Photo Tour Location
The Katmai area was declared a National Monument in 1918. In 1980 the boundaries were greatly extended and the region declared a National Park and Preserve. At 4.2 million acres Katmai National Park stands as a sizable chunk of land set aside for the preservation of an amazing abundance of wildlife. Sovereign of which is the grand old Grizzly bear.
Katmai National Park and Preserve lies southwest of Anchorage on the Alaskan Peninsula and is arguably the greatest grizzly bear viewing and photography location in the world. The prodigious salmon runs attract and support a grizzly bear population density that is among the highest in the world.
It’s also among the safest places to photograph wild grizzly bears given their plentiful food sources and tolerance of human presence. The bears are generally extremely tolerant of people. This combined with the high bear population density (as many as 70-80 bears in the area) makes it possible to shoot literally thousands of photos in a few short days.
The beauty of a fall trip is that we get the place largely to ourselves. Along with dozens of bears, thousands of salmon, some bald eagles, the odd wolf, gulls, waterfowl, and assorted other wildlife.
Respect for the subject is absolute.
Your and the bears’ safety is paramount. We maintain a “safety-first” standard at all times. We have a thorough safety talk before the trip and closely adhere to the most current protocols on safe travel in bear country. Safety-first means caution. It means responsibility and it requires an excellent knowledge of the area: the terrain, wildlife, backcountry camping, etc.
Your guide is also a certified Wilderness First Responder.
We make a concerted effort to not harass and/or disturb the wildlife. A smaller group size not only ensures you the photography opportunities you need but also that our group doesn’t bother the bears. We understand the difference between nature photographers and the paparazzi. We will neither approach too closely nor stay too long.
By keeping our group size small your trip remains about you and your photographic experience with the bears. Group size is restricted to 4 or 5 people (depending on circumstances). Exceptions will only be considered on a case by case basis.
I think group size is a critical part of the experience and don’t like to see hordes of photographers bunched around a subject, crowding and pushing for photos.
Less is more.
In order that we maximize your time in the park you will meet in King Salmon, Alaska and take a charter flight from there to our camp before lunchtime. It is critical you schedule your arrival in King Salmon the day before our trip begins (accommodation not included).
We’ll get a chance to shoot the first afternoon and evening, then have 5 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.
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.
Guide & Tour Leader
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.
I think you have raised the bar for photographing bears with your tour. The experience of being with those magnificent creatures will last a lifetime. Everyday brought new and exciting opportunities, being in the water or on the river bank made it so much better. ….
Mark was fantastic, his meals were varied and delicious with an international flavor. The fresh fruit and vegetables were an added bonus. His meals were timely and he worked very hard at keeping everybody well fed and taken care of. His backwoods knowledge added a great deal to the overall experience.
A fantastic experience that I would highly recommend.
Thanks” — Bob Schlatter, Sunny CA.
This trip is perfect for the intermediate to advanced or professional photographer looking for a small group to join for a week of concentrated grizzly bear photography. The photography requires some walking, so being in reasonable shape is important. Special attention is given to capturing unique and creative grizzly bear photos, so we make the extra effort to put ourselves in the best spots to shoot from.
By camping on site, we’re able to be in place to photograph during the best light; this isn’t a vacation and bear viewing trip, but a photography trip. Meals will be scheduled around our photography, ensuring we don’t miss any great light or bear action.
Carrying long telephoto lenses, plus other camera gear, we’ll walk several miles each day. It is hard work – you’ll be tired at the end of a long day and ready for some great hot food and good times by the campfire.
Chest waders are necessary for both safety and optimal photography opportunities. We (and the bears) spend a good deal of time in the water. I’ll provide you with more information regarding clothing choices upon your reservation.
2 camera bodies are optimal and you’ll also want to bring plenty of extra batteries, memory cards (or film), backup storage, warm clothing, rain gear, and a range of lens choices, from wide to telephotos. All that and a bundle of enthusiasm will make your trip a memorable and successful one.
See a whole of of helpful information on the photo tours FAQs page.
Watch A Video
How far are we hiking?
An impossible question. Some days we might walk 5 or 6 miles, other days we might walk 1. Rarely would we cover more ground than this.
The hiking isn’t terribly difficult but can be slow going through forest and over the marshy ground near parts of the river.
How about the bugs?
Mosquitoes are generally gone by the end of September. We do have small gnats known as White Socks which can be a pestilence.
Typically they’re few in number this late in the year, but that varies with the weather and other conditional factors. If you’re bug sensitive, be sure to bring a headnet. I’ve never needed one on this trip in over 15 years. Your mileage may vary.
What focal length to bring?
I’m a big believer that you can never have too much focal length for wildlife photography. Big fast glass is still premium factor for wildlife photography.
My lens of choice is a 500mm F4 on a full-frame body, or a 80-400mm zoom on a crop favor body.
Bring a teleconverter.
Safety concerns about bears?
We adhere to best and current practices and protocols for bear viewing and bear photography. Katmai NP has long established regulations on bear viewing, and we stick to those at all times.
Move slowly and quietly, stick together in our group, maintain your situational awareness at all times, do not approach the animals and respect their body language.
Listen to your guide.
Do we have access to recharge batteries?
Yes. It’s limited availability, but yes. Best practice is to attempt to bring enough battery power to last you the duration of your trip.
This is Alaska. End of September. The temperature can be down in the mid-high teens, or 60˚ F. it can rain, snow, hail, blow hard, or be calm and sunny and tranquil.
Is one week preferable to another?
No. The two weeks are adjacent. I can’t think of a place in the world where one particular weeks reliably “better” than either the preceding or following week. It doesn’t work like that.
We’ve had great weather, great bear activity and great fun both weeks. We’ve also had slow times, drizzly cold spells and less fun on either week as well.
If one week were reliably awful, I’d no longer go that week and change my schedule.
Tell Me About the Camping Setup
Each guest will have their own tent, unless you’re a couple, etc and have someone you wish to share with.
Tents are large teepee-style 5 person tents, so they’re spacious and comfortable.
We use premium Exped insulated sleeping pads which have been a great hit with everyone. They’re awesome.
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 Adevnture 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 Internation, 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.
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