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For those who have not had the opportunity to visit or live in the great state of Alaska, it may seem a world apart. While that’s really not the case, ASONP from time to time receives questions about taking photographs here because visitors don’t know what to expect. Following are answers to come of the most common queries.

1. What can I expect weather-wise on my visit to Alaska, and how should I prepare for it?

Alaska’s a really big state, and the weather conditions can be very different depending on location and season. During the summer, for those areas near the extensive coastline, there are quite a few days with clouds and rain. This makes for flat light and white skies. In the interior, there is more sunshine (and of course very long days in the summer), warmer temperatures, and frequent thunderstorms. In the winter, there is actually a higher percentage of sunny days than in summer, though of course they are shorter.

There are several things you can do to optimize your photographic opportunities while in Alaska. For taking pictures outdoors, bring clothes that will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable. Layers work well for changing temperatures, and a waterproof, breathable outer cover is almost a must. If you’re going to be on or around the water, take extra layers; Alaska waters are frigid most of the year, and you’ll get cold soaked quickly if you’re not prepared for it. If you’re going to be in an area with a lot of insects, bring good head nets and plenty of repellent. Nothing can spoil your visit more quickly than being swarmed by biting bugs when you’re not prepared.

As to photographic equipment, choose carefully and have a backup system in mind. Bring a selection of films – including some with higher ISO ratings (those using digital capture can vary the camera’s light gathering capability internally). Polarizing and graduated neutral-density filters can help manage glare and minimize the white skies that come with overcast conditions. Lens selection will be driven by what you intend to photograph. If birds or large mammals are on your list, then a 500mm or 600mm lens should be in your arsenal. Don’t let the threat of inclement weather dampen your enthusiasm. Remember that cloudy skies can reduce contrast and saturate colors in pictures of flowers and foliage, working to your advantage. If you intend to shoot when it’s nasty, plan for protection for your equipment as well as you. Modern photo gear is pretty tough, but treating it with respect will make it last longer and yield better results.

2. I’m coming to Alaska in an RV. Can I find wildlife to photograph on the road system?

By all means. Though Alaska has fewer road-miles compared to its size than any other state, you can drive through some incredibly beautiful country and see lots of wildlife on the way. Even in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, you can visit Kincaid Park, Westchester Lagoon, and Potter March for moose, waterfowl, eagles and shorebirds. A little farther east is Turnagain Arm where sightings of Dall sheep and Beluga whales are common. To the north, the Denali Highway, between Cantwell and Paxson, is a favorite route for viewing moose, caribou, beavers, ptarmigan, grouse, possibly bears, and more. And of course Denali National Park is a magnet to all and a must see, though you can only drive personal vehicles on the first few miles into the park. Keep in mind that while there are a lot of big animals in Alaska, because the state is so huge, on a per-square-mile basis there are actually fewer here than in some other locations. That’s why areas with concentrations – like Denali NP – are so popular. For a much more extensive rundown on where to go and what to see, visit http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewing.main.

3. When can I expect the best wildflowers?

That depends. While there are flowers blooming from May through September, June and July are the best months. Latitude and elevation also affect when individual species bloom, and there can be a lot of variation throughout the state and from season to season. Fireweed is one of the most spectacular blooms, especially along the road system. It is usually at its peak in early to mid-July.

4. I’m going to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. I’ll be tent camping and want to bring only the essentials in photographic gear. What are your recommendations?

First, a good tripod. Nothing in your photo kit is more important to improving your select ratio that having and using a good tripod. After that, image stabilized lenses (usually labeled IS or VR) will help you get more sharp pictures. High quality zoom lenses will help cover the focal length range with more flexibility and less overall weight. Something in the 100-400mm range would cover many of the opportunities, while a longer 500mm or 600mm would allow tight headshots. Keep in mind that big glass is heavy and needs good support for effective results. A wide-angle zoom lens will help capture the “big picture,” while some kind of macro lens will assist with close-ups. Bring plenty of film or memory cards, and additional batteries, plus of course rain gear. Most of us don’t go anywhere in Alaska without Gore-Tex.

5. What can you tell me about walrus at Round Island?

Round Island is one of seven small, isolated islands in northern Bristol Bay off the western coast of Alaska where large numbers of walrus haul out on exposed, rocky beaches during the summer. As many as 14,000 walrus have been counted on Round Island in a single day. The island hosts many other bird and mammal species, and is a favored destination for those able to make the trip. Camping and viewing is by permit only. See http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=refuge.rnd_is for more information.

6. What about taking pictures in the winter?

Winter is one of the best times in Alaska. While it’s cold and usually white with snow, winter scenery can be truly spectacular. Shooting in the cold presents its own challenges, including keeping batteries functioning and lenses and equipment from fogging up and trapping moisture. And bright snow can trick exposure meters into underexposing your images. But winter encompasses fully half the year in Alaska, and provides wonderful opportunities for great pictures. Dress warmly, take care of your equipment, and shoot away.

7. If I have a problem with my equipment while visiting, can I get help?

Sure. There are good camera stores in the larger metropolitan areas that can offer assistance when difficulties arise. But if you’re off in a remote location, that won’t help much. It’s best to be prepared with backup items like camera body, lenses, batteries, etc., so you won’t be out of business if something glitches.

8. I would like to show some digital images at the ASONP meeting. What size should should they be?

Digital images for member slides need to be in Jpeg format (.jpg or .jpeg) at the highest quality settings in sRGB color space. Size must be a minimum of 1024x768 pixels and no larger than 5MB each when saved as a file. Filenames must start with your initials or a username and named alphabetically in the order you wish to show them. Only alpha-numeric, dash, underscore, and space, upper and lower case characters are allowed. Note that numerical order is not always the same as alphabetical. For example. NM_9IMG.JPG comes after NM_10IMG.JPG. To fix this problem use zeros as needed such as NM_09IMG.JPG. DPI and color space is irrelevant. Give CDs, DVDs, or flash drives to Ken Baehr at the beginning of the meeting as soon as possible so he has time to load them on the laptop.