Taking Successful Pictures in Alaska
Those of you who venture North for a vacation in Alaska are usually limited to one or two weeks to experience as much as you can. Great pictures are a necessity when moving at such a hurried pace. The memories you capture will entertain your friends and family members for many years to come.
Alaska has an abundance of beautiful scenery and a wide variety of wildlife. But note, that's wildlife as in WILD. Many species you will encounter are shy animals which don't lend themselves to being photographed at short range with a pocket instamatic.
Bring a Good Camera
The first rule of good Alaska photography is bring a good 35mm camera with a normal 50mm lens and an interchangeable telephoto of at least 200 - 400mm. A zoom lens could be used as an all-in-one lens which offers a normal or wide angle focal length at the low end and will zoom to 200mm or more. A 400mm lens will give you 8 power magnification (1 power for every 50mm) and will bring your subjects in close enough to really appreciate once you get the film back from the developer. There is nothing more discouraging than to look through your pictures only to find those white specks are Dall sheep or that tiny brown spot is a moose or caribou.
Borrow a 35mm camera from a friend or family member if you must. Spend an ample amount of time in advance of your trip to get to know the camera and its proper operation under various light conditions. You are spending your vacation savings just to get here; don't scrimp on the only thing that will allow you to enjoy the trip long after you return home.
Video & Digital Cameras
With today's latest technology, digital cameras are quickly catching on as a way of creating computer photos as well as copies for your album. But there are some things to consider when using digital still cameras. 1) Their telephoto capabilities may be quite limited and not bring wildlife as close as you would like. 2) Digital disks and flash cards have very limited capacities for holding photos, requiring purchasing additional storage disks or cards which can be very expensive. 3) The latest cameras have LCD viewfinders which eat up a lot of battery power. These cameras will go throw a lot of batteries on your trip.
Video cameras on the other hand have the means for really telling your story. They are a worthwhile investment that will last many years and often have a multitude of special features allowing some great footage. With 20X zooms and 40X digital zoom or higher, you can really pull wildlife right into your living room. Optical stabilization will often reduce the need for using a tripod except at the highest zoom ratios.
Slides vs. Prints
You should use color slide film in the ASA range of 200 - 400. Slide film allows you to take many more pictures at a very affordable price. Once you have reviewed your slides, you can make prints of those which turned out worthy of your photo album. Even if you don't have a means of showing the slides, it is much cheaper to have several slides turn out bad than to develop your prints and pay the cost of several useless photos.
Steady As She Goes
Use a tripod when using the telephoto range on your lens. Focal lengths above 200mm are very hard to hold still for clear, blur-free shots. Pick out a lightweight, inexpensive tripod that is easy to carry with you during your travels.
Get An EARLY Start
When searching out wildlife to view and photograph, begin your travels early in the morning just as soon as it gets light. You will find many animals still out and about while the day is still cool and quiet. Your light will be increasing during the morning which affords you better photos than shooting in the late evening when daylight is disappearing. And you will always see more wildlife early in the day.
Cutting Through The Glare
Did you know that even green foliage in a scenery shot can have glare reflecting from its surface? Very similar to the glare seen on watery surfaces but much more subtle. By using a Polarizing Filter on your camera lens (about $8 for most 35mm cams) you have the opportunity to remove as much or as little of that glare as you would like. Blue sky with white clouds can have deep colors and high contrast, or a washed out blending effect simple by rotating the polarizing filter. The most dramatic changes occur when you are pointing your camera at right angles to the sun's direction. Alaska has a lot of water and sometimes you may want to cut through the surface reflections to emphacize what's beneath...for example brightly colored spawning salmon. The polarizing filter is also very cheap protection for your $200 or $500 lens and keeps dust and moisture from getting on your precious lens surface coatings which may get scratched from repeated cleaning.
Cue Up For Clarity
Keep your lens clean! Personally I never use lens paper and lens cleaning solutions. You all know how difficult it is to wash windows and eliminate all the streaks. The same applies to lens cleaning solutions on your optics. In addition, the use of lens paper and your finger's pressure can cause microscopic scratches in the lens coating from dirt that is not visible. This will affect some of your photos when the sun it at a certain angle. For all my video and photo gear lenses, the only thing I use is Q Tip cotton swabs (carried in a small ziplock baggie) and the fog from my breath. The swabs allow you to clean all the way to the edge of the lens and you can clearly see what you are cleaning. Try it once and you will never go back to lens paper and solutions. And Q Tips never scratch lens coatings.
Patience Is More Than A Virtue
When photographing wildlife, the cardinal rule is be patient. It is often a waiting game. If an animal knows you are present but are very quiet and non-threatening, they will often resume their normal activities and give you an opportunity to capture them as they really are.
Good Luck and Good Shooting!
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