Alaska Photography Postmortem

A couple thousand shutter releases later:

  • Get fast lenses. The 200mm with teleconverter will be better than a cheap 300mm if the 300mm is a couple stops slower. You won’t have much of a choice of where you’re shooting from if you’re in a tour group. To get acceptable handheld shots on a long lens on a rocking boat, you need a fast shutter speed and a big aperture.
  • I’m not sure how useful a tripod would have been, because there was little choice of where you’re shooting from. In a group, you won’t have the time and maybe not the space to set up a tripod shot. For wildlife, you’re probably going to be handheld and may well be shooting from a bus over some guy’s head. Even for landscape shots, you may be shooting from the vestibule of a moving train. Spending money on fast lenses will be better than spending money on a tripod you can’t use.
  • Something like a Bigma would have been nice for the tiny dots that turn out to be distant bears. But I’m not sure how feasible it is to handle a slow lens with a long focal length, especially on buses and trains.
  • Get circular polarizing filters for all your lenses. We got incredibly lucky with the weather and had sun almost every day. The polarizer will help a great deal with these conditions. You can’t Photoshop polarization in postprocessing. I shot a lot of landscape with the 50mm because I didn’t have the step-down ring to get a polarizer on the wide-angle for half the trip.
  • Get a fast CF card. You’ll want this for wildlife shots, since you may well take 50 shots to try to get the right moment when the whale puts its tail out of the water. Even for the geological shots, you can have glaciers calving icebergs and want to rattle off a half dozen shots in a couple of seconds.
  • Take lots of shots. The marginal cost is basically zero. Make sure you have a laptop to dump the photos to overnight. Many of the subjects you’re shooting will demand a lot of shots to see if you get the right one out of it. The first eagle flying overhead used up around 40 shots. (Then you realize that eagles are like pigeons up there.)
  • Bring lens to cover the wide to the telephoto ranges. The Nikon kit lens on the D70 is fine for the wide-angle. The 80-200mm with teleconverter was sufficient for most animal shots (though we got lucky with the caribou near the pipeline), though a little more reach would have been great. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much more reach would have been possible given the shooting conditions. The 50mm f/1.8 was handy, too, because you’re going to take a bunch of indoor shots, more than you think.
  • GPS in the EXIF would have been amusing, but that’s the $3500 Nikon DSLR body.
  • Instead of bringing along an older Nikon film body as a second camera, I think it would have been worthwhile to have just bought another D70 and sell it on EBay afterwards. We may even have made a profit, given the cost of developing 15 rolls of film. Certainly, in taking 2000 shots on this trip, I’ve taken saved enough on development costs to have paid for my camera body. But this is in retrospect: I didn’t expect to take so many shots.
  • AutoStitch totally rocked for automatically stitching together scans of the Denali flight map, as it was larger than our scanner bed. This was far better than my lame, labor-intensive attempts to do it in the GIMP, especially since I don’t know how to use it (at least I knew to use semi-transparent layers). I’m not sure how well it’ll work for actual panos, since we didn’t try to do that on this trip. Next time.

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