How to Photograph Alaska


David W. Shaw, Photography Theme Host, Wilderness Explorer

First, a disclaimer: when it comes to photography, I am not a gear snob. The photographer behind the camera is a far more important part of the final image than the camera itself.

There are incredible images made with point and shoots and even smart phones. That said, a camera is like a tool box. Having a variety of settings, lenses, and accessories means you can create different types of images.

Alaskan Forest by David Shaw

That doesn’t mean you have to pack an extra suitcase loaded with gear, in fact, too much gear is just as much of a hindrance as too little. Finding the happy medium is key.

Here is my recommendation for equipment to bring to Alaska:

1. DSLR or mirrorless camera

2. Wide angle zoom

3. Mid-range telephoto zoom

4. Telephoto

5. Dry bag or sturdy zip-lock bags to protect gear from rain and splash.

While there are any number of variations on that gear list, that small kit will cover most photographic situations you are likely to find yourself in.

Now that I’ve gotten the mandatory gear talk out of the way, we can move on to what really matters: making photos.

Alaska Landscape Photography

If there is one defining trait of Southeast Alaska, it is water. Our voyage will carry us through the maze of inlets, fjords, bays, and islands that make up the area. To really tell the story of a place like that, you need to embrace all that liquid (though perhaps not literally).

Photographing the Alaskan Landscape

The deck of a ship is a decent, but limiting place from which to photograph. Fortunately, UnCruise offers many opportunities to get ashore where we can make images that really show off the environment.

If the story of Southeast Alaska is one of water, then there are many ways to tell it: fog blowing through tall Sitka Spruces, raindrops on a cedar boughs, clear forest streams, long empty beaches, tiny forest islands, and vistas that show the mosaic of land and sea. All of these are parts of the story.

Photographing the Alaskan Forest

While on board, I’ll talk more about the details of composition and camera settings, but thinking about how to tell a story of a place is a much more important part of the photographic process.

Alaska Wildlife Photography

There is one rule of wildlife photography that must be adhered to: Do no harm!

No matter how big your lens is, you don’t have the right to negatively impact the animals you are photographing. Consider your behavior and that of the wildlife. If the animal runs away, you’ve gotten too close, frightened it, and caused unnecessary stress. Be cautious and aware. The well-being of the wildlife is more important than your photo.

Photographing wildlife in Alaska

That rule aside, the best way to create images of wildlife has nothing to do with cameras. You need to be a naturalist. Understanding animals, their behavior, their migrations, and life histories will provide you with the knowledge needed to not only find and approach them, but also to tell their stories.

If you journey with me on UnCruise, we will talk a lot about wildlife ecology, but it’s a big subject. I recommend you read up, be ready, and think about how you might want to capture wildlife stories with your camera.

Can’t Wait To Go

I am super excited to get back to Southeast Alaska this spring. It’s such a special place, full of beauty and wildness.

Photographing the sunset in Alaska

I’ve been picking up some books on the Tongass and Glacier Bay and learning more about the places we’ll be visiting. Knowledge is a surprisingly important tool in photography, and I plan to be ready.

Hop on one of UnCruise's photography theme cruises or any UnCruise departure and put these tips to the test.

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