Polar Bears and Northern Lights Photo Tour

After nearly two decades of guiding photo tours in Alaska’s Arctic, I decided it was time to take a break and free up some time to focus on other projects, including my own professional photography pursuits. My longtime colleague and co-guide Hugh Rose is still offering the same tours.

Join veteran and experienced Alaska photographers and guides on a photographic adventure into Alaska’s Arctic. Traverse the amazing Alaska landscape of boreal forest, tundra, and mountains while photographing Arctic wildlife and landscapes, polar bears and the northern lights.

For more information see Hugh’s Website

  • Group size: 8 people (1:4 guide/guest ratio)

  • 11 days, 9 in the field

  • Access by vehicle, plane and boat

  • Dates: See Hugh’s Website
  • Length: 11 Days
  • Participants: 8 Maximum
  • Destination: Fairbanks – Brooks Range – High Arctic – Brooks Range – Fairbanks
  • Physical Requirements: Good to excellent condition.
  • Degree of Difficulty: Easy to Difficult.
  • Degree of Weather Difficulty: Moderate to Extreme
  • Agility: Good (for traveling on uneven terrain in the dark).
  • Mental Requirements: A flexible and positive attitude.
  • Activities: Photographic forays and short hikes in snow and/or icy conditions, (some in the dark) on uneven tundra and terrain. Getting in and out of boats.
  • Photography Skill Level: Beginner to professional.
  • Weather Conditions: Windy, cold, snow likely. (-10 to +20 at night on average depending on location)
  • Transportation: Vehicle, plane, boat.
  • Accommodations: Hotels in Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, rustic but comfortable cabins with shared bath facilities in the Brooks Range, and basic but comfortable rooms with shared bath facilities at Waldo Arms hotel in Kaktovik.
  • Instruction: Informal one-on-one in the field and indoor discussions about RAW image processing and review of images taken during field excursions.
  • Trip Preparation Reading:

This trip is all inclusive, you land in Fairbanks and put your wallet away, save for personal gift items. We cover a lot of ground on this journey and the photography is diverse, ranging from a variety of Arctic wildlife and landscapes to the northern lights and polar bears. Although we can’t guarantee anything, our success rate over 15 years on aurora is 90% and 100% with polar bears. Our goal is to safely lead and instruct you in some amazing photography experiences, and share with you the great wonders of the Alaska that we enjoy so much.

Itinerary Summary

  • day 1: Arrive Fairbanks, welcome dinner and orientation
  • day 2: Drive north to the Brooks Range
  • day 3: Northern lights and Arctic wildlife in the Brooks Range
  • day 4: Drive north to Prudhoe Bay and the arctic coastal plains
  • day 5-7: Kaktovik and polar bears
  • day 8-9: Brooks Range and northern lights
  • day 10: Return drive to Fairbanks and farewell dinner
  • day 11: Fly home

This tour focuses on the diverse photography opportunities in Alaska’s Arctic that range from macro photography of ice crystals to telephoto photography of wildlife. We cover a lot of geography and topography due to Alaska’s great size, so be prepared and willing to travel long distances in a vehicle.

  • Skill sets vary among the participants from beginners to professionals.
  • Group size is limited to 8 people
  • Two vehicles are used to offer sufficient space for photography.
  • Each person has window access.

General photography occurs both from the vehicle as well as taking small forays across the tundra. Polar bear photography occurs from within a vehicle, and depending on weather conditions, from a small boat. We do not engage in extensive hiking but one should be in good shape and mobile enough to easily do the following:

  • get around well on uneven and snowy tundra surfaces,
  • quickly enter and exit a vehicle,
  • straddle the side rail of a boat when entering and exiting,
  • navigate dimly lit, uneven surfaces at night when photographing the aurora.

Teaching and Instruction

We provide assistance throughout the trip regarding all aspects of photography. In addition to instruction in the field, there is generally the time for small group discussions around a laptop in which we address topics like file management, image processing in Lightroom, proper exposure and other specific questions.

Gear, Equipment & Clothing

We will supply a comprehensive PDF that details our recommendations for camera gear and clothing after booking.

Lenses and Tripods

  • A telephoto lens in the range of 400-500mm is recommended (in conjunction with a 1.4 and/or 2x converter as necessary). 600mm lenses are very large, heavy and hard to handle quickly, and are generally not recommended unless you are very adept at handling it.
  • A wide-angle lens with a minimum of 24mm f/2.8 is essential for photographing the aurora.
  • Tall tripods and fast (f/2.8 or faster) wide angle lenses (at least 24mm wide) are essential for effective aurora borealis photography.
  • Wimberley tripod heads do not work for aurora photography, and due to the more spontaneous nature of the wildlife photography we encounter, a general good ballhead is strongly recommended.

What are the odds of seeing the aurora borealis (and the polar bears for the October trip)?

  • While we can’t guarantee things beyond our control, this question is best answered by past experience. To date, we have about a 90% rate of seeing and photographing the aurora and 100% rate of seeing and photographing the Polar bears. Weather is an inhibiting factor for the aurora since clear skies are required, it is less of a factor for viewing and photographing polar bears. Every year is different, but every trip delivers many outstanding viewing and photographic opportunities.

Which trip should I take, #1 or #2?

  • This is a common question that we receive all the time, and understandably so. There are some general differences between the trips and it mostly comes down to weather. The month of October is a seasonal transition month and the weather changes are variable as the cold of winter begins to move in. For example, early October has more daylight, is generally warmer, frequently has less snow, and more open water is present. Later October has less daylight, is generally a bit cooler, often has more snow, and rivers and open water can be frozen over. They are both excellent times with slight variations. For some, the phase of the moon may be a deciding factor, for others, they may want open water opportunities for aurora reflections. But there is great variation in the weather overall, so please take this into account.

Do I have to be an experienced photographer?

  • No. While the trip is geared for photo opportunities and interests, it is not uncommon for one spouse to be more interested in photography, while the other enjoys the scenery and watching the wildlife. This is fine with us. However, a word of caution to the non-photographer: photographers tend to be pretty intense in their pursuits so keep in mind that this is the major focus of the trip.

Lodging and Airport Pickup

  • Your hotel accommodations in Fairbanks–located just a mile from the airport–offers pick and drop off service for free.
  • Lodging in the Brooks Range is in a very comfortable and rustic log cabin with shared bathrooms. It gets a complete 5-star review on Trip Advisor.
  • Lodging in the high Arctic during the polar bear segment includes one night in an industrial hotel (very clean and comfortable) and three nights at a hotel in Kaktovik, which is warm and friendly, with shared bathrooms.

Climate

  • Keep in mind the Arctic has ever-changing weather with temperatures that can swing from below freezing to warm in a matter of hours at this time of year.
  • In October, expect daytime temperatures in the 30’s and 20’s (perhaps as high as the 40’s) with nights below freezing, depending on location. Both rain and/or snow are possible, although rain is less likely.
  • In March, the temperatures on average are much colder, with possible low temperatures reaching minus 30 degrees. Snow is possible.

Regional Books of interest

  • 1) Arctic Village by Bob Marshall – a summary of the community of
    Wiseman in the early 1900’s, which specifically mentions the historic
    B&B where we will be staying.
  • 2) The Brooks Range, the Ultimate Mountains by John Kauffman. It is a good read on the history of the area and
    the value of wilderness in the north.
  • 3) Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie – Memoirs of a wilderness
    advocate with tales of her life in the early pioneer days of Alaska,
    namely Fairbanks and scientific exploration in Alaska’s Arctic.
  • 4) Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner