It’s a daunting but rewarding experience, learning how to capture the stunning natural beauty that Alaska has to offer. In 20 years of photographing the rugged landscapes, rough seas and Alpenglow, here are a few of my hard learned lessons...
Plan your trip: Research the best locations in Alaska for photography and plan your trip accordingly. You don’t even need to go far! Some of the best photographs I have are from 30 minutes into a hike. Also be aware of the weather conditions and the amount of daylight available during the time of year you plan to visit. Weather can either enhance or limit your photography depending on your desired outcome. If you are heading out to remote locations make sure you have the right gear, but not too much that it will limit your travel.
Bring the right gear: Bring a good quality camera and lenses suitable for landscape photography. The camera on your phone is fine for instagram but think about how nice the photo will be when blown and mounted on your wall. A tripod is essential for capturing sharp images, especially in low light conditions but can be a bit heavy so plan accordingly. Unless you plan on going crazy, one memory card should be enough. The most essential kit in a variety of settings is a polarized filter; it’s good for days on the water, snow or enhancing clouds.
Shoot in RAW: Shooting in RAW allows you to capture more detail in your images and gives you greater flexibility in post-processing without losing detail or getting those awkward color gradients. Even some phones will allow you to shoot in RAW format now. The only drawback here is that without a filter automatically applied, it does almost necessitate some post-processing. My one tip here, learned the hard way, is to take the time to shoot a well-composed photo that requires as little time on the computer as possible; it’s too easy to take 1000+ photos just to end up filtering through a bunch of bad ones.
Pay attention to the light: Alaska is known for its stunning light, so be sure to take advantage of it. The golden hour (the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset) is the best time for photography in general, as the light is softer and warmer. However, even midday light can be beautiful in Alaska during winter because the angle of the sun is low for so long. A haze does often creep in towards the afternoon especially in summer so the intrepid photographer will be up early when the air is clear, the light angle is optimal, crowds are few and wildlife is undisturbed.
Capture the landscape: Use a wide-angle lens to capture the vastness of the landscape, and look for interesting foreground elements to add depth to your images. Watch out for photo bombs like power lines that are hard to remove in processing. A quick browse through the works of Ansel Adams provides a good baseline of how a landscape photo is best composed.
Experiment with different compositions: Try different compositions and angles to add complexity to your images. We’ve all seen the hero shot at the top of the mountain standing on what appears to be a 1000 ft cliff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool but you can do better. Crouch down, get up high, peak from behind a boulder or a bush. Add some perspective with your tent in the background or the little specs of people a mile down that ridge. Capturing the grandeur and immensity of Alaska is challenging but ultimately rewarding when you find that one great shot!
Edit your photos: Once you've captured your images, take some time to edit them to bring out the best in your shots. Adjust the exposure, contrast, and saturation to enhance your images and make them stand out. Numerous programs exist for photo editing. The truly dedicated gravitate towards photoshop, but Lightroom is good enough for most folks. I’ve found that editing is the best way to learn which photos worked and why, thereby making future photos even better. For this reason, spending a few hours in the ‘dark room’ is an invaluable teaching tool.
By following these tips, you'll be able to capture the beauty of Alaska and create stunning images that you'll cherish for years to come.
All photos shared in this post were by Jen or Hale Loofbourrow