and Facebook. If you are interested in prints, contact Melissa directly at email@example.com.
Melissa Meade in her element
Where are you located? Anchorage, Alaska; born and raised here and I love it!
How did you get your start in photography? I started photography as a teenager with my mom’s “fancy” digital camera that had about a 1 inch screen on the back. I used it all the time to take photos of any and everything, especially landscapes. I had always enjoyed photography but it really didn’t grow into a passion until after I graduated from college and received my first DSLR camera as a Christmas gift. From there, I really began my focus on wildlife photography and slowly started to learn by trial and error.
What is your favorite camera/lens setup? My favorite camera and lens setup is the Nikon D850 with the NIKKOR 200-500mm. I just got this setup only a few months ago and while I’m still learning the overall settings, it is by far changing the quality of my photography.
What is your best tip to creating a memorable image? Take a few test shots BEFORE starting your photo adventure/trip/hike to ensure your settings are right for the conditions. It’ll save some heartache in the long run when you have a surprise wildlife encounter that lasts a moment only to discover later that the ISO, aperture or exposure are way off.
What is your favorite animal to photograph? This is a really tricky one because there are so many animals that I love to photograph because of different behaviors. If I have to pick an absolute favorite, I’ll have to say it is the Coastal Brown Bear, especially when they are fishing. Most people see bears as these big, scary animals, which they can be, but given the right situation where they do not feel pressured or stressed and they just do what bears do naturally, they are the most playful, funny, and animated animals to watch.
What is your favorite image? And why is it your favorite? My favorite image that I’ve taken so far is probably the image called “The Glance.” I remember that day so clearly because I woke up that morning literally wanting to stay in bed all day and do nothing. But my best friend called me and told me that we should go out to find something to photograph, which took a lot of convincing on my part. I must have said no multiple times before he said that we should go because “we might see something amazing.” I remember reluctantly agreeing to go and off we went into the Alaskan wilderness looking for anything “amazing”. After a few hours of coming up empty handed, we began heading back to town when out of the blue, I remember seeing a lone Dall Sheep Ram sitting on a low ridge. I told my friend we should try for it because we could probably get to him quickly and easily (or so I thought). It took well over an hour of bushwhacking up the mountain side before we got within a couple hundred yards of where he stood.
I remember him standing on a ledge, looking in the opposite direction of where we were and we slowly began hiking up to the ledge. I crawled on my stomach at one point because the wind was blowing close to 30 mph and it was hard to stand let along walk along the ridge. As we got closer to the ram, he must have caught our scent because he turned toward our direction and we quickly hit the ground hoping he wouldn’t bolt. After only moving about 10 feet over the course of an hour and waiting for him to bed down so we could get any chance of get a clear shot, I finally became frustrated and said "screw it". I remember standing up, with the wind nearly knocking me over and just as I pulled my camera up into position, the ram slowly turned and glanced at me over his shoulder. It was only a split second occurrence before he turned away from me and walked up the mountainside. I remember reviewing the image on my camera and thinking “holy crap, I got it…I got that shot.” It’s my favorite because I didn’t want to go out that day and great shots only happen when we put ourselves in situations that create opportunities. And in this case, I needed my best friend to give me a shove out the door to get that opportunity.
Tell us about your most memorable trip into the backcountry Hands down my trip to McNeil River in June 2018. That trip was my first tried and true backcountry, middle of nowhere trip by myself. I remember getting notification that I had been awarded a permit three weeks before I was set to leave. I could not contain my excitement! The McNeil River Sanctuary is literally heaven on earth because it is so untouched, pure, untamed and contains such indescribable beauty - not to mention the locals - the Coastal Brown Bears. It was memorable because not only did it provide some of the most sought after and prime brown bear photography opportunities in Alaska but it also put my “real Alaskan grit” to the test because out of the 5 days I was there, 4 of those days were filled with nonstop intense wind and rain. I remember sleeping in my tent the first night and feeling the 50 MPH wind gust moving underneath my tent and pulling a couple of the spikes from the ground. I didn’t sleep much that night or the next two nights as the wind never really let up and the rain just added to the misery. However, although I didn’t sleep much those nights, I am so thankful for the experience because it made me realize there was nothing I couldn’t handle - not long hikes, relentless bugs, strong winds, endless rain, nothing - and that I am tougher than I realized.
What trips do you have lined out for this year? I have numerous trips planned for this spring, summer and fall including trips to Denali, fishing the first runs of red salmon on the Russian River, possibly another trip to McNeil River (keeping my fingers crossed on that one), road trips to Homer, Alaska for eagles, Seward for sea otters, whales, sea lions, and puffins, a trip to Brook Falls to see the famous brown bears as featured on explore.org, trips to the Kenai Mountains for the elusive mountain goats, more backcountry trips into the Chugach Mountains for Dall Sheep and of course, the fall rut of the big Alaskan bull moose. Although some of these will be played by ear because of the ongoing pandemic, I’m hoping I will be able to take a few trips this summer and fall.
What trips are on your bucket list? The biggest one right now is to travel to the Great Bear Rainforest to see the elusive Spirit Bear. I’ve always found these bears so mysterious and magical and I hope that I’m able one day to have the opportunity to not only experience them in person but to photograph them as well. I also want to experience the elk rut, photograph mule deer and big horn sheep.
How important is quality backcountry food to your trips? The quality of backcountry food is extremely important to me personally because I have Crohn’s Disease and I have to be extremely careful in regards to my diet. Having high quality, filling, and tasty backcountry food can literally can make or break a trip for me. The better quality the food, the better my overall experience on any backcountry trip will be.
What is your favorite backcountry food product? One of my favorite backcountry food products is the Mint Chocolate Packaroons from Heather’s Choice. They provide a calorie dense, delicious, and sweet treat that I take with me on pretty much any outdoor adventure I go on. I also love Honey Stinger Energy Gels which provide a quick pick me up on long hikes.
What is your best piece of backpacking advice? It’s never too early to start physically training for any backpacking trip, including going for short hikes with a full pack to become acclimated to the weight of the pack over time. It also allows for trouble shooting any problems that may arise like an ill-fitting pack or breaking in brand-new boots.
What is your favorite piece of outdoor gear? My favorite piece of outdoor gear would have to be my Lowa Tibet GTX boots. I’ve probably put a few hundred miles on these boots in the last 9 months and they have kept my feet stable, dry, warm, and feeling great even after spending 25 miles hiking in the mountains.
How can people contact you to buy prints? For print inquiries, I can be contacted through social media, on Facebook and Instagram or through my business email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be launching my website soon that will allow for direct ordering of prints in multiple mediums so please stay tuned!