Alaska Grizzly Bears

Alaska Grizzly Bear

I enjoy being a landscape photographer. Being a landscape photographer allows me opportunities to be out within Nature to photograph its beauty, many times in breathtaking conditions. Being out in Nature also allows me to enjoy encounters with the creatures that inhabit these beautiful sceneries.

Landscape photographers are typically unprepared to photograph an encounter with a deer, a squirrel or even an occasional bear, primarily since a landscape lens is a wide-angle focal length. A wide-angle lens will not do justice to any kind of wildlife photography. Most of the creatures will be small and obscure within the scene. A typical focal length for a landscape scene will be somewhere around 18mm/24mm. In the world of wildlife photography life begins at 600mm and so an investment in a long focal length zoom lens must be made. I use a 150mm – 600mm lens.

Photographing wildlife takes a different approach as well. A landscape photographer will set their camera up on a tripod and, basically, take their time constructing the shot. There is usually no rush at all and the shot is usually made with manual settings. But with wildlife the animals do not pose for you and are usually fleeting in their appearance. Your photos usually must be made in a blink of an eye and hand held. 

My method for photographing wildlife is to set my camera up on either Aperture Priority of even Shutter Priority. I then will set my ISO to Auto and make sure that the range will cover all lighting conditions. In Aperture Priority you will set the aperture and the camera will choose the best shutter speed and ISO, again making sure that the shutter speed is quick enough to get a shot without any kind of motion blur. Open the aperture all the way and push the ISO. Some photographers prefer to set the shutter speed and not the aperture to make sure that it is always fast enough. In that case you set the shutter speed and the camera adjusts the aperture and ISO. Either method works and depends on personal preference or conditions. But it is important to make sure that you have a fast-enough shutter speed. Either way these settings will be preferred over manual operation as it allows you to make a shot quickly without having to manually adjust as the animal is moving. Give it a try. 

I had the opportunity to photograph wildlife in Alaska recently. Black bears, grizzly bears, moose, harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, eagles and other animals, but the grizzly bears were the most thrilling. This allowed me to use these techniques to nail the photos as the bears were going about their business feeding on fish in the river. Grizzly bears are very focused on fishing and are not aggressive toward humans in this situation unless they were to feel threatened. Using a 600mm focal length allowed plenty of room between us and the bears and allowed them to go about their business as we went about ours. We sat on the opposite side of the Kenai River and watched them as they pulled fish from the river.

Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority works well in other situations as well. Photographing people in quick moving situations, such as candid photos of wedding guests for example, will allow you to pay attention to your subjects and not have to deal with the camera settings. Also a longer focal length zoom lens works well for that too as you don’t have to get up close to your subject, allowing for more candid photos.

I recommend any photographer that wants to photograph wildlife to invest in a “long lens” and practice. Try the automatic settings Aperture and Shutter Priority. Use it in your yard on squirrels and birds and then go out to a wildlife refuge or a natural place frequented by animals and become a wildlife photographer. While you are out in the wild please be careful of your safety as well as being respectful of the animal’s space and safety. And as always when in Nature, leave it better than you found it.

Photographing Alaska Glaciers and Fjords

Whittier Alaska Tour with Gary Randall Photography

Photographing Alaska Glaciers and Fjords - The gurgling sound of the twin 200 horsepower outboard motors mounted in tandem on the stern of our excursion boat mixed with the sound of camera shutters and the random “ooh and ahh” as we cruised back and forth through the still, ice laden water at the face of the massive wall of glacial ice before us. Once everyone was through photographing this incredible scene our boat captain eased forward on the throttle turning the gurgle to a roar as we left the sheltered cove to head back to where we started this incredible day. Our group of intrepid photographers sat at rest enjoying the views after a full day of cruising the Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska photographing wildlife and the immense, wild remote scenery that surrounded us.

Our day started at our log lodge located near Palmer in the beautiful Matanuska Valley located about an hour northeast of Anchorage. We had a drive to make and a schedule to adhere to as we had to be at the Whittier Tunnel on time to pass through with the regularly scheduled opening that allowed visitors and residents to get to the little town of Whittier located at the other end on the majestic and scenic Prince William Sound. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, commonly called The Whittier Tunnel, is a tunnel that was made through a mountain between the town of Whittier and the the Seward Highway, which is a major thoroughfare taking traffic to and from the Kenai Peninsula to Alaska’s mainland.

The Whittier Tunnel is a one way, single lane, tunnel 2 ½ miles long. It’s the longest highway tunnel in North America. The roadway includes a set of train tracks to accommodate the Alaska Railroad. The inside of the tunnel is rough rock, almost cave like, and is a bit claustrophobic the first time through, but is a bit exciting nonetheless. There’s a time schedule for opening the tunnel that accommodates the train as well as car and truck traffic in each direction at different times. If you miss your scheduled opening you must wait an hour before it’s open again in your direction.

On this morning our group awoke with adventure on our minds. We all climbed into the van and headed out. We were right on time, although the bathroom break along the way threatened to cause a little concern about catching the tunnel, we made it with time to spare. Our destination this morning was Epic Charters and the boat that we had reserved to take us out into the fjords of the Prince William Sound to photograph not just scenery, but also for the chance to photograph its wildlife.

The day was calm with some overcast skies. The ride out into the sound was calm and exhilarating. The Chugach Mountains surrounding us tower up from the water to reach an average height of 4000-5000 feet with peaks as high as 13,000 feet. Many have majestic glaciers covering their flanks and filling their valleys with some ultimately crumbling into the ocean waters. As we travel along we pass small islands covered with sea lions, rafts, as they’re called, of sea otters and eagles flying overhead while we hope to see orcas on our search for black bears.

Our skipper navigated our boat into a couple small bays, one of which was the location of a remote salmon hatchery where we found at least a dozen or more opportunistic black bears roaming the shore, dipping their paws into the water and dragging out a fish with little challenge. We left there and made our way to another bay where we found several more bears away from man made surroundings, a small group of which consisted of a mother and three cubs hiding in tall grasses on the shoreline. Their heads peeked up every so often just to keep an eye on the boat full of shutterbugs sitting in the water beyond the shoreline.

We left that bay and made our way further into the sound to a little island where we all stepped off of the boat to stretch our legs for a little while before making our way into the incredible Harriman Fjord, a finger off of the sound into the realm of huge hanging and tidewater glaciers. Our boat made it to the face of Surprise Glacier where we floated around taking in the massive mountains and huge flows of glacial ice. Massive waterfalls flowed down huge solid stone walls from the ice fields and hanging glaciers above. The boat slowly cruised through the iceberg filled water, several of which were the size of the boat itself as we observed walls of ice calving into the ocean creating waves that would gently rock the boat as we stood there in amazement of the scene surrounding us.

In time we turned to head back to Whittier. As we skimmed over the calm water we passed by the glaciers in the College Fjord before heading back into deeper water and passage back. The boat’s captain pushed the throttle further and brought the boat up onto a plane as our group sat at the stern watching the scene disappear behind us. As we sat there taking it all in for one last time, and recalling all that had happened on that day, a rainbow appeared behind us as one final parting gift from this spectacular land.

Our group left the pier and our captain as we gathered together to make sure to catch the tunnel scheduled opening for our trip back through and to the Seward Highway for our drive back to the lodge, with one more stop for a meal at the Turnagain Arm Pit, a favorite barbecue restaurant along the way. Once back at the lodge all everyone wanted to do was rest and look at all of their photos from this amazing time. This trip has become a favorite part of our yearly Alaska Adventure tours, but is only one day of the five that we spend photographing Alaska. Each and every day is filled with another incredible experience.

 

 

Playful Little Bears

Gary, Darlene and the Denali Bus

_gar7140-2I love Denali. This last trip in August was my second trip into the park and this trip was the best. The skies were clear which allowed for a great view of Denali the mountain as well as the animals roaming the early Autumn tundra.

For those unaware, when you explore within the park you use a shuttle bus. You make reservations, buy a ticket and off you go. You can choose your destination, the two most popular being Eielson visitor center and Wonder Lake. As you drive through the park you are able to get on or off as you wish and catch a ride on another that will, in time, pass by. I really enjoy riding the bus. It can be a bit crowded at times, and a little dusty on a dry day, but it's a good and practical way to get around inside of the park. The best part is that the bus drivers are all experts on the park and its wildlife and are great at interpreting everything from the history to geography as well as information on the animals that call Denali their home.

29331716115_566e748be7_oAs we were travelling along on the bus the driver stopped at the sight of a brown bear and her two cubs. They were on an opposing ridge about 500 yards away. Far enough for us to easily observe their behavior. On this morning they were traversing the ridge eating blueberries. They acted as if they had no care in the world. It was an amazing experience.

bear-006At first we saw the sow and only one of her cubs but within a few minutes we observed another little bear behind a bush and working it's way up the ridge and toward the others. At the same time the mamma and her cub roamed to another area of fresh berry bushes. In time the adventurous little bear made its way to the top of the ridge and started to make his way toward his mamma and his sibling. It was fun to watch. The mamma bear and the first little cub paid the other cub no mind and kept eating berries.

As we watched them I noticed adventure cub moving in on his sibling and a moment later he attacked. They both started tumbling down the hill in a ball of fur and legs.

At the end of the day we saw a variety of animals. Everything from bears to caribou, moose, sheep and even a wolf, but the two little bear cubs was the highlight of the trip.

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