Winter 2023

From 40+ years of  living and photographing in the Great Land of Alaska, our quarterly bulletins give you relevant, useful tips to help you get great images and enjoy safe, exciting travel in the Great Land of Alaska!

 Happy New Year Wildlife Lovers!

ADF&G biologist Larry Aumiller and brown bear, McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, Alaska

©Ron Levy/APA

Season 2022 provided us with many outstanding and beautiful moments to store in our memory cards and hearts.
We hope you will join us – or re-join us – to take advantage of the world renown wildlife photo opportunities and grandiose beauty of Alaska.
Our small group size and large web of connections are two of our main advantages from many decades of calling Alaska our backyard.. They allow us to give you “Goldilocks” service — small enough to give individual attention, and big enough to have the clout to get you into places most folks can’t or don’t know about.
We seamlessly manage all the complexities behind the scenes so you can just enjoy and shoot amazing photos to your heart’s content!
Come experience our experience, and see how our photo tours can be one of the best investments of your life.
“The most valuable tool you can take with you on a photo tour is more time.”

 ~     ~    ~

 · Look into the mirror-less and whadya see?

Though we at APA emphasize more of the human elements in photography than technical, the mirrorless revolution has some important paradigm changes for photo tours. And life

· What’s better: photo “tour” or “workshop”?

Many times these terms are used interchangeably in tour ads and photo articles. But they can be very important depending on what you want or need on a photo “tour”, and where you are coming from in life.

· Are tours offered by national companies like WWF, Joseph van Os, Nat’l Geographic, etc. better than smaller, private ones?

What is “better”? We’ll help clarify some of your own goals and how to align them with the advantages and disadvantages of small and large tours Then you can focus on your priorities and match them to the best tour for you.

· Changes in 2023 tour activities

Every year we evaluate how the season went and what we can do to bring more value to you — our returning and new phototgrapher-friends. We value your trust as much as you value your limited time and money invested on these tours. See what’s new and better in 2023.


Note: APA does NOT receive remuneration or kickbacks for any links to people or companies mentioned in this newsletter.
This 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 to hear from our readers!
If you have any questions or comments,
just use the form at the bottom and let us know.
“I am somewhat of a mermaid about life. I have no fear of depths or heights, but I do have a fear of shallow living”

brown bears standing, Lake Clark Nat'l Park, Alaska, Ron Levy©Ron Levy

What do you see when you look into a mirrorless camera system?
First, you see less — less weight, less bulk, less time (between shots), less human error (focusing, exposure)Then you see more — more cost (initially), more storage, more editing. That’s it in a nutshell.
Or is it?
On the surface, there seems to be no drawbacks to the conversion to a mirrorless system. But there are subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in technique, behavior and perceptions that are taking place.
In terms of skill and technique, one simple example is speed. Compared to traditional DSLR mirror cameras, mirrorless cameras can shoot and advance frames well over ten times faster per second than traditional DSLR cameras. Did you notice the subtle difference?  Shutter speeds haven’t changed much, but the ability to advance faster to the next frame has become the real paradigm shift.
Like regular DSLRs, capturing the action at 1/8000 second is still fast enough for anyone’s wishes, including stopping a hummingbird’s wingbeats. But the ability to shoot >100 frames per second has pushed still photography into the video realm. Using a top of the line mirrorless camera is almost the same as bringing a high-def video camera into the field. With video cameras, you could just slow down the video in the computer and pick out a sharp frame to enlarge. Previously though, the resolution wasn’t good enough for a large print. But today, a mirrorless camera has crossed that barrier, making it possible to essentially shoot stills like a videographer and worry about the best shot later.
So the technique of timing has been relegated to technology rather than vision. With eye recognition and tracking (on both photographer and subject), phase vs contrast focus detection, and other technical aspects that we won’t drill into here, the new mirrorless revolution has taken the old adage “Shoot first and ask questions later” to a new level. Now you don’t have to wait for the decisive moment, as Cartier-Bresson made famous 100 years ago. Just point and shoot, and hope you got that salmon 6 inches from the bear’s mouth.
The new mirrorless revolution may be raising more questions of ethics than skill: Who deserves more respect, the photographer or the camera? Is it the capture of the moment that’s more important, or the final “delivery” of the image that has the most impact, and requires more care? It’s a little like a late night TV comedian-host like Johnny Carson or Jimmy Kimmel — the writer’s come up with the jokes, but it’s the delivery that can have the biggest impact.
As photographers, we have a number of ways of “delivering” the images — as large fine prints, editorial pieces with a message, live presentations, classroom settings, NGO efforts, etc. A great image is still vital for maximum impact, but the actual decisive moment may be a series of decisive moments within that second, of which the camera has now taken a hundred shots. Picking the best shot is still a combination of art and science, based on the shot itself and the context or format in which it will be presented. This is especially true with online formats, where the message is more important than size.
So where do we stand?

©Ron Levy

The decision with mirrorless is, oddly enough, the same as with any artistic endeavor: you still need to look into your mirror and see what you really enjoy about photography. Will you really be needing 100-200 frames of the same blink of an animal’s eye or intensity of stare? Are you really in that minority of shooters — whether amateur, semi-pro or an AP stringer — who need micro-split-second race car moments, war or violence scenes, motionless hummingbird wings, etc.? Or do you have a physical reason like failing eyesight, or you can’t lift the super long telephotos anymore (mirrorless lenses are lighter)?
These are valid concerns, but  they may not be relevant or important for thousands of shooters who may not have a real need for these features. Regardless of whether  you have the money to buy the latest equipment, that money serve you much better in getting a flight to Kenya, or an extra week wherever you want to go (remember: time in the field when the light and animals are great is a golden commodity). 
Here are some other questions questions to consider:
Will the desire and need to improve one’s photo skills taper off as cameras and lenses do more for us?
Do you think technology will ever replace the ability to see the art in the decisive moment?
Or to recognize the heat of the moment at peak energy? Not just to take a zillion pics and be assured of the best moment, but to anticipate and recognize when that moment is. Then you can concentrate on only shooting a few shots that have the highest potential of being keepers — just like traditional photography.
Is this the future of AI?
More importantly, what will life be like in the world if this next level of technology does become the norm?
Though these questions are mostly hypothetical, just being aware and considering them early in the game can keep you focused on your internal compass.
It’s good to remember that it’s not about the equipment, it’s about what it does for your heart, and the hearts of those you inspire.

You want to pick the best tour for your expectations, and sometimes it’s confusing whether you’ll get the right balance of tour activities and photography opportunities or assistance that you want. For this discussion, we’ll be comparing the terms ‘workshop” with the general term “photo tour”. A photo tour in this context will refer to any tour that uses wording to appeal to photographers.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a photo tour is any different from any other tour that takes you to the same areas or animals. Everyone carries a camera and/or cell phone, so some tours can get away with calling themselves a photo tour. But thosee buzz words can mean different things to different people.
Perhaps the biggest caveat to offer for those of you looking for extended time with great photo opps is to check the itinerary. Does the leader or time allotted seem to give you plenty of time in each area, or are they moving on throughout the day to cram in as many places as possible? Is it a 1 or 2 day tour, or over the course of 5 or 7 days? In Alaska, it’s impossible to guarantee great photo opps in one or two days. Between weather, road construction and the distances travelled over land, boat or air, Murphy’s law is always with you.
For many of you, all you want are the photo opps that a trained photographer guide can bring you. He or she will know where and how to get the shots, based on time of day, time of season, local hot spots, access points, workarounds for weather and unexpected things, etc. To be fair, these issues can affect any kind of tour, an advertised workshop tends to imply more time in a classroom or evaluation session applying theory or technique. That can mean less time in the field than a “photo tour”, so ask questions if you’re unsure.
Many photo tours are advertised as workshops, which usually means they are a bit more intense in the technical side of shooting, evaluating shots in the evenings, and applying skills and lessons learned in the field. Often there are classroom sessions with or without photography handouts, “class” discussions and comparisons, gear and technical information etc., that can help those who are looking for this type of field instruction.
Photo “tours” tend to have more of an emphasis on scenic and wildlife, with interaction in the field with intermediate to advanced photographers. It can be very motivating to shoot in the field, compare notes at night, and get a “second chance” to apply what you’ve learned the next day. Plus there is still social interaction in a workshop environment of like-minded companions that can add a dimension to your experience that a casual wildlife tour won’t.
Though many photo tours aren’t advertised as workshops, you can get a lot of the same benefits with the right guide, You can get a lot of useful tips, assessment, and individual help to improve your photos.  As well, photo tours usually have serious photographers on them who want as much time as possible with the animals when the light or action is great.  The secret again is to let him  or her know what you’d really like to get out of the tour at the outset, so it’s in the back of their mind. When a situation comes up that triggers those thoughts, the guide is more likely to think of you and make an extra effort.
The sense of community is also something to keep in mind when choosing any tour. It’s impossible to know the personalities of the other folks on your tour before you begin, but there may be hints of the guide’s personality and other indications in the scheduling and itinerary that might clue you in to how much social time or free time a tour might give you. That might be vitally important to you in terms of applying tips or insights you’ve picked up along the way from the guide or other members that could change your photography immensely.
Keep these concerns in mind if you’re debating between a “photo tour” or a “workshop”. The lines can blur, so you need to manage expectations. Regardless of the title of the tour, you can decide how heavily you want to engage with the technical-oriented people and projects. The more you communicate your desires and expectations, the more you are likely to enjoy it and get what you want and enjoy it more.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, and photography is a communicative profession.
Some tours (like ours) mix a tremendous amount of individual help and attention without having formal classroom reviews or technical discussions. Don’t forget that your own tips and knowledge that you’ve taken for granted so many years might add tremendous depth to someone else’s experience. That’s what these tours are all about — life changing experiences that you’ll never forget.


©Ron Levy

Are tours offered by famous companies like WWF, Jo van Os, National Geographic, or Wilderness Travel better than smaller, independent tours?
The interesting thing is, no matter how famous a tour company or tour leader is, they are all funneling travelers to the same wildlife and photo hotspots, in search of the golden light and great photos. Once you’re on-site, shooting to your heart’s content at that bear catching a salmon or orangutan hanging from a vine, it matters less who you’re with or how you got there. That may sound a little simplistic, but the point is that by focusing less on the name and more on physical benefits, you may save yourself a lot of time and money (or get more time where it matters most) and end up on a more personal, productive tour that you will enjoy more.  rs most) and end up on a more personal, productive tour that you will enjoy more. 
Most established tours (large or small) will hit the best places and opportunities for you to get good photos. If they are local guides (unlike some of the large national tours that often use famous but not local photographers), they may take you to places you would not have found on your own, or aren’t advertised as much, but may have incredible opportunities. Or they may go to the same spots a national tour would, but at a better time of year or day, without crowds.
It is often hard to compare all the benefits of every tour you read about side by side, “apples to apples”, by activity or location alone. So here some quick questions to ask yourself and assess whether you are getting the most for your time, money and photographic priorities.
1. Are you staying in one spot during the entire bear camp experience? Many of the large tours plop you in one bear camp where you stay for the entire 2-5 days. That doesn’t mean you can’t roam around on your own — often within the confines of an electric fenced area or forested area — but, more importantly, it does mean that you will likely be seeing the same activity the entire time.  Depending on time of year, you might only be seeing bears foraging for clams at low tide, as the salmon aren’t coming upriver yet, or the bears are hanging back in the forest until the tide goes out.
2. If there is a lake or stream accessible, will it have bears in it when you are there, and will they be fishing or interacting differently than the ones by your camp? Be sure to ask about the actual bear behavior you will be seeing, as well as the “other activities” that might be offered to fill out the rest of your time when the bears aren’t out. Also, will there be other groups coming there during the day when bear activity is at its greatest? Some areas have tremendous day trips going to the same areas that you might be overnighting at. That means that even though bear activity might be good, and your nights might be calm, you will be sharing your days and quality bear time with sometimes hundreds of other photographers.
3. There may be fishing, hikes and other activities available in these limited surroundings, but is that what you’re paying big bucks for? If you’re a landscape or general nature photographer, this might be perfect for you. But if you’re mainly coming for wildlife and bears, find a tour that gives you max time with the animals, both during the day and the number of days in your tour.
4. What is the group size during the bulk of your tour?  Not just when you beging the tour, but when you are actually out in the wild and photographing. As mentioned above, many tours might advertised “small groups”, but what does that actually mean? What is the guide:photographer ratio. (6:1 or less is a good general ratio)? Many of the larger, more famous tour companies have groups between 10-20 people. Even if they are able to split them up a bit, this will inevitably involve more logistics at the bear camps and throughout your tour waiting for other groups to leave/return, meal services, flights and delays, etc. Comparing prices carefully, you might find that a smaller tour gets you to the same places with less hassles, delays, down time, and, most importantly, more face time with the animals.
The other issue with group size is personalities. If you’re taking these tours partially to meet others and socialize, then no worries. There will usually be somebody that you relate to more than others, and this could enhance your experience. Conversely, there are usually a few folks that can be dominating, demanding or otherwise rub you the wrong way. This may not affect your actual photography, but it is something to consider. The odds go up with personality differences in direct proportion to group size and sharing the experience with other guides and grouops at the hot spots and times when bears are active. Going with a smaller tour group or company will likely give you more quality time shooting and more chances of the undisturbed wildlife activity that you came for.
5. Related to the previous topic above, do you think you might want some individual help or field tips while shooting? Most people are a little shy to admit this, but there’s nothing wrong with asking for help or more “information”. Most tour guides are happy to help, and we’ve all been there before. No guide I know of has or will demean anyone for asking for field tips photographing, or any other questions about being out in the wild.
The problem lies in how accessible your guide will be when you want him or her. With larger groups (8-10+), people either get spread out while photographing, or the guide ends up talking to only a few folks who demand his attention, and you can miss a lot. There will also be a wider variety of skillsets and experience within the group, so the questions that might be asked may not be uniformly shared by all group members. This just means you have to be a little extra proactive in cornering your guide and getting your questions answered. 
With smaller groups of about 6 or less, it’s much easier to be a cohesive group within earshot of the guide. You will get to share meal tables together, flights (most small planes seat 6 or less), smaller boats, vehicles, etc. Plus the guide will know you a little better as the tour progresses and can tailor his answers to you and the others he knows as well.
As we’ve said before, smaller groups will usually give you more time shooting, more individual attention, and less time dealing with group logistics going to, returning and throughout your primo bear and wildlife encounters.

Brown bear and salmon, Brooks Falls, Katmai, Alaska-RonLevy Photography©Ron Levy

Every year we take a hard look at what we can do to increase your enjoyment and face time with the animals, keep costs from spiraling with all the other inflationary costs, and add whatever options and value folks tell us before, during and after the tour.
For 2023, we have made changes that will give you more time to photograph animals, and allow you to modify your main activities with optional ones if you wish. This new flexibility in our itinerary grew out of the last few years of monitoring and readjustment on almost all our tours due to weather, more limited flight charters,  and surge in post-Covid travel. They were also based on a review of the last 5 years of participant surveys, rising costs of fuel taxes and activities that many participants opted out of, and scheduling changes that made our tours run a little smoother.
The first change is that some of our tours this year may run in reverse! No, you won’t have to look out the back window of the van. But depending on the lodge schedules, flight charters, weather and other logistics, we may go to the bear camps earlier in the tour than shown in the generic itinerary. Normally, we schedule bear camps on the 3rd or 4th day. This only gave us 1 day at the end for any adjustments due to weather or whatever, to finish up and get back to Anchorage.
By going to the brown bear overnight camps earlier on the 1st through 3rd days, this gives us more flexibility to do the other day activities (helicopter aerials, marine wildlife/whale tour, land wildlife tours, etc.) that aren’t dependent on variables out of our control.
This may involve us chartering directly out of Anchorage to the Lake Clark or Katmai bears, and returning either to Anchorage or the Kenai Peninsula to continue our tour. If we get delayed from leaving or returning from the remote bear spots, we have more time to readjust. This change  It doesn’t really affect you in any way, just gives us more leeway and a little less stress when Murphy’s law surfaces.
Another change is that the dogsledding on a remote glacier activity is now optional rather than included with all tours. This also allows us to spend more time at the other wildlife activities that, over the years, most of our participants preferred. Since we are geared to photographers, a vast majority consistently opted to forego the dogsledding when offered more time shooting wildlife on the road, boat, helicopter or bear locations. Others reasons for the change include 1) the cost of the dogsledding from our providers was increasing almost every year, including major fuel tax increases across the board for any charter flight or boat operations. By making this an optional add-on, we were able to keep our prices from increasing too, and 2) weather cancellations or postponements of many of the dogsledding in the past — they are at lower elevations and nestled in glacial cirques that are more susceptible to fog and rain whiteouts. 
These changes are just some of the reasons that using an smaller but experienced tour company and guide is the best way to go. We make it easier for you to concentrate on having fun on your trip, rather than trying to juggle all the logistics before and during a major trip to a huge, multi-faceted place like Alaska. There are a lot of choices behind the scenes that are made months before you arrive, and sometimes minutes before your charter leaves, that have to be considered. Alternates have to be planned and available to keep things moving along and get you in front of the best light and animals possible during your short immersion into this land of Oz.
Thank you again for your trust and commitment to photographing and sharing in the beauty of our planet!


“We can’t see light, only its source and reflection…yet we can’t see without it.”   — Ernst Haas

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.



48599 Gruber Rd Soldotna, AK 99669
Office: (907) 740-3322


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