• Complimentary pickup at your Anchorage hotel or the airport on Day 1.
Please notify us where you are at least 48 hours before you arrive.
Vans will pickup in late morning of your 1st day.
• Round Trip transport from Anchorage to/from and around Kenai Peninsula.
If you arrive by cruise ship or ferry, we can pick you up at Seward or Whittier for an additional fee.
You can also choose to rent a car or fly down separately to the Kenai Peninsula at extra cost.
• Helicopter flightseeing above glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park and to dogsledding activity (if chosen).
• Round trip floatplane, boat or helicopter flights past volcanoes, glaciers and forests to bear viewing area & lodge.
• Two, four or six nights accommodations, depending on tour choice..
• All meals from lunch on the first day to lunch on the last day.
• Group and individual instruction in preparation and photographic techniques on land and air.
• Transportation to/from Alaska
• Your photography gear, clothing, toiletries and outerwear.
• Brooks Falls day trip on 5-day tours
• Dogsledding on glacier — can be added to, or substituted for, marine mammal tour or helicopter fjords flightseeing
• Snacks and beverages apart from meals
• Alcoholic beverages.
• Gratuities for your guides/staff/pilots, etc.
Some of the lodges may charge resort fees in the range of $5-10/person/day that may cover equipment or services such as nightly happy hour, fishing equipment, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, etc.
Please see the Itinerary pages for the 5-day and 7-day tours. The order of days and locations is generic here so that we can make changes along the way due to weather, charter flight delays, lodging or other vendor decisions out of APA’s control, safety or road conditions.
Leaving 2 buffer days on both ends of your Alaska arrival/departure dates is VERY IMPORTANT! There are invariably weather delays that sometimes prevent or change our scheduled helicopter, boat or fixed-wing flights to bear spots. In these cases, we will bend over backwards to get you to these spots, and sometimes this may involve getting you there after the scheduled tour dates. Giving this breathing room in your RT Alaska flights will allow us room to pick you up or drop you off a day or 2 earlier or later, if weather or other circumstances dictate a change. Almost every year, this “breathing room” has allowed participants to make it to previously rained out areas such as Brooks Camp, helo flightseeing or dogsled activities (if chosen).
For more “voluntary” changes or adjustments not necessary for safety or weather, or those changes not dictated to us by pilots or bear camp vendors, we will only adjust if all in the group are able and willing.
You will receive a more detailed schedule approximately 30-60 days before you arrive. This will show the exact number of days and locations promised in our ads.
The constant variable!
Alaska’s weather is unpredictable and can change quickly. We try our hardest to plan flights and locations ahead of time, but the truth is, we can’t be sure until the day of departure.
It’s possible the weather may not be safe to fly on the planned flight day, or the flight times may change due to weather.
We will have alternate Plans B and C to rearrange your itinerary and get you on the same flight a different day or time.
Alaska Photo Adventures is not responsible or liable for any cancellations, expenses or delays incurred as a result of weather or other conditions over which we have no control.
The only thing we can be sure of is that safety is more important than pushing beyond common sense and best practices.
The risk of bad weather is always with us, and your ability to accept that risk, trust us and be patient with any changes we may have to make will be hugely appreciated. (See Travel Insurance below).
A few bright notes: Beautiful photos can be shot under any conditions. Rain can bring rainbows, and the thought of a grizzly sow and cub with a glorius rainbow in the background can only happen under marginal conditions.
Similarly, storm lighting can be some of the most outstanding dramatic light for photography. Sometimes it takes weathering through the bad weather to get shots that fair-weather shooters will never witness.
Clothing: Think layers. Keep in mind that max traveling gear for flightseeing is ~20 pounds per person.
Here is a basic Alaska list. (see Photo Equipment separately)
1) Gloves: 2 pairs: liners for shooting, and a heavier pair for weather and walking with gear.
2) Hats: 1) Sports cap (we have one for sale with our logo and tagline “Bear with us…”) for rain and sun; 2) Flexible wide-brimmed nylon-type rain hat; 3) Wool-type stocking cap for warmth.
3) Pants: Cotton quick drying pants (and/or a pair of zip-off shorts) with or without nylon shell. Not recommended for bear camp are Levi denims as they are heavy cotton — heavy in wet conditions and take forever to dry.
4) Socks: Preferably wool. (your socks will get wet at some point). Bring at least 3-4 pairs.
5) Long underwear: Top and bottom breathable type, cotton or polypro. Rather than 100% cotton or polypro, best types have a blend of 50/50 – 70/30 (more polypro, the better) and/or some nylon or spandex.
6) Rain/wind shell: Breathable, waterproof top and bottom, with hood.
7) Boots and shoes: Good walking or hiking shoes (preferably water resistant or waterproof). We don’t do any long hikes (more than a few hundred yards at very most. Bear camp walks are along beaches or soft grasslands). Perhaps also lightweight camp shoes or sandals. (Water-resistant clogs or sandals are usually supplied for you in the bear camps).
8) A few T-shirts. Quick drying nylon/rayon and cotton/polypro blend.
9) A warm fleece sweater or jacket. Synthetic fiber, no goose or duck down.
Single lens reflex cameras with long lenses are the best cameras to bring on specialized photo tours, especially for bears and wildlife. The newer mirrorless cameras can save weight and bulk as carry-ons, fitting easeir into pockets or backpacks, but are very costly.
1) 1-2 DSLR cameras
2) 3 lenses minimum: 24-80 or 28-120mm for aerials, people, scenics; 80-200m; 300mm or 400mm for wildlife
3) A top quality 1.4x tele extender (Nikon, Canon, Olympus, etc.) is also well worth its weight and cost. Better, lighter, cheaper for most folks than lugging a 500-600mm if you’re already bringing a 300/400mm lens.
4) A good point-and-shoot camera (in addition to your cell phone) — worth their weight for videos, wider angle shots, and as a backup camera if/when your main camera gets dunked or hurt beyond field repair. (I saved a photographer’s camera on one tour when it fell into shallow salt water. It was completely submerged, but we managed to have it dried out and fixed up enough to finish his trip. Someday I’ll write a page on field camera repairs…)
5) A few back up batteries (AA, specialized camera batteries and flash) & charger
6) Extra media cards for your camera in ziploc or sturdy zippered or velcro pocket case.
7) A sturdy tripod with ball head for longer lenses (Gitzo, Bogen, Wimberely, Really Right Stuff, etc.)
8) Photo vest – great for field use and taking carry-on gear on airlines and charters (not counted as carry-ons!). Tip is to put heaviest, least bulky items in inner pockets and zip up vest. Smaller heavy items can go in outer pockets. (I’ve never been asked to “weigh my clothes”). If asked for your body weight, be sure add gear weight to your number.
9) Filters: polarizing for saturation on nice days; graduated ND filters for scenes with dark/light areas
10) Detachable flash with either an off-camera cord or ability to trigger wirelessly with infrared or RF
11) Lens cleaning microfiber cloth
12) Laptop computer with editing software such as stand-alone Photoshop or Lightroom
13) Flash drive(s), external hard drive, and card reader. (Always carry spares of each of these items)
14) Sturdy camera backpack or flexible carrying case (no large hard cases – hard to use/pack on flights). This is in addition to a photo vest.
Extra wide angle lens (<24mm);
Wrist straps and tethers for cameras and lenses (cheap insurance, especially for aerials). PEAK makes some nice lens “cuffs”.
Poncho, short umbrella or other rain cover(s) for camera bags, longer lenses and cameras on tripods
A Go-Pro or other underwater camera or underwater bag for your existing camera or point & shoot for river or lake over-unders, if you have the desire.
Solar battery charger (Goal Zero is excellent and the industry standard, but there are other good brands)
A pdf copy of your camera manual(s) on your computer or phone. They can usually be found on the camera manufacturer’s website. Great to review on the plane, and could be a life saver!
Knee pads — (considered by some photographers as mandatory, not optional) If you have bad or marginable knees, padded slip-on knee pads can be great when kneeling on rocks or hard vehicle floors. They are lightweight and can double as telephoto lens pads on vehicles or rocks. Alternatively, other padded items you may already be bringing could be used as knee pads in a pinch.
Weeks before the trip, make sure your camera gear is clean and operating perfectly. If it has been sitting on the shelf or not in use for a while, dust and dirt may settle into lenses or sensors. You may still have time to to send it off or a quick repair/cleaning.
Other items to consider:
1) Pocket knife or multi-tool. Remember not in your airline carry-on bag!
2) Sunglasses with retainer strap.
3) Small daypack. (~1500 cubic inches), rain/windproof, or a boat dry bag with backpack straps. (This is in addition to the camera bag/pack listed under Photo Equipment to bring)
4) Insect repellent. Possibly a headnet (not required; only if you are really sensitive to mosquito bites)
5) Personal first aid kit (with earplus, eyeshades, sunblock, non-stick tape, motion sickness pills, etc.)6) Water bottle.
7) Ziploc plastic bags for smaller items, batteries, etc.
8) Binoculars – Compact, preferably waterproof.
9) Duct tape or electrician’s tape.
Travelers are not required to participate in every activity, but all guests should be in moderate to good physical and mental condition. General mobility is essential, including the ability to climb into and out of small planes and boats. Participants must be able to walk for at least 15-30 minutes without assistance on wooden boardwalks, dirt paths or uneven natural terrain, which may include sections of shallow water. You must be able to carry all your own gear, including daypacks and camera equipment. Much of our time is also spent standing or sitting outside in the elements viewing bears and wildlife for hours at a time from viewing platforms, land vehicles, boats and/or guided walks.
Bear camp adventures are terrific, rare opportunities for close, immersive, thrilling encounters with one of the world’s great predators in safe, well-managed areas. While some bear camps have 24 hour electricity, others are off the grid and have periodic or no electricity.Most camps are a 30-45 minute flight from the nearest town, so guests must be willing to come with a flexible attitude in a wild and remote setting where weather conditions, itineraries and logistics can be highly changeable. At times, flights may be canceled or delayed due to poor weather, and some amenities may become unavailable until a new shipment arrives.
You will be required to give your weight (or weight range) for flightseeing charters to comply with weight-balance safety requirements, as well as shoe size for the bear camps which may supply mud boots or waders for wetlands.
As far as emotional requirements, patience, flexibility and an attitude of finding common ground with others can make all the difference in a successful and memorable experience for you and others in the group.
At the bear viewing camps, there will be either ATV or boat access to the popular spots. Brooks Falls requires a 45 minute walk to the falls.
During any one day, we may walk 1-2 miles total, depending on where the best or most bears are that day.
Most of the other days, we will be driving around looking for great light and animals.
Unless the group is fully agreeable to trail climbs for some special situations, walking will be at a leisurely pace, as fast as the slowest person.
That of course depends on what kind of condition or surgery you’ve had, and whether your doctor has given you any restrictions on the type and length of physical activity you can do.
Ultimately it is up to you whether you feel up to the relatively flat hikes we will take, and whether you think your pace would slow the group down noticeably.
We will not be hiking at high altitudes (other than flying up to a few thousand feet) The highest walking will be at 3,000 feet at the dogsled glacier.
Most of our hikes will be at the bear camps, where we will have 1-2 extra guides with us at all times. We will help in any way we can to make you comfortable during the walks and the tour.
There are questions on the Reservation Form that allow you to tell us about any health, medical or dietary issues or concerns you may have. Please be honest about your answers so we can provide you with the best experience possible.
APA, lodging and transport personnel are very experienced and accommodating, but they ultimately cannot be responsible for your medical condition and/or exercise decisions. We’ll be glad to discuss any concerns with you ahead of time.
We will be flying in helicopters around the fjords, glaciers,and forests of Kenai Fjords National Park, and, optionally, to the dogsled rides on the glacier near Seward. Fixed wing charters will most likely be used to get to/from the bear viewing areas, as we can haul more gear and people.
No matter which form of aircraft we take (we’ll probably be using both types), you need to provide your accurate weight. This is imperative for airplane safety and loading. Check out our Aerial Photo Tips page for info on what gear to bring on flights, how to shoot from planes and helicopters, and more.
Re: airsick: This depends on how sick you tend to get, or how long it takes you to feel queasy.
Most of the flights are 30-45 minutes long and are generally very smooth.
Dramamine and other therapies (wrist bands, etc.) may be appropriate (see What to Bring).
If you are absolutely unable to fly, we have options available for taking boats to the bear camp, and/or taking a day-long boat trip in Seward to see whales, ocean mammals and birds, etc. This is also one of our fall-back options if weather is just too bad for too long to fly out to the glacier, dogsledding or bear camps.
Contact us for more info and we can discuss with you. In the worst case scenarios I’ve been in, we’ve always made it out to the bears, and been able to do flightseeing within a day or two of the original scheduled date.
Re: airsick and seasick: If you cannot do flights or boats, we also have some land-based tours and hikes available at no extra charge for the days or hours we would be flying. Since most of our flights are only about 30 minutes, you might consider whether it’s worth being queasy for such a short period.
Generally between 12-75 years old, but young or older are welcome.
Weight should be a maximum of 250 lbs. for flightseeing, and all aircraft can be cramped.
As long as you can understand and follow directions, feel in generally good health, and are able to stay quietly in one location, you should be fine.
If you are traveling with a companion who is not an avid photographer, they may want to bring some form of quiet entertainment such as a book, word game, tablet, etc.
We strongly recommend and encourage all travelers to purchase travel insurance from a reputable company.Family emergencies, medical accidents or illnesses, unplanned delays – these are common to anyone traveling, and become more important depending on the time, distance and expense of your trip. Anytime you spend more than $1000 on a trip, the cost of travel insurance really starts to pay off in terms of the premium-to-benefit ratio, and tremendous peace of mind.
We recommend the following reputable companies:
Yes. We carry medical as well as liability insurance. However, that mostly covers us, and possibly some money for medical costs related to participants. This doesn’t remove the need for each participant to have personal medical insurance, just as we do in everyday life, and as mentioned above, your own travel and medical coverage.
Discounts are offered for participants belonging to certain photography organizations, military, Alaska residents, returning participants, referrals, couples and Early Bird reservations.
Discounts are also offered through our links on equipment and services from major national photo retailers, rental houses and specialty companies.
See our Discounts page for up-to-date discounts and exclusive links.
Below is a summary of our refund/cancellation policies. Please see our Terms page for more complete information.
The myriad logistics involved in planning photography tours necessitates the refund/cancellation policies and deadlines listed below. These are in place because we are bound by the rules and contracts of the vendors and transport companies that are providing your excellent lodging and services. These policies help ensure a smooth tour experience at a great price for you and other participants, especially during the high-demand peak summer season.
That being said, we want you to be happy with your decision to join our tour, so we give you a little time to sleep on it. Consequently, we have a relatively generous refund/cancellation policy period compared to other tours:
If you book your tour before January 1 of the tour year:
Deposits are fully refundable up to 4 weeks after you book. After the 4-week grace period, and before the balance of your payment is due, if you cancel, we will refund 75% of your deposit back immediately. The balance of your deposit will be refunded if we are able to fill your space on the tour, less any non0refundable fees charged by Paypal, credit card companies or banks.
If you book between January 1 – March 1 of the tour year:
Deposits are fully refundable up to 2 weeks after you book. After the 2-week grace period, and before the balance of your payment is due, if you cancel, you will receive 50% of your deposit back immediately. The balance of your deposit will be refunded only if we are able to fill your space on the tour, less any non0refundable fees charged by Paypal, credit card companies or banks.
If you book your tour after March 1, full payment is required with booking. If you later wish to cancel, your payment will only refunded if we are able to fill your space on the tour, less $100 cancellation fee and any any non0refundable fees charged by Paypal, credit card companies, banks, lodging or transportation vendors.
Regardless of when you book and pay for your tour, if you do not want to attend, you may substitute another participant in your place. These substitute participants must fill out and sign the registration forms and any other papers required to participate, and pay any balances due.
APA reserves the right to cancel the tour for lack of minimal registrants (3) up to 60 days prior to the tour date. If we (regrettably) have to exercise this option, 100% of your deposit and payments will be refunded to you.
— Required City and/or Borough taxes of 3-7% will be added to the total. There are different taxes in each of the cities within the borough, and they are calculated based on costs and length of time in each area.
— 3.5% process fee by Paypal for credit card payments, and, if paid from outside the US, a 1.5% “cross-border fee”.
— If you pay by wire transfer, there are fees charged to us by our bank or yours, and we will advise you of any (generally $10-25 for within US, $25-50 for international).
— You have the option to pay by bank cashier’s check and mail to us to avoid any extra processing fees. Checks usually take about a week to arrive and clear before we can send your confirmation.
— There may be extra charges imposed from lodges, bear camps, transportation fees or taxes (usually air charters) and other providers. These are out of our control but should be minimal amount(s).
— Tips for any guides, meal service or extra services that you feel were above and beyond “required” are up to you. Aside from standard restaurant percentages, tips for guides have traditionally been anywhere from $20-50/day, depending on length of stay.
At all times, participants are expected to act according to the Ethical Codes listed on the website and on the confirmation receipt(s).
These codes are built around respect-synthesizing common elements of photographic and ecological field behavior to minimize disturbance to wildlife, ecosystems, tour participants and future visitors.
These principles involve walking carefully so as not to unnecessarily disturb physical and biological components, packing out all trash (no matter how small), talking and moving quietly and, in general, maximizing our ability to observe animals behaving naturally and comfortably.
Participants agree to conduct themselves with respect and sensitivity toward other participants, guides and animals. If there is something you may disagree with, rather than engage in rude and disruptive behavior, please discuss it with an instructor, guide, or vendor in an appropriate manner.
Aside from Acts of God (weather, rockslides, etc.) and decisions/postponement/ cancellations from the air charters, lodges or other vendors we work with, you are guaranteed to get to the areas we list on our tour(s). We of course cannot guarantee how many animals, if any, will be at the wildlife sites, but as listed on our site, we will bend over backwards to get you the greatest wildlife and other opportunities you came to see in Alaska. The paragraph on Delays from our Terms and Conditions page and our Confirmations is reprinted below.
Itineraries described on our website are general guidelines only. Travel delays can be a factor in any Alaska wilderness travel, and we plan for unpredictable weather! Itineraries described on our website are general guidelines only. Activities may change due to unforeseen circumstances. Our built-in redundancies are there to provide a seamless shift(s) in activities. Trips may also deviate from the itinerary based on pilots’ decisions or other situations beyond our control.
Leaving 2 buffer days on both ends of your Alaska arrival/departure dates is VERY IMPORTANT! There are invariably weather delays that sometimes prevent or change our scheduled helicopter, boat or fixed-wing flights to bear spots. In these cases, we will bend over backwards to get you to these spots, and sometimes this may involve getting you there after the scheduled tour dates. Giving this breathing room in your RT Alaska flights will allow us room to pick you up or drop you off a day or 2 later, if circumstances dictate a change. Almost every year, this flexibility has allowed participants to make it to previously rained out areas such as Brooks Camp, helo flightseeing or dogsled activities (if chosen).
We often do not receive definitive weather information until the last minute, and thus decisions must be made quickly. Your safety is our #1 concern, and we will not fly if conditions do not safely allow it, regardless of the importance of your other scheduled activities or what other pilots are doing.
APA will do its best to continue this tour and work around any bumps in weather, Acts of God or other circumstances. However, APA is not responsible for incidental or other costs incurred by participants due to unforeseen or unavoidable delays of the tour, or cancellation due to lack of minimum participants. APA reserves the right to alter any itinerary for the purposes of safety, weather, Acts of God or the smooth, professional operation of the tour. APA will not give refunds for delays or cancellations of specific locations or wildlife viewing because of weather, flights, or other unforeseen events out of our control. We have redundancies in place for alternate transportation, locations and dates during your tour period that will give you the highest probability for spectacular viewing and photo opportunities.
Especially with remote bear viewing areas, participants can be weathered in for extra hours and/or day(s) at remote locations. Delays of return flights back from remote spots do occur every season, but rarely last more than a few hours. We will be diligent about updating you with possible changes as they arise, but we strictly reserve the right to alter any itinerary for the purposes of safety, weather or the smooth, professional operation of the tour.
There will be brief informal orientations before each day’s events, and reviews at the end of the day to discuss photos, experiences and any questions.
Some of the topics covered will include: composition, auto vs manual settings, post processing, how to act around wildlife, equipment to bring/leave at camp for the day, etc.
Similar to the tab above on What should I bring, the list below is taken from our more comprehensive What to Bring on a Photo Tour page:
Ideal basic gear: (don’t fret if you don’t have all of these):
• 1-2 DSLR cameras.
• 3 lenses: 24-80 or 28-120mm range for aerials, 80-200mm, and a 300mm or 400mm for wildlife
• A top quality 1.4x tele extender (Nikon, Canon, Olympus, etc.) is also well worth its weight and cost.
• A few back up batteries (camera and flash) & charger.
• Extra media cards for your camera.
• A sturdy tripod with ball head for longer lenses (Gitzo, Bogen, Wimberely, Really Right Stuff, etc.)
• Photo vest – great for field use and taking gear on airlines/smaller flightseeing (not counted as carry-on!)
• Filters: polarizing for saturation on nice days; graduated ND filters for scenes with dark/light areas
• Detachable flash with either an off-camera cord or ability to trigger with infrared or RF
• Lens cleaning microfiber cloth
• Laptop computer with editing software such as stand-alone Photoshop or Lightroom
• Sturdy camera backpack or flexible carrying case (no large hard cases – hard to use/pack on flights)
• Extra wide angle lens (<24mm)
• Point and shoot camera for videos, group shots, backup camera
• Wrist straps and tethers for cameras (good insurance for aerial shooting)
• Poncho, umbrella or other rain covers for camera bags, longer lenses and cameras on tripods.
You can rent almost anything in Anchorage at Stewart’s Photo Shop, (907) 272-8581 – stewartsphoto.com
There are also national rental houses that send lenses or cameras out quickly to the nearest UPS, Fedex or USPS facility.
This is an optional add-on or substitute for a fjords flightsee or marine mammal cruise (add’l charge required) that includes a terrific 15-minute scenic helicopter flight up to the glacier for great photos and breathtaking views of Seward and Resurrection Bay.
You’ll get to meet real Alaskan sled dogs, training to run in the famous 1000 mile Iditarod race, and sometimes cuddle with adorable pups. Includes a 30 minute dogsled ride amidst gorgeous mountains in the middle of nowhere. You also have the choice of helping mush the team with your guide.
Then another 15 minute exciting flightsee for more photos on your way back to Seward. The whole experience lasts 1-2 hours and will give you a lifetime of memories!
Lodging will often be shared with 1 other participant. On the Kenai Peninsula, you will be staying in nicer 3-4 star hotels like Aspen or Quality Inn, or lodges on or near the Kenai River, depending on our schedule.
We will give you more specific information within 60-90 days of the tour date.
In bear viewing areas, you will be in permanent framed lodges or meticulously maintained glamour-camps with aluminum frame PVC skin huts, hard floors, twin and/or queen beds, linens, gas heat and separate dining hall.
There is a common shower house with composting toilets, and full solar panel electricity for lights, computers and charging devices. The lodging areas have boardwalks to sit and enjoy great views of bears and coastal Alaska.
If you a solo traveler and wish your own room/lodging, we can discuss with you a single supplement fee (generally $500-1000), depending on rooms available at each of our locations.
We keep the group size low and the guide/participant ratio around 1:6. If we have more than 6-7, we’ll usually bring in another guide for certain excursions.
This maintains an ideal ratio and what sets us apart from cheaper, cattle-call, generic tours. Keeping the ratio low keeps the pace comfortable, makes it easy to hear and observe, and gives you lots of individualized instruction time.
It also allows us to segregate slightly if there are any significant personality or skill level differences in the group.
There are 3 species of bears in Alaska – Black, Polar and Brown.
We will be seeing coastal brown bears, and possibly black bear.
The name “Brown” is more of a generic term that includes Grizzly bears which live inland away from the ocean, Brown bears (coastal areas and feed mostly on fish) and Kodiak bears living on Kodiak island and growing larger than the other bears based on a plentiful diet of large salmon.
Bears are no different from any other animal (predator or prey). They all want their space, and are generally as afraid of you as you are of them. Most days, even if the weather isn’t perfect, you’ll be close enough to hear them breathe. Other days will be through binoculars.
We will always strike a healthy balance between curiosity, desire for photos, awareness of their comfort level, and safety.
Our minimal impact Ethics Codes allow the bears to remain calm and comfortable in our presence, as they have been for decades in the places we are going.
Your guides will give you specific tips for specific bears, and how to have this “conversation” with them.
Ron has unexpectedly been as close as 10 feet from wild grizzlies and never had the “clothes-changing pleasure” of an aggressive bear situation.
See our Who We Are page for updated info on your photographer-guides.
Ron has been leading hikes and tours since the late 1970s when he started as a Ranger for the National Park Service on San Miguel Island. He has led hikes and tours in Alaska since 1981, as well as single and multi-day trips for travelers, photographers, politicians and CEOs in Alaska, Arizona and California, and co-led tours in Ecuador. He has participated in many tours worldwide, and has learned what separates great tours from sub-standard ones.
Other photographer-guides have been guiding for years in Alaska and around the US. Some are authors, PhDs, wildlife biologists, birders, photographers and/or other equally respectable authority in topics relevant to the tour.
For a more complete answer, see From Alaska to Africa, 10 Tips on How to Pick a Great Photo Tour. Aside from the experience and personalized service of the company, once you start your tour, your success and enjoyment will depend almost entirely on the guide. You want a guide who is great in 3 areas — photography, teaching and outdoor skills. These can be broken down further below:
1) Organization – A well planned supply of good clothing and equipment (“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment”), alternate routes, adequate travel times, and ample breathing room built in for unexpected delays.
2) Redundancy – Enough plans B & C built into a trip to anticipate the unpredictability of wildlife photography and Murphy’s Law anywhere. Especially in Alaska, weather and driving conditions can produce delays of several hours or days for transportation and wildlife viewing.
3) Safety – Constant awareness, anticipation of hazards, and habitual use of safe travel practices gives the highest probability of a smooth trip. A set of clear ethical guidelines helps minimize impact on the land and people, and avoids threats from animals or dangerous situations.
4) Communication – This is perhaps the most important quality of all. A guide’s knowledge and experience mean little if they cannot be communicated effectively to the group. Similarly, the ability to integrate relevant concepts and inspire participants is a quality that makes for a deep and memorable experience. Communicating sensitively and respectfully, especially in remote situations in a group dynamic, can allow participants to feel safe, secure and able to enjoy themselves regardless of issues that may arise.
5) Experience – This sums up all the others. Your guide(s)’ knowledge and experience of locations, wildlife, photography and other aspects of your tour is critical. You don’t want to spend thousands on a tour with a guide who doesn’t live where he works and guides. There are too many subtle variables of habitat, wildlife, weather conditions, animal behavior, group and community dynamics to trust someone new to the area or living elsewhere (many Alaskan photo “guides” are just hired by the some tour companies for their photo skills and maybe a few trips to Alaska, but live out of state). They can’t possibly have the background or history of year-round resident guides.