Traveling to a new location can be intimidating. It takes time to research the best locations to photograph. Most of the time you probably have a limited number of days to make the most of your trip. You don’t want to waste time with the smaller details like trying to find a good place to eat. Here are 5 tips that I hope will help you when planing a photography trip to Alaska to make the most of your time in this wonderful state.
#1. What to Wear
While I was researching the best clothing to pack with me for my August trip to Alaska, I kept finding the following advice: Dress in layers. During most of the summer you can expect temperatures ranging from 50-70 degrees. Rain and wind are common. Layers give you the ability to stay warm when it’s cold and strip off a layer or two when it’s warmer. I recommend at least three layers. Your inner layer should be made of a thin, synthetic, moisture absorbing or wicking material. I prefer and Under Armour t-shirt. The mid layer can be a fleece jacket or sweater. You want this layer to insulate you from the cold and wind but still be lightweight. Again, synthetic is the way to go here. For you’re outer layer you’ll want a waterproof rain jacket or shell. Be sure to get one with a hood. You can spend $200+ on a high end rain jacket, but I’ve found that the $60-$70 jackets work just as well as long as they are rainproof. If you’re using the LowePro Rover Pro Camera Pack, there should be plenty of room to store extra layers as you strip them.
Alaska summer days are long. There are nearly twice as many hours of daylight to protect your skin from. Bring a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. Especially when hiking a glacier, the glaring sun can be harsh on your eyes.
Lightweight hiking shoes are sufficient for most activities. You might consider bringing two pair in case one set gets wet. Bring extra non-cotton socks as well. Be sure to break in your shoes before hand. The last thing you want is blistering feet when you are trying to enjoy your time in Alaska. If you plan to hike a glacier, you’ll definitely want crampons. If you are hiring a guide, check with them to see if they provide crampons and other specialized gear.
Alaska’s wilderness is vast. Before any excursion or hike, plan your route and communication plan.
- You can’t rely on cell phone service as coverage is less than perfect or nonexistent in some locations.
- Make sure a friend or family member knows your route, amount of food, and when you expect to be back.
- Hike with a buddy whenever possible.
- Get a hand-held GPS and learn how to use it before you leave.
- I have used Spot, a satellite transmitter that updates your location online for friends or family to track your progress. Not only is it fun, but it can save your life if you get into trouble.
- Think twice before packing a gun. Unless you are an experienced hunter, your chances of stopping a bear with a handgun if it decides to charge you are not good. And then there is the hassle and extra paperwork to check a firearm on the airline.
- Bear spray if probably a better option and it is incredibly effective at persuading a bear to run the other way. Bear spray is basically super powerful pepper spray. It has a limited range, but is good to carry.
- Most of the time simply hiking with a buddy and making noise along the hike will be enough to warn bears that you are coming and help you avoid startling one on the trail.
#3 Where to eat
If you are staying in Anchorage, I can recommend several fantastic restaurants. Whenever I travel, I like to try and find the places that the local people love. I avoid chain restaurants if at all possible. I feel that a large part of experiencing a new place is to experience the food.
Glacier BrewHouse “Alaska’s first choice for Wild Alaskan Seafood, Rotisserie Roasted Meats and Handcrafted Ales.” I ordered the Prime Rib Cheesesteak Sandwich with their house brewed root beer. It was delicious.
Moose’s Tooth A extremely popular pizza house. There is always a wait so go with plenty of time. Get the Diablo Bread Sticks to start. Any of the pizzas are great.
Bear’s Tooth Mexican fusion with a local feel. Fresh fish was fantastic.
Sheep Mountain Lodge Burgers are decent, but the deserts are the reason to go. blueberry and strawberry pie were my favorites. Carrot cake is great as well if you’re into that kind of thing. Sheep Mountain Lodge is a great place to stop and eat after hiking the Matanuska Glacier as it’s just up the road.
#4 What to See
Just about anywhere you travel in Alaska you will be presented with wonderful opportunities to capture outstanding photography. I’ve listed the locations I recommend below. I’ve photographed all of these locations with the exception of Prince William Sound as our boat tour got canceled due to bad weather.
This breathtaking mountain pass is named after miner and prospector Robert Hatcher. The surrounding rock peaks and lower rolling hills make for stunning vistas and provide a dramatic backdrop to the now closed Independence gold mine.
A series of trails wind around the remaining mine buildings and visitors can read about the fascinating history the people that worked in the mine on the signs placed around the area.
Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States. Hiking this glacier was one of my favorite parts of my trip to Alaska. There is something indescribable about walking on the vast amount of ice that makes up this 27 mile long valley glacier. I highly recommend booking a private tour guide. A guide can help show you the most interesting features on the glacier and ensure you stay safe while navigating in and around the massive crevasses.
Mica Guides will provide rain gear, hiking shoes, helmets, and crampons and your guide will instruct you on the proper techniques for walking in crampons safely.
Overcast skies bring out the blue in the ice and make for the best conditions for photographing the glacier.
The late summer months in Alaska are breathtaking. Up to 22 hours of daylight illuminate Alaska’s rolling tundra, beautiful river valleys, ocean fjords, and glacial lakes. Wildlife including moose, bears, Dall sheep and bald eagles are preparing for the long, harsh winter ahead. The late summer months also bring something else very unique: the harvest of the remarkable Wild Alaskan Blueberry. If you are in Alaska in mid August, you have a good chance of finding wild blueberries on a short hike on one of the trails at McHugh Creek Picnic Area.
Most fruits and vegetable plants would quickly wither and die in Alaska’s demanding climate. Once covered in glaciers, the soil is full of sand and silt. The winters are long and frigid and the growing season is unbearably short.
Lake Hood is such a cool place to photograph that I wrote a post about it here. Lake Hood is the seaplane base extension of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. If you’re flying into Anchorage it’s a fun and convenient place to stop and take a look at the dozens of aircraft docked around the waterway. You can park on the side of the road and walk along many of the boardwalks. If the weather is decent you’ll likely see many takeoffs and landings on the water.
We had a boat tour with glacier landing scheduled through Lazy Otter Tours on the last day of our visit but the weather was so terrible that they canceled and refunded our tour the day before. We made the most of it and visited some more locations around Anchorage, but I will definitely try to book this tour again during a future visit to Alaska. It’s common to see wildlife, glacier calving, and fjords. I’m disappointed that we had to cancel but I’m looking forward to it on the next trip.
#5 What Photography Gear to Bring
What photo gear you bring will largely depend on what kind of photography you are most interested in shooting.
- Wildlife – You’ll want a tripod and the longest lens you can get your hands on. Telephoto lenses can be expensive but you can rent one for your trip to Alaska from BorrowLenses.com for a fraction of the cost of buying one. I’d get at least a 200mm telephoto with image stabilization if your main goal is to capture Alaskan wildlife.
- Landscapes – The wider the better. I like shooting 17mm on a full frame body for landscape shots. Again, if you don’t have a wide lens, consider renting for your trip. Alaska is a landscape photographer’s dream. Every corner offers dramatic landscapes just waiting to be captured.
- Lifestyle – I never leave home without my Canon 24-105mm lens. This high quality zoom lens is versatile and great for grabbing a candid portrait of the people you are traveling with or your guide.
Other Useful Gear
LowePro Rover Pro 45L Camera Pack – I’ve already mentioned how much I like the LowePro Rover Pro 45L camera pack. Here’s my full review. This pack was great for caring my photography gear and comes with a convenient built-in water proof cover that was essential for keeping things dry in Alaska.
Lens cleaning kit – Get a good lens cleaning kit that you can keep in your bag. This was essential for cleaning water spots and dust off of my lenses in the harsh conditions and weather in Alaska.
The Alaska App – This smartphone app is the official mobile guide to Alaska’s best places. Great for planing your trip or getting tips while you are there. Worth checking out before and during your trip.
Video Gear – Modern DSLRs are capable of capturing high definition video. If you’re interested in video at all, a trip to Alaska is a great opportunity to capture unique and beautiful footage. Consider bringing a fluid video head for your tripod, a gopro, or even a quadcopter to get stunning aerial shots of Alaska’s vast wilderness. The aerial shots in the video below were shot with a Phantom 2 Quadcopter, GoPro Hero 3+ shooting 2.7k video at 30 frames per second.