Lessons Learned While Photographing in Alaska
I’ve just returned from Alaska, and with camera in hand almost every waking moment, I made just over 1600 images. After whittling away those that were not tack sharp, had weird composition, the ones that I severely missed exposure, I still have a lot of images to process. Some are exactly what I wanted, many more are not, but after thinking about the trip (and how I would do the next one differently), I came up with a few tips to share from what I learned.
Research and Planning
Randomly hoping you’ll see something to take a picture of while on your trip is not going to cut it if your planning to add to your portfolio or make art. Yes, you may get the few one hit wonders, but chances of success are more in your favor if you have done some homework before you go.
Know the area your going to visit. Look at maps of your intended routes, find out what the weather will be like, find out when and where the sun rises and sets on the landscape you are planning to on. I missed some A-rated pics of Mendenhall Glacier because of the time I was there. The sun was coming up beautifully but the mountains hid the shadowed a tremendous waterfall and the ice pack during the time I was there. We were on a planned group tour with limited time there, but I needed another two hours time to get what I was looking for. If we get to go again, I’ll plan for an afternoon visit. The images would be 100% more powerful.
If you’re thinking of taking tours, think carefully of the images you might get. We had the opportunity to ride a train in the mountains of Southeast Alaska, (which sounds like a great way to get lots of pics) but I though about the windows I’d be shooting through. I thought about dirty glass, glare, and limited room for maneuvering a camera with a long lens. It just didn’t seem like the way to get what I wanted. We booked a 4×4 tour that allowed us to enjoy the terrain and the mountain air. The pictures were easier to get, and enjoyed the experience far better than cooped up inside a bus or train.
I tried to think about everything I might need for pictures, and the thought of being a couple thousand miles from home made me overpack. I had carried the proverbial kitchen sink on our trip. The problem was that when I wanted needed to swap lenses, I had to take the backpack off and dig through it while still holding the camera. That’s hard to do when you’re in a crowded situation, or in a hurry. I brought items I didn’t need, and those items equaled weight. That photography backpack gets really heavy on an all day outing. Plan ahead and think hard about the lenses you’ll actually need versus, all the lenses you own.
Shoot With Options in Mind
You’re traveling, things are going a little faster than normal when you shoot. You take a shot, glance at the screen and might say, “I got it.” Days later after the trip, you open up the images in Lightroom to notice that the focus was wrong, you exposed for the wrong part of the scene, or some other anomaly happened. Making a couple more shots will give you options. Wishing you’d not cropped so tight, not blown out the sky, or waited a little longer for a bird to be in the perfect spot is a little disappointing. Try your best to get several shots that allow for some decision making once you’ve returned home. Having five different shots of the same thing may be better than one that leaves you with something you’re not happy with.
Anticipate the Shot
I learned, while watching humpback whales, that once you see the spray, anticipate several more before they take a deep breath before their dive- you must be ready… that’s when you get the tail shots. You have to anticipate each surface in the direction of their travel and have your camera ready to grab the shot. Orca, on the other hand, have the tall dorsal fin which is easier to spot. When they fish, they dive and slap the water with their tail just before it submerges under the water. Both are whales, but each behave differently.
Anticipating movement in people, wildlife, and light/shadows, makes the difference between an ok snap-shot, or an image that is much more powerful.
Whether your taking fine art landscapes, street, or travel pictures, have goals in mind for the images you want to make. The new area you’re visiting may offer something different than expected (and that’s a bonus), but a well thought out approach will likely get you many more images you’ll be happy with. All this sounds like work, and I guess it may be to some, but good photography takes forethought.
Just a final note…enjoy your trip! Photography is awesome, but don’t forget to enjoy the people, the food, and the atmosphere.0