Photographing Along the Coast

The more years I am in Alaska, the more and more I try and go to new places and have new experiences. The day trip I went on after Lake Clark was one of those trips. Having been in this area before, I knew I hadn’t gotten some photos I wanted, and planned the trip in a way that I would hopefully be able to get more of the photo opportunities I was looking for.

We left early in the morning, and the sun was out and we had nice morning light! On the coast it is often cloudy and rainy, so having the sun out was a nice bonus. My main goal for the trip was sea otters, because I wanted more great shots of them. We were able to find a mother and young otter first thing, and it was great! They put on a good show for us before we moved on to larger animals.

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The area we were in also has whales, and I knew we would be able to find some on our trip, but I didn’t expect to get to see what we did. At first there were a few humpback whales in the same area, and then they started to bubble feed! Watching humpback whales bubble feed is awesome. Bubble feeding is when a group of humpback whales swim in a circle around a pod of fish and blow bubbles to confuse the fish and then they all come up from above at once and eat a lot of fish at one time. You never know where they are going to come up at, and that is what makes photographing whales so hard. My arms get tired when photographing whales because I have to be ready at any moment and that means holding my camera up all the time.

The whales were in a great spot, because there was a glacier in the area. We tried for a long time to get them lined up with the glacier, and we got a few shots, but because you never know where they are going to come up at it is hard to position the boat in the right spot. But that’s what makes it fun and the photos that much better when everything comes together. We did get to see a few whales jump all the way out of the water, and that was also exciting.

I did have a new experience on this trip that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve gotten to photograph bubble feeding before, but the whales were closer to the boat this time than before. And not only that, but a couple of times we could hear them directly beneath the boat! Hearing a group of whales singing and being able to hear that was incredible! It was such a neat experience.

We were with the whales for quite some time, and then we went to look for more sea otters. The captain was really good and spotted a mother with a new baby in a cove. We slowly approached and were able to spend some time with them and got some nice shots of them. Then we found a group of otters later that were really playing and were so much fun to photograph.

The biggest surprise of the trip, though, was a bald eagle. Our captain spotted something unusual and we went to investigate. What we found was a bald eagle swimming back to shore. I had never seen a bald eagle swimming before. Once it got to shore, we saw that it had a salmon in its talons. Salmon are large for an eagle, and it likely couldn’t fly after catching the salmon and had to swim to shore. When it got to land, it then flew up to some rocks and began to eat it. So cool!

It was a full day, but an incredible day! We could do this trip 10 more times and not have as much happen as we did on this day. It is days like this that make me love my job!

Glacier Bay and the Summer is Flying By!

            The summer sure hasn’t slowed down. Right after my workshop to Lake Clark I drove back to Skagway.  I did get to see some grizzly bears late at night on the drive, and that was really cool.  I was exhausted when I got back to Skagway, but there was no time for that! I needed to catch up on everything from when I was gone, and Twila and my sister and her husbands’ family were coming before July 4th.

Yes I do take iPhone pictures, and this was taken at 12:30 at night!

Yes I do take iPhone pictures, and this was taken at 12:30 at night!

            I was so excited to pick up Twila from the airport in Whitehorse on July 2nd! It had been way to long since we had been together, and the summer time is crazy and we don’t get to be together nearly as much as we want.  On the morning of the 3rd Cara and her family flew in, and it was great to have them here too. It was my sister and her family’s first time in Alaska, which is always exciting. We all took the train into the mountains in the afternoon, and that was fun.  At night we had a fire and roasted s’mores and just had a good relaxing evening. 

            July 4th is always a fun day in Skagway, with lots of festivities.  It decided to rain all day, which put a damper on the day.  But we still went out and enjoyed as much of it as we could.  The next morning we were all flying out of Skagway, but going to different places.  My sisters flight was suppose to leave at 5 a.m. and ours was at 8 a.m. When we got to the tiny airport they were still there because of low clouds and the planes couldn’t fly.  So Twila and I jumped in on the card game and we all waited for the clouds to clear.

             This is fairly common in Alaska, but still frustrating.  They finally got to leave at 9 a.m., but we still couldn’t leave.  We finally left at 11 a.m. and took two flights to get to Gustavus, which is right beside Glacier Bay National Park. Because of our delays we missed our whale watching trip, so instead we had a nice relaxing evening and rode our bikes down to the beach.  It was nice to relax for a little while!

Twila and I riding our bikes down to the beach!

Twila and I riding our bikes down to the beach!

            On the 5th and 6th we took a boat ride into Glacier Bay to see the sea life, but mostly to see the huge tidewater glaciers. We really wanted to see these large glaciers and get some nice photos of them! The weather cooperated, which it has been super rainy this summer, and we were able to see all the mountains around and the sun even came out some both days.  We even had some good wildlife sightings with mountain goats down by the water, a grizzly bear family chasing each other over a salmon, lots of whales and Twila even got one jumping! (and I missed it), sea otters and lots of sea lions.  Our boat went to a different large glacier each day, which was what we were hoping for and we got some really great shots! It was so neat seeing these huge glaciers and the mountains surrounding them.  We both took tons of shots and had a great time!

            We flew out the evening of the 6th and flew to Juneau. The next morning we went on a whale watching tour and had a great trip! It was a very bumpy ride, but a fun one, and worth it when we got to the whales and got to see a group of humpback whales bubble feeding! It was Twila’s first time seeing bubble feeding, and I’ve not seen it that many times.  We got to watch them do it over and over and was so awesome to see! We flew to Skagway that afternoon and then drove to Whitehorse that night and she flew back to Canmore the next morning.  It was so sad to see her go, and our time together went too fast.  I’m so thankful she could come and that we were able to go to Glacier Bay!

            I was in Skagway the next couple of weeks catching up and researching other trips and trying to plan out the rest of the summer.  The summer time is one crazy time that never seems to slow down.  Before I knew it, it was July 19th and I was flying to Knoxville to go to my little brothers wedding.  It was a long flight overnight, and I slept a lot when I got there on the 20th.  Twila flew in that night, and it was great to be together again so soon! The wedding weekend went by real fast, and it was really really hot. My brother decided to get married outside in Tennessee in July, and the temperature decided to be 95 and feel like 111.  I almost passed out during the wedding I was so hot.  But I’m glad I was there and the wedding went great. Seeing so many friends and family was also a great time, and we will get to see them all relatively soon at our wedding! Our wedding will be here before we know it, and we can’t wait!

At Corbin's Wedding

At Corbin's Wedding

            The wedding went so fast, and Twila and I didn’t have much time together alone, so I flew to see her the next weekend.  She’s been really busy getting ready for a festival where she sells her jewelry at, so I went to help as much as I could and to also do wedding planning.  We ended up doing mostly wedding planning and trying to catch up on that and not fall behind.  I had no idea how much planning a wedding is! We were able to have a little other time where we weren’t working on something too.  We both really hope the next month and half goes by real fast, and by then I will be done with the gallery and I’ll be back in Canmore and our wedding will be right around the corner!

            It is now August, somehow, and it finally decided to be summer in Skagway and get into the 80’s, which I personally don’t like and think is way to hot here.  I’ll head off to Denali for a couple of weeks and can’t wait for that.  The northern lights even decided to give us an early season show, and I got a picture of my BearHead sign with the lights behind it! I was very happy about this and was hoping that I could get that shot! Time is flying by!

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.