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Alaska Photo Tips ?

harold motte , Feb 03, 2009; 02:22 p.m.

I am going on an Alaska cruise in early June and want tips on camera settings, etc....for photos with lots of water, iceburgs,mountains with snow and also glaciers. Itenerary: Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm Fjord, Katchikan, and Victoria.
Harold Motte


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Bruce Margolis , Feb 03, 2009; 03:17 p.m.

Harold, the settings will depend a lot on your camera gear. It would help to know which camera body and lenses you will be using.

harold motte , Feb 03, 2009; 03:24 p.m.

Answer for Bruce:
I am going to be using a Canon 5d / 40d / bodies and 24-105 F4 L IS/USM / 70-200 F4 L IS/USM / 1.4 tc and
do I need the 300 F4 L IS/USM for eagles and/or whales or should the 70-200 with the tc do it?
In Tracy Arm Fjord I am told I definately need the 24mm wide end of the 24-105. Do I need wider than that.

Allan Chen , Feb 03, 2009; 03:53 p.m.

I had a D300 with a 70-200 with 1.4 and 2.0 TC's. With the 1.4 I was fine for eagles in an eagle preserve (skagway/haines).

For glaciers...well, other than Hubbard, you're really only going to get the "glacier" feeling from a helicopter, in which case the 24-205 with a polarizer will do just fine.

My overall Alaska trip set is on flickr , and the really wide shots are with a 12-24 DX lens.

Don Peterson , Feb 03, 2009; 04:57 p.m.

A polarizer is a must with the whale shots, lots of reflection. The eagles will be close by so no problems there. The wider the lens the better for landscape shots. The scenery is BIG! Enjoy your trip, Alaska is one of the most photogenic places on earth. If interested, take a look at some of my Alaska shots here on photo.net

Rich C , Feb 03, 2009; 10:25 p.m.

Harold, you should be fine for everything except whales. You won't get close enough unless the whales move close to your boat! Be prepared for changing light conditions as well. We had mostly dark overcast cloudy skies while in Juneau and out looking for the whales. I'm glad I had the 2.8 glass, but then again I was shooting slide film at ASA 400. Have a great time...

Bob Flood , Feb 04, 2009; 12:24 a.m.

Glaciers: polarizer to cut out glare so the color of the ice and water show well. The water is a peculiar color because of suspended particles from the glacier pulverizing the underlying rock - they call is glacial flour. If your widest lens doesn't happen to be wide enough, use multiple overlapping shots and stitch them together later.
Juneau: the sharp rise of the terrain out of the water creates a lot of cloud cover, but it almost always hugs the mountains. A whale watching cruise on one of the catamarans will get away from the coastal mountain clouds & rains - you're going at a great time for seeing whales, and those whale cruises are really good at finding them. Also watch for eagles, seals, porpoises, and a couple of obsolete but picturesque lighthouses.
Skagway: the eagle preserve over near Haines may have lots of eagles or may not - timing is everything. But the boat ride thru 34 degree 1 foot deep water is interesting by itself.
Ketchikan: A float plane trip back into the Misty Fjords is pricey but an amazing experience - Lord of the Rings landscape. We landed on a mountaintop lake by approaching over the waterfall that drains the lake, stood on the plane's pontoons for a little while, and then took off back over that waterfall. High point of that trip, hands down.
Near sunset, from the boat, watch for small, localized rainshowers that are common in that climate. Shooting toward the west, you can get some very cool shots of showers illuminated (backlit) by the setting sun. And on the other side of the boat, every one of those showers will have a rainbow. Low light shooting on the rainbow side.
If you want to use a support, a monopod will be much less intrusive than a tripod to other passengers on the ship, but be wary of engine vibrations being transmitted from the deck thru the monpod to the camera. I found that resting the foot on the monopod on the top of my shoe worked well for this.
The 300 will probably be handy - eagles aren't always near by, and, maybe it's just me, but I couldn't get any of them to follow my instructions.
Be prepared to be mildly embarassed about the huge number of photos you'll take, more than you've taken before. But how many times are you gonna get to shoot in a place like Alaska? Have the greatest time.

harold motte , Feb 04, 2009; 08:32 a.m.

Thanks all of you who have posted a response so far.
I am going in early June. Is there any weather info I need to know about?
What kind of rain gear / camera protection do you guys use?
BOB - thanks for the ' travelog' if you have any more details to share please email me
at hmottejr@sc.rr.com - I would appreciate it.

harold motte , Feb 04, 2009; 08:40 a.m.

Question on the use of a polarizer - Set it on the light side, medium, or dark?
Do I just need it for water, snow, and ice?
IF it is overcast, foggy, damp, etc... do I need to use it?
Thanks for everyones tips.

Kathleen Andersen , Feb 04, 2009; 10:30 a.m.

I only used the polarizer on shop windows - didn't use it all anywhere else as I wasn't prepared to lose 1-2 stops. We went in May 2008 and had clear blue sunny skies every day but two and we were there 10 days. We did a 7-day wildlife cruise starting and ending in Juneau and had extra days in Juneau at the start.
You can try setting your white balance to 'cloudy' even if it's a sunny day. Due to the high latitude all the scenes are very blue and the cloudy setting will help bring back some of the green in the trees. Take a couple of test shots first as it worked very well with my DSLR but was far too green and gaudy with my husband's point-and-shoot.
If you get a sunny day in Tracy Arm a split neutral density filter will be very useful. Post-processing can deal with some of the extreme contrast but there's noise in the dark areas. Tracy Arm is deep and narrow so one side will be in shade and the other in sun until closer to midday. A cloudy day may be better for Tracy Arm to even out the light but you lose some of the sparkle. I took over 900 photos in Tracy Arm and constantly had to increase or decrease up to 2 stops due to white ice and dark rock. The exposure compensation dial got a real workout that day. We were the first ship up there after the ice break up and there were lots of harbor seals on the ice. We couldn't get to the South Sawyer Glacier due to too much ice although we could see it from a distance. We got right up to the Sawyer Glacier and that was spectacular - so blue.
You won't get any whale or eagle photos from a large cruise ship. Eagles are everywhere but too far away even with big glass. You'll have more luck with them on-shore at an eagle preserve or rehab centre but you'll still need your 300mm plus tc to fill the frame. I got lucky leaving Sitka when I missed dinner due to spectacular light and an eagle flew low overhead. You'll need to go on a specific whale watching cruise to see whales close up. Our small-ship cruise specialized in whales and we saw humpbacks every day (orcas only on one evening) and they'd come right alongside the ship, dive underneath and pop up the other side. I was using an 80-400mm and needed that range for the close and long shots. The only thing we didn't see was the whales breaching.
The standard trip in Juneau is out to the Mendenhall Glacier but a much better view of it is from across the channel on Douglas Island. You see the whole thing from over there instead of missing much of it when standing close by. You can also do a variety of glacier flights in helicopters from Juneau. I went on the glacier and dog sled trip and it was unbelievable - well worth the megabucks!
I took my 12-24mm zoom and never used it. Yes, Alaska's big but the wide angles make everything look 'too far away' unless you have some foreground interest. You don't want those wide-angle views showing a thin strip of mountains with too much sea below and sky above. The scene looked great in real life but you'll wonder what happened when you get home. Take a few photos in a row with your tele lens and stitch them together to make a panorama. It will be much better. I didn't use a tripod for this - just overlapped them (hand held) and my software did the rest. As another person said, use a monopod and rest it on your foot. Worked a treat for me especially photographing whales in late evening light.
Best time to go is mid-late May. I know lots of people who've been to Alaska and they've always had good weather in May but it gets rainier and rainier the later you go with September being their rainiest month. It can be very cold on board the ship when it's moving especially early in the morning or if it's poor weather. Take gloves, hat, very warm jacket, etc. That said, we had extremely warm weather (80 degrees in Sitka) but it was still chilly early in the day.
I took over 5,000 photos with a DSLR in a week and my husband took another 3,000 with his point-and-shoot. That included 1200 in Glacier Bay and over 900 in Tracy Arm - that's just mine and none of his! Seldom a day with less than 600. But, we had truly exceptional weather so I made the most of it knowing some of the views are seldom seen due to low clouds.
I've already written too much here. For more details and photo info visit my blog at http://kathleenandersen.blogspot.com/search/label/Alaska You can go from there to the main blog and find Seattle/Victoria info by scrolling down to the end of May 2008. I've only just finished working on my Alaska photos so I'm now in the process of adding some to the blog entries and the first 10 are on Flickr - link there from the blog. Let me know if you want my CD and I'll get a copy to you.

Bald eagle at the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka

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