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Archive 2014 · Alaska Photo Tips
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Alaska Photo Tips

Our family will be spending 18 days in Alaska this summer. We are flying into Anchorage, renting an RV and touring from there. We plan to stop at Denali NP, Fairbanks, Valdez and Seward. The schedule is still pretty fluid at this point.

I'm looking for suggestions for places to visit and photo opportunities. This will be primarily a family vacation (my wife and I, plus boys 15,11 and 6), but I'll be taking my Canon 6D and several lenses along. We enjoy day hikes, so no problem trekking several hours off the beaten path.

May 23, 2014 at 04:49 PM

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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Alaska Photo Tips

Interested to listen in on suggestions for NorthDallas' trip.
I will also be in Alaska (Kenai Peninsula) and am hoping to hear from anyone with experience shooting the Last Frontier

May 29, 2014 at 05:52 AM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Alaska Photo Tips

I went last year for 2 weeks - Wrangel -> Juneau -> Anchorage -> Fairbanks -> Denali -> Seward -> Homer.

Fairbanks was unremarkable. I would skip it if we went back, personally. There was not much to see, and most of it seemed like a tourist trap. There was a nice model railroad at the train station. That was pretty much the best thing that we saw in Fairbanks.

Denali was spectacular. We stayed at a lodge in the park. I'm sure that you've read about how the park works -- you can't drive very far into the park itself, you have to use the buses. The mountain is unbelievable. My wife pointed it out to me on the bus, and I was amazed -- but then I realized that I was looking at some other mountain under the clouds, and the real peak was poking out OVER the clouds. It was incredible. The mountain can be tough to get good pictures of, though, because you can only see it clearly when the weather is nice. We didn't have a really clear view of the mountain until our last day there (we stayed for 3 days), and that was on the bus ride back. Below is a picture that we took of it -- through the window of a moving bus, if you can believe it.

We didn't spend a lot of time in Seward. My wife didn't like the town very much, although it may have been the weather. I liked it just fine. The wildlife center there is great. We went late in the day and had the place to ourselves, pretty much. They have only real Alaskan wildlife, and it was great to see the stuff that we had been seeing in the wild up close. But the two things I remember most were (1) the "touch the anemone" exhibit, which was really cool (they had a guide there who explained what everything was, and you could touch all kinds of Alaskan sea life), and (2) the bird room. The bird room was really fun for taking bird-in-flight pics. Sure, it is kind of cheating, I guess, but I didn't care. My wife and I spent about an hour in there taking pictures of the birds flying right by our heads, jumping in the water, diving, fighting, etc. It was great. I think that a 70-200 is good enough to get some great bird-in-flight shots in that room if you are so inclined. They also have a room below where you can watch them diving into the water and swimming around.

In Seward we also did a wildlife tour, which was also excellent. Here is the group that we used:

Alaska Saltwater Lodge
"Small Group Whale Watching, Wildlife & Glacier Tour," lunch included, $199 per person.

The non-Denali pics below are from this wildlife trip. We saw tons of puffins, some other birds, lots of eagles, sea lions, sea otters, and lots of whales (orcas and humpbacks). We also saw ice breaking off from a glacier, which was so cool looking that I totally forgot to take a photo of it. Overall, it was well worth the $400, even though it rained the whole time. I would definitely bring a rain cover for your camera, and if you are going in late August like us, some jackets (my wife was cold the whole time in Seward). On the wildlife trip, I mainly used a 300 f/4 on a D600 (full frame) or a D7100 (crop) with a 1.7x TC, and I never felt desperate for more reach (although an extra stop or two wouldn't have hurt).

Edit: Homer is well worth a stop if you happen to be nearby on a day with a very low tide (look for at least -4, ideally -5+, if I remember correctly). They have some amazing tidepooling trips -- you basically just walk around and look at all of the sea creatures (Octopi, starfish, clams, crabs, etc.) that unexpectedly end up out of the water at low tide. They also have a great little town called Halibut Cove that you can take a boat to, with a decent restaurant.

May 29, 2014 at 08:39 PM
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Alaska Photo Tips

Denali is great, but consider the Denali Highway for beautiful scenery. It's 120 miles, only 20 paved, but great views. The highway from Anchorage to Homer is wonderful, and should include spur roads to Portage Valley/Whittier as well as Seward.

Ten years ago, Safeway sold "two-fers", a book that had coupons for many tours, boat rides, flights, etc two for one. Then the book cost $100. If there is something similar today, it is a very good deal.

Jun 05, 2014 at 05:32 PM

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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Alaska Photo Tips

Great thread. I've been planning a big Alaska trip for a couple of years now. I think next summer is when I'll finally be able to go...heading more towards Seward but I'd love to try and get up to Denali at some point.

Jun 05, 2014 at 06:11 PM

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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Alaska Photo Tips

My wife is from Alaska so it has become an annual trip to visit her family for the last 6 years, so I have a little experience there. You mentioned the RV, the great thing about a RV in Alaska is that you can camp almost anywhere.

Denali is fantastic but you only can drive 15 miles into the park so you need to ride the bus. However, if you camp at the Denali Teklanika campground you can drive 30 miles into the park. There are several advantages to Teklanika. First you cut something like an hour off the bus ride in the morning and afternoon. Second the bus ticket is a “tek pass” which gives you a reserved seat on the bus your first day and then can ride on a space available basis the rest of your stay. I think you need to stay at least three nights in the park if you want to go that route and your RV can not leave the camp area until you leave. The views in Denali are spectacular but the animals tend to be a long ways away unless you get lucky and they walk up to the bus. Don’t plan on seeing the mountain because chances are it won’t be out unless you are very lucky. I have only seen it from a long distance away. I suggest getting the earliest bus you can and ride also the way to the Eielson visitor center. Scope out areas on the way in and then get off the bus for a hike in the park on the way out, there are almost no trees so it is hard to get lost. You can get off the bus almost anywhere you want so if the driver does not suit you can just get off and wait for the next bus.

If you want to see a grizzly up close and personal, I highly recommend the bear viewing trips from homer or other areas that offer them. Also in Homer you can take a water taxi across to Kachemek state park if you like to do some hiking.
http://www.tsphotospot.com/img/s8/v75/p1470580722-4.jpg Grewingk Glacier Kachemak Bay State Park

For hiking you should go to the Alaska State Park’s website where you can down load maps for various hikes. On the way to Seward, the Crow Creek trail head near Girdwood to the pass is one of my favorites but a pretty hard effort. It is about 4 miles and 3000 ft up to the pass. Just over the top of the pass is raven glacier. This can also be turned into a multi-day hike. This summer we have rented a state park primitive cabin for two nights in the pass.
http://www.tsphotospot.com/img/s8/v14/p1470587452-4.jpg Raven Glacier

Winner Creek trail also near Girdwood is also very nice and pretty easy and short. There is a hand tram on the trail to cross the river.
http://www.tsphotospot.com/img/s8/v75/p1470576968-4.jpg Winner Creek

Just past Girdwood is portage glacier which is also a nice stop. You can ride the boat or due a short hike to see a glacier.

Exit glacier just outside of Seward is another good stop. Again a short hike up and you get almost close enough to touch it the glacier to really appreciate how large it really is. If you keep going up to can get all the way up to the Harding Ice field, I have not made that hike yet but hope to fit it in sometime.
http://www.tsphotospot.com/img/s8/v77/p1470584562-4.jpg Exit Glacier

This summer I am going to check out the Eagle River Nature center which looks very nice on google earth. I have hiked most of the trails around anchorage so let me know if you have questions on a specific trail. If you are out hiking it is good idea to have bears spray and to keep it on your belt where you could get to it fast. Having two or more in you group carrying the spray would be best. It is NOT likely that you will need it but if you do, you’ll need it fast.

The Hatcher pass/ independence Mine site is also a great place to spend a day.

The Matanuska glacier if you want to walk up touch glacier. There are tours with crampons if you want to hike out farther on the ice.

I have more images on my photo page if you want to see more of what to expect. http://www.tsphotospot.com/nature

Jun 13, 2014 at 05:29 PM

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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Alaska Photo Tips

I've been to Alaska several times for wildlife/landscape photo shoots although, except for Anchorage, I have not been to the locales you are planning to visit. With that said, while you are in Anchorage (or Talkeetna, if you are going to drive through there), I would suggest that you consider taking an aerial tour of Denali and the surrounding area. You can get some spectacular photos of the mountain and the Ruth Glacier and the Kahiltna Glacier. Absolutely breathtaking views.

One little tip - many of the aerial tour companies fly DeHavilland Beavers. If you do take a Denali flight, ask what type of plane they are using. If it's a Beaver, arrive early and ask (beg) the pilot if you can sit in the co-pilot's seat. Generally, they give away the co-pilot's seat on a "first come first served" basis. The reason why the copilot's seat is so advantageous is that you can see straight ahead (so you can anticipate shots) as well as to the side and, more importantly, there is a roll- down window on the co-pilot's side which you can roll down in flight (clear it with the pilot first) so that you don't have to shoot through scratched/reflective plexiglass. It makes a world of difference.

Jul 03, 2014 at 01:06 AM

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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Alaska Photo Tips

If you take cruise out of Seward, you would have opportunity to shoot wild animals. Prepare long focus lenses.

In Denali, Mount Mckinley viewed from mirror lake is amazing.

Jul 03, 2014 at 01:28 PM
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Alaska Photo Tips

OccAeon wrote:
Fairbanks was unremarkable.


A small virtue is that it is a jumping off point if you want to go the arctic circle. But that's a long drive to a mosquito-ridden wide spot in the road with a mark on the ground. ;-)


Jul 04, 2014 at 02:20 AM
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Alaska Photo Tips

Thanks for all the great input and beautiful pictures! We will be flying to Anchorage tomorrow and have incorporated most of the suggested sites and recommendations into our itinerary. I'll post some pictures when we get back.

Jul 29, 2014 at 04:33 PM
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Alaska Photo Tips

NorthDallas wrote:
Thanks for all the great input and beautiful pictures! We will be flying to Anchorage tomorrow and have incorporated most of the suggested sites and recommendations into our itinerary. I'll post some pictures when we get back.

I'm looking forward to seeing them. Have fun!

Jul 29, 2014 at 04:40 PM

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