I’m a guide. I guide trips for a living. I guide and lead trips for a living with nearly 15 years experience running my own guiding business. I’m a photo tour leader, not simply a photographer. Those are 2 very different things and my experience guiding and trip leadership set what I do apart from many of the other photo tour operators.
— I live here in Alaska. I think one of the most important facets in putting together a photo tour is not simply how well you plan things out but how well you’re able to respond to what you didn’t plan out. In other words what resources do you have available for your plan B, C & D when plan A fails. And as nature photographers we all know how easy it is for plan A to fall by the wayside. The resources here in Alaska available to me to accommodate changing plans, unforeseen circumstances, inclement weather, etc are vastly greater than someone who arrives in Alaska from Florida the day before your tour begins.
— I have my Alaska State Business Licence, insurance and all necessary Park Service Permits, etc. Be aware that in order for ANY business to operate inside Alaska an Alaska state business license is required. Most operators from outside Alaska who lead tours here don’t maintain a current business license from the State of Alaska or permits from the relevant land management agency (such as Commercial Use Permits from the National Park Service). This will inevitably lead to issues. This might not be a big deal to you but it will be to the insurance company you call should anything go awry on your trip.
— I’m a Wilderness First Responder. A lot of times in the field here in Alaska you’ll be photographing far from any immediate assistance. If it were me heading out into the field on remote location, I’d want to have some information on what level of first aid assistance is provided and readily accessible. Look at a map and see for yourself how remote a place like Katmai or Lake Clark is.
— Smaller groups. I keep group size limited to 5 photographers and I think that really makes a big difference to how productive the shoot might be. I see some other bear photo tours out there with 8-10 and even more people all trying to shoot together and getting in each other’s way. Inevitably some people miss out simply because there are too many people all vying for that one special angle or perspective.
— Environmental concern. I don’t know of a single other photo tour operation that has put both their money and time into conservation of the subjects we shoot here in Alaska. I’m currently organizing a photography contribution, for example, to oppose the development of the proposed Pebble Mine near Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks. Pebble Mine is an extractive development project which presents an immeasurable threat to the bears we all so love to photograph.
— I’ve also just had my business certified by Adventure Green Alaska Gold Level Standard (one of only 10 businesses statewide in Alaska to qualify) in environmentally friendly and sustainable travel. Expeditions Alaska is also a member of Sustainable Travel International, and contributor to many of Alaska’s most important environmental organizations. For more information read the Treat Lightly – Our Planet page.
— Location, location, location. I wouldn’t keep returning to these places if I thought I needed to go elsewhere to make good bear photos. I’ve put a lot of time into finding locations that work for photo tours.
— Experience shooting this subject. I’ve been visiting many of the same locations in Alaska for nearly 15 years now. For example, shooting the same grizzly bears, year in and year out. I photographed those bears for over 10 years before I ever led a photo tour there. I know both the location and the subject extremely well. I see a lot of tour operators coming to Alaska who have spent hardly any time at all shooting these bears, in these locations, a year or 2 at most. In some cases, not even that. If you’re looking at other bear tour operators be sure to ask when was the first time they ever headed over to the Alaska peninsula and photographed these brown bears.
— Isolation. Part of the joy of nature photography is being out in nature. Many of the trips we run we’re not staying at a lodge surrounded by a dozen other guests and tour operators and other lodges around the corner doing the same thing.