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Destination: Alaska

Wonder Lake is the furthest point in Denali National Park that the park bus system will reach.  It offers a spectacular view of the Alaska Range, when the weather is clear.

Wonder Lake is the furthest point in Denali National Park that the park bus system will reach. It offers a spectacular view of the Alaska Range, when the weather is clear.

Over the years, as I grew as a photographer, I wanted to expand my horizons and photograph exotic and epic places. Tops on my list was Alaska.  I wanted to photograph the grandeur of the Alaska Range, of Denali, and the beauty of the nature and wildlife.  I found Alaska to be full of beauty and opportunity, but at the same time, a difficult place to photograph.

The first challenge in photographing in Denali is the weather.  It is said that 80% of visitors to Denali National Park never see the mountain (known as Mount McKinley or Denali).  Denali (the mountain) generates its own weather pattern.  This was illustrated on my second visit there, when I camped at Wonder Lake for 4 days. I saw the mountain as I traveled in to the campsite on my first day, and saw it as I left the park on my way out on the 4th day.  The days in between, it was never seen again.

This view, captured from the Eilson Visitor's Center, is one of the iconic views as you approach Mount McKinley. The clouds surrounding the mountain illustrate the weather patterns around the mountain.  The dynamic range of the scene was huge- without using graduated neutral density filters, this image would not have been possible in one exposure. I used a 3-stop soft-edged ND grad. EOS 5D Mark II, EF 24-105f/4L IS.  1/500, f/8, ISO 200.

This view, captured from the Eilson Visitor’s Center, is one of the iconic views as you approach Mount McKinley. The clouds surrounding the mountain illustrate the weather patterns around the mountain. The dynamic range of the scene was huge- without using graduated neutral density filters, this image would not have been possible in one exposure. I used a 3-stop soft-edged ND grad. EOS 5D Mark II, EF 24-105f/4L IS. 1/500, f/8, ISO 200.

The next challenge I found in Denali National Park is the range of contrast in the landscape. Even late in the day, The range from the bright sky to the foreground was huge. I found graduated neutral density filters to be essential in helping to control the dynamic range of an image. Generally the mountains would be in bright light, while the foreground would be several stops darker.  A 3 stop or 4 stop ND grad was perfect for bringing the two closer together.

After spending all that money to get to this remote part of Alaska, I wasn’t about to let bad weather get in the way of my photography. As I mentioned, 80% of visitors to Denali don’t get to see the mountain.  The tallest peak in North America is obviously a major focal point when trying to photograph in Denali. When that’s taken away, it just means you have to work a little harder to find the shots. But Alaska is chock full of natural beauty, and there is no shortage of photos to be taken.

After two days of rain, we ventured onto the McKinley Bar Trail to hike to the McKinley River. The mountain was obscured by clouds, so I looked for other shots I could take.  This creek on the McKinly Bar Trail offered a nice opportunity. I composed the shot to eliminate as much sky as possible, due to the flat cloudiness of it.  EOS 5D Mark II, EF 17-40 f/4L @ 23mm.  1/250 at f/11, ISO 400.

After two days of rain, we ventured onto the McKinley Bar Trail to hike to the McKinley River. The mountain was obscured by clouds, so I looked for other shots I could take. This creek on the McKinly Bar Trail offered a nice opportunity. I composed the shot to eliminate as much sky as possible, due to the flat cloudiness of it. EOS 5D Mark II, EF 17-40 f/4L @ 23mm. 1/250 at f/11, ISO 400.

One of the best things I did in Alaska was get a different point of view.  Flightseeing tours are offered within the park.  I took one with Talkeetna Air Taxi, which is based at Kantishna Air Field, at the very end of the park road.  It was a 1 hour flight, bringing me as close to the mountains as I’d ever get.  You’re forced to shoot through the plane’s windows, but the reflections are pretty well controlled. I used a 5D Mark II and EF 24-105 f/4L lens for the entire flight. That gave me enough range to not have to change lenses during the flight. The cloud cover was already moving in on this day, but we got some dramatic shots of peaks poking through the clouds, glaciers making their way through mountain passes, and kettle ponds on the tundra reflecting blue skies.

This shot, taken from a plane at 10,000 feet, shows the kind of image possible on a flightseeing tour. 5D Mark II with 24-105 f/4L at 45mm. 1/1000, f/8, ISO 400.

This shot, taken from a plane at 10,000 feet, shows the kind of image possible on a flightseeing tour. 5D Mark II with 24-105 f/4L at 45mm. 1/1000, f/8, ISO 400.

The McKinley River flows through the tundra of Denali.  The silt deposited by the river changes its direction and creates these little strands. This shot was taken at 11,000 feet up. 5D Mark II, Ef 24-105 f/4L IS at 105mm. 1/500 at f/8, ISO 400.

The McKinley River flows through the tundra of Denali. The silt deposited by the river changes its direction and creates these little strands. This shot was taken at 11,000 feet up. 5D Mark II, Ef 24-105 f/4L IS at 105mm. 1/500 at f/8, ISO 400.

Wildlife is abundant in Denali, though you do have to get a bit lucky to see it.  The big five is moose, eagles, Dall sheep, bears, and caribou.  A long lens is a must.  To save weight in my bag, I used a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, with a 2x extender to give me an effective focal length of 400mm.  While we weren’t able to get close enough to any bears, we did get close to a wolf, Dall sheep, and a golden eagle that buzzed the bus we were on heading to our campsite. You’ll need to be ready as the wildlife doesn’t stay still for very long.  The bus drivers will stop whenever you ask as long as it’s safe, and you can hop off one bus and onto another if you decide to hike around some.

To view more of my Alaska images, visit my website at www.rickberk.com.

This Dall Sheep was lounging just above Polychrome Pass. Using a 70-200 with a 2x extender, I was able to get in close and get a nice portrait. 5D Mark II, EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II w/2x extender. 1/1000 at f/4, ISO 200.

This Dall Sheep was lounging just above Polychrome Pass. Using a 70-200 with a 2x extender, I was able to get in close and get a nice portrait. 5D Mark II, EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II w/2x extender. 1/1000 at f/4, ISO 200.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Rick Berk is a photographer based in New York, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick's work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    Thank you for sharing a part of the world I might never visit! Such beauty!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Becky

    We honeymooned in Alaska this past summer and spent a few days in Denali. Gorgeous pictures! My pictures aren’t nearly as well composed, but I’m learning as I go :)
    I definitely recommend a trip to Alaska for those who love adventure! We had an amazing time and can’t wait to go back!

  • http://bigwhitefluffycloud.blogspot Karen

    Stunning scenery and beautiful photography.

  • Scottc

    Incredible, amazing landscapes. Putting AK on the bucket list……

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157626580235661/

  • Jay

    Well done. At first I thought these photos were a bit over-processed but then realized the scenery was spectacular (and you captured it). Thanks for sharing thoughts and images.

  • http://fotoblog-reiseberichte.de Jens

    Alaska is one of the most fascinating places I have ever been too. I love the landscapes there and the wildlife.
    I was there in 2006 with cruise ship which was a great way of exploring the area.
    Alaska Cruise Ship Trip

  • http://lenstop.blogspot.com/ Arun

    superb collection! good to see new places through such beautiful images! thanks for sharing!

  • http://boernephotos.com Alan Granger

    I have spent 20 days in Alaska, 2 ten day trips, both the first week of September. We never saw Denali, except for about one half hour from 100 miles away shrouded in clouds. I had to have an Alaskan tell me which mountain in the photo is it. But we saw all kinds of other cool stuff , mountain goats, more eagles than you can believe, Kodiak bears, black bears, one whale(no pics), moose, the first one at the Anchorage airport, caribou, auks, sea otters, seals/sea lions, glaciers, glaciers glaciers.

    I saved one of the pictures that has Denali in it, just to keep. It’s not worth having otherwise.

    But , Alaska< lust absolutely spectacular!

  • Mark

    You were spot on about the challenges of shooting Denali and the benefits of having an ND filter. I live in Alaska and find that one of the greatest challenges and rewards in living here is to adjust to the different lighting because of our northern location. You may visit your favorite photo sites but you never see the same image twice.

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com marius2die4
  • http://cynthia-lagoudakis.artistwebsites.com/art/all/alaska+scenes/all Cindi

    Gorgeous images! Alaska is a vast and diverse place, with many interesting things to photograph!!

  • Penny

    My husband is a pilot with an air taxi service in Alaska and we live there from April to October. I probably have close to a thousand photos from all over this great state! Everywhere you look there is an opportunity to get a wonderful shot. My favorite time is spring, while the snow is still on the mountains. The contrast between the white snow, the blue of the glaciers and the dark rocks is stunning. Not to mention the moose that were in the yard every day!

  • Ward

    Been there twice & saw clouds only. Once in March, once in May. I will go back at least one more time as it’s a long way from Australia, just to see a real mountain. Mind you, there is plenty else to see. Loved the Iditarod when I was there. I bought a photo from a local photographer there, just in case I never get to photograph it myself.

  • http://schweetlife.com Schweet Life

    Beautiful! The photos (especially the first one) remind me of Bob Ross’ nature landscapes.

Some older comments

  • Schweet Life

    March 27, 2013 10:53 am

    Beautiful! The photos (especially the first one) remind me of Bob Ross' nature landscapes.

  • Ward

    March 15, 2013 07:58 pm

    Been there twice & saw clouds only. Once in March, once in May. I will go back at least one more time as it's a long way from Australia, just to see a real mountain. Mind you, there is plenty else to see. Loved the Iditarod when I was there. I bought a photo from a local photographer there, just in case I never get to photograph it myself.

  • Penny

    March 15, 2013 02:46 pm

    My husband is a pilot with an air taxi service in Alaska and we live there from April to October. I probably have close to a thousand photos from all over this great state! Everywhere you look there is an opportunity to get a wonderful shot. My favorite time is spring, while the snow is still on the mountains. The contrast between the white snow, the blue of the glaciers and the dark rocks is stunning. Not to mention the moose that were in the yard every day!

  • Cindi

    March 15, 2013 10:51 am

    Gorgeous images! Alaska is a vast and diverse place, with many interesting things to photograph!!

  • marius2die4

    March 15, 2013 08:05 am

    Stunning trip!
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com

  • Mark

    March 15, 2013 05:31 am

    You were spot on about the challenges of shooting Denali and the benefits of having an ND filter. I live in Alaska and find that one of the greatest challenges and rewards in living here is to adjust to the different lighting because of our northern location. You may visit your favorite photo sites but you never see the same image twice.

  • Alan Granger

    March 15, 2013 03:45 am

    I have spent 20 days in Alaska, 2 ten day trips, both the first week of September. We never saw Denali, except for about one half hour from 100 miles away shrouded in clouds. I had to have an Alaskan tell me which mountain in the photo is it. But we saw all kinds of other cool stuff , mountain goats, more eagles than you can believe, Kodiak bears, black bears, one whale(no pics), moose, the first one at the Anchorage airport, caribou, auks, sea otters, seals/sea lions, glaciers, glaciers glaciers.

    I saved one of the pictures that has Denali in it, just to keep. It's not worth having otherwise.

    But , Alaska< lust absolutely spectacular!

  • Arun

    March 15, 2013 02:26 am

    superb collection! good to see new places through such beautiful images! thanks for sharing!

  • Jens

    March 14, 2013 07:11 pm

    Alaska is one of the most fascinating places I have ever been too. I love the landscapes there and the wildlife.
    I was there in 2006 with cruise ship which was a great way of exploring the area.
    Alaska Cruise Ship Trip

  • Jay

    March 14, 2013 10:55 am

    Well done. At first I thought these photos were a bit over-processed but then realized the scenery was spectacular (and you captured it). Thanks for sharing thoughts and images.

  • Scottc

    March 14, 2013 09:24 am

    Incredible, amazing landscapes. Putting AK on the bucket list......

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157626580235661/

  • Karen

    March 14, 2013 08:21 am

    Stunning scenery and beautiful photography.

  • Becky

    March 14, 2013 05:22 am

    We honeymooned in Alaska this past summer and spent a few days in Denali. Gorgeous pictures! My pictures aren't nearly as well composed, but I'm learning as I go :)
    I definitely recommend a trip to Alaska for those who love adventure! We had an amazing time and can't wait to go back!

  • Mridula

    March 14, 2013 03:50 am

    Thank you for sharing a part of the world I might never visit! Such beauty!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

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