Nat Geo & Samsung

What It Takes with Katie Orlinsky

You Ask

This is the final piece of our three part series collaborating with Nat Geo and Samsung. The talent is Nat Geo photographer, Katie Orlinky. The location is outside Anchorage, Alaska. And obviously, like the other two, shot entirely using the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra phone.

We Answer

Alaska. I have never been able to tell you “no,” and I’m certainly not going to start now. We almost didn’t make it this time around because of the strict guidelines required to get into the state due to our now nemesis, COVID-19. Before we were finally granted approval to make this production happen, we needed to have several back up plans that fit with Katie’s story. We were researching stories from Wyoming to upstate New York to Virginia to Maine. We left no state unturned before we were finally given the greenlight to head out to the last great American frontier.

Airplane being loaded
Collage of images with associated color pallete

Maybe it’s because it was our third time, maybe it was because we had worked with Katie before, maybe it’s because we were all a pack of dog lovers, but I could see this story unfolding in my mind as we began crafting it. As with Wyoming, Erica was a crucial player in the writing and research phase and helped mold the scripts into a place that felt genuine to Katie and her career, the fellow photographers, and the story. Monesha also found the perfect sled dog outfit, one that was open and operating in the summer off season (and during this wretched pandemic) and one that would pass all the stringent guidelines required by Disney, Nat Geo, Katie and us at AlterEgo. And that was paramount for us. Mushing and dog sledding can be a somewhat controversial subject so we needed to be sure we were working with an incredibly reputable place. And we found that with Snowhoook Adventures and their founder, Justin (who we affectionately dubbed, “Alaska Justin”). All 57 of his dogs were family. The retired dogs are part of the welcoming committee, and were free roaming around his sprawling property, always ready to greet guests with wags and licks. His working dogs all lived in the dog yard. And then there were the puppies. Puppies! They stayed in a separate area with their mom, Silver, who protects them from eagles and other birds of prey. As much as we all love dogs, none of us had ever been to a place with THIS many dogs. It was loud, and energetic … and AWESOME.

Man petting a dog that is atop a dog house
Photo credit: Molly McCormick
Woman petting a dog that is atop a dog house
Photo credit: Jorden DeGaetano
Woman being nuzzled by dog
Photo credit: Molly McCormick
Man petting two dogs; one is atop a dog house
Photo credit: Molly McCormick

And then there was the human talent. When you get to capture someone’s true passion, you feel lucky. It’s more than just being there on a film set watching a concept come to life. You actually get to watch another person come to life. Bringing Nat Geo photographer, Katie Orlinsky, back to a place that fuels her passion and reinvigorated her love for photography was a downright cool experience. And the contest winner, Molly McCormick, is one of those people you know you’ll actually keep in touch with when you say it. Her DREAM was to film sled dogs in Alaska. That is what she ironically told Nat Geo before knowing that was the actual prize. And last but never least, Team Galaxy Creator Jorden DaGaetano is both a genuinely delightful human and a killer Samsung ambassador and photographer.

Day 1. We arrive for our scout and are greeted by 10 Alaskan huskies all charging towards us with full tails wagging. It’s raining (OF COURSE) so they are muddy and wet. First lesson of working in Alaska: don’t wear anything nice. Alaska Justin is kind enough to give us the tour, introducing us to the dogs and providing backstory and context for each and every one. There are the descendants of famed sled dog, Togo… There are the brothers who were born when he was off racing the Iditarod, There’s the blind one, the best leader, the daughter of his first dog, the one who runs but never helps pull, and the “great dog, but terrible sled dog” dog, and Nigel, a small terrier who everyone knows is the true team leader. They are all his babies. And being there with someone loved by so many animals was like being in a Disney movie for real.

Man standing in jeep
Man taking picture of  dog as dog looks away
Man holding puppy for camera
Man playing with puppies with stick
Photo credit: Molly McCormick

But when it was time to work--- these dogs WORKED. The off season training is super important because it gives AK Justin a chance to try out teams and see who works best together. And because there is no snow on the ground, they pull an ATV which he controls for the ability to engine break them so they don’t pull the ATV TOO FAST! They are that strong. It was super impressive to watch them all bark and howl at the chance to be harnessed up to run. All in all, they were the most impressive athletes I’ve ever worked with. And all they want in return is acknowledgement and appreciation for their efforts. So, lots and lots of pets.

Dogs running on trail

The 2 day shoot was incredibly well structured because we had scripted ahead of time, of course, and we respectfully followed Justin’s organic process. Despite weather being an ever present issue for this campaign, we made the misty conditions work to our favor. Embracing how the light picked up on the morning haze, and leaning into the contrast between vibrant golden saturated meadows and the darker fur of the dogs.

And skies have been such a consistent theme throughout the campaign. In Arizona it was the fast moving storm clouds that made our time lapses so stunning. In Wyoming it was the lack of cloud cover that prohibited us from filming at certain times on the scorching hot rock wall and in Alaska, the mist and fog created a more magical, dewy feel in the forest.

For this piece, we were highlighting the Single Take AI and 8K Video Snap features of the Samsung S20 Ultra, so movement was key. We structured the story around the photographers being able to jump out and film the dogs in action. The most challenging thing to capture: puppies. Trying to get those little ones to sit and pose was virtually impossible, so thankfully, Single Take AI was the right tool for the job. But at the end of the day, we were surrounded by dozens of dogs and puppies. That was the job, and it was a surreal experience. As the puppies came clumsily bounding down the hill, Jordan exclaimed, “it’s like heaven’s waiting room.” I don’t think we could have said it better ourselves.

Woman laying on ground with dogs playfully attacking her
Man holding a dog and nozzling with it
Woman holding a dog like a baby
Photo credit: Jorden DeGaetano
Three dogs running towards camera with the legs of a person in the shot behind them following
Photo credit: Molly McCormick
Dogs running; one jumping
Dogs appear to be leading a jeep

We would sincerely like to thank all the amazing talent that made this piece one of the most heartfelt of the bunch. Katie, Molly & Jorden, we look forward to following your success and hope our paths cross again. To AK Justin, you were an incredible and thoughtful host and one of the most loved people I have ever met. All of your dogs are so lucky to have you.

Dog howling

Oh.. Alaska. You never, ever disappoint. Thank you for always being beautiful.

View down train tracks towards moutains
Sunset with a silohette of a man

Fun Fact

In lieu of a fun fact, we dedicate this case study to Nigel. A fearless leader. A true sled dog. A dedicated member of the Snowhook family. Nigel passed away only a few short weeks after we returned from Alaska. You will be missed, little buddy.

Woman with dog in her arms in car with man driving.