“The goal tonight is to get to the right places at the right times and come away learning something new,” Jody said as I squinted into the glaring sun and out across the expanse of mud flats called the Turnagain Arm in Anchorage.
The one thing that everyone packs on a trip to Alaska is a camera. After all, around every corner in Alaska is jaw dropping landscapes; rushing clouds, rocky mountains, brilliant forests, blue glaciers, elusive wildlife, and if you are lucky – northern lights. However, before you get on that glacier, bear tour, flightseeing, or cruise make sure you know how to get great Alaska photographs and how to best use your camera so that you don’t waste this opportunity. That’s exactly why you’ll want to sign up for the Alaska Photo Treks twilight tour in Anchorage. I spent one night with Alaska Photo Treks and was able to fully reacquaint myself with my camera, was pushed to try some new techniques, and learn about of some of the best landscape/sunset photography areas around Anchorage that I never would have found on my own.
I often search for photography tours and workshops in places where I’ll be for a few days. It’s great learning for me and keeps up my skills. I always run into the same problem; I can normally find photo workshops but they are for a week at a time and very costly. However, I’m just looking for a simple day experience to show me some hidden areas that I wouldn’t find on my own, and refresh my skills while meeting a local photographer who knows the area. I don’t have the time or money for a big week-long photo workshop. Strangely, few places offer simple day workshops and I wish more did. I have found a few in Kauai and on the Big Island, but it’s something that’s lacking in the travel world.
I heard of Alaska Photo Treks via social media at first. They share stunning images on their Instagram account and that is what first grabbed me. From there I found their website and saw they offered a simple night twilight tour around Anchorage. Perfect!
Anchorage Twilight Photography Workshop
Professional photographer Jody Overstreet, our photography guide for the night, picked me up and we chatted about my photography experience as we filled the van with other photo enthusiasts looking to make the most of the time in Anchorage. Jody used to work at Visit Anchorage, she loved photography in high school, but then it had taken a back seat in adulthood – life happens. However, at Visit Anchorage she rediscovered her love of photography while creating the newsletter where she had to source photos. Like many, after years of working in a traditional 9 to 5 job, Jody decided to take a risk and leave the office behind to focus on her love of photography. She teamed up with Dan Baily, a local professional photographer and they started the business together as traditional workshops. However, they found that offering a night tour was a great way to let people know what they could do first and then build off of that. After being in business now for 3 years, they’ve built out their custom tours but still kept this twilight tour, which I was on for the night.
“Golden hour turns into Golden 3 hours at this latitude,” Jody said. I hadn’t really considered that before – but the sun was already low and we still had a couple of hours until sunset – perfect for a photographer! Jody went on to explain that the time of this twilight tour changes throughout the year; the sunset tour in the winter starts at noon as the sun sets at 4! However, in the summer the tour starts much later. Because of that, Jody joked that you can never have the same tour twice; and they’ve have many repeat customers!
In addition to picking you up and dropping you off for the night, there are many other great perks that they offer for the workshop. They have an array of tripods and filters that people can borrow. It’s a great way to test out if you like this extra equipment or not and teaches you how to use it. How many times have you carried around equipment on your holiday and never used it – or maybe that’s just me that does that? I loved being able to try out different filters to see what I may want to purchase myself eventually. Plus – I rarely travel with a tripod – so it was super that they had ones we could use.
As we started our race against the sun, I held my camera in my lap excited for a night of photography and learning new things, I had the photography adrenaline flowing; yes, there is such a thing. It’s when I get so excited that it’s actually painful to be in a car as I see all of these things that I want to stop and photograph; I am a photography addict really. We drove out along the Turnagain Arm where the tide change is 30 feet and the massive mud flats are a great place to photograph. However, to my surprise we didn’t stop at the obvious mud flats. Instead the whole night I was surprised as we went to hidden, local places!
Slowing Down with Long Exposure
Our first stop and lesson on the Anchorage Twilight Photo Tour was all about long exposure, and getting the perfect waterfall picture. I normally hate photographing waterfalls as I never have the right equipment with me, and honestly I always forget the correct settings or am there at the wrong time of day to get the perfect soft waterfall image. Jody gave us a bunch of tripods, walked us back along the trail, where there was just the perfect amount of trees to create a natural filter of the light. She gave us instruction on settings, and the pointed out some great spots to shoot from. My first shot turned out great – I could’ve stopped there, but the creative spirit took over in me and I got deeper and deeper into the water. When it comes to waterfall photography, you can’t be afraid to get wet or climb through prickly bushes. Before I knew it I had crawled back into Devil’s Club, a prickly tall plant that is quite painful if you rub up against the spines. Luckily I got out of my predicament unscathed, and I got some great photos!
Reflections, Wildlife, and Landscapes
The second stop was an area of wetlands that I had actually driven by a number of times during various visits to Alaska, but I had never really noticed them before and therefore never stopped. Wooden pathways built over the wetlands were the perfect way to get great shots above the water and they provided an excellent view of the birds. However, as soon as I got out of the van I was focused on one thing, the reflections. We arrived at the perfect time when the sun was low and the sky had started to glow with vibrant color. While everyone else was focused on birds, I was sort of obsessed on the landscape, and you can see why.
In addition the sun was dipping behind some clouds just enough that Jody and I could work on getting that perfect sunburst shot. A sunburst is when the sun looks like a perfect star in your photo – and it’s normally achieved by using a really small aperture, and finding an angle of the sun where it’s just peeking out around something – essentially blocking a bit of the powerful rays. You can really only get this effect when the sun is low – so this was the perfect time! However that sunburst meant the sun was getting low, and we still had another stop to make. I literally ran back to the van as I had been messing around so long with the sunburst that I had lost the group!
Light it Up as the Sun Goes Down
Jody drove the van to Chugach State Park as we raced the sun. We arrived just in time for the sun to disappear behind some cloud cover and turn the sky golden. However while everyone snapped away at the colorful sky, Jody pointed out to remember to look behind us. I turned around to the Chugach Mountains bathed in a jaw dropping pink light. It reminded me of the lecture/tips Jody was giving us in the van earlier about how we need to pay attention to the quality of light all the time as photographers. There are many aspects to light that we need to be aware of; hard, soft, temperature and direction. As I shot away capturing the different colors in the sky and against the mountains, I was sad to see the light finally disappear as it meant this photo junkie tour was nearly over. But thankfully Jody still had a few Blue Hour tricks up her sleeve.
I honestly have no idea how 4 hours went so fast. I ate a granola bar in the van as we drove back into Anchorage as I had been so focused on photography that I forgot that I didn’t even eat dinner! Luckily Jody brought snacks, this woman thinks of everything!
As you plan your Alaska vacation, be sure to take the time to ensure you’ll be able to capture it perfectly! The Alaska Photo Treks Twilight tour gives you insight into great places to go that you would never find on your own as a regular tourist, in addition to making you step up your photography game. No matter what your level or what kind of camera you have, everyone will walk away learning something. Plus, in the winter months they offer aurora add-ons and will contact you if the aurora is out and will take you out and instruct you on how to capture it!
Improve Your Photography with Alaska Photo Treks
Alaska Photo Treks Website
If you only have a night, try the Twilight Photo Tour. They also offer a number of other day tours to choose from. Book a Twilight Photo Tour and you can reserve a seat on Anchorage Aurora Quest at no additional cost.
If you have more time, then consider a custom photo tour with these amazing local photographers. Custom photography tours specialize in bears, aurora, glacier, helicopter, and Denali.
I was a guest of Alaska Photo Treks for this workshop, however all opinions expressed here are my own!