Whether you’re on Google or Facebook or Instagram, you’ll find photos of Alaska that make you gasp and say, “Whoa! I wish I’d taken that!” It might be a landscape shot of Denali or an eagle in flight, but it’s somehow different than the other thousands you’ve seen before. And that’s because it is.

In my workshops, I teach “good, better, best,” in order to take images to the next level. Those images on social media that stop you from scrolling or give you goosebumps? Well, those would be in the “best” category. So, how can you take a gallery-worthy shot on your next trip? Start by going to the right location during prime season with quality equipment.

Most photographers aren’t just lucky, although that certainly helps. They’ve spent hours and days in the field (sometimes going back multiple times over the years) to catch that single, glorious moment. And as far as camera gear goes, they’ve realized the limitations of the cell phone and have invested in a body and lens to get the job done when the subject is too far away, or the lighting is difficult. That said, even if you only go to Alaska once and it’s with an iPhone, here are some things to aim for while you’re there.


Seeing a grizzly or coastal brown tops the list for many photographers. If you’re one of them, don’t wait to stumble upon one. They’re large and carnivorous and don’t like surprises. Go to bear-viewing areas like Katmai, Lake Clark, and Anan Creek, where you’re all but guaranteed to find them feasting on salmon and ignoring humans.

A polar bear cub rests after playing with a sibling. Getting fresh snow before freeze up took multiple trips to Kaktovik and happened before COVID closed it to tourism. Luck and persistence enabled an amazing experience. Go too early and you get bears in dirt or fall foliage; go too late and they’re gone to hunt on the ice.

Calving Glaciers

It’s tough to capture the drama of a calving glacier in a still image. Video works best to wow your audience. That said, it can be done. One of the easiest places to shoot a calving glacier is in Kenai Fjords National Park. Drive to Seward and take a day cruise. Or, if you’re in Southeast, Glacier Bay affords multiple opportunities to capture falling chunks of ice. A few tips: Get your settings right before anything happens. When you hear a sound (the crack of white thunder), aim in that direction with your finger poised to click the shutter at the first hint of motion.


There are many places to get a great shot of the highest mountain in North America—and not all of them are in Denali National Park. On a clear day, you can spot the towering snow-capped dome from Anchorage. Talkeetna affords a backside view along a picturesque river. Flightseeing provides exceptional close-ups. But going to the park delivers some choice locations for creative composition.

Try to allow several days for your chance to see it. Because of weather, it remains obscured to all but 1/3 of Alaska visitors. While Denali exhibits immense grandeur, without context, it looks like any other mountain. Endeavor to use a foreground item: wildflowers, shed caribou antlers, a moose, or a reflection to frame it and give it dimension.

Reflection Pond lives up to its name with Denali mirrored in its waters.

Northern Lights

Patience is key. Like Denali, you might allocate a week or more for them to appear. When they dance, you’ll need a tripod, a very slow shutter, and to have pre-focused on manual at infinity. But in order to capture a truly unique image, make sure you have something in the foreground that gives dimension, texture, and demonstrates a sense of scale that’s worthy of the show.

If you want to have some fun, get a friend to briefly use a flashlight for a few seconds of your entire exposure before turning it off again. During that time, they can make a quick heart with their light or in this case, the AK abbreviation for the state of Alaska. Light painting also works on stationary objects like trees, boats, or docked seaplanes.

Bald Eagles

You’ll find bald eagles in most parts of Alaska. When photographing them, a good shot is a close-up of a stately one sitting on a branch or other natural perch. A great image might be a sharp one in flight. An exceptional one could be two eagles battling with locked talons or an eagle snatching a fish from the water. No matter what you end up with, make sure the eye is in crystal clear focus. Blurred wings are more than okay because they show motion.

bald eagles photograph
Capturing eagles in the snow can be an amazing experience and a great reason to visit Haines in November. Hundreds of bald eagles descend on the town to feast on the last of the salmon run, creating an unparalleled annual spectacle. Fights happen in the air but are equally dramatic on the ground because of kicked up powder.

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