Photo Tour Gear
How much experience do I need?
As a rule these trips are probably most beneficial for the intermediate to advanced photographers. If you’re looking for rudimentary photography instruction what I’d suggest is to consider one of the Day Trip photography excursions where we can work on some of the fundamentals and get things moving.
That said we’ve had some great tours over the years with all levels of photographers coming out and getting some really strong images. I’ve had professional photographers from across the world sign up on these trips and come back for more.
I’ve also had beginners and novice photographers come out and together we made some real inroads into their learning process. That’s just one example of a real benefit that comes with running smaller groups.
What these trips are not is a vacation. You’re more than welcome to come out on a trip for bear viewing or aurora borealis viewing but one of the real strengths of these trips is that they’re tailored for people interested in a focused serious photography adventure.
For the Alaska Landscapes photo tour to Skolai Pass, it’s a similar mix of folks, with the nature of the trip tailored somewhat to the skillset and diversity of the people on the trip. We’ve enjoyed trips with adventurous experienced backpackers where we trekked quite a distance and made some great images and we’ve also done trips for less experienced outdoors folks, being somewhat less mobile, but equally rewarding in both the wilderness experience and the photography efforts.
What camera gear do I need?
There’s simply no way to answer this question on a one size fits all web page. What gear you need depends entirely on the type of your trip you’re looking for, the subjects you’re shooting, the time of year, and most importantly, what gear you have.
— The first thing I might suggest is a tripod. The camera, 2nd. I really think anyone interested in trying to make some really strong photos should work with a sturdy tripod and ballhead. Don’t skimp and carry some flimsy bendy little rig that you don’t like using. Get a good tripod and ballhead, and use it; always.
— There are so many great camera setups around today, I’m not going to begin trying to recommend one. Whether you shoot with an many thousand dollar Nikon D5 and a 600mm F4 lens, or you shoot with a smaller compact Sony RX 100 you can still make some great photos. Work with what you have and learn how to use your camera setup. You might be surprised how much you can do with that rig that you weren’t previously aware of.
— Your lens, if you use an switchable lens setup like a DSLR, are important. Obviously sharper and faster glass matters, to some degree. That’s why we invest in it. But it does NOT matter as much as your willingness to work and learn. Whether you have a 300m zoom lens or a 500mm f4 you can still shoot some great photos.
— Bring a good pack or carrying system. If you’re on a backcountry trip like the Skolai Pass Photo Tour, where you’re hiking a lot, you want to have your camera gear with you, not back in the tent at camp. So something that carries well, and is user-friendly. Accessible and durable and helps pad your gear somewhat.
— If it helps, my camera gear is a Nikon D4, D750 and a D500, and lenses from 14 – 500mm, 2 tripods, a cable release, filters and a whole lot of finger crossing.
What clothing do I need?
This will TOTALLY depend on which trip you come out on. The clothing you want for the northern lights tour and the clothing you want for the coastal brown bears tour are 2 entirely beasts. Clothing for Winter Photography.
As a basic standard though, you want to be warm, dry and comfortable. For the Grizzlies in the Fall Photo Tour, you definitely want a pair of chest waders.
If you are interested in a particular trip give me a call or drop me an email and I’ll be glad to forward you with some more information specific to the trip you’re considering.
Like your camera gear, this subject is largely contextual. You want to be comfortable and don’t skimp on your gear.
Practice with your camera equipment before heading out on a trip. You don’t want to fly thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars for that one chance to shoot a grizzly flying through the water and miss it because you weren’t sure how to adjust your camera/tripod/waders/shoelaces/etc. 🙂
For the Alaska Landscapes tour to Skolai Pass, see My Backpacking Gear.
Where will we be?
Alaska is a huge state. More than twice the size of Texas and approximately 1/3 the size of the lower 48 states. Current Photo Tours are run in Wrangell-St. Elias, out of Fairbanks, AK, and also Katmai National Park and Preserve. I run one trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the bald eagles tour out of Haines, Alaska.
Visit the “About Alaska” page for some information on these parks. I also am in the process of putting together a couple of new photo tours that I’m excited about, and will be posting more info on those as possible.
View Expeditions Alaska Photo Tours in a larger map
For the next few years, I am focusing on Wrangell St. Elias National Park for a photography book. An astonishing place.
Photo Tour Blog Posts
This article is intended to help you plan for (and work around, best we can) some of the struggles and pitfalls that await. It’s still up to you, your camera and the gods of luck to actually bring home the images, but hopefully this article will help you with that. If you see any thing repeated in this article, figure that repetition probably suggests emphasis.
Hey Folks, As I’m updating the website, I’m redoing the Image of the Month pages, and won’t be writing content on the old (now deleted) pages – so I’m going to transfer some of the past notes I’ve written on the image of the month pages to the blog, that way it’s all in one […]
Policies & Terms
COVID Policies & Protocols
As you well know, this is a difficult thing to navigate, but so far, knock on wood, we’ve been fortunate to not have any real issues.
It’s also difficult to lean too hard into any one approach to managing since the entire situation is in such a constant state of flux. Being as flexible as we can with what we need to do is critical.
Here is our COVID 2021 policy page, and we will update for 2022 as beyond as things unfold. Thanks.
Reserving your place on a trip requires a 50% deposit. Deposits are non-refundable. All trips MUST be paid in full 45 days prior to the scheduled departure date.
If the client cancels on a trip paid in full, 90% of the price can be deferred to another trip within the next 12 months, provided that
i) Expeditions Alaska is able to fill the spot,
ii) the trip is full and
iii) 30 days notice is given.
If cancellation is within 30 days of the trip, only 75% of the fee can be carried over to a future trip. No refunds are given for cancellations within 14 days of the trip departure.
Expeditions Alaska reserves the right to cancel and/or modify the itinerary of a trip. You will be refunded your payment in full if Expeditions Alaska cancels your trip.
If weather or other factors delay or impede your trip, there will be no refund of fees. Expeditions Alaska is not responsible for any other costs incurred by the client as a result of the cancellation. Additional costs incurred through weather delays and itinerary changes are the responsibility of the client.
* May be Trip dependent. See trip details on each page regarding the terms for the photo tour you are interested in.
What makes Expeditions Alaska Photo Tours so special?
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.
What’s Included/Not Included?
Photo Tours include the following.
* Professional Guide Service: Experience is paramount, as is a friendly, flexible atmosphere for your trip and I go out of my way to bring that to all tours. Backcountry and wilderness travel in Alaska can be intimidating for a novice and even for some intermediate and experienced folks. A qualified guide service can go a long way to minimizing problems that may come up. Customers returning for
seven eightten consecutive hiking trips with Expeditions Alaska speaks volumes for the value of a good guide. What I offer.
* Travel and Accommodations: This is trip dependent. Some trips are hotel-based, others we camp, or charter a private boat for the trip. Accommodations are included on all trips. You’ll want to see the specific trip you’re considering to see the necessary travel logistics and accommodation arrangements.
* Meals: This is trip dependent. On the grizzly bear tours, and typically on the Alaska Landscapes tour I provide all the food, etc. On the Aurora borealis tour, we’ll be in Fairbanks; food is not included in the price. The bald eagle tour is similarly so. On the coastal brown bear tour and the polar bear tour, food is included on the trip.
* Safety: Any professional guide service puts safety first. A fully qualified Wilderness First Aid certification, a satellite available for emergency backcountry service if necessary, and a backup messaging device as well. This is an owner-operated business and all participants can feel confident knowing they’re not getting an intern or inexperienced guide for their trip.
* Instruction: I’ll be glad to offer any assistance I can with photography instruction in the field. Most of these tours are not sold as “photography workshops”, but we generally spend quite a bit of time working on how we can improve our photography.
Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask me.
What’s Not Included?
Expeditions Alaska do not provide the following unless otherwise specified.
b) travel arrangements to Anchorage from outside Alaska.
c) trip insurance. We suggest you call Travelex.
d) guide gratuities.
e) personal gear, camera gear, etc. But if you need something, feel free to give me a holler and we’ll see if we can work that out.
How should I structure my travel arrangements?
Weather delays are always possible in the backcountry with bush planes.The more cushion you give yourself before a committed departure flight home, the better.Definitely don’t try to book something out on the evening of our return. Or the next morning. We SHOULD be back by then, but there are so many moving pieces to these trips, it’s much better to not have the stress of having to re-arrange flight schedules. Even if it’s just for something simple like road construction delays or flat tires, or a healthy travel schedule is one with some slack built into it.
- Do NOT book your commercial flight early the next morning. The later the better. Better still, the day after that,
- Book a refundable/changeable ticket for your return flight home, and
- Purchase travel insurance.
What’s a Photo Tour?
These photo tours are a flexible itinerary designed to assist the serious photographer put together a productive photography adventure. It means the trip is scheduled around your photography. We follow the light, getting out early to shoot dawn and getting out late to shoot dusk.
The long days of Alaska, for example, might mean alpenglow is at 11:30pm, and again at 4:30am. There’s simply no way to catch both of those times and still have a regular breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule and hike an 8 hour day. Well, there IS, but doing that for a week straight is an arduous task. So I run these tours around photography time, which means we might be catching up on rest, etc, during the middle of the day, so we can be where we need to be in the golden light of the evening.
Everything is tailored around photography, whether it’s a bear photo tour, a wildlife tour, a landscape photo tour to Skolai Pass or the Aurora borealis in the dark of winter. We shoot when the shooting is best, and we eat, sleep and hike outside of those hours. You don’t want to miss that golden brown bear photo because you’re back at the lodge having dinner!
What’s the maximum size group we can take?
Rarely will I lead a trip with more than 5 people.
For the bear photo tours, more than 5 or 6 photographers simply clutters up the situation, often stresses the wildlife and never works out well for all involved.
For the wilderness trips I simply believe it’s not a good wilderness travel ethic to move 10 people or similar through the backcountry. The impact of larger groups camping and trekking in those regions can be somewhat destructive to the fragile ecosystems there. The focus of all these trips is to provide a wilderness experience and keeping group sizes reasonable enhances that provision.
The bald eagle and aurora tours I keep to a group of 4.
I still have more questions