Photographing the Backcountry with Jerry Herrod
We met Jerry Herrod of Anchorage, AK through social media last year. We loved his images of giant moose and Dall Sheep. We wanted to get to know Jerry a little better and asked him to contribute to an article. Make sure to follow Jerry on Instagram. If you are interested in prints, contact Jerry through Instagram or at email@example.com.
Where are you located? Anchorage, Alaska
How did you get your start in photography? It started as a hobby in high school at first with my dad's Canon Ae-1 35mm film camera and a few manual focus lenses. I eventually got out of it, much to my own regret later. But, I rediscovered my passion for it about 5 years ago and I've been chasing after it ever since then.
What is your favorite camera/lens setup? My overall favorite set-up so far has been Canon 5D MKIV body and Canon EF 200-400 F4 1.4x. This camera and lens set-up has been a serious performer for me. The camera body is an absolute beast when it comes to being tough for the backcountry and backcountry weather conditions. I've never had an issue with it so far with weather sealing and it has a fast enough shutter speed for most shooting situations I've found myself in with wildlife.
The 200-400 with 1.4x extender built in is a serious piece of glass for wildlife photography. A new lens is out of most price ranges for people but I found mine used in great condition and relatively affordable for my income. The range this lens gives you allows for environmental images of wildlife while being able to give you up close and tighter portrait style shots. I've photographed everything from Ptarmigan sized birds, to Bears and Moose and even landscapes with it. The biggest downside, it's quite large and heavy at about 7 pounds camera and lens combined. I'll often only carry this lens by itself in my pack.
How close are you typically to the animals you are photographing? Most often 25-50 yards. I'm one who does not like to push wildlife beyond their comfort zone or chase down animals just to get "the shot". If you spend enough time out in the field the money shots will come to you.
What is your best tip to creating a memorable image? There's many factors that come to play with this question. I would recommend learning the manual settings on your camera to capture proper exposure and learn the histogram information on your camera-which will tell you if you are basically overexposing or underexposing. Shooting in manual mode allows you to control your ISO, shutter speed and aperture (aperture wide open to create a beautiful shallow depth of field image where your subject appears to "pop" out of the image or capture an image with a deep depth of field that really defines every detail of the landscape and your subject). It takes a little time to learn but you'll be able to create some of the most beautiful images to go along with the memories burned into your mind. The camera can make magic happen with just a little bit of understanding exposure and manual operation.
What is your favorite animal to photograph? By far the Dall Sheep. They are often the hardest animal to find within reasonable range for most camera lenses and they are often in the most difficult terrain to hike to. I've spent several days in some places just trying to collect one or two images.
What is your favorite image, why is it your favorite? A photo I captured of Dall Sheep in the Alaska Range that was later used by the National Chapter Wild Sheep Foundation for their 2020 Sheep Show. It was an image that was memorable mainly for the climb that went into collecting it and also the humbleness I found from someone recognizing it to be good enough to use for a national level event.
Tell us about your last trip to photograph the bears at the Mcneil State Refuge. Mcneil River is entry by lottery permit only, limited to only a handful of lottery winners for each weeks time block in the summer. Mcneil River is a State Game Refuge located next to Katmai National Park with no hunting which allows for a healthy natural population of Brown Bears and other coastal Alaska wildlife.
The trip was an absolute eye opener. I had been in parts of Alaska just north of that area but never to the actual game refuge. I had an idea of what it might be like but I realized I was quite wrong once I got to see how truly amazing it was with my own eyes. The refuge was like something out of the last King Kong movie. Vivid emerald green mountain slopes and seaside cliffs that open up to Kamishak Bay. Taking a trip here is like taking a trip back in time to when man's presence had not yet disturbed the environment. The Pebble Mine which is proposed to be built nearby the refuge and surrounding Katmai National Park would permanently alter the landscape there forever with an industrial mining complex and also alter the current human/bear relationship in the area. Currently the bears realize that people are of no concern; during bear viewing there bears would often naturally come close for viewing with no real concern that people were there. The bears could have cared less one way or another and their life around people has taught them that people are neither a threat nor a food source while bear viewing is being conducted. If the mine goes in, the human/bear interaction would drastically change. There is a likelihood that bears would become conditioned to seeking people for human food items from work camps in and around the proposed mine area and the interactions would be deadly for the bears. Bears are driven by hunger and food, and that large of an outside influence has potential for disaster with the bears. This is just one tiny part of the bigger picture, the human/bear conflict potential. The Pebble Mine would also produce millions of gallons of toxic waste as a byproduct of mining that has great potential of spilling into the environment and poisoning the wilderness.
What trips do you have lined out for this year? For the rest of the season; Black Bears in Prince William Sound, Chugach Mountains Moose and Sheep, Alaska Range Sheep, Mountain Goat out of Valdez.
What trips are on your bucket list? I've always wanted to explore Canada and the many wilderness areas there. I'm not a huge travel junkie but Canada is definitely on my list, the Eastern Canada Caribou specifically.
How important is quality backcountry food to your trips? Food is the fuel that drives you in the backcountry. Quality food makes for not only feeling good in the backcountry but having sustained energy as well. I look for cleaner ingredient dehydrated meals, specifically Heather's Choice based out of Anchorage Alaska. A second pick I've found is Peak Refuel meals. They tend to be a little lower in salt than Mountain House.
What is your favorite backcountry food product? Heather's Choice meals and snacks have so far been my favorite. They produce a snack called Packaroon, made with shredded coconut and lightly sweetened. It's a high calorie low sugar snack that doesn't give me a sugar spike or crash while I'm hoofing it hard in the backcountry.
What is your best piece of backcountry advice? Know or study the area before you go and at minimum have a map and compass or a GPS. I recently participated in a backcountry search and rescue where a person believed they were going back to the road when they were actually only going higher and higher up a mountain and away from town. A compass or GPS can really help you going from point A to B or coming back home from heading out into wilderness.
What is your favorite piece of outdoor gear? My compass strapped to my pack strap. I am constantly looking at it and taking a bearing while hiking in the backcountry.
How can people contact you to buy prints? Right now directly through instagram (@akscenic). Anything I post is available to purchase as a print in most any print medium; fine art, metal, canvas or acrylic prints. I'm also available for contract outdoor photography work.