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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Insider’s Passage

Get a look at America’s Last Frontier from a seasoned nature photographer who makes his home in Alaska

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Whittier/Portage Valley

Whittier/Portage Valley
When Seward, Alaska-based photographer Ron Niebrugge needs something great to photograph, he doesn’t have to look far. In fact, he admits, there are times he doesn’t even completely step outside. “I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I’ve seen whales, moose and bears from my office, and I’ve taken a lot of pictures of things like cruise ships, Mount Alice and alpenglow,” says Niebrugge. “I literally just open the front door to shoot, and if it’s blowing and windy, I leave the tripod partly in the house to hide from the wind.”

When he does venture past the threshold, Niebrugge still doesn’t have far to roam—some of Alaska’s greatest photo locales are nearly as close as a jaunt to the grocery store. “We’re down on the coast, south of Anchorage, and it’s classic Alaska,” he says. “I’m a 12-minute drive from a glacier.” “We’re down on the coast, south of Anchorage, and it’s classic Alaska,” he says. “I’m a 12-minute drive from a glacier.”

And the photographer is only a six-hour drive from Denali and equally close to many of the state’s other spectacular national parks and forests.

Living in the land of eternal summer sunshine, he says, only enhances the proximity. “I may work in the office all day and then hop in the car at 10 o’clock at night; in 10 minutes, I can be in some pretty amazing scenery. It never really gets dark here because the sun isn’t that far below the horizon—it just skims along and comes right back up. In a place like Denali, if you have clear weather, you can shoot all night.”

Born in California, Niebrugge moved to Alaska in the 1970s when he was 12 years old and, except for a college break, has lived there ever since. Today, Niebrugge runs a successful stock and assignment photo business, Niebrugge Images, which he began with his wife Janine in 2000 after both left successful business careers. The two spend most of the year in Alaska, but head to the Lower 48 where they live and run their business from a trailer for a few months each winter.

“As long as we have WiFi and a good cellular signal, we can run our business from almost anywhere,” he says.

From his home in Seward, Niebrugge describes a dream “loop” for photographers starting and ending in Anchorage. The tour touches on five of what he considers Alaska’s best treasures, some already legendary and some barely known to outsiders. Niebrugge’s whole tour—Anchorage to Denali to Wrangell-St. Elias to the Chugach and to Kenai Fjords and Lake Clark—can be done (albeit quickly) in two weeks.


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