Favorite Photo Locations – The Southeast Alaska Panhandle
In the “panhandle” of the Last Frontier, craggy, snow-capped mountains sweep down to narrow fjords, eagles swirl through turbulent skies, whales splash noisily in the steel-gray waters, and glaciers creep relentlessly toward the sea. Onion-domed Russian Orthodox churches still hold services for descendants of their Indian converts whose tribal celebrations and dancing have been preserved. Native craftsmen carve stunning wooden masks and impressive totems.
Alaska’s earliest explorers prospected for gold, trapped, fished, and pioneered the land. The next wave drilled for oil, logged, and founded a tourism industry. During spring, summer and fall, cruise ships leave regularly from Seattle, WN and Vancouver, BC; the State runs year-round ferry service for those who prefer to rough it a bit. Once at a port, you can meander around town shooting local attractions or hire float planes, helicopters, and small boats to visit glaciers, remote mountain lakes, and isolated islands teeming with wild life.
The weather in Southeast Alaska is usually rainy or overcast. Ketchikan -usually a ship’s first port of call- gets socked with 180 inches of precipitation a year; Juneau and Sitka have nearly as much. But overcast days can be excellent for photography- colors become saturated, and both faces and places take on a soft and lovely look. Scenery becomes almost mystical as menacing cloud formations scud across the sky, dipping down here and there to caress a favorite mountain or skitter up windy channels like ethereal tumbleweeds. There are sunny times, too (usually from mid-July through mid-September) but you just don’t know if you’ll catch one so bring rain gear to protect yourself and your equipment.
Bring lots of memory cards to capture magnificent icescapes, indigenous wildlife, bits and pieces of the small towns along the way, intimate shots of people who live and work there, some wonderful examples of Native arts and crafts and more.
The telephoto end of your zoom lens will get a real workout on scenery and wildlife shots but don’t forget to rack back to the wide-angle setting for breathtaking landscapes, seascapes and calving glaciers. And remember to move in for close-up details of the Native arts and crafts that abound.
Alaska is a photographer’s dream and the Panhandle is a fascinating part of it. Some cruises can even be taken one-way, allowing you to continue on to parts of the interior on other tours and then fly home. It all depends on the time (and money) you have to spend. But one thing’s for sure- even if you just visit Southeast Alaska, it’s worth ten trips to anywhere else!
How To Get There:
There are only local roads in Southeast Alaska but if you bring your car or camper, you can use Alaska Marine Highway System ferries and spend time at various locations. You can also fly from place to place but you’ll miss the magnificent fjords of the Inside Passage which, by the way, is calm as a lake. Most visitors fly to Seattle or Vancouver and board one of the many cruise ships that make the voyage. But be forewarned: These cruises are very popular so to get the best accommodations (balcony cabins recommended), book early.
Anywhere from $800 to $2,500 for the cruise segment depending on cabin choice and date of sailing. Add air fare from your city to the ship and figure on spending an additional $500 to $1,000 for incidentals on the ship, local excursions, and souvenirs.
All photos © from the book Alaska Photo Book: A Digital Photography Cruise available at Amazon.com or from firstname.lastname@example.org.
A typical cruise itinerary map. One week in Southeast Alaska will offer you more photo opportunities than you would normally have in a lifetime.
By Arthur H. Bleich, Red River Pro