Living in tents and a Sportsmobile for months at a time, Kennan and Karen Ward explore the limitless photographic opportunities in the vast Alaska wilderness
By Ibarionex R. Perello, Photography by Kennan and Karen Ward
The Northern Lights “If you thought of only one thing to shoot in Alaska, it would be the northern lights,” says Kennan. “There’s something that’s so awesome about it, and people worldwide come to see it.”
The natural phenomenon that appears like a moving multicolored light show against the dark screen of night is produced as a result of solar flares from the sun. Molecules, traveling at high speeds, move through the Earth’s ionosphere and space. As they travel along the Earth’s magnetic field, the electronics impact with oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, producing a fluctuating show of color. Although not completely understood by scientists, it results in a unique display of colors that are never reproduced.
“Many people have a dream to go see the northern lights, and once they’ve experienced it, they really have seen something special,” says Karen. “It affects people very deeply. There’s a raw beauty to it that’s completely unpredictable and awesome.”
Refuges And State Parks “Denali State Park is a beautiful place to work that isn’t as crowded as the national park and doesn’t suffer from limited access,” explains Karen. “Denali National Park has very limited access for photographers and the public. You have to have a photo permit, and that can really throw people for a loop because they realize they just can’t drive through it like they can in the parks in the Lower 48.”
Adjoining the national park, the 325,240-acre state park offers a wealth of opportunities for photographers. The park has a stunning backdrop, which includes the Curry and Kesugi ridges, a 35-mile-long alpine ridge. It features large expanses of arctic tundra, valley glaciers and ice-carved gorges.
“There’s another national wildlife refuge called Kenai and it has a wide variety of birds,” says Kennan. “I think that one of the most spectacular and underrated opportunities in Alaska isn’t just the awesome big game, but the different wildlife and waterfowl. Although a lot of people are thinking about grizzly bears and wolves and caribou, there’s also so much birdlife there that it’s just phenomenal.” Often called “Alaska in Miniature,” Denali State Park includes mountain tundra, a northern boreal forest and numerous lakes and wetlands, offering ample locations and opportunities to photograph an assortment of wildlife.
There are several other sites to explore as well, including Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
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