Bring what you have. Longer lenses will work best, so bring your longest lens. 2 bodies are useful, and a shorter wider lens is always nice. A tripod and a medium length lens should be enough.
No, at this moment we can’t guarantee battery charging. If you want to bring a solar panel you’re welcome to. We do not provide this. I prefer to bring enough battery power to last me the trip.
Bring some kind of device to backup to if you like. I tend not to, and just carry a bunch of cards that I don’t reuse. You’re welcome to bring something more, but weight DOES become an issue when everyone shows up with a small NASA-rig they want to have with them in the field camping for a week. Less becomes more.
More Camera Gear Questions? See here first.
A 20deg F sleeping bag should be fine, it shouldn’t be too cold. You do want good outdoor clothing, waders, wading boots, hiking clothes, and sturdy bad weather gear. It can be windy, so a good shell is imperative.
You want baselayer and clothes for river walking (along with your waders, etc), and then burly and warm layers for staying warm and dry at camp. Good walking footwear is imperative, both over your waders for shooting in the river, and for hiking on the tundra. You don’t need a different outfit every day. You do need layers and a flexible comprehensive clothing system.
You’ll need waders and some footwear for walking with waders that work well for hiking. Wading boots are fine but make sure they fit correctly and are comfortable for you. Blisters can easily ruin your trip.
I’ll provide you with a comprehensive gear info pack before the trip to make you sure have what you need and don’t have stuf you don’t need. Questions? Just ask.
Where Will Be?
Interior Katmai National Park. I really rather not disclose specifically where we are for these tours any longer; when I’ve done that in the past, it’s generally not been a useful thing.
But somewhere very cool in the park.
I have dietary concerns?
Those are fine. We’ll have you complete our Food Form and disclose that information to us there. Whether it’s allergies, preferences, dislikes and likes or whatever, we can almost always accommodate that.
Do we get our own tent?
Most likely. We’ll provide 4 Season Mountaineering tents due the possibility of strong winds in the area. Theese tents are sturdier and more robust than luxurious taller tents you might be used to, but they hold up well in inclement weather.
Because the location is a remote wilderness setting, we don’t always know who (if anyone) is going to be in the area and where they’re camped when we arrive. We will make every posible effort to give each guest their own tent, but if available tent space is limited and we can’t grab our favored space, we may have to double some folks up.
How far are we hiking?
That really depends. Some trips here we’ve not hiked more than a 1/4 mile or so up or down the river. Other trips we’ve wandered the tundra quite a bit and explored nearby creeks as well. It’ a pretty flexible location. The hiking isn’t generally very challenging, it’s good walking. We can go as far or as not far as you need.
But being in better shape makes the trip more productive, safer, and easier to manage. If you’re not comfortable hiking a few miles carrying your gear, this might not be the trip for you. Take a look at one of our other brown bear tours perhaps.
How about bugs?
Summer in Alaska can be buggy just about anywere. That said, by lae July/early August they’re usually waning a bit. And this location isn’t super buggy, so you should be fine. bring repellent and headsets, etc. We’ll provide info to that end in your trip departure packet.
How about charging camera batteries?
For now, we do not provide a charging station. It just becomes a bit much to deal with. You’re welcome to bring a smal solar panel for yourself and charge your batteries as you need.
My preference is just to bring enough batteries for a trip. The larger Nikon batteries hold up pretty well.
What other wildlife might we photograph?
Likely, none. Any location that has a super high conentration of hungry bears probably doesn’t have a great array of other animals walking around.
You MAY see wolves, but they can be tough to photography anywhere, particularly in Alaska. You likely will not see moose, or sheep, or goats, or caribou, and almost definitely will not photograph any even if you do see them.
You may see birds, mostly smaller birds such as gulls, magpies, ravens, etc.
This location is about bears and salmon. In my opinion, I find that seems to work best for wildlife photo tours.
How "connected" can we remain?
You can’t. You’ll be offline unless you have a satellite phone or satellite conencting texting device like an Inreach. There is no cell service anywhere in the area. King Salmon does have some limited service, if you have Verison or one of the Alaska providers. ATT does not work there.
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 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.
4 Different Brown Bear Tours; What are the differences?
Well, this could be quite a discussion. And it varies somewhat, year to year. Trips change and situations change really a bit more rapidly and frequently than you imagine. But this post will hopefully help clarify some of the differences between each of our brown bear tours a bit.
I’ll mention each trip and then outline a few of the factors unique to that trip as well as what some of the differences might be:
Alaska Brown Bears and Coastal Wildlife
The Brown Bears and Coastal Wildlife Tour is NOT a camping trip. On this tour we stay on board an 80′ boat and are well taken care of by Captain Chuck and his partner Olga. Great people.
You can charge your batteries, laptop, etc as well as yourself on the comforts of Chuck’s boat.
We travel stretches of the Katmai Coast, going to shore each day to photograph the bears. We typically go to at least 2 or 3 different bays, but this does depend on weather, conditions, bear activity, etc, etc.
This trip we also aim to find some other creatures; primarily marine mammals like seals and sea otter, as well as eagles. We’ve had some decent luck with wolves on this tours as well. Superb backgrounds and mountain scenery.
Hiking and difficulty level is low. This trip works well for most folks, beginners to experienced, and you do not need to be in great shape.
Departs from and returns to Kodiak, AK.
Grizzlies in the Fall Tour
The Grizzlies in the Fall Tour is the most “luxurious of those, with (limited) National Park Service services available, and some infrastructure to help your comfort somewhat. An outhouse, covered shelters, etc. It’s pretty comfortable and easy camping conditions for just about anyone. Being later in the year it is likely to be the cooler of the tours.
We spend some time in the river, but due recent park service changes and increasing visitation levels we don’t do that as much as we used to.
This trip works great for instruction and learning photography. Non-hikers and those with mobility concerns will be OK on this trip.
Great for bear portraits, cubs and great big fat bears.
Yes you can recharge you camera gear.
Excellent for camera and photography instruction and more of a workshop today.
Departs from and returns to King Salmon, AK.
Grizzlies in the Mist
The Grizzlies in the Mist Tour is as remote as remote gets, no infrastructure or services or facilities of any kind. Camping is primitive, not designated sites or anything. No outhouse, etc.
Photography is excellent. Shallow waters, smaller creeks and hungry bears combined with abundant spawning salmon equal excellent photo opportunities for bears chasing salmon. Very, very few people or plane traffic. Incredible mountain backdrops. Have had some luck with wolves on this trip, but not something I specifically promote it for. They’re a treat that appears as they choose.
Hiking is easy-moderate.
Coastal Alaska can be wet, and it can be cold; we’ve had frosts at least twice here.
You have to be battery power independent.
Departs from and returns to Homer, AK.
Brown Bears of Summer
The Bears of Summer TourGeneral Brown bear photo tours
All these tours are in Katmai National Park. None of them involve backpacking with camping gear. All can be buggy, but generally none of them are even what I would call “moderate” for bugs. Everything’s relative though.
There’s no way this kind of short post can answer al yoru questions, but hopefully this outlines most of the significant differences between each of these brown bear photo tours.
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 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.
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.
I have more questions
Any wildlife photography comes with inherent risks and safety concerns. Being around hungry brown bears most definitely so. We adhere to best practices for safe and low impact bear photography.
We’ve never had an incident arise on these tours, and with your help would like to maintain that record. Please do as you’re asked, and don’t feel you know better when make decisions about where to go, what to do, etc, etc. A safe trip is a good trip.
I carry a full first aid kit with me, and am a certified Wilderness First Responder. I’ve been photographing brown bears for 20 years, and guiding remote wilderness trips in Alaska for for much of that time. We’ve an impeccable safety record and take every step to maintain that. This year again I’ll be certifiying through Katmai Services Providers, one of the only bear guiding accreditation organizations in the State. We don’t treat safety lightly.
We generally run this trip with a max of 5 people. In a pinch we’ve done 6, but I’d really rather limit it to just 5 guests.
Smaller groups work well for wildlife photography. Larger groups are cumbersome and disturb both the environment and the animals far more.
In order that we maximize your time in the park you will arrive in King Salmon, Alaska the night before our trip. We can arange but do not pay for lodging in King Salmon for you.
We’ll then take a charter flight from there to our camp and set up camp. It doesn’t take too long. We’ll have lunch and then shoot the first afternoon and evening, then have 4 more full days of shooting before our final night in camp. We then have a couple hours to shoot in the morning before a midday charter flight back to King Salmon.
It’s only a little more than a one hour commercial flight from King Salmon to Anchorage so most folks can be back in Anchorage that evening if they wish.
As per other trips: Expeditions Alaska provide high quality, comfortable tents and we will have an electric fence around the campsite. This trip will be outfitted completely. All camping gear will be furnished for you. You need to bring your personal gear (sleeping bag, clothes, etc, of course). We take care of food and shelter and have our own camp cook.
We’ll have solid, secure gear and food caches, plus weather-protected wooden shelters for inside dining in wet weather; even in harsh weather the camping is more than comfortable. If you need assistance with any gear, please don’t hesitate to ask. We also carry a satellite phone, as well as both First Aid and Basic Life Support kits.
I have over 10 years experience photographing grizzly bears and many trips to Katmai National Park, as well as guiding extended remote wilderness backpacking trips. I work impossibly hard to ensure trip participants have a safe trip and a fantastic experience.
The advantages of being a local Alaska business include knowledge of the place; the relationships of the history, the geography and ecology of the area, promising trip participants a fascinating adventure.
I offer a first rate trip because we keep it small and maintain the utmost respect for the places we visit. This translates to an unforgettable photo tour that I’m more than sure you’ll absolutely love. Read more about me and Expeditions Alaska on the About page.
Brown Bear Photography
This kind of image shouldn’t be an accident.
Brown bear photography involves both endless hours of sitting and waiting and watching, as well as being proactive and moving to be in good position in advance of bear behaviors.
We’ll focus on being in the best positions possible whenever it’s appropriate to do so.
That means mobility is important. That means don’t overload yourself with gear and gadgets. It means we pay attention to what’s going on and are constantly thinking about the situation and how to best setup for the photography opportunities.
We’ll try to find some unique and creative images. As much fun as it can be to sit and shoot the thrill, it’s also fun to find a different perspective, or different action, or something along those lines.