It’s hard to shoot a bad picture here.

Photographers are a little like birders. Either on paper or in our heads, we keep a “life list” of images we’d like to take before we leave this earth. Beyond our gear and lens envy of others, we covet the well-timed, remote and seemingly impossible wild shot. More often than not, those photos, the ones we dream about, are in Alaska. The northern lights? Check. Brown bears? Yep. Whales and glaciers? Sure. Unending mountain ranges with volcanoes, waterfalls and turquoise-blue lakes. You bet. Even on a foul-weather day here, it’s tough to take a bad photo. Alaska remains poised for her close-up, and some of the best places to go are listed here. We only hope you’ll step away from the camera long enough to enjoy the moment you’re capturing in real-time.

Brown Bears

It’s an iconic image: Congregating brown bears with gaping jaws stand atop Brooks Falls waiting for spawning salmon to land on their tongues. Many visitors come to Alaska hoping to see a brown or grizzly bear ambling along a roadside in Denali or foraging on a beach as their cruise ship passes by. While that can and does happen, if bears are on your bucket list, you owe it to yourself to book a day-trip into Katmai National Park and Preserve. More than 2,000 brown bears fish the rivers around Brooks Camp, serenaded by the shutter clicks of avid photographers perched on the viewing platforms above them. You don’t need to be lucky, possess a sixth sense or backpack for hours into remote wilderness to find these massive creatures. The best time to go is from mid-June through the end of August. katmailand.com

Northern Lights

Vibrant colors dancing across the sky on a crisp Alaska night seem exotic, mysterious and elusive. Unlike the bears waiting for you to show up in Katmai, the aurora borealis demands patience, persistence and a bit of luck in order to capture it. The fall and winter months from around 10pm to 3am provide the clearest and darkest skies, and thus the best opportunities for aurora visibility. Plus, you’ll want to avoid light pollution of towns and cities. Chena Hot Springs Resort, located outside of Fairbanks beneath a particularly active band of northern lights, remains one of the best places in Alaska for aurora chasers to see the phenomenon. Book a three or four-night stay to accommodate for uncooperative weather. At the resort, you can stay up all night or ask to receive an “aurora wake up call” if you stay at the Moose Lodge. The most relaxing and warm spot to watch the lights? The natural hot-springs lake on the property.  No parka and gloves required.chenahotsprings.com

Ice calving off of Hubbard Glacier. (photo by Robert O’Toole) www.robertotoole.com
Whales and Glaciers

Alaska has no shortage of whales or glaciers. Gray, beluga, humpback, minke and orca whales gather in the open water and along shorelines in various locations May through September. A small boat multi-day cruise in Southeast’s Inside Passage virtually guarantees whale sightings along with calving glaciers. Get the perfect tail shot, breach or killer whale spout from the deck of a ship.  Peer down from your balcony on humpbacks bubble feeding below. Listen for a crack of white thunder as ice chunks fall like collapsing 12-story buildings into the bay. Summertime small boat cruises provide more route flexibility and allow passengers to get closer to the action than large cruise liners. Try Alaskan Dream Cruises for off-the-beaten path, authentic Alaska itineraries combined with the major attractions of Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay National Park or the more adventurous Un-Cruise options with kayaking, paddleboarding and skiff excursions offered along the way. alaskandreamcruises.com; un-cruise.com

Scenic Landscapes

You won’t have to look far to find panoramic views worthy of filling up a memory card or two. Even flying into Alaska from the Lower 48, you’ll be shooting out the window. Noteworthy regional spots to cross off your bucket list for scenic landscapes are the Kenai Peninsula in Southcentral Alaska, the Brooks Range in the north (especially the Arrigetch peaks in the Endicott Mountains) and our favorite—Denali National Park and Preserve in the Interior. Denali offers a diverse multitude of vistas from every shuttle stop or trail, oftentimes with wildlife in the foreground. The classic shot at Wonder Lake at the end of the Park Road might just yield a trifecta for bucket-list photo accomplishments if you’re lucky enough to find a wading moose, Denali’s clear reflection in the water and a sunset to complete the picture. Early fall provides great color, along with fewer crowds for the best photo ops. nps.gov/dena

If You Go:

Photo Tours

If you’ve booked a trip to Alaska, you’ve likely come a long way and invested some significant resources. To make sure you come home with exceptional photos to frame and share, book a photography tour with a professional. At Alaska magazine, we work with some of the best in the field and thankfully, many of them share their knowledge through workshops and tours in some of the most spectacular locations in the state. Here are our top recommendations.

Art Wolfe

Katmai Alaska Workshop
Katmai National Park and Preserve

Patrick J. Endres

AlaskaPhotoGraphics: Aurora Borealis Photo Tour
Brooks Range

Ron Niebrugge

Alaska Photo Tours: Alaska Whale and Bear Tour—Inside Passage
Inside Passage and Anan Creek Bear Observatory / Southeast

Michael DeYoung

Active Photo Tours

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