I've just returned from leading both of the Aperture Academy Grizzly Bears of Alaska Sojourn Workshops in the remote wilds of Lake Clark National Park. What a wonderfully trip it was! This was my first time working with Aperture Academy and I was so impressed with their organization and the high quality level of the clients in each group. I can't remember the last time I've laughed so much and bonded with folks so quickly.
Both groups faced challenging weather conditions (common in Alaska) at times and succeeded brilliantly in capturing amazingly unique images! I think we all felt a sense of pride after photographing wild bears in the middle of heavy rains and winds that drove the precipitation horizontally. These were no fair weather photographers!
Thankfully we did have our fair share of nice weather as well and were able to capture bears and puffins in a nice variety of situations and settings.
Both groups made their way out to Lake Clark National Park via small aircraft that take off from Anchorage. The cloud level was around 1500 ft. so the planes stayed below that. The view of the Alaskan landscape from above is incredible and is a special part of the trip. Flying above the braided rivers, waterfalls, tiny villages, and rugged volcanoes, gives one a great appreciation for all Alaska has to offer the nature photographer.
Each group had to deal with some rain and wind on their arrival. It was awesome to see everyone still excited to don the rain gear and get out and search for bears regardless. One bonus was the knowledge that we had a warm cozy fire, coffee, and excellent food waiting for us as a reward!
After braving the elements I gave a presentation on the possibilities that we'd have over the next few days and we talked about various techniques we'd be using as well.
Over the next two days we spent our time in search of bears- of course! We photographed a mother and her cub digging for clams and frolicking in the surf, the Alpha female swimming across the slough and also nabbing a salmon, a cub climbing a tree, another mother with two cubs taking salmon out of a set net ( the cub trying to drag a salmon across the beach was priceless!), and on the last morning we had the mother and two cubs sleeping on the beach at sunrise.
Both groups had perfect conditions when we went out via boat to photograph puffins. This is one of the highlights of the trip. Not only do we get a scenic boat trip out to the island but we were able to land and photograph right from the beach. To be surrounded by hundreds of horned and tufted puffins bringing fish in for their young or perched on the rocks is truly exciting. Rarely do you get the opportunity to get so close to these elusive birds. Elusive may be an understatement! Capturing these birds in flight is such a fun challenge! I was impressed that everyone came away with sharp action images of puffins in flight. To make the boat trip even more productive and interesting we spent time at a kittiwake rookery that boasted thousands of birds in flight and nesting among some unique geological formations.
At night we were able to spend some quality time looking at each other's images and sharing post-processing techniques. It's exciting to me that you can have seven people photographing in the same locations and still have such a wide variety of images. That's what is so valuable about photography workshops, we're all able to learn from each other and start seeing things in a different light.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the friendly and helpful staff at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. Our guide, Rick, was excellent and tirelessly worked to help us find our subjects. The meals were outrageously good. Many of us were hoping for more bad weather so we could just stay and eat!
The saddest part of the trip! After another delicious breakfast it was time to board our charter planes and head back to Anchorage. I truly enjoyed getting to know the people in each group and was sad to say so long so soon.
Until next time,
Wayde and the rest of the Aperture Academy team
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.