Written by Scott Dickerson for the Black Star Rising Blog, thanks to Scott Baradell for his advice and editing on this post.The Alaskan summer, all four months of it, has passed by once again in a flurry of magnificence. It’s the end of August, my favorite time to photograph here. The days have shortened enough to make it reasonable to shoot the sweet light of the mornings and evenings. It’s 9:30 p.m. as I type — and the sun has only now fallen beneath the tops of the glaciers and mountains outside my office window.
Alaska is in many ways an outdoor photographer’s wonderland, offering a lifetime of inspiring photo subjects. Should you find yourself here on assignment or vacation, I’ve assembled 10 tips you may find useful while visiting us in the last frontier.
Tags: Alaskan photography, travel photography, assignment photography, landscape photography, wildlife photography, outdoor photography, Scott Dickerson
1. Take note of sunrise/sunset times.
The daylight hours have a significant impact on how a photographer can work in Alaska. Use an online sunrise/sunset calendar and plan accordingly. You may find you have 24 hours of daylight — or as few as five hours — depending on the timing of your visit and your latitude.
2. Know the specific climate(s) of your shooting locations.
Alaska encompasses several radically different climates. Educate yourself on the specific locations you’ll be photographing so you can be prepared.
3. Make the most of cloudy weather.
Alaska may be known for its scenery, but more than a few visitors have spent their stay looking into the clouds for the mountains the locals insisted were “just right there.” Don’t sit around waiting for the weather to clear; instead, head for the nearest glacier and you’ll appreciate the overcast skies — which make the ice appear a richer blue.
4. Incorporate aerial photography.
With relatively very few roads, much of Alaska is only accessible by airplane. Thousands of small planes available for charter make it easy to photograph areas that are otherwise very difficult to reach. If you are visiting in summer, ask if you can charter in the late evening or early morning.
5. Know where the wildlife is.
Alaska is a huge place, and much of the wildlife is not easily found along the road system. If you are coming here to photograph certain animals, research beforehand to identify the best places for each species as well as the right season. The humpback whales of Southeast Alaska are a long ways away from the caribou herds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
6. Prepare for delays in air travel.
If you venture out of the big cities, especially north or west of Anchorage, be prepared for the airline to tell you that your flight has been delayed, and the next plane isn’t scheduled until tomorrow. A friend was recently stuck on an island serviced by large jets for over two weeks due to weather and mechanical delays. While that was an exception, multi-day delays are not uncommon.
7. Don’t expect to find a camera shop on the corner.
Don’t plan to buy professional camera equipment in any local camera shop, unless you are in Anchorage. Usually, the best you can do is overnight shipping with UPS or FedEx — and because Alaska is one hour behind California, you’ll need to order early in the day, and even then your delivery may still require an extra day.
8. Can you hear me now? Nope.
Don’t be surprised if your cell phone is quiet for most of your stay in Alaska. Unless you are on the main road system, it’s likely that you won’t have any service.
9. Keep your equipment warm.
If you find yourself photographing during an Alaskan winter, remember to keep spare batteries inside your coat pockets where they’ll stay warm. I’ve noticed the LCD displays are the first things to go as the camera freezes up. When you bring your cameras and lenses back indoors, let them slowly warm up inside your camera bags to prevent internal condensation.
10. Focus, focus, focus.
Alaska has a lot to offer — but can be logistically and financially challenging. If you are on a mission to shoot stock images here, I suggest keeping your focus on a few subjects and making sure you are well-prepared for these shoots. There is far too much to photograph in one visit (or one lifetime), so it’s better to do a couple of things well than become overwhelmed by the endless opportunities. That said, flexibility is paramount, since the weather and travel issues can often force a change of plans.
I hope these recommendations are helpful should you come up for a visit. A week of cloudy, rainy weather has just broken up in my area, so I better get my rest — lots of photo shoots to catch up on before the snow flies.
[Scott Dickerson, based in Homer, Alaska, is a professional photographer whose specialties include aerial, outdoor adventure, lifestyle, and wild Alaska subjects, offering assignment work for both commercial and editorial needs as well as stock photography. For more information, visit Scott's blog.]