Alaska Photo Tips ?

Discussion in 'Travel' started by harold_motte, Feb 3, 2009.

  1. I am going on an Alaska cruise in early June and want tips on camera settings, etc....for photos with lots of water, iceburgs,mountains with snow and also glaciers. Itenerary: Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm Fjord, Katchikan, and Victoria.
    Harold Motte
  2. Harold, the settings will depend a lot on your camera gear. It would help to know which camera body and lenses you will be using.
  3. Answer for Bruce:
    I am going to be using a Canon 5d / 40d / bodies and 24-105 F4 L IS/USM / 70-200 F4 L IS/USM / 1.4 tc and
    do I need the 300 F4 L IS/USM for eagles and/or whales or should the 70-200 with the tc do it?
    In Tracy Arm Fjord I am told I definately need the 24mm wide end of the 24-105. Do I need wider than that.
  4. I had a D300 with a 70-200 with 1.4 and 2.0 TC's. With the 1.4 I was fine for eagles in an eagle preserve (skagway/haines).

    For glaciers...well, other than Hubbard, you're really only going to get the "glacier" feeling from a helicopter, in which case the 24-205 with a polarizer will do just fine.
    My overall Alaska trip set is on flickr , and the really wide shots are with a 12-24 DX lens.
  5. A polarizer is a must with the whale shots, lots of reflection. The eagles will be close by so no problems there. The wider the lens the better for landscape shots. The scenery is BIG! Enjoy your trip, Alaska is one of the most photogenic places on earth. If interested, take a look at some of my Alaska shots here on
  6. Harold, you should be fine for everything except whales. You won't get close enough unless the whales move close to your boat! Be prepared for changing light conditions as well. We had mostly dark overcast cloudy skies while in Juneau and out looking for the whales. I'm glad I had the 2.8 glass, but then again I was shooting slide film at ASA 400. Have a great time...
  7. Glaciers: polarizer to cut out glare so the color of the ice and water show well. The water is a peculiar color because of suspended particles from the glacier pulverizing the underlying rock - they call is glacial flour. If your widest lens doesn't happen to be wide enough, use multiple overlapping shots and stitch them together later.
    Juneau: the sharp rise of the terrain out of the water creates a lot of cloud cover, but it almost always hugs the mountains. A whale watching cruise on one of the catamarans will get away from the coastal mountain clouds & rains - you're going at a great time for seeing whales, and those whale cruises are really good at finding them. Also watch for eagles, seals, porpoises, and a couple of obsolete but picturesque lighthouses.
    Skagway: the eagle preserve over near Haines may have lots of eagles or may not - timing is everything. But the boat ride thru 34 degree 1 foot deep water is interesting by itself.
    Ketchikan: A float plane trip back into the Misty Fjords is pricey but an amazing experience - Lord of the Rings landscape. We landed on a mountaintop lake by approaching over the waterfall that drains the lake, stood on the plane's pontoons for a little while, and then took off back over that waterfall. High point of that trip, hands down.
    Near sunset, from the boat, watch for small, localized rainshowers that are common in that climate. Shooting toward the west, you can get some very cool shots of showers illuminated (backlit) by the setting sun. And on the other side of the boat, every one of those showers will have a rainbow. Low light shooting on the rainbow side.
    If you want to use a support, a monopod will be much less intrusive than a tripod to other passengers on the ship, but be wary of engine vibrations being transmitted from the deck thru the monpod to the camera. I found that resting the foot on the monopod on the top of my shoe worked well for this.
    The 300 will probably be handy - eagles aren't always near by, and, maybe it's just me, but I couldn't get any of them to follow my instructions.
    Be prepared to be mildly embarassed about the huge number of photos you'll take, more than you've taken before. But how many times are you gonna get to shoot in a place like Alaska? Have the greatest time.
  8. Thanks all of you who have posted a response so far.
    I am going in early June. Is there any weather info I need to know about?
    What kind of rain gear / camera protection do you guys use?
    BOB - thanks for the ' travelog' if you have any more details to share please email me
    at - I would appreciate it.
  9. Question on the use of a polarizer - Set it on the light side, medium, or dark?
    Do I just need it for water, snow, and ice?
    IF it is overcast, foggy, damp, etc... do I need to use it?
    Thanks for everyones tips.
  10. I only used the polarizer on shop windows - didn't use it all anywhere else as I wasn't prepared to lose 1-2 stops. We went in May 2008 and had clear blue sunny skies every day but two and we were there 10 days. We did a 7-day wildlife cruise starting and ending in Juneau and had extra days in Juneau at the start.
    You can try setting your white balance to 'cloudy' even if it's a sunny day. Due to the high latitude all the scenes are very blue and the cloudy setting will help bring back some of the green in the trees. Take a couple of test shots first as it worked very well with my DSLR but was far too green and gaudy with my husband's point-and-shoot.
    If you get a sunny day in Tracy Arm a split neutral density filter will be very useful. Post-processing can deal with some of the extreme contrast but there's noise in the dark areas. Tracy Arm is deep and narrow so one side will be in shade and the other in sun until closer to midday. A cloudy day may be better for Tracy Arm to even out the light but you lose some of the sparkle. I took over 900 photos in Tracy Arm and constantly had to increase or decrease up to 2 stops due to white ice and dark rock. The exposure compensation dial got a real workout that day. We were the first ship up there after the ice break up and there were lots of harbor seals on the ice. We couldn't get to the South Sawyer Glacier due to too much ice although we could see it from a distance. We got right up to the Sawyer Glacier and that was spectacular - so blue.
    You won't get any whale or eagle photos from a large cruise ship. Eagles are everywhere but too far away even with big glass. You'll have more luck with them on-shore at an eagle preserve or rehab centre but you'll still need your 300mm plus tc to fill the frame. I got lucky leaving Sitka when I missed dinner due to spectacular light and an eagle flew low overhead. You'll need to go on a specific whale watching cruise to see whales close up. Our small-ship cruise specialized in whales and we saw humpbacks every day (orcas only on one evening) and they'd come right alongside the ship, dive underneath and pop up the other side. I was using an 80-400mm and needed that range for the close and long shots. The only thing we didn't see was the whales breaching.
    The standard trip in Juneau is out to the Mendenhall Glacier but a much better view of it is from across the channel on Douglas Island. You see the whole thing from over there instead of missing much of it when standing close by. You can also do a variety of glacier flights in helicopters from Juneau. I went on the glacier and dog sled trip and it was unbelievable - well worth the megabucks!
    I took my 12-24mm zoom and never used it. Yes, Alaska's big but the wide angles make everything look 'too far away' unless you have some foreground interest. You don't want those wide-angle views showing a thin strip of mountains with too much sea below and sky above. The scene looked great in real life but you'll wonder what happened when you get home. Take a few photos in a row with your tele lens and stitch them together to make a panorama. It will be much better. I didn't use a tripod for this - just overlapped them (hand held) and my software did the rest. As another person said, use a monopod and rest it on your foot. Worked a treat for me especially photographing whales in late evening light.
    Best time to go is mid-late May. I know lots of people who've been to Alaska and they've always had good weather in May but it gets rainier and rainier the later you go with September being their rainiest month. It can be very cold on board the ship when it's moving especially early in the morning or if it's poor weather. Take gloves, hat, very warm jacket, etc. That said, we had extremely warm weather (80 degrees in Sitka) but it was still chilly early in the day.
    I took over 5,000 photos with a DSLR in a week and my husband took another 3,000 with his point-and-shoot. That included 1200 in Glacier Bay and over 900 in Tracy Arm - that's just mine and none of his! Seldom a day with less than 600. But, we had truly exceptional weather so I made the most of it knowing some of the views are seldom seen due to low clouds.
    I've already written too much here. For more details and photo info visit my blog at You can go from there to the main blog and find Seattle/Victoria info by scrolling down to the end of May 2008. I've only just finished working on my Alaska photos so I'm now in the process of adding some to the blog entries and the first 10 are on Flickr - link there from the blog. Let me know if you want my CD and I'll get a copy to you.
  11. hey,
    make sure you stop by the photo studios on the ship and get some family photos taken too! we do a great job at capturing your memories, on one cruise line a few years back we could even put them on a special collectors plate for you, or stamps, or a towel or even in a crystal!!
    for the polarizer, if you a jedi, then use the light side, but if your a vader fan then it has to be the dark side with out a question. some times it is sunny at the glaciers and other times it is totally fogged out, best to figure out on the day, but you wount need it in foggy conditions as it could hamper your photos as you are cutting down on the light getting through the lens thus you need a slower shutter spead (shake), higher iso (noise)or larger aperture (lose of dof).
    i have been up in alaska all up for about 60 weeks over the last few years working on cruise ships. i would suggest going on a whale tour in juneau to get the best whale shots, forget about getting any wild life shots from the cruise ship as sightings are to sporatic and mentioned on the ships p.a. to late to be effective.
    do a specific eagle tour to get good shots of the eagles, the birds in the wild are much better that the ones in the centers.
    make sure you get up early on the day that you sail into juneau. by early i mean 430ish. some nights i was up all night printing photos and would finish about 6am, but i would always make a point of going for a coffee break at sun rise, if there are some light clouds in the sky it is so beautiful.
    and most importantly make sure you smile when a ships photog takes your photo!
  12. Shoulda said, for those who want to know these things, that I used an 18-200mm zoom as my standard lens and only used the huge and heavy 80-400mm for whales and other sea life when we were on board the ship. It's too big for me to lug around all day and it wasn't needed most of the time.
    Harold, you'll need to turn the polarizer for every shot to see what looks best to you - check your viewscreen after each shot as well as looking at the effect through the viewfinder. The light and angles will affect each scene differently. You can use the polarizer in damp conditions as it will saturate the colours and take the glare off the raindrops or water surface. Personally, I don't think it helps with a landscape shot on a dull day (it won't give you a blue sky!) but for closer shots it will work well. But you'll lose 1-2 stops depending on how far you turn it. You may need to increase your ISO or use a tripod/monopod in that case.
  13. Deleted - sent twice in error.
  14. For Kathleen Anderson,
    Thanks for your comments. I would like to have that CD of your photos. I went on your blog and found it very interesting with great photos and comments. You have been many places. There was no info that I found on an email address and I would be interested in talking to you more about the trip you took. Details, additional tips and so forth.
    I have had pros and cons on the polarizer and whether I need the 300mm lens or not.
    My email is OR you can comment back here and let me know how to get the CD.
    Thanks again,
    Harold Motte
  15. You have received some good tips. I spent a week in the Kenai Fjord area and it was amazing. Went on a nine hour boart cruise and saw almost every imaginable animal and scene.
    You need your 300mm lens for sure. I used my 100-400, mostly at 400 80% of the time. The rest was 15-30. 24mm may be on the long side on a crop body.... Check your white balance and exposure often. Polarizers are necessary if you get a good sunny day. Note the blue in the glaciers in my pictures. That is the real color!
    You can see a whale breaching in one of the pictures in the link. That was at 400mm on a rocking boat. You need the length if you want pictures of birds or any animal for that matter.
    For interest sake, you can look at the pictures I have on my site in my travels section:
  16. Sound like you are going on one those "prison ships" as I call 'em. I agree with most of the above regarding eagles. To paraphrase a quote; "you're going to want a bigger lens".... Maybe. The eagle rehab in Sitka (not even mentioned on your itinerary) often has a lot of opportunities BUT the big boats don't give you the time you might crave for the shot you want. Also, most of the eagles were below camera level so we had to shoot down. Not so good to set off the national bird. Not to worry, you won't be there anyway
    The 100-400 (my favorite for Africa too) gives you so much latitude, if you can borrow, steal one, do it. Next time take one of the small boats that go clear up the arm... and sometimes get stuck... or one that has Zodiac type boat options. Book the more adventurous side trips, IMHO Skagway is a waste unless you take the little boat trip around the tip to quaint and lovely little town of Haines, Otherwise I would take the train to Whitehorse just to pass the pain... they might have a decent 4wd option too.
    Tracy Arm is beautiful, you will likely want to switch quickly between a super wide and a tele for some of the critters you might see. For the really white shots you will likely use 2 under but check the images on a monitor to verify your preferences.
    Good luck.
  17. Thanks to everyone for your taking time to respond. Your input has been very helpful.
    This is probably a once in my lifetime trip kinda thing and I really want to go with the right
    equipment but not more than I need and come back with some good photos.
    Thanks again,
    Harold Motte

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