Whale Photography

            Seeing my gallery come together was an incredible feeling!  All the hard work and time put in was worth it, and seeing the finish product was a dream come true! Once the gallery was all set up, my attention turned to selling the photos and learning how the tourists think.  My girlfriend flew up at the end of April to fine tune the gallery and be with me when the gallery opened for the first time.  I had done art festivals with a tent before, but this was much different and was way more exciting having my own building.

            The beginning of the season was slow, as there weren’t many cruises yet and sometimes no ships on days.  But I honestly liked that because I was exhausted from the past couple months of preparation and needed to rest.  I loved having my girlfriend here the first few ship days to throw ideas around with her and hear her opinions on how things went.  She had to fly back on May 6th, and my employee got here on the 7th.  Having an employee was crazy for me, because I have always done everything myself. But for the gallery to run while I am gone on different photo trips, I had to hire someone for the summer.

            I was excited to meet him and train him on the gallery.  A lot of the training was not your normal training, and entailed me telling him stories about myself, my travels, and the stories behind each photo.  The story behind the photo can often sell the photo, so the more he knew about me and the work behind each photo, the better prepared he would be to entice someone to buy the photo. It was an adjustment for me not being out in the field all the time, and having an employee.  In all my years in Alaska, I was always out in the field.  So even though I was in my own art gallery, on the nice days I wanted to be out looking for wildlife and taking photos.

All the food we were packing for our week trip.

All the food we were packing for our week trip.

            The season was slow to get going, but by mid May more ships started to come in on a consistent basis. It was exciting when we had the first four boat day in town, and seeing all the people on the street and them coming through the gallery.   It was crazy to see the town go from a small sleepy town, to a hustling and bustling town all of a sudden.  The tourists and locals all had great things to say about the gallery and how much they liked it, which was a great sign.  Once I was able to sell my first large print, I felt really good!  One thing I learned really quickly was that each day is very different here.  I minus well forget anything that happened the day before because all those people are gone and a whole new group is in, which is good and bad.  It was up and down every day, and I had to forget about that and just think big picture and let it average out. 

 A beautiful whales tail from our first morning.

 A beautiful whales tail from our first morning.

            As the season started to get busier, things weren’t working out with my employee.  He was stressing me out badly, and not doing a good job so I had to let him go.  This was not in the plan, and I made an emergency phone call to Jackie, a good friend since 2008, and she was able to come up and work for the month of June.  What a lifesaver!  This was a crazy change of plans, and it all happened so fast.  I had planned a photo trip with my girlfriend starting on June 1st, I was itching badly to get out and photograph, and Jackie only had a few days to plan and get up here by May 30.  So I had one day to train her and then left to a place that had no cell service at all.  This was scary in so many ways, but I trusted Jackie and knew she would do her best and promote me well.

The shelter we found!

The shelter we found!

            I hadn’t gone photographing since February, and that was killing me.  Being in Alaska and not photographing was going to kill me.  So on June 1st, I flew from Skagway to Gustavus, AK for a weeklong photo trip with Twila.  This was our first adventure together, and there would be nothing easy about it.  We would get dropped off on the most densely populated island of grizzly bears in the world, have no other people around, be completely off the grid and contact with anyone, and kayak with whales and other sea life.  I hadn’t ever sea kayaked before, so I wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone either.  Nothing like pushing her into the deep end on our first trip, not my ideal first trip, but I knew she could handle it and that is why she is my girlfriend!

            The trip got off to a rough start because our first plane was almost an hour late in leaving Skagway, and we didn’t have any spare time.  Luckily, we boarded a plane in Juneau as soon as we landed and went to Gustavus and then immediately to the dock, where we got a minor tutorial in sea kayaking.  We had to do that to catch our water taxi to the island.  When we got dropped off the waves were over two feet and scary, and then it started to pore.  So much stress in one little amount of time was not good.  We were incredibly fortunate in that there was a shelter where we happened to get to shore at, and we were able to camp in the shelter and not pitch a tent.  I had no idea that the shelter was there until we were getting dropped off.  Thank goodness for the shelter!  It was a rough start, but Twila handled it all very well.

 A humpback whale jumping!

 A humpback whale jumping!

            It rained almost the entire rest of the day, so we only took a short paddle that day.  I was so happy to have the shelter and be able to dry all our wet clothes and gear.  Twila woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, and then we heard a whale spout, so we hurried and got ready and got on the water.  It wasn’t raining, and the water looked like a lake.  We paddled out and saw our first whale from the kayak.  It was a great morning and we had a few whales swim past us, and not be that far away.  It is awesome and scary all at the same time kayaking with whales.  With mammals you can see them all the time, but when whales go down it’s anyone’s guess to where they will surface again.  I didn’t want them to surface too close because humpback whales are such a huge animal, and the last thing I wanted was for one to hit our kayak.  The closet one came was 40 yards, but that was plenty close enough.  It was an incredible first morning and we learned a lot on how they move and what to look for.  The rest of the day was quiet and it rained all afternoon, but the morning was fantastic.

Photographing from the Kayak.  It wasn't that easy!

Photographing from the Kayak.  It wasn't that easy!

            On June 3rd we got out on the water around 6 a.m. and not as many whales were around.  We saw a few, but they were a long ways off.  In the evening we saw the mountains for the first time, and what a view we had.  I wanted to get a whale with the mountains in one photo so badly.  The next morning we went out a little later because the tides are always changing.  We saw a couple whales close that morning, but they didn’t stick around and went down the coast.  One thing about sea kayaking in Alaska is that you have to be very mindful about the tides.  Where we were the tide change can be as much as 28 feet, so we had to carry the kayak up and down the beach every day as the tide was changing.  And if you didn’t know how big the tides were, then the tide could easily rise to your kayak and carry it off and you would be stranded.  The wilderness of Alaska is no joke, and you have to be completely prepared for everything when you go out and play in the wilds of Alaska.  But carrying the kayak so far up and down each day was harder than I imagined for both of us.

Porpoises swimming on a beautiful evening.

Porpoises swimming on a beautiful evening.

            On our last evening, the 4th, it was a beautiful evening and the water was real calm again.  We didn’t have any whales close, but a few porpoises hung around.  It was neat spending so much time with them on a clear calm evening.  Being alone with only Twila in remote Alaska with the views and wildlife we had was hard to beat.  I love that peace and quiet and not worrying about the stress of the normal day to day.  We got picked back up on the afternoon of the 5th, and it rained that entire day.  If we hadn’t had the shelter, all of our clothes would have been saturated and we would have been stuck in our tent a majority of the trip.  But everything worked out and we got to kayak with the whales and stay safe.  Twila more than passed the test, and proved that she truly loves a good adventure, and will go with me anywhere and is patient in waiting on the wildlife and loves seeing all the wildlife!

Twila and I on the shore for a little break on a clear evening.

Twila and I on the shore for a little break on a clear evening.

            We didn’t have anywhere to stay that night, and the boat captain was very nice and invited us to stay at his place.  It was nice to be in a dry house, and he even cooked us steak.  The next day we caught the ferry and traveled to Juneau.  I wanted to see where the cruise ships go to be able to relate more to the tourists coming in the gallery.  I was also hoping for more photos along the way, which didn’t really happen unfortunately.  A good friend from Yellowstone, Aaron Lind, picked us up from the ferry terminal and showed us around Juneau.  He is a glacier guide in Juneau for the summer.  It was my first time in Juneau, and we walked where the tourists walked and scoped the art out in town.  We hung out that night with him and his girlfriend, and then caught another ferry to Skagway the next morning. 

            It felt so revitalizing to have gotten to go photographing again, but I wanted more time.  As soon as we got back to Skagway on the 7th, we were back in the gallery and checking on Jackie and how things went.  Nothing major happened while we were gone and she made a few sales.  I know I left her in a hard spot leaving like that, and was very grateful she could help me out.  I took Twila back to the airport on the 8th, and then buckled down and got a ton of work done over the next few days.  I didn’t have long to get everything done because I was leaving again on the 13th to drive to Anchorage for my photography workshops to Lake Clark National Park.  I don’t know when I will get rest again, but oh well.  I managed to get everything done just in time and hit the road on the afternoon of the 13th for Anchorage. 

            The first month of the gallery being open went by very fast, and I learned a lot in that first month.  There is still so much to learn and get better at, and I am looking forward to the journey.