In photography workshops the first tip is always: you have to be in the right place at the right time. Any camera will do.  You might miss it, you might enhance it, but you can’t make something out of nothing.

Tour info June 29 – July 9, Botanical Alaska

How to get great photographs in Alaska ? You have to go there.

I am headed back to Alaska this summer on another tour with renowned naturalist David Wimpfheimer (The California Naturalist) and I would love to have some of you in my own photography network join us.  The trip June 29-July 9, Botanical Alaska, sponsored by Pacific Horticulture  is organized by the great team at Betchart Expeditions and this year’s tour will have designated time for photography tips and criticism.

I went with David four years ago on a very similar itinerary and I’m very excited to go again. It is a superlative trip with local wildflower experts, Kenai Fjords National Park, botanic gardens, glaciers, and the spectacular Denali National Park (blog post). It is simply a fantastic opportunity to see the grandeur of our largest state – 586,412 square miles. 

Whether you bring a fancy camera or only your phone there will be wondrous opportunities for great pictures every day.  This is not a formal workshop with active daily instruction but a naturalists expedition where you will be in the right place at the right time to make memories.  Group photo sharing is optional.

Here are some tips from the 2019 trip on what goes through the photographer’s mind in deciding on how to create photo to tell a specific story and a specific memory.

This blog post will unfold as a series of specific tips over the next week: Tour Info

1 – How to Photograph Alaskan wildflowers

Photographer "working the view" of Fireweed, Denali National Park.

Photographer “working the view” of Fireweed, Denali National Park.

As I said in the beginning: you have to be in the right place at the right time. I hope I don’t have to make another pitch for this new tour about being in the right place at exactly the right time. But over the years that Betchart Expeditions has put together Alaska tours, we know early July is the expected peak.

Our very first full day in Anchorage, after a visit to the Botanical Garden (more later) we hike the Glen Alps Trail for an introduction to the subalpine plants of coastal Alaska.

Wildflower meadow on Glen Alps Trail in Chugach Mountains, Alaska

On day three to Seward we stop at Turnagain Pass in Chugash National Forest on Kenai Peninsula.

Summer wildflowers at Turnagain Pass in Chugash National Forest on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

On day 5 to Wasilla we will stop at Eagle River explore with local naturalist, expecting to see Jacob’s ladder, monkshood, larkspur, forget-me-nots, violets, gentians, and many othe wildflowers in the spruce/hemlock forest

Eagle River Preserve, Pacific Horticulture tour of Alaska

Day 6 – Hatcher Pass with its subalpine heath tundra and alpine wildflowers.

Heath tundra near Hatcher Pass, Alaska, Independence Mine State Historical Park.

 Some of us may want to do a long hike up the valley; this is where I took these three views of Luetkea pectinata, Alpine Spirea.

Rocky subalpine tundra with Luetkea pectinata, Alpine Spirea or Partridgefoot

The final shot I’m on my belly so I can get some sense of the scale amongst the rocky terrain.

Luetkea pectinata, Gold Core Lake trail subalpine heath tundra

It was wonderful to have time in Hatcher Pass just think about the terrain and what compositions would be best. There will be a review session at the end of the day so we can all (who are not too tired) share experiences and compare photos.

Day 8.  Denali.  The park is only accessible through its bus service but you are allowed to get off the bus on the way out it’s long loop through the park and catch another one later. The bus will stop anywhere it sees people wanting to get on. So you can go cross country for a few hours. This is an absolute highlight for those who don’t worry about bears or getting lonely in the wilderness.

Chamerion angustifolium, Fireweed, in subalpine heath tundra at Stony Dome, Denali, Alaska

More about this Denali experience later in the blog “How to Photograph Denali”.

I am itching to get back. You will certainly want to have a camera that has macro, close-up capabilities and be prepared to kneel down and see some of the smaller alpine and tundra flowers. Once you do, and get close to the ground in the middle of this completely unpopulated region, one cannot help but be nearly overwhelmed by the enormity of the landscape.

Our tour leader David Wimpfheimer is very experienced with a various routes and scenic stops along the way. Even though he is renowned as a birder he also knows hs flowers and knows this group are plant nerds. I have absolutely no doubt we can stop to botanize between any of our stops. We did it last time, it’s the way this expedition is built.

2- How to Photograph Alaskan glaciers

First you have to get yourself to Alaska. Join us on the Pacific Horticulture tour by Betchart Expeditions this summer June 29 to July 9.

On our last trip we visited the Exit Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula.  Or at least what is left of it. The glaciers are melting.  If Alaska is on your lifetime bucket list, don’t wait too much longer. Here, our group is on a trail overlook – as I dawdle behind to get photographs.

Exit Glacier on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, Pacific Horticulture tour

Exit Glacier on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, Pacific Horticulture tour 2019.

For that photograph I used a wide angle lens shows some perspective of the glacier melting into the creek. A tighter view with a telephoto lens isolates the massive ice wall in the chasm between the gorge.

Before you snap a photo know what story you’re trying to tell. What is it that is firing your own imagination ? What are you really seeing ? 

I also took photos along the trail as we approached the glacier.

Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

These photos, with a much wider angle gives a very different perspective of the glacier – with the larger Alaskan landscape, the mountains, the vegetation, the river that the glacier becomes.

Note before and after post production of this next image. The original image on the cloudy day had almost no contrast and needed to be corrected. These are very simple corrections actually, and we’ll talk about this tips on the tour.

There’s also a story to be told using the signage in the Kenai Fjords National Park. Typically we might think to edit signage out of the photograph, but by consciously including, it we readily understand the remarkable story of the retreating glacier.

Timeline of receding glacier since 2005, Exit Glacier on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

The trip this summer will include times to share photos and critique together what we are saying and how we are telling our stories. I really hope to see some of you reading this. Spread the word.

3- How to Photograph Alaskan landscapes

I realize this post is getting quite long and so I’ll move along quickly and hope you will be joining us on this year’s tour to really get tips on how to photograph Alaska.

The landscape is enormous the scale is nearly impossible to show in any photograph. There are panoramas everywhere so why not use your camera to actually take a panorama ? It is an overlooked trick, if I dare call it one, that is built into almost every smart phone and digital camera these days.

For this iPhone photo of wildflowers (Fireweed – Chamerion angustifolium), on Caine’s Head Trail along Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, I knelt close to the ground so I could show the contrasting distant mountain landscape and used the panorama setting on the phone.

Another important consideration in taking landscape photos is to think about photos in a series and be sure to include details. Framing those details in context of the landscape is something we will be practicing.

Here framing Betula papyrifera Birch tree at Turnagain Pass in Chugash National Forest.

For an easy lesson in framing simply look at all the photos I am posting and imagine the composition from the position that the photographer needed to take. This is exactly what we will be talking about on the tour. Join us. 

4- How to Photograph Alaskan Botanic gardens

We will visit two Alaska botanic gardens, in Juneau and Fairbanks.  Owing to the very long summer days with lots of daylight there are wonderful flowers and vegetation (and huge cabbages !) to be found in the Alaska summer.

Whenever there are riotous combinations of plants it is hard to isolate the one that you want to photograph. An important tip is to always consider the background. For close-up photos the background is going to go out of focus and can be used to accent your subject.

In this photo I moved around to get an angle on this Martagon lily ‘Russian Morning’ putting the blue of the catmint Nepeta grandiflora ‘Pool Bank’ directly behind.

Being conscious of your camera allows you to look carefully, think about what it is seeing, and the story it is telling. It is a luxury having a tour and dedicated time with a camera  to think how flowers speak to you. Take just a few extra minutes to consider composition and background. Join us in Alaska and give yourself the time to look closely and see. 

5- How to Photograph Alaska’s Denali National Park

I remember seeing the National Park long before we arrived. Driving along Susitna River we stopped at an overlook hoping to see the mountain that gives the park it’s name. We were told the mountains are frequently shrouded in clouds and I assumed this was Denali.  Actually it is Mt. Hunter, also in the Park.

Sometimes what you see is not what the camera sees and you’ll need some post-production tweaking to bring out the photograph.  I needed quite a bit of Photoshop manipulation to transform the hazy landscape, so I am showing the various layers only to illustrate that the photo might need some work.

In our evening sessions on the tour we will look at photos together and learn how some very simple tweaks can really bring out the best in our photographs.

The best way to photograph Denali is to get out in it; walk the vast landscapes and feel its magnificence. Our tour allows a few hours completely off trail which was one of my most memorable experiences.  Only a few of us took the opportunity to leave the tour bus and venture out into the tundra. I’m going to let this photograph tell the story of what we did.

This is why I’m going back – it’s a very special trip. I would love to have some fellow photographers go with me. Click the link – let’s go ! June 29-July 10.

Tour info June 29 – July 9, Botanical Alaska

Blog from previous trip Botanical Alaska 2019.

There are many tips and lessons you can find in my e-book series on garden photography.