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||Photography in Alaska
The ultimate outdoor destination in North America, filled with scenic
about my first experience in Denali National Park in my short essay, Between
say everything is big in Texas, but itís bigger in Alaska. No other state
has as much preserved land as Alaska, and few have anywhere near the diversity
of dramatic sites. Jaw-dropping scenery seems to grow everywhere in Alaska,
and unlike the lower 48, where development seems to sprawl at the foot of
every photogenic landmark, you can literally walk for days without seeing
evidence of man.
Alaskan grizzly wanders off for a nap after some intensive berry-eating.
Nikon N90s, 70-210mm f/4-5.6D, Kodachrome 200.
yet, you can explore Alaska in ways that are as diverse as the scenery:
- Rent a
motorhome and drive as far north as is possible in North America.
- Hop a cruise ship or
ferry and watch the scenery pass you by.
- Travel to Denali National
Park by rail, in some of the best rolling stock in the country.
- Put on your boots and
hike the tundra (or the rainforest)
- Kayak Prince William
Sound, Glacier Bay, or the Inside Passage.
- Charter a bush plane
or helicopter for the birdís eye view of a glacier.
- Come in late winter and
learn to mush a dogsled.
list of ways to explore the 49th state is virtually endless,
and once youíve been there, youíre almost sure to return, and return,
landscapes that seem to go on forever and as much as 24 hours of daylight to shoot
full-frame shot of a grizzly in the wild that you survive to brag about
would be lucky (it doesnít count if you get it at one of the established
bear-watching platforms on Kenai Peninsula or Admiralty Island).
a photographerís viewpoint, Alaska provides two wonderful tableaus, sometimes
simultaneously. On the one hand, you have landmark scenics that just beg
for the widest lens you own (Denali, Meddenhall Glacier, Brooks Range,
etc.). On the other, thereís the wildlife (bears, eagles, moose, and whales
for starters), which will have you reaching for the longest telephoto
you've got. Yet, thereís plenty in between, too, with some of the most
scenic towns in America (Sitka, for example), colorful shops and locals,
and much, much more.
I think the best way to visit Alaska is to string together several shorter,
different types of trips. Take the "blue canoe" (Alaska
Ferry) up the Inland Passage to start your trip in a leisurely, comfortable
fashion. Jump off at Juneau to kayak Admiralty Island and bear watch.
Fly to Anchorage (preferably on a small plane) and take the train to Denali
National Park. Hike the park for a few days before returning home or extending
your trip with yet another adventure. Next time you go, drive a rented
motorhome to Fairbanks, take a hike in the Brooks Range, visit another
national park (there are plenty to choose from in Alaska, including several
of the least visited parks in America), then spend a day or two in Sitka
to take in the Russian Orthodox church and Klinget Museum on the way home.
the idea? Mix and match first-class destinations to your heartís content.
Donít worry, you wonít run out.
Must See and Photograph
(from the water in Prince William Sound, up close at Mendenhall).
- Denali. But give
yourself enough time in the park to make sure you get to see it; the
mountain has been known to hide in the clouds for days.
on an unusually clear day, with Wonder Lake in the foreground. Nikon
N90s, 70-210mm f/4-5.6D, Fuji Sensia 100. While this spot is easy
to get to (you could throw a rock to the road from where this was
taken), current park policy means that you have to take a bus to get
here. Since Wonder Lake is over 80 miles into the park and the road
is dirt, you're really at the whim of the bus schedules if you try
to get pictures like this without either: (1) making a reservation
for the Wonder Lake campground (tough to get); or (2) stay at one
of the handful of lodges at the far end of the park (I recommend The
North Face Lodge or Camp Denali, which are owned by the same person
and share a reservation system).
Inside Passage. If you canít afford a cruise, hop the afjordable
Anything from the
air. Find yourself a bush pilot and explore the vastness in the
only way you can begin to fathom just how big this place is.
repellant with DEET in it chews up the plastic parts of digital cameras
faster than a bear can chew through you. Wear long-sleeved and legged
clothing, plus invest in a good headnet. If you must use DEET, be very
careful not to have it on your hands or face when handling your camera.
- You shouldnít
approach any of the large mammals, so bring a very long telephoto lens
or converter (see African Safari advice).
- It gets
quite cold, even in summer, especially near the glaciers. Lithium batteries
work better in the cold. Keep an extra set of batteries warm in an inner
jacket pocket, and swap sets when the cold zaps the ones in the camera.
- If you
move from warm lodging to cold outdoors, or vice versa, condensation
can be a factor. Put your camera in a zipper-lock bag and remove all
the air in the bag before going back and forth. Or, get in the habit
of leaving the camera outside.
- Iíve watched
it go from completely sunny to torrential rain in less than two hours.
Always take waterproof outer layers with you on hikes, and make sure
that the camera brings protection, too.
are everywhere. After spending two weeks on an island with densest concentration
of bears on the planet and not seeing a one, I
found myself face to face with a mother and her cub only a couple
of miles from downtown Juneau. Carry bear spray. Read the brochures
available at every information center. Watch the cautionary video at
Denali NP. Be prepared, and donít panic when you do encounter
a bear. If you act correctly, youíll walk away with your own close encounter
story to tell.
is one the most tourist-friendly places in the world. The residents
are friendly and talkative, crime is low, information and advice are
easy to come by, and there are an overwhelming number of options at
every stop. In virtually every town youíll find hiking trails to explore,
plane or helicopter tours to take, boating or kayaking opportunities,
and a wealth of interesting side visits to make. Ask a local and youíll
receive an earful of interesting things to check out.
Best Book for Photographers
a really good "how-to" book doesn't exist for aspiring Alaskan
photographers (hmmm, maybe I should plan more Alaskan trips). But two
excellent inspirational books are Galen Rowell's
Alaska: Images of the Country (this Sierra Club reprint includes
excerpts from John McPhee's classic "Coming into the Country")
and the more recent coffee table wonder by Art Wolfe and Nick Jans, simply