Spring 2024

 

TheBearFactsBulletin-headline
From 40+ years of  living and photographing in the Great Land of Alaska, our wildlife photography newsletters have given thousands of beginning through advanced photographers useful tips and insights to get great images and enjoy safe, exciting travel in Alaska!
We wanted to say a BIG “Thank You” again to our customers past and present.
We love reliving your enthusiasm, energy and perspectives on every photo tour!

Come Play with Us!

Yearling brown bears, Lake Clark Nat'l Park, Alaska
Yearling brown bears, Lake Clark NP, Alaska ©Ron Levy/APA

 

 
Our 2024 tours better than ever. We’ve got more options and commitments from lodge and flight operators that allow us to go to additional wildlife hotspots,with more time in the field. That means additional opportunities for you to catch great expressions, interactions, color and light that will fill your hearts and memory cards forever.
If you haven’t booked a tour with us yet, we look forward to hearing from you soon.
 
We considered naming our tours “Un-Dementia Tours”. Why? Because they’re so good you’ll never forget ’em.
 

 · Top 3 Mistakes Photographers Make on a Photo Tour

Over the years we’ve noticed a few common habits and/or regrets photographers have on photo tours. A short read here will give you some helpful pointers and save a lot of headaches, time, and/or pain in the field.

· Test Yourself with our Bear Safety Quiz

Perhaps we should call it “Human Safety Quiz”.  It’s the humans who are often unaware of their actions and how they are perceived. You might be surprised at some of the answers.

· Participant Photo Pages Coming Soon!

After years of receiving terrific shots from our talented clients, we’re finally getting our Participant Photo pages up.

· New! Shorter Photo Tours formally added this year!

For those who don’t have the time or budget for our Gold 7-Day Tours,  our 1-4-day tours hit some of the best wildlife hotspots in  Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Fjords and Lake Clark Nat’l Parks.

____________________________________________________________________

Note: We do NOT receive remuneration or kickbacks for any links to people or companies mentioned in our newsletter. TopThis information is purely for your enjoyment and assistance in your travel and photography plans.
We believe that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

____________________________________________________________________

We love hearing from our readers. If you have any questions or comments, just use the form at the bottom and let us know.
 
Demonstrations of caring are more important than Declarations
 

Top 3 Mistakes Photographers Make on a Photo Tour

 

The tips in this section are for your actual photo tour, not your general trip to Alaska. You may be able to leave more luggage in your hotel before/after the tour, if you have other activities planned. These tips apply for what you’ll most likely need/want in the tour van, small plane flights, bear camps, boats, etc. during the tour.  See the link at the end of this section for more detailed recommendations on our website.
#1: Time. Give yourself the gift of time.  Photos take time to perfect. Animals take time to find, and time to relax in your presence. Weather takes its time . Traffic takes time. It is the one factor you can’t control. Or is it?
Since you can’t control time once you’re on a photo tour, this section applies more to choosing a photo tour.  The more time a tour gives you on the road and in the field, the more likely you’ll witness something glorious and memorable. It’s just common sense, but often, understandably, compromised with costs, schedules, family and work priorities.
Nonetheless, compare apples to apples with photo tours and wherever you want to go to “get the shot”. Face time with the animal is the priority, so work backward from that in planning your trip and tour choice. What gives you more opportunities to be right in the midst of where you want to be, excluding travel time, city logistics, flights, etc.? Too many people make the mistake of finding the cheapest tour for the same amount of days, and not comparing actual field or face time.
This is especially true in Alaska, where it takes time to get to the hot spots. Taking a tour that spends most of your time near Anchorage may get yield some lucky wildlife views, but the bears are farther away, especially with salmon, along with marine mammals, walrus, coyotes, wolves, etc.
The commitment to field time away from the larger cities is your biggest asset. It will be worth the extra cost, if any, over tours that lure you in with slightly cheaper prices. Face time is what sets Alaska apart from any other state, and most countries — the big bears, moose, eagles, whales, massive glaciers, mountains and volcanoes, etc. Our previous newsletter had a fun fact: if you visited 1000 acres each day, it would take over 1100 YEARS to cover the state!
So loosen the time-purse strings a bit — you won’t regret it. I know we’re advertising shorter tour options now, but the longer tours are worth every penny, every minute. The cost and travel hassles will fade over time; memories and photos won’t. The sooner you come here, the happier you’ll be. The longer you stay, the better your shots will naturally be. Face time and “Just Being There” is the best way to get those great shots, and the secret ingredient is time. Add more of it.
#2: As you can guess from the photo above (no, it’s not my gear…), the second most common mistake is taking too much photo gear. We’ve all done it, and in some cases it’s nice to have more rather than not enough. But unlike “time” mentioned above, too much gear can hurt your ability to access it quickly, and cause constant organizational stresses. So let’s whittle it down and clarify things a bit. (Keep in mind that these tips are based on what you will use 95% of the time in the field. Whatever you bring in your main luggage for your larger trip and flight can be left at your hotel’s storage or with us in the vehicle or building).
Biggest question we get is about the biggest lens to bring. The number one mistake we see is bringing a lens and photo gear that you can’t reasonably manage in the field, the van,  small planes or boats. Ask yourself if you really want to shoot with a 400mm+ in the van, or setup outside when we’re stopped (see next tip below).  Most of the time, animals seen from the road can be photographed quite well with a 300 + 1.4 or 1.7 extension. Unless we’re stopped and the doors/windows are open, shooting from inside with the larger lenses is clunky, and vibrations from others and possibly passing cars or wind are magnified.
Yes, arguments can be made for getting out of the vehicle and quickly setting up a tripod/monopod with a super long lens. But often, seconds count. Mobility with a smaller lens may mean that you catch a great shot that might be farther away than you want, but better than missing it completely while setting up a tripod or 400mm brick. See the next 2 paragraphs about making up for shorter lenses/smaller images with higher megapixel cameras and post processing.
Arguments can also be made for quality prime lenses being sharper, and that the lighter mirrorless 400-500mm lenses weigh less than the monsters of the past. But don’t forget that your camera’s megapixel range can mitigate enlargement, being almost as crystal clear as a physical glass lens. This is especially true if, like most of us, the great majority of your shots will only appear online, or printed smaller than ~ 11 x 14″. Photoshop and other programs do a fantastic job of getting you 20-50%+ closer with minimal-to-no loss of visible quality.
Compare how often you make huge enlargements — beyond 18 x 24″ — or shoot videos. Unless you’re making huge prints, chances are you won’t notice a difference, if any, between a 400 vs a quality 300 with extender at normal print viewing distances. The savings in weight, discomfort, hassle on the airlines, hotels, vehicles, boats, small planes will allow you to use your 300mm so much more often and effortlessly that you will maximize more photo opps, especially during the split seconds lost during initial setup with clunky 400/500 on a tripod/monopod vs hand-holding a smaller lens.  And don’t forget the wider aperture / gain of light / faster shutter speeds at same ISO that a 300 will likely have (without extension), enabling you to stop action or increase depth of field.
#3: Bringing too much gear (wait, didn’t I just say that?). Yes, but now it’s about non-photo gear. Streamline your gear in 2 ways: first, quantity of clothes and accessories; second, type of gear.
Lighter, quality gear will outweigh (literally, on the low end…) cheaper Walmart stuff. We’re talking things like a good REI, Northface or similar brand rain jacket vs a poncho (though ponchos can be a gear-covering choice and secondary pocket-stuffer). Some of the camera gear manufacturers produce some good clothing and waterproof camera bags (Thinktank, Tamrac, Lowepro, etc).
A word about photo vests: I swear by them. Most serious pros use them because of their quick access pockets, durability, ability to wear in the rain (under a light rain jacket), oversize pockets that can accommodate laptops, camera bodies, food, etc. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve literally emptied a daypack and laptop bags’ worth of clothes, books and camera gear into my vest to make it onto commercial flights that don’t allow any “carry-ons”… I sit funny though).
(I’ve always been curious why, on smaller planes, there are “selective” extra charges for “over-weight” camera bags or gear. The answer is less about logic and more about “because they can get away with it”. It’s not about the cost of avgas, for this simple reason:  if someone weighs 135 lbs and carries 50 lbs of gear, they can be charged $25-75 extra, yet a 185 lb man with no gear isn’t charged anything…)
Consider bringing only 2 pants (wool is great) + rain pants. Wool and cotton socks. Low-top tennis or hiking shoes (depending on your fitness; heavy hiking boots not necessary on our tours — we provide calf rain boots and hip waders, insulated camp/lodge slippers. Test out your gear before you leave. We’ve seen too many people open their gear for the first time when they arrive, and it’s either cheap, clunky, oversized or otherwise inappropriate. Your shooting will suffer.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. In other words, bring plenty of batteries, SD cards, cables, chargers (portable and home), hats (cap, wool and/or ear warmers), cell phone portable charger, sunglasses, etc. Again, see our more complete listing at What to Bring on a Photo Tour.
 

 
Alaska’s big bears can play and frolic their way right into your hearts. And they can rip them apart too. How much do you know, or think you know, about their behavior and natural history? A little knowledge can not only save your life, but give you more face time and better photos when a bear, or any animal, becomes comfortable in your presence.
Think about the questions and choose an answer in your mind. Then check them below. All questions are True/False.
1. Brown bears and grizzly bears are the same species.
2. Black bears and brown bears share the same habitats.
3. A gun is more effective in deterring or stopping a charging bear than pepper spray.
4. A white colored bear can be a black or a grizzly bear.
5. If a wild brown or grizzly bear starts following you, it has two intentions: to either attack or eat you.
6. If you encounter a bear within a few hundred feet, your best defense is to back away slowly, constantly watching the bear.
7. Bears will smell your presence long before they see or hear you.
8. A black bear is more likely to attack you as a food source than a brown/grizzly bear.
 
Answers:
Like bears, there are no black and white answers. The answers given below rely on statistics from trusted sources. But there are of course individuals in each situation that require some nuance and observation to determine your best action, or inaction.
  1. T  Both are genetically Ursus arctos. Grizzlies are given to inland bears that derive most of their food from a combination of various land-based animals. As such, they are morphologically smaller on average than coastal “brown” bears who get more fat and volume from salmon throughout the season.
  2. Both can be seen in the same coastal, temperate watersheds and mountains. Black bears love salmon too, and though they can be found in the arctic too, they are not as prevalent in the treeless parts of the north.
  3. F  This is a tricky question, but the answer has more to do with the shooter than the bear. With a firearm, knowing where to aim, and having the skill to hit a charging target under pressure, is critical. Shooter experience, bear morphology, ammunition type, angle of entry, etc. — are all critical to survival. Most folks will not have the calm nerves and experience to do this under the heart-pounding conditions of a charge or attack. Statistically, the wider radius of Pepper spray has been shown to stop/deter a bear without the need to aim at anything specific, and is easy to learn how to operate. Biggest caveat: keep the wind at your back.
  4. T  White phases occur in both types of bears. Them seem to be more rare with brown/grizzlies. The lighter fur of “spirit bears” seen in the Pacific Northwest coastal areas of British Columbia is a variation of black bear fur.
  5.   First, bear attacks are very rare. Given half a chance, they will move away, or watch you for a few minutes before doing anything. If they do walk in your direction, they could be simply curious, or have smelled something on you that interested them. Your reactions would determine their reactions. The bear may have been wanting to head in that direction anyway.
  6. This surprises some people. But retreating backwards to an area where the bear can’t see, hear or smell you may 1) cause curiosity or anxiety in the bear, prompting it to come closer, 2) cause you to trip over branches or something you didn’t see,  creating noise, action or otherwise spooking the bear,  or 3) not be necessary, as walking obliquely or sideways away from the bear while keeping an eye on it is often a better solution. This provides input to you and the bear of each other’s actions and whereabouts. It also doesn’t function as much as a submissive gesture as directly backing up, which , in bear language, may be seen as weak and cowardly. Showing some strength without aggression is a delicate balance, but one that bears understand.
  7. F  This is a common assumption, but it depends on wind direction, how far away you are, how open the terrain is, what you’ve been eating, washing yourself with, how loud you are talking or walking,whether you are in familiar bear/human country, etc.
  8. F  This surprises some people also, but requires clarification. The word “likely” is often used in citing statistics, but it is a general term. Bears in general almost never offensively “prey” on humans, much less attack or kill (which could be defensive). So attack statistics are low, compared to thousands of interactions worldwide. But if it was a black bear that did kill someone, statistics show it was likely to eat them.  However, brown bears are twice as likely to pursue someone as a food source than black bears. And they are more likely (by a factor of several hundred times) than black bears to violently defend themselves, or their cubs. There is also the distinction between brown (coastal) and grizzly (interior) bears. Interior grizzly bears have a less dependable food source, and are more likely to defend themselves violently than coastal brown bears.
     The take-away points here are: 1) your chances of being injured by a bear are less than almost any other risks in your life if you follow basic guidelines, 2) go with a guide who’s familiar with the area and animals, and 3) look both ways before crossing your hometown street.
 
Selected sources: Alaska Dept of Fish & Game publications,  When Bears Attack (Healy 2016), When Bears Whisper, Do You Listen (Dr. Stringham, 2009), Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance (Dr. Herrero, 2002), Beauty Within the Beast (Dr. Stringham, 2002), Alaska Bear Tales (Larry Kaniut, 1972), and numerous personal encounters during 40+ years photographing and working with NPS, USFS and USFWS field personnel throughout Alaska.
 

Alaska Photo Adventures newsletter Participant Photo Pages

Harbor seals on ice, Kenai Fjords NP, Photo by Sveinung Lindass
In the next week or so, check back on our website for our talented Participant Photo pages. Thought we could have them up and running by the time the newsletter was ready, but we missed our own deadline.
We’re almost done editing and posting, so if you’ve been on a tour with us and sent some images in, check back soon. There will be a new menu link under the Tour Details dropdown menu. If you’ve never been with us, these great shots will give you an unbiased idea of what you can see and shoot on our very special Gold APA tour package.
If these don’t get your juices flowing and your fingers itching to shoot, we’ll have to call an EMT.

backwards

Alaska Photo Adventures newsletter - shorter photo tours
Brown bears and rafters, Kenai River Photo by Ron Levy
Brown bears and rafters, Kenai Rier, Alaska. Photo by Ron Levy
 
By popular request over the years, we have formally added shorter tours to our offerings. For those who do not have the time or money for our Gold 7-Day tours, these ‘Silver” and “Bronze” tours will get you in the ballpark (e.g. National Park) to see some of Alaska’s best wildlife, including bears, moose, whales, seals, puffins, eagles and more.
The main benefits of the shorter tours are 1) less cost (about a third to half as much) as our week-long tours, 2) all meals and lodging, 3) marine mammal cruise in Kenai Fjords Nat’l Park (4-Day Tour only), 4) no remote hiking or fly-outs (we stay on the mainland side in commercial hotels, 5) wildlife “hotspot” tours around Anchorage, Chugach Nat’l Forest, Kenai Nat’l Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Fjords Nat’l Park and Turnagain Arm, 6) Optional add[ons available like helicopter flight over glaciers, dogsled ride on glacier, Kenai river float trip, etc.
When considering shorter tours, the number one consideration is of course time, as mentioned in the first part of this newsletter. If weather and road conditions are good, you will see terrific animals and Alaskan scenery. If Murphy and/or weather are rainy or uncooperative, or if any road conditions delay things, we have less time to rearrange the itinerary to accommodate, and/or less time to photograph animals when they are right in front of us.
See a more detailed summary at  APA’s 1-4 Day Photo Tours. (Note that our 1-day tours are not formally scheduled in advance as they are available only on a call-in/email basis within  1-2 weeks of your desired time. Contact us with your desired date(s) and we’ll respond quickly).
~    ~    ~ 
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about dancing in the rain.
 

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 if or when we discover them in future newsletters.
Translate Page »