From 40+ years of living and photographing in the Great Land of Alaska, our “timely-but-sporadic” Alaska Bear Facts Bulletin gives you relevant, useful tips to help you get great images and enjoy safe, exciting travel experiences!
After 2 years of waiting and twiddling our thumbs while Covid paralyzed the planet, we at APA are glad to report that we are in full swing this summer! Though our international clients have had to postpone to 2022, most of our planned tour dates for this summer are full and have been seeing great animals! Read on.
· Wildlife and Images so far this season
From bears to lynx to moose calves to newborn caribou calves —
we’ve filled quite a few memory cards in the first four weeks of the 2021 season!
· The Arc of Anticipation & other Great Photo Tips
Advanced Tips on shooting animals, people and travel scenes — hint: these work with any camera.
· Member of the Year from the Chamber of Commerce!
We received an honorary Member of the Year certificate!
· Covid 19 — Update
Updates on what we do every day to insure your experience is safe, healthy and fun!
“You’ll find your purpose when you find your happiness.” – Anonymous
Alaska Bear Facts Bulletin
Well we don’t see this guy too often. Even though we visit and revisit certain areas on every tour in the hopes of seeing certain animals, this lynx appeared on our way out of a special backroad I like to take folks. Just proves the old adages — 1) never give up, 2) just when you least expect it, and 3) always have your camera ready and batteries charged.
There had been numerous signs of fresh scat along the road — bear, wolf and lynx — so we were encouraged. But as a guide, I can’t promise anything, other than being in the right place and the right time as much as possible. And actually, we had gotten a late start — I usually like to visit this area before 9:00 AM. It was around 1:00 PM.
After seeing no other large mammals for over an hour, we drove around a corner and this guy popped out from a heavily forested area 50 feet away. My first thought was coyote or wolf. But it scurried across the road just long enough to see the telltale black tail tip and a quick look at its face. No time to stop or take photos.
But we did stop, and I began to do my basic predator call. After a few minutes, it returned behind us! Poked its head out of the bushes and walked across the road about 150 feet away. We snapped a few quick hand-held shots (no time for tripods — my shot above is a little soft) and it was gone.
Patience rewarded again.
Alaska Bear Facts Bulletin
Brown bear catching salmon, Brooks Falls, Alaska Photo Adventures
Brooks Falls never disappoints. Even in the rain, which this shot was taken. The pain is worth the pleasure. Or is it the other way around?
Our day trip to Brooks Falls in Katmai Nat’l Park starts with an hour-long flight from Homer across some of the most beautiful and expansive forests, coasts, lakes and volcanoes in Alaska. Crossing the famous Bristol and Kamishak bays, you can easily fill your memory card before arriving at Naknek lake and Brooks Camp. But SD cards are cheap and your time isn’t, so shoot away and edit later.
Same goes for your time at Brooks falls. The two platforms and boardwalks offer endless views of bears in the falls and walking around, sometimes 6 feet below you. They won’t bother you as they are not interested in you as food or a threat. They have plenty of eat, and the history of interaction here has been carefully managed by the Nat’l Park Service for 50+ years.
The secret here is twofold: 1) Keep looking around for great shots. It’s not always right in the falls. Bears are interacting everywhere, rain or shine. Bring rain gear and a padded soft backpack for your gear rather than a shoulder-type bag (you have to walk 30-45 minutes to the platforms), and 2) Be patient. The bears go through predictable routines and behaviors. If you want to capture the classic salmon in mouth, or just before, see the post below on anticipation.
Moose cow and calves, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska – RonLevy-AlaskaPhotoAdventures
Moose generally have their calves in late spring. This shot was taken in June, so if you are more interested in babies, come here before July. That’s not to say you won’t see bear cubs or moose calves in July. We have plenty of times, but scenes like this above will be more common in June.
Moose typically have twins more than single calves. The cows are very protective when the twins are this young, but if we find them in residential areas rather than the wilder roads, they can be more tolerant of people and cameras. We can generally tell right away how close they will let us come. I had seen this mother and twins before, and spent about half an hour with them before bringing this group to them a few days later.
Man taking cell phone photo of moose by the road, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Sometimes they’re close enough for a cell phone. And they pose for you!
All that expensive camera gear and 1000mm lens wasted…we watched this cow moose graze along the road for 20 minutes before moving on. The next day, she was still in the same area. However, she wasn’t as photogenic or quite as open as in this shot. So another old adage applies — your best lens is the one you have with you, ready to shoot, not the one you left back in camp.
Every now and then we get lucky and spot bears doing things we couldn’t possibly predict. This cub was chasing mergansers in the Kenai River. They had both been there a while (we had been watching the sow and another cub catching salmon for half an hour) and didn’t seem concerned about the bears. But perhaps out of boredom or a desire to augment his palate, this cub tried half-heartedly to catch some duck. I think he needs to focus on stalking one duck patiently rather than 5 — a bird in the paw is worth 5 in the river (sorry). Alaska Bear Facts Bulletin
The basic philosophy in any photo situation boils down to this: Ask yourself why you like a particular scene in front of you. Think of all the potential factors, that, in a perfect world, you would like to see come together to make the ideal shot. Then anticipate how you can position yourself to wait for the best moment. It happens more often than you might be ready for.
The famous advice “f8 and be there” has a lot of truth to it. Cultivate a mindset of “trusting the wind” to show you combinations of light, color, people, animals, activity, etc. that can happen anywhere, anytime.
You can only pre-plan so much. Beyond that, it is an exercise in declining returns for your time and worry. Though you generally don’t want to go to rainforest and equatorial areas during the monsoon seasons, there may be some benefits to thinking outside the box. Before I visited Africa for the first time in the ’80s, I visited a famous photographer-friend who ran tours in Kenya. He told me that many people avoid spring and fall because of the rainy periods. But he said that these times can be a fantastic time to shoot. When the rain lets up, the sky can be saturated with moisture that filters the colors into richer tones. Sunsets can be unusually dramatic backdrops for wildlife or expansive land shots. Water droplets and reflections on animals’ bodies and eyes can take on subtle hues or dramatic color juxtapositions.
Another old adage also still applies – ”there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear”. Bring enough to cover you when the sun doesn’t shine, and beyond that, give enough time to capture the unexpected. Bringing appropriate gear and being flexible to allow you to go “off-script” when opportunities arise is usually well worth the effort. It might also be appropriate to quote Dolly Parton here, who sang “Everybody wants happiness. Nobody wants pain. You can’t have a rainbow without a little pain”.
Here are a few quick questions that elaborate on the Main Idea above. They are just a few taken from the larger article that this post is excerpted from the link above. Go over them before you go on your trip and while you’re on location till they are burned into your consciousness.
1) What’s special about this place or animal? Or, more importantly, what touches you most about the scene? Do some research ahead of time, online or talking with someone who has been to where you want to go. Find similar photos of the area or animals you want to shoot and notice which ones really hit you in the gut. What’s unique about the image – color, light, closeup of a face, etc? Try to backtrack in your mind what the photographer might have had to do to capture that shot.
2) Is there an event or routine that might happen here regularly? One a trip to Namibia, we were dramatically surprised one morning at a watering hole as the sun was still low. A few zebras began wandering in from over the hill until by the end of an hour, there were hundreds of them quietly sipping water from the edge of the pond. It reminded me of a coffee-group that has met for years at their favorite cafe to quietly share the morning. The light was sublime and scene was so peaceful that it was one of the most memorable experiences of my travels.
3) Remember about the arc of anticipation. Watch for the flow of the scene to unfold. Anticipate the arc of an interaction towards its peak moment. Is it the capturing of a salmon or perhaps, as the photo above shows, the synchronicity of two predators together? Will it be the bite of a predator, or could it be the second before the bite that shows the peak of energy and expression? The energy and possibility that the prey has a chance to escape might have more tension and may be sink in a little deeper to our consciousness. That’s what’s meant by timeless.
4) Think in terms of concept rather than subject – look past events or scenery to emphasize the feeling of the place, person, or animal. Emotions are more important than details. Whether shooting scenery, people or animals, we have an emotional reason for taking the photo. Emotions can transcend geography, race and culture to show universal humanity. The photographer Paul Strand was noted for saying (paraphrased) that it’s easy to make a portrait, but difficult to make the viewer care about a stranger. Whether animal or human subject, what would make the viewer care about the image as you did?
5) Context can be everything, or it can be irrelevant or unimportant. Often, context is vital to images that depend on the reality of a scene or event. Especially now with so much image manipulation, many of us give more credit and significance to photos that un-mistakenly show that the photographer was really there. Can you hint at larger context by shooting a small part of it, or does the entire scene show more than the sum of its parts?
6) Focus your idea before you focus your camera. This is really behind all the other suggestions. Ansel Adams said “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept”. Take a moment to de-clutter your mind from techniques and tips, and focus on the most emotionally relevant elements. Exclude unnecessary distractions or details and focus on what really juices you about the scene? Is it the vastness of a gorgeous vista or an animal’s expression or posture? Is it an ferocious interaction between predator and prey, or the peaceful coexistence between them? The answers to these questions will help you maximize the gut impact of the scene.
Don’t give up on a shot just because of “bad” light. Joel Sartore said: “it’s not the light but where you are in it”. So rather than shoot a bunch of mediocre shots in mediocre light, find or wait for light that adds that iconic spark. Move around if you can, or find a source of light or reflection that might help.
Eva Canedo takes time to enjoy the fireweed, Kenai Peninsula
The synchronicity of all the elements in a memorable photograph – light, time, gesture, color, etc. – often has a life of its own, but you can tip those odds considerably. Be aware of how people and animals change as you interact with them. Whether you are just standing there without actually engaging conversation (as with wildlife at a distance) or actively communicating, be aware of how the interaction unfolds, relaxes and changes.
Lastly, don’t forget about ethics. The way you treat subjects and the physical-biological area you are in will not only yield you deeper insights and better photos, but will become a renewable resource for you and others to enjoy after you leave. Having a broader outlook on your actions will increase the quality of time you spend with others.
Most of all, it will lead to a greater lifetime return on your photography investments and experiences. I still have letters hanging on my wall of special people who took the time to write me about how they enjoyed our time together, either as subjects, guides or fellow travelers. These may have been relatively fleeting moments in life, but they are timeless reminders that our deepest images reside in the heart.
Earlier this year, we were honored with a certificate from the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce as Member of the Year for 2020! We truly appreciate the support and recognition. We love what we do and love to share the joy of being with animals, photographers and travelers from all over the world. Despite physical and political boundaries, our clients and personal travels have shown us over and over that we are all the same sentient beings underneath. We feel and fear the same things, and want the best for our families and communities.
At APA, we sincerely hope that our tours and attitudes contribute in some way toward bridging the gaps that artificially separate us from our human and animal neighbors.
We are at your service to ease any stress from the continued Covid pandemic. Sadly, our international travelers have had to postpone their photo tours again this year, until 2022. We appreciate their trust in keeping their reservations with us, and we look forward to meeting them and finally giving them the bucket-list tour of their lifetimes next year.
For our USA nationals, vaccinations are still not required to enter Alaska. We provide unlimited hand sanitizer throughout our tours in our vehicles, camps, flights, etc. We also use vendors, flight operations and lodges that we have trusted for years, and that provide clean, disinfected rooms, aircraft and operations. We wipe down our vehicles inside and out at least twice daily, and always have masks available for you throughout your tour.
If you are returning home to a state that has testing requirements, there are numerous testing facilities in our area, including Walgreens and other private and public health facilities. We have helped many of our clients get tested in plenty of time to prepare for their return flight(s).
We will keep you updated on all relevant travel changes and/or restrictions in future editions of the Bear Facts Bulletin.
Disclaimer: Alaska Photo Adventures and the Alaska Bear Facts Bulletin staff take great care to make sure that all information presented in our newsletters is accurate and truthful at the time of writing and posting. However, we are responsible or liable in any way for any costs, incidental or otherwise, related in any way to changes that may occur in laws, travel restrictions, codes of conduct at private lodges, accommodations, parks, wilderness areas and other locations and activities mentioned in these newsletters. We will make every reasonable attempt to publish any relevant changes in future newsletters in a timely manner.