If you want to get to the ‘cool’ spots and see those magical creatures for yourself which your normally only see on NatGeo, your only option is often to sign up to one of the trips organised by a nature/wildlife photographer. These are typically all-inclusive expeditions with groups of up to 12 (less is better!) photography enthusiasts where you go places you would normally never end up. With a price to match, by the way… For many pro-photographers these trips are their main source of income so expect a dent in our bank account (size relative to the size of your account… but expect a dent nonetheless).
I’ve been to Alaska on 2 of these trips. Looking back, the first time was the best: I saw more than I could have imagined, however luck was perhaps on my side as well. The group was also great: there was a nice ‘atmosphere’ and everyone was getting along great. That first experience called for a follow-up, so I went again the next year. Same photographer, but smaller group (and smaller boat). It was on this second trip that I took my brand new Nikon 600mm f/4E FL super telephoto lens (and not really knowing how to manage that beast). Unlike on the first trip, the ‘atmosphere’ wasn’t really there. Part of it was probably caused by our photographer/host staying close to one of the guests who was a personal friend, which led him to often leave the boat first and start his own shooting experience with his buddy while leaving the others behind. I guess you just have to be lucky, and you’re always taking a risk when joining a group and host/guide pro-photographer. For those of you who like to know more, feel free to drop me a note (see below).
So it was on one of these afternoons where I arrived after my host on Hallo Bay beach in Katmai National Park, Alaska. The sun was setting, it was low tide, and we were very lucky to see a sow (momma bear) wandering a bit with her 2 cubs on the sand and in the shallow waters. It was one of those magical moments that actually make the trip all worth while.
We were shooting from probably around 100 meters so even with my 600mm I couldn’t get enough bear in the frame. And there was no such thing as a Nikon D500 yet…! So I attached the 1.4 TC which did help a little (I had left the 2.0 TC back home…). Looking back, there were definitely some lessons learned on my ‘journey to photography.’
First and foremost, you never know how your trip will work out; hope for the best but be ready to expect less. And even when you’re not getting the experience you wanted, your luck just might change before you know it. Also, pack for everything! Yes, the weight is a pain but you may just need that extra teleconverter or lens. So… continue your Journey to Photography and be prepared to capture that magical moment we’re all hoping for… just don’t expect any guarantees ;)
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S + TC-14E III (850mm), f/5.6, 1/1250 s., ISO 250
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