Alaska cruise photography

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ZodiacPhoto
ZodiacPhoto Senior Member • Posts: 1,856
Alaska cruise photography

Please recommend best excursions for photographers in common ports of call for Alaska cruises - Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point - Thanks!

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RobinHsherwood
RobinHsherwood Contributing Member • Posts: 839
Re: Alaska cruise photography

No Question, the White Pass and Yukon railway trip out of Skagway. Great senery!

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Robin H

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MOD rick decker Forum Pro • Posts: 15,590
Re: Alaska cruise photography
2

Mt. Roberts Tram in Juneau and then a hike up to some lookouts. Last year there was a permanent resident eagle in an "eagle house" due to one eye being non-functional if I remember correct. Also eagles on the posts in the water near the cruise ships. We did the whale watch trip and it was pretty much a bust. Here is a shot from Mt Roberts to give you an idea of what it looks like up there. Some kids were hiking up with skis to do the bowl on the right.

And from lookout:

http://www.lightreflection.com
http://www.silveroaksranch.com

Bob Altic Regular Member • Posts: 440
Re: Alaska cruise photography
1

ZodiacPhoto wrote:

Please recommend best excursions for photographers in common ports of call for Alaska cruises - Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point - Thanks!

We did a Norwegian cruise 14 days, love it.  Visit all the major tourist stops and got us very close to two glaciers (see calving etc).  Echo comments on the White Pass railroad and Mt. Roberts tram.  Get a balcony stateroom, we spent hours sitting and watching the scenery and wildlife.  Great for photos, used a monopod, seemed to be less subject to vibration.  Someone told me to rest it on my foot to absorb the vibration.  Worked well.  One of the few places my wife and I want to return.  Have a great trip....Bob

bflood Senior Member • Posts: 1,745
Re: Alaska cruise photography
1

Ketchikan - we did a flightseeing tour into the Misty Fjords - expensive but worth every penny. Great views from the air, landed on a mountain lake and stood out on one of the plane's pontoons, took of over the waterfall that drains the lake. Ketchikan is an entertaining walk-around town, too - some good shooting there.

Juneau - Mt Roberts was socked on the day we were there, so we didn't bother with the tram. We took a whale watching cruise that included lunch, reasonably priced, and we had good luck finding whales. Also saw eagles, seals.

Skagway - we took a boat to Haines for a tour of the Eagle Preserve - waste of time because we were there in May, the wrong time of year. If you are going near the end of the cruising season (September), it could be dramatically better. If you will be there during the summer months, I agree that the White Pass railroad would be the best choice.

Ask the on-board photographers if there is a great but remote spot on the ship for photographing the glaciers. Some boats have places accessible to passengers that go largely unnoticed, but can have a a better than average view of the glaciers. The lower on the ship you can get (closer to the water) the better.

Some ships have a distinct engine vibration that resonates through the entire ship, and will ruin a shot if you use a railing or post to steady your camera. Some ships don't. Be sure to check before trying to rely on a railing for a sunrise or sunset shot. If you take a monopod, rest the bottom on the instep of one of your feet to insulate it from the vibrations. A tripod won't be useful on the ship - not enough room, it will interfere with other passengers, and engine vibrations.

Have fun.

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kaphinga
kaphinga Senior Member • Posts: 2,007
Re: Alaska cruise photography

ZodiacPhoto wrote:

Please recommend best excursions for photographers in common ports of call for Alaska cruises - Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point - Thanks!

I didn't do many fancy excursions when I went with my mom a few years ago.

Skagway was socked in with fog when we were there.

In Juneau, we hiked to Mendenhall glacier -- a beautiful, easy hike.

Enjoy your trip!

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Marie

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MOD rick decker Forum Pro • Posts: 15,590
Re: Alaska cruise photography
1

The suggestion of a balcony stateroom is an excelent one. In addition to Some ships have a bow area off one of the levels with rooms and it would be a good location when especially cruising in Glacier Bay as it might be less crowded.

Brent W
Brent W Junior Member • Posts: 33
Re: Alaska cruise photography

I worked on the Alaskan iteneraries on Princess Cruises for several months and took my D300 everywhere I could. I’ll second everything people have said so far and add a couple:

Ketchikan: the city itself is really unique. Take some time to wander a bit. Some cool things to see.

Juneau:  I did a whale watching tour exclusively for photographers. The picture of big fluke I caught is still hanging proud in my living room.

Skagway: White Pass Railway without question if you can only do one trip through Skagway. It’s just iconic and beautiful. If you ever get a chance for a second option, I did a helicopter glacier tour that yielded a lot of good pictures.

Finally, stay on deck whenever it’s light, especially for the sunsets. Stateroom and interior time is when it’s too dark to get any pictures. Otherwise, unless you’re at sea there’s always something cool nearby.

Brent

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phil from seattle
phil from seattle Senior Member • Posts: 2,438
Re: Alaska cruise photography

We are planning that trip but in a small boat - 12-24 passengers. Going to do a last minute thing because we will be "homeless" for about a month due to a remodel. I'm not a fan of the bigger boats for a number of reasons that aren't important here but the smaller boats can get in closer and don't have a precise schedule to keep. Worth considering but not cheap.

There is also the "uncruise" alaska ferry.  Not for everyone but the people I know that took it had a great time.  There's something very wanderlust-romantic about duct-taping your tent to the deck of a boat heading north. If I was younger, I'd surely give it a try.

ZodiacPhoto
OP ZodiacPhoto Senior Member • Posts: 1,856
Re: Alaska cruise photography

rick decker wrote:

The suggestion of a balcony stateroom is an excelent one. In addition to Some ships have a bow area off one of the levels with rooms and it would be a good location when especially cruising in Glacier Bay as it might be less crowded.

Rick, from my own experience - and this will be not a first Alaska trip for me - I am running from one side of the ship to another and back like a squirrel, depending on where the best scenery and wildlife is. Being limited to just one side is keeping me from getting a balcony. I usually get the cheapest inner room I can get, because I am only sleeping there...

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ZodiacPhoto
OP ZodiacPhoto Senior Member • Posts: 1,856
Re: Alaska cruise photography

phil from seattle wrote:

We are planning that trip but in a small boat - 12-24 passengers. Going to do a last minute thing because we will be "homeless" for about a month due to a remodel. I'm not a fan of the bigger boats for a number of reasons that aren't important here but the smaller boats can get in closer and don't have a precise schedule to keep. Worth considering but not cheap.

I was thinking about National Geographic cruise, but my wife and daughter prefer amenities of a large ship ( dining, shopping, etc.)

There is also the "uncruise" alaska ferry. Not for everyone but the people I know that took it had a great time. There's something very wanderlust-romantic about duct-taping your tent to the deck of a boat heading north. If I was younger, I'd surely give it a try.

Now, that is a masochistic experience... Not with my family

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ZodiacPhoto
OP ZodiacPhoto Senior Member • Posts: 1,856
Re: Alaska cruise photography

rick decker wrote:

Mt. Roberts Tram in Juneau and then a hike up to some lookouts. Last year there was a permanent resident eagle in an "eagle house" due to one eye being non-functional if I remember correct. Also eagles on the posts in the water near the cruise ships. We did the whale watch trip and it was pretty much a bust. Here is a shot from Mt Roberts to give you an idea of what it looks like up there. Some kids were hiking up with skis to do the bowl on the right.

And from lookout:

http://www.lightreflection.com
http://www.silveroaksranch.com

Yes, I will definitely try that - did not go there on my previous visits to Juneau.

Thanks!

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ZodiacPhoto
OP ZodiacPhoto Senior Member • Posts: 1,856
Re: Alaska cruise photography

ZodiacPhoto wrote:

Please recommend best excursions for photographers in common ports of call for Alaska cruises - Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point - Thanks!

I am sorry I did not stated this in my original post- I've been to Alaska before, but I am looking for something I missed on my last cruises - you only have time for 1 long or 2 short excursions per port... Thanks for all the suggestions!

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ZodiacPhoto
OP ZodiacPhoto Senior Member • Posts: 1,856
Re: Alaska cruise photography

Brent W wrote:

I worked on the Alaskan iteneraries on Princess Cruises for several months and took my D300 everywhere I could. I’ll second everything people have said so far and add a couple:

Ketchikan: the city itself is really unique. Take some time to wander a bit. Some cool things to see.

Juneau: I did a whale watching tour exclusively for photographers. The picture of big fluke I caught is still hanging proud in my living room.

Skagway: White Pass Railway without question if you can only do one trip through Skagway. It’s just iconic and beautiful. If you ever get a chance for a second option, I did a helicopter glacier tour that yielded a lot of good pictures.

A few of my photos from White Pass Railway:

Finally, stay on deck whenever it’s light, especially for the sunsets. Stateroom and interior time is when it’s too dark to get any pictures. Otherwise, unless you’re at sea there’s always something cool nearby.

Brent

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Juardis Contributing Member • Posts: 889
Re: Alaska cruise photography

Just got back from 11 days in Alaska, the last 7 days on the Golden Princess cruise ship. I found that the weather plays a huge role in what's "good" for photographs - as does wildlife. For example, a whale watching tour will most likely get you photos of fins or tail flukes, but what you really want is a breaching whale and those are pretty rare to see let alone photograph. Anyway, here's what we did on our cruise, ranked in my order of best for photography.

1. Mendenhall glacier trek. We canoed to the glacier with Above and Beyond Alaska, stopping a couple times on the way over for shots of the glacier and Nugget Falls from the canoe. But the best part was actually hiking on the glacier, which is pretty much independent of whether the sun is shining or not. In fact, it's probably better if the sun isn't shining because the blue in the ice is that much more vibrant. We did it with mostly sunny skies and I thoroughly loved it. It's just surreal to see the blue pools, rivers, and crevasses and the unusual formations of the ice from the glacier itself. You can get shots that make you feel like you're on another planet. Shots you just can't get from a canoe, boat, or cruise ship.

2. Klondike Highway. We took a helicopter tour to a dogsled camp, which was cool and offered a great opportunity to photograph dogs and dogsleds in a natural environment, but the real highlight, photographically speaking, was renting a car and driving the Klondike highway to Emerald Lake. Again, we lucked out and had great skies (mostly sunny with some high clouds), but there was a stretch there where the views rivaled those in Glacier National Park. Basically, going up and over White Pass to Carcross is some of the best scenic views we saw our entire 11 days. Plus we saw a griz and a black bear alongside the road with the black bear paying us no nevermind so we got great pictures of it munching on dandelions. Emerald Lake itself was, IMHO, just OK. Nothing spectacular about it really. In fact, I really liked the lakes we drove alongside on the way up to Emerald Lake a lot better with the deep blue water, surrounded by snow capped mountains and blue skies/clouds above. However, if there are low clouds and it's raining like it usually does, I'm not sure this drive would have been that good for photographs.

3. Hubbard Glacier. Our itinerary took us within a half-mile of Hubbard Glacier. It was a very overcast day with very low clouds. However, seeing the glacier appear (and disappear) from the mist was just way cool. It's a very big glacier. The blues were phenomenal and the calving was frequent enough to keep your interest up. There were plenty of harbor seals on the bergy-bits and the bergy-bits themselves were really cool to photograph. Not sure how much better this would have been in sunlight, but it was pretty darned awesome in overcast weather.

4. Glacier Bay. Definitely somewhat of a disappointment. Another low cloud, overcast day. It did sort of somewhat lift during the day, but not enough to get a true sense of how big the mountains are surrounding the bay. We spent a lot of time in front of Marjorie and Pacific Glaciers, but it was really hard to get a sense of scale. The Marjorie Glacier face is about 250 ft tall but you really couldn't get that sense from the 14th deck of our cruise ship. We did see some other glaciers and one Orca, one Humpback, but only fleeting glimpses and nothing spectacular, particularly since we were so high up and far away. I think the real allure of Glacier Bay is simply the awesome panoramic views that we simply did not get due to the clouds.

5. In Ketchikan we mainly walked around. Creek Street is really photographic and I recommend a visit there. We did a Misty Fjords flight seeing tour and, while I enjoyed it, we were in a Cessna and it was really difficult to get decent photographs. I was in the co-pilot seat so I was contending with winshield glare and propeller blades most of the flight. If you were on a side seat you not only had window glare but also had a wing strut and the wing itself to contend with as our pilot couldn't or wouldn't manuever the plane to get the side passengers good photographic opportunities. Only when we landed on a lake and got out did I (and the rest of my party) really get any shots worth keeping. Not sure what else I'd do in Ketchikan though, but it certainly was the lowlight of the trip (and it was still very good mind you). We didn't even see whales on the flight out or back whereas the previous customers saw 3 breaching humpbacks (which made their day obviously). We had a decent day, partly cloudy so we got to see the tops of the mountains with some interesting cloud formations. If this were a typical Ketchikan day (i.e., raining), I'd skip this tour altogether if your goal is to get great photos and go to Totem Bight state park, which was our plan B if we couldn't go to Misty Fjords.

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RSColo Senior Member • Posts: 1,434
Re: Alaska cruise photography

ZodiacPhoto wrote:

phil from seattle wrote:

We are planning that trip but in a small boat - 12-24 passengers. Going to do a last minute thing because we will be "homeless" for about a month due to a remodel. I'm not a fan of the bigger boats for a number of reasons that aren't important here but the smaller boats can get in closer and don't have a precise schedule to keep. Worth considering but not cheap.

I was thinking about National Geographic cruise, but my wife and daughter prefer amenities of a large ship ( dining, shopping, etc.)

There is also the "uncruise" alaska ferry. Not for everyone but the people I know that took it had a great time. There's something very wanderlust-romantic about duct-taping your tent to the deck of a boat heading north. If I was younger, I'd surely give it a try.

Now, that is a masochistic experience... Not with my family

We took the National Geographic one week photo cruise a few years ago. It was very nice. The trip lasted a week from Sitka to Juneau with a full day in Glacier Bay and another full day up the Taylor Arm to see the Taylor Glacier. There were 66 passengers and I think almost as many staff. The food was excellent. Every morning and every afternoon there were multiple activities, some hiking and some less strenuous. One of the passengers described it as like summer camp for adults. I got many great photos. There were two NG photographers on the trip and they spent a lot of time advising us, if we wanted. The cruise was pricy but we thought it was worth it.

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Reid Shay
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Colorado, USA

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ZodiacPhoto
OP ZodiacPhoto Senior Member • Posts: 1,856
I am back from Alaska cruise (long)

Alaska did not disappoint – as stunningly beautiful as always (this is not a first trip for me). Weather was gorgeous all days, with high pressure system dominating over the south-west Alaska.

Sony A7R2 proved to be a very capable system, I took 18mm Batis, 24-105 and 70-200 f/4 with me.

Because you often shoot across the wide areas of water or land in Alaska, atmospheric distortions caused by heat waves are a huge problem with telephoto lenses. They are clearly visible through the binoculars, sometimes even with naked eye. I had quite a few photos ruined, and at 400mm it should be even a bigger issue:

Most people were using smartphones for shooting, of course. I saw a couple Micro 4/3 cameras, a few Sony APS-Cs, Nikon DSLRs, and plenty of Canons. I think I was the only person with a Sony FF camera – at least I did not see anybody else using one. A few people brought tripods to use with heavy lenses (Canon 70-200 f/2.8 and 10-400mm). I think a tripod would transmit ship engine vibrations (you can feel them through your legs) and wave rocking to the camera. A monopod that you can rest on your foot toes when shooting may be a better solution for heavy lenses. Thankfully, Sony 70-200 f/4 is light enough to be handheld for as long as I needed.

This cruise itinerary was different from my previous cruises – this is one of the reasons I choose it.

It included Icy Strait Point - a small fishing port that does not provide shopping experience like Skagway, Juneau, or Ketchikan. It is a great place for whale watch. Cruise ships only recently started visiting this port, and some local people in shops did not yet develop a proper customer service attitude, unfortunately.

This cruise did not go to the Glacier Bay National Park – it was scheduled to visit Hubbard and Sawyer glaciers instead. Since I’ve been to Glacier Bay National Park three times before, I considered it as an advantage for me. Unfortunately, the captain could not get close enough to the Hubbard Glacier because of the ice, and Tracy Arm fjord with Sawyer Glacier was also not accessible. We visited Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier instead, and, while the ship stopped far away from the glacier (again, because of the ice filed), I saw there the most beautiful icebergs – far better than in Glacier Bay or near the Hubbard Glacier. The icebergs there were much larger, and the translucent blue ice color, backlit by the sun, was stunning. However, comparing to the Glacier Bay National Park, this fjord was relatively poor with wild life – I saw a few seals far away, and that’s it. Glacier Bay had much more seals, sea otters, variety of birds, etc.

Norwegian cruise line scored a couple of notches below Princess and Holland America – it was probably fine for the first-time cruisers, but my wife would agree that it just does not compare well to other lines we cruised with. It was my first time with Norwegian, I choose this cruise based on itinerary, dates, etc., so I don't know if this is just this ship (Norwegian Jewel), or the whole line...

If you would like to see some photos, I will posted them in Sony FF forum: https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/61367540

Thanks!

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