Not everyone can come to the Yukon Quest, but they can feel as though they’re experiencing it thanks to a talented team of photographers.
Their pictures and videos allow people from all over the world to travel with sled dog teams that race 1,000 miles through snow-covered wilderness. The photographers capture iconic images ranging from frost-covered mushers to canines bedding in straw under the aurora. The team also captures what life is like for those who support the mushers and the race.
This year's team of photographers includes Whitney McLaren, Chance McLaren, Seth Adams, Julien Schroder, and Tracey Mendenhall Porreca.
Whitney McLaren, fourth year with the YQ
Whitney McLaren aims to capture the magnitude of race and places with her photographs.
“A lot of people don’t realize everything that goes into the race … the logistics; the vastness of Alaska and Canada; and the trail that the mushers have to cover,” she said.
McLaren leads the team of photographers. She is both an archaeologist and a professional photographer who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. Every year she lives for the two weeks of the round-the-clock and sleep-deprived glory of documenting the many facets of the Yukon Quest.
How she gets great photos
McLaren likes to use a zoom lens to get a close up of the sled dog teams as they first approach her. Then she zooms out as the sled dog team approaches to get a wider angle and view of the team.
Chance McLaren, second year with YQ
Cameras, not dogs, run in the family for Chance McLaren. His sister, Whitney McLaren, recruited the Seattle, Washington based photographer to the race last year.
She had good reason to want his skills. McLaren went to school for photography and is a photographer for the e-commerce company zulily.
While last year was his first on the Yukon Quest, McLaren said he stuck to his well-developed philosophy.
“I want people to feel the emotion and see the action first-hand,” he said.
He said he also learned that photographers on the Yukon Quest needed to be much more than just good photographers.
“You have to have a lot of mental toughness because it can be grueling – the temperatures and the lack of sleep,” he said. “But it’s fun to capture the passion that the mushers have and the incredible energy of the dogs.”
McLaren’s advice to photographers in cold climates
Put your camera in a 20 to 30 litre dry bag or zip lock bag before bringing it from outside in subzero temperatures to inside a warm room. “The idea is to let the camera slowly warm up to room temperature and this helps keep condensation from building up.”
Julien Schroder, fifth year with the YQ
Mushers never know when they’ll see Julien Schroder on the Yukon Quest. He likes to park his car on the road and walk or bike to places on the trail where others don’t tread.
“It’s funny to see a musher coming at you with a face that is like, ‘’What is that in the snow? Is it a moose?’”
Schroder said he likes to take photos of the mushers in the context of the rugged landscape, even if it means bundling up for subzero temperatures and waiting awhile for a musher to glide by.
“I really like to go out where no fans have been and just show them what the mushers really do,” he said.
When not photographing mushers, Schroder is research analyst for a University of Alaska Fairbanks research institution. He’s been taking vacation for several years to photograph the race.
How Schroder gets good pics
Schroder says the mushers come by fast so he tries to maximize the number of photos he can get. He wears a body harness that carries two cameras. One camera has a long lens, 100-400mm to capture the dogs at a distance. The other camera has a wide-angle lens, 16-35 mm, to capture the dogs when they’re close.
Tracey Mendenhall Porreca, first year with YQ
Tracey Mendenhall Porreca has had a camera in her hands since she was 6-years-old. “That was in the 1960s,” she said.
The professional photographer lives in Delta Junction, Alaska and fell in love with mushing after working for three mushers. It was inevitable that she would eventually try her hand at recreational mushing and then photographing dog teams.
She said she loves photographing the Yukon Quest because it’s not just a race – it’s a story.
“I like to tell stories with my photos,” she said. “I want people to look at one photo or a series of photos and get a grasp of something that they might never have an opportunity to see in person. To me that’s the beauty of photography.”
Porreca's tip for beginners
“One of the things I tell people when they’re getting started is not to get caught up in the minutia of it all. There’s so much information out there. It’s kind of like cars or any other type of hobby where one person will tell you one thing and another person will tell you something different – but both can be right.”
Seth Adams, first year with YQ
Seth Adams may be photographing the Yukon Quest for the first time, but he’s no stranger to capturing outdoor adventure in words and pictures. The freelance writer and photographer from Fairbanks, Alaska specializes in covering outdoor adventure that requires stamina and commitment – the same type of activities he likes to do for fun.
“Most of the pictures that I’ve taken are things that I would be doing anyway,” he said.
Adams likes to mountaineer, ski and generally enjoy outdoor winter sports. He covers these sports form a journalist’s perspective and strives for objectivity.
“I try to show it like it really is,” he said. “I’m not interested in photos that don’t represent what it’s actually about.”
Adam’s advice to photographers
“Take lots of pictures,” he said. “If it’s worth taking one, take 40.” Adams said a lot of factors go into separating a good picture from an almost good picture so it’s better to have lots of options.
Photo courtesy of Whitney McLaren. The Official Visual Content Team team allows millions of Yukon Quest followers to live vicariously through them. L-R (back), Julien Schroder, Whitney McLaren, and Tracey Mendenhall Porreca. L-R (front), Seth Adams and Chance McLaren.