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Since the advent of a high res DSLR, I was able to continue producing images in a panoramic format without carrying an additional bulky panorama camera in the field. Each year, the software utilized for stitching multiple digital images seems to get better, easier, and more sophisticated. The benefit of merging multiple images allows for a much larger file, but file size is not always necessary. I’m going to suggest something that seems to go against the grain of conventional publication/DPI standards for print media.

Dots per inch, or DPI has a direct relationship to viewing distance, and this is sometimes overlooked when evaluating a picture for size-output based solely on DPI. For example, I have four 3.5ft x 10ft panorama images displayed as canvas gallery wrap prints in the Fairbanks International Airport. Two of those were panoramas made from multiple files, and two were cropped from a single 17MP RAW file. When viewed at a distance of 15-20 feet (since they are hung high above the hallway) one can’t tell the difference. All four look quite sharp and clean. If these were viewed from 2 0r 3 feet however, the quality might seem inferior. But then, no one views a 10 ft picture from 3 ft, since you could not even see the whole thing at that distance.

Below is a gallery of panorama images, most of which are digital files stitched together in photoshop, some are film files from the Fuji Panorama 6x17cm camera.

  • Karen Casebeer - Truly an amazing batch of panoramas, Patrick. I clicked through the whole set and they all are gorgeous. It would be hard to pick a favorite, but they do make me want to visit your state. KarenReplyCancel

  • Chris - Wow what an excellent set of images, very majestic and truly makes me what to visit. Thanks for sharing and taking the time to put this post together :) Ginger PixelsReplyCancel

I get many questions about the topic of wildlife photography in Alaska. In response to this over the years, I have written a little article that addresses some of the basic things to consider. I recently updated that article and I’m copying it here, but it is also listed under the articles section on this blog.

Photographing Alaska Wildlife

Photographing Alaska wildlife is a rewarding experience, its also a challenging one. Alaska is a big place, access to remote locations can be riddled with finicky weather. But these are components that are common to the amateur and professional photographer alike.

Persistence and patience, scouting, and good planning are essential ingredients, and they will pay off in the end. I composed a few tips below for an article some time ago, but have expanded on them. Things to consider before embarking on a wildlife photography trip.

Tips for Photographing Alaska Wildlife

1) Choose the appropriate personal gear 

Dress appropriately and have your camera gear well packed and prepared for the type of travel, hiking or trekking necessary for the task. This is not an insignificant issue in Alaska. Depending on the season, weather conditions can be extreme, and extremely variable. In the summer, whenever I travel to mountain country, I usually have both a pair of shorts and a down jacket along. Days can be hot, but I’ve been snowed on in every month of the year. So, things of great value are down sweaters, rain pants, wind/rain jacket, light gloves, hat, and good merino wool base layer clothing.

Minus 40 below zero, freezes remote plastic cord for camera, Fairbanks, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Minus 40 below zero, freezes remote plastic cord for camera, Fairbanks, Alaska. (Hugh Rose)

Me with a 60+ pound backpack in the Arrigetch Peaks (© Amy Johnson)

2) Choose the appropriate camera gear 

This will vary based on the subject you are targeting. The more general you go, the more gear you are likely to need. This is often the case for me, I have lenses from 14mm to 500mm in my bag, along with a tripod or two. As for the correct camera bag….well, there isn’t one.  However, there is one that will best suit your specific trip. I’m fond of the Kiboko bag by Gura Gear. I like what it does not include as much as what it does include. It is light and rugged. It is a little shy on extra space for carrying clothing, etc., on a long day trek, but I’ve shoved it full and got by o.k. As my years accumulate, I become more fond of slimming down on gear to reduce the overall weight I carry on a daily basis. Carbon fiber tripods, light but tough camera bags, newer lenses that are lighter, it all ads up. But it is true, you pay dearly for the absence of a few pounds in gear in general.

Camera gear in Kiboko bag

3) Get in shape

Get in reasonable shape for the physical demands that await you. One could take this to the extreme, but the general rule is to avoid the recovery phase that often follows the first few days of high activity, or doing tasks not common to your daily routine. So if you are going to be packing your camera bag on 5 mile treks each day, make sure to do this a few times before your departure and you will be in a better place to take advantage of all opportunities, and you wont be reaching for Ibuprofen as often.

Photographer silhouetted against the sky in Denali National Park. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Photographer silhouetted against the sky in Denali National Park. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

4) Research your subject.

Know your subject. Understand and respect a comfortable working distance from the wildlife you seek to photograph. Do a little reading and research on your subjects. Most animals are creatures of great habit, and they frequent similar areas and can be somewhat predictable. It takes a little time however to discern their movements. The more you know about them, the better situated you are. Be a keen observer when you are with them in the field. Be careful of proximity, especially to habituated animals. You can tell if you are too close to a subject, whether it feels comfortable with your presence. Some National Parks (like Denali National Park) have guidelines on minimum distances from various species, you need to be apprised of these. Brown bears or grizzly bears inhabit much of Alaska, and if you are camping, cooking, eating, you need to be careful and informed on the protocol for good camp and food etiquette in bear country.

An inquisitve short-eared owl stares intently while standing on the a surface on Alaska

An inquisitve short-eared owl stares intently while standing on the a surface on Alaska's arctic north slope. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

5) Work with the light. 

If possible, scout the area ahead of time and know the lighting conditions: when, where and how the morning and evening light and shadows fall. This is somewhat obvious, but also difficult. Weather in the mountain country is often cloudy and you don’t have that luxury to predict where light will fall. But do not underestimate the value of really exploring the light. You know, it is what makes those outrageous images. There is simply no way around it. Check out my blog post on IPhone apps, there is a great one called Focalware that will tell you sunrise and sunset times based on lat and long coordinates. This is very valuable. Additionally, the sun in Alaska is at extreme angles, especially near the summer and winter solstice. Where it appears in the sky is important, especially to landscape photography. Perpendicular light, or some degree of angle creates dimension. If you are in a mountain range that spans an east to west orientation, you are likely to be shooting in front light during the golden hour, which is terrible, even though the golden color is beautiful. Research your spacial orientation.

Brown bear walks along the shores of Naknek lake just before sunrise in Katmai National Park, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Brown bear walks along the shores of Naknek lake just before sunrise in Katmai National Park, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Brown bear wades in the Brooks river, morning sunrise over the Brooks river and Naknek lake, Katmai National Park, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Brown bear wades in the Brooks river, morning sunrise over the Brooks river and Naknek lake, Katmai National Park, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

6) Use a tripod if necessary. 

This will help in tracking and following moving wildlife. Please, do yourself a huge favor and get a good tripod and a good ballhead. And yes, they are ridiculously expensive, I know. Believe me I know, I own many. But they are a very critical element in your gear line up. A few companies that offer these are Really Right Stuff and Kirk Enterprises. Gitzo and Bogen offer tripods, you could probably trade in your car for a nice Gitzo carbon fiber tripod! With maybe enough cash back to get a good ballhead too! After having said that, you don’t need the biggest, heaviest tripod out there. I have moved towards much smaller, lightweight versions, especially for landscape photography, and in particular in conjunction with the Image Stabilization lens options. Use a tripod when necessary, but don’t be anchored and made unproductive by being chained to it. I shoot my 500mm canon hand held all the time, and the images are impeccably sharp. It is possible with a little technique.

One of my favorite mini tripods when I need to travel light in the back country. Yes, I use my big glass, sometimes the 500mm, on this little tripod. It is not conventional wisdom in the photo world, but it works great for me.

7) Consider perspective.  

An Eye level position will help portray a more natural scene of the animal in its environment. But there is more to consider than just a straight on shot to your subject. Be creative. You might need to shoot laying on your belly, or climb up on a ladder, in a tree, or whatever, but do what it takes to make the perspective look natural and interesting.

Arctic fox in white winter coat rests in a snowdrift along a lake in Alaska

Arctic fox in white winter coat rests in a snowdrift along a lake in Alaska's arctic north slope. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Red salmon or "sockeye" in spawning phase (red body and green head) in a small stream in the Alaska mountains. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Red salmon or "sockeye" in spawning phase (red body and green head) in a small stream in the Alaska mountains. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

8 Avoid tunnel vision.

Repeat, beware of tunnel vision. This is a bad habit easily acquired when shooting moving subjects, especially with the long, telephoto lenses common in wildlife photography. One tends to just aim and shoot and not really evaluate the composition. The result is that you end up with your subject centered in every frame. It is not easy, but try to anticipate your subjects movements and therefore bring some element of space and composition to your frame. If possible, occasionally examine the full frame area of your image. Experiment with focus points that are not just the center one. You are not just target shooting, you are, or should be composing. It is a challenge, especially with active moving subjects and attempting to keep your auto focus targeted correctly. Think about your subject, but think about the space around it also, and…shoot a lot!

Bull muskox on the snow covered tundra of the arctic north slope, Alaska (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Bull muskox on the snow covered tundra of the arctic north slope, Alaska (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Bull caribou, rangifer tarandus, prances across the tundra north of the Brooks range, Arctic, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Bull caribou, rangifer tarandus, prances across the tundra north of the Brooks range, Arctic, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

9) Work fast.

Have extra film, digital media or batteries readily accessible should a quick change be necessary. If you plan to work from a tripod with a long lens, then practice and be fast and efficient with its use. Know the necessary functions on your camera to make quick changes, like focus points, focus methods, exposure compensation, etc. Get a system that allows access to a second lens or possibly second body and lens together. Sometimes you find an animal makes a closer approach than expected and your long glass is just that – too long, and you miss an interesting shot due to lack of the proper lens.

10) Experiment and broaden.

Use telephoto frames, but back off to capture the animal in its environment, too. Context means a lot, and can say much. Step back and look around you. Attempt to place the animal in a space, in time and place. Include some of it’s environment that helps tell the story of where it lives.

Western arctic caribou herd migrates in the Utukok uplands, National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, Arctic, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Western arctic caribou herd migrates in the Utukok uplands, National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, Arctic, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Female grizzly bear basks in the morning sun near a small tundra pond in Denali National Park, Alaska, snow covered Alaska mountain range in the distance. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Female grizzly bear basks in the morning sun near a small tundra pond in Denali National Park, Alaska, snow covered Alaska mountain range in the distance. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

11) Blend patience and persistence.

Do your best to blend enjoying being out in the natural world with the sheer persistence and patience often necessary to capture the image. Wildlife photography often includes down time while waiting for the subject or the weather, or both! Some people have a greater tolerance for waiting, and it helps if you anticipate this and consider ways you can keep yourself occupied. That might be reading a book, (your camera manual for example), hiking, watching other subjects…whatever it is, it does help to anticipate it and be prepared.

12) Be weather-wise.

Inclement weather can provide situations for spectacular photos. They offer mood and feeling. Dress appropriately and go out in the dramatic weather as well as the good weather.

Cow moose in winter snowstorm. Denali National Park, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Cow moose in winter snowstorm. Denali National Park, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

13) Get up early, stay up late

If you happen to have the ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. Good for you, I’m envious. Generally, shooting in Alaska, in particular the summer season, the light never ends. Furthermore, the golden hour becomes a very late, and very early experience. You simply have to stay up late, and get up early to get this quality of light. In the high arctic, I’ve had to switch my entire sleep schedule and start shooting around 10pm and end about 5am, crawling in a tent with hopes to catch enough sleep to be refreshed for the next day. Consider where you are traveling in Alaska, and what the sunrise, sunset times are for that location and time of year, it varies considerably.

Morning sunrise at high alpine tundra campsite in Gates of the Arctic National park, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

5:30 AM August morning sunrise at a high alpine tundra campsite in Gates of the Arctic National park, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Midnight sun along the Nigu river, Brooks range, arctic, National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

12:30 AM, midnight sun along the Nigu river, Brooks range, arctic, National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

  • Teresa M. - Thanks for the fantastic photos and great tips. I am leaving FL Tuesday for my first trip to Alaska and my main goal is to get some great landscape and wildlife photos.ReplyCancel

  • Jean McKinstry - My dream is to visit Alaska, I have a friend in Fairbanks, with my Canon 550D, Velbon Tripod, and clothing to suit all occasions. I can see the airline bag will be very full.Love your photos and words, having the photo with each is the best!! Cheers, Jean. NZ.ReplyCancel

  • Mike Criss - Wow, what great advice. Always enjoy your blog posts. What great examples of very hard work. BTW…carbon fiber is the only way to go if you are hiking.ReplyCancel

  • Opticron Binoculars - Such a superb post. So many useful tips you have mentioned,that is so nice of you. Really enjoyed reading it and learned a lot. Photos are marvelous. God Bless you Patrick.ReplyCancel

  • David F. - Great article Patrick!

    Gonna continue dreaming in visit Alaska, with your calendar on the wall.

    Regards from CatalunyaReplyCancel

  • Eli Mitchell - Thank you for the fantastic article, Patrick. And the photos…I’ve seen most of them before, but I never get tired of them.

    Does Bogen still make tripods? It seems like they’ve switched to the Manfrotto name.ReplyCancel

    • Patrick Endres - Eli,
      You are welcome. You are correct with the Manfrotto name change, but they are still making product I’m pretty sure.ReplyCancel

I license a number of photographs that artist use in reference for paintings. One particular artist, who does excellent work, made a painting from a picture I took in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, along the Marsh Fork of the Canning river. Michele Usibelli, is an occopmplshed artist and here is her representation of the photo in a painted form. You can see more photos of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on my website. And I would recommend checking her paintings out on her website:

Midnight sunset over the Marsh Fork of the Canning river in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the Brooks range mountains, Alaska.

Interpretation of the photo of the Marsh Fork of the Canning river in a painting by Michele Usibelli

Purple and green bands of aurora borealis in the star filled sky of interior Alaska. Canon 5D Mark III, 16-35mm f/2.8L, 10 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 1600

The tide of light has shifted in Fairbanks, Alaska and darkness is getting hard to find in the night sky. More specifically, I heard a sandhill crane yesterday morning, the first of the year. To me, that is the official, inaugurating tune of springtime. While it is still possible to get a snowfall or two, it is unlikely, and the sun is pushing out some serious heat and light. So three cheers to aurora photography, that won’t be happening until late August or early September, after a robust summer. It is time to get psyched up for the infusion of light and get plans in order to trek Alaska’s tremendous landscape. I’ve got a few trips that are scheduled, but weather will dictate the final details of many more to follow.

  • chuck ashley - Hi Patrick,
    Sweet Aurora image, I have a few little howlers (wolf pups)that I’ve recently taken (took more today of a young black female 2weeks old) that if you’re interested could make some nice composite images-https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7046/6935485166_35f2cfe97f_b.jpg & https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5350/7081640739_3d90e681c2_b.jpg Let me know what ya think, gotta start tagging these new pics
    Shalom & good shootingReplyCancel

  • Patrick Endres - Karen,
    The full answer to your question is lengthy, but in summary: Remember the aurora that you capture on film/digital is not what your eye sees since it is gathering data for a continuous 10-30 seconds, and therefore records not the split second that your eye sees, but a continuum of time. So, often what you get on film is different that what the eye sees. The sensor is also a little more sensitive to certain colors than the eye also. I do see the white milkish aurora sometimes, and it is definitely less dramatic. Post production can enhance contrast and color, making the shapes more definitive, which is what the auto button for your friend. So in summary, it is post production, the length of exposure, and the aurora brightness/color (not always visible to the eye) that all make a difference.ReplyCancel

  • Karen Casebeer - Hi Patrick…I’m probably going to embarrass myself with these questions, but I think you’re my best aurora source so I’ll go ahead. :-) I’m really taken with aurora photography. I live in Northwestern Lower Michigan (Northport) and get some opportunities for auroras too, but not so spectacularly or as frequently. When I look at your aurora pix, the auroras are mostly green, but sometimes red or purple. Is that the way they look to the native eye in Alaska? The few times I’ve seen them here, they look like a brighter, almost white-like swath in the sky. Last night the Kp was nearly 6 and I went out and saw the same white-like swath in the sky. I’m pretty sure I was seeing aurora activity, and it was huge. I was waiting for the green to appear and didn’t shoot anything. My photography buddy that I shoot with took a couple shots of the white swath over Lake Michigan, and upon replay, she didn’t see anything either on her camera, except the lighter sky and stars. But when she got home and loaded her pix into Lightroom, and did an AUTO fix on the exposure, she had this gorgeous green aurora plus reflection into Lake Michigan. So I’m wondering if auroras do show green to the native eye or whether that only happens with the long exposure, or in post-processing.
    Karen, a Canon 7D shooter
    P.S. Thanks for your great article on photographing the northern lights. There a lot to it, but every time I go out, I learn something new.ReplyCancel

Backpacking in the Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park

Camping in the Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

If you have been following my blog, you may remember a trip I did last summer, where I spent 10 days backpacking in the Arrigetch Peaks, located in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, in Alaska’s Arctic. This region is well known among climbers and hikers, and is stunningly rugged and dramatically beautiful. Getting there requires some good legs and an airplane ride. The Arrigetch Peaks are situated in the Brooks Range mountains, and can be accessed from a few locations. One can choose to fly out of Bettles, AK, or Coldfoot, AK.

Arrigetch creek, Elephants tooth (left) and Xanadu, Arial and Calaban mountain in the distance, Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National park, Alaska.

If you are considering making this venture, let me offer a little advice, at least pertinent to the time of this writing.

First of all, getting to the Arrigetch Peaks requires a long hike up one of the drainages that lead into the mountains. I trekked up Arrigetch Creek from the Alatna River. This is a very common route, and a trail, although more defined in some areas than others, foll0ws the creek into the mountains.

A common way to get to the Arrigetch creek is to fly in on a float plane and land in a small, nearby lake, and then trek across the tundra to the creek. But that little “trek across the tundra” can be a serious job of bushwacking! As an alternative to this, Coyote Air pilot Dirk Nickisch has outfitted his planes with special tires that enable him to land on a variety of surfaces, including rocky beaches and lumpy tundra.

Coyote Air De Havilland Beaver airplane with bush tires for landing on rugged surfaces.

This enables Dirk to drop you off on a gravel bar near the junction of the Alatna river and the Arrigetch creek, saving you a lot of tundra bushwacking. You won’t need to cross the Alatna river itself, but depending on water levels, you will need to cross a few streams. We happened to arrive at a very high water level, and even the side channel was waist deep in muddy brown water. All other water crossings were nothing more than shin or knee high and easy, like the one shown below. We had 60+ pound backpacks, so a pair of hiking poles come in very handy.

Hikers wade across a drainage of the Alatna river, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska. Make sure to take a pair of hiking poles, they offer considerable help in uneven ground with a heavy backpack.

Dirk and Danielle, Coyote Air duo

In full disclosure, Dirk and Danielle and family, owners of Coyote Air are friends of mine, but they are also a very skilled team that provide air taxi service to much of Alaska’s arctic. Dirk is a seasoned, experienced pilot and knows that giant county very well. I highly recommned thier service.

As for what to expect in the Arrigetch Peaks…. well, the pictures tell the story quite well from a visual perspective (see the Arrigetch Peaks photo gallery on my website). It is Alaska mountain travel, so expect every kind of weather possible, including snow, even in the summer. It can be hot and/or cold, all in the same week. The other basics of backpacking apply, like good gear, knowledge of traveling in bear country (you are required to take a bear resistant food container), some first aid sense, flexibility, and most importantly: step with great respect in that land of visual wonder, camp clean and take out everything you bring in.

Coyote air has some good information and advice about travel in Alaska’s arctic, and it worth a read.