The truth of it is, we all have to start somewhere, and I was very fortunate to have my love of nature photography start at Brooks Falls, Alaska.
In 2010, my wife and I were planning a trip to Alaska, and I remembered seeing Tom Mangelsen’s iconic photo, “Catch of the Day.” I knew we had to go and see those bears, in that place, so we planned our whole vacation around the days we could book at Brooks Camp. While I knew better than to think I could get a photo of “Catch of the Day” magnitude, I knew I had to try to get something. I bought my first DSLR, took a Photo 101 class to get semi-familiar with it, and off we went.
Our reservations were late in July, and I was afraid the salmon runs would be early and the bears gone by the time we arrived. I needn’t have worried. We knew our prayers for bears had been answered when we saw several along the lake before our floatplane had even touched down— we’d hit the height of the season!
You can do Brooks Falls as a day trip from Anchorage, but I’d recommend trying to book an overnight stay. Time on the Falls’ viewing platform is limited when the day-trippers are there and it’s crowded. If you’re staying, you have late afternoon, evening and early morning to set up on the rail and shoot to your heart’s content.
The scene at the Falls is incredible. Bears waiting for salmon, salmon jumping, bears catching salmon, bears eating salmon, bears chasing bears to steal their salmon, bears fighting over coveted fishing spots, an eagle even flew over. This is a target-rich photographic environment to say the very least.
This photo was taken on our second day, and it was raining steadily. In retrospect, this was a good thing for a couple of reasons: First and foremost was that it kept the mosquitoes and biting flies at bay (very important). Secondly, it softened the light. My DSLR 101 class had not taught me how to deal with high-contrast scenes. A bright sun, white water and dark bears would certainly have been my undoing. I wanted to try to show how patient the bears were, standing stark still for long periods, waiting for the fish (which made slower shutter speeds in low evening light much more tolerable). While I wasn't able to replicate Tom Mangelsen’s “money shot,” I ended up with a couple of really nice photos from Brooks, and I was hopelessly hooked.
Nikon D5000, Nikkor 70-300mm at 70mm, ISO 800, ƒ/11, 1/200 sec.
See more from Alaska and subsequent excursions at www.douglascroftimages.com.