By Christine Smith
Photographers dream of going to Alaska for its rugged wilderness and abundant wildlife and places like the Tongass National Forest and Glacier Bay National Park are so stunningly beautiful, that you’d need “more hours and days than our lives afford” according to John Muir to see and explore it. Everything is there for you to practice your skills as a photographer.
I’ve spent years gleaning insight from the instructors on the photography workshops my company offers. These workshops, onboard the small tour boat my company operates have helped me, as an amateur photographer with a love of the Alaskan wilderness, to guide my photography and develop my own style.
This topic often comes up during the course of a workshop or tour: how to develop your own style as a photographer. Here are five take-aways from instructors that I have put to use to help me achieve my own goals as a photographer.
I like to think of photography as a way to practice curiosity. Curiosity in your subject will help you develop your style of photography by asking questions of your subject and questions about your intentions. When I approach a subject either on shore or from the boat, I’m always asking myself questions. To start with it might be as simple as “Who are you?” for an animal, plant, or insect. Followed by what can I learn from you and your environment, and why do I find you interesting? Even if it’s a subject I’ve photographed year after year, I find curiosity compels me to try to tell a more complete story about my subject.
Photography is all about exploration. I’ve listened to our instructors encourage participants to explore their boundaries as photographers through light, shadow, color, contrast, composition, exposure and post-processing.
One of my favorite exercises is when we take people ashore to photograph beached icebergs that have calved from tidewater glaciers. Glacially compressed ice is pure magic to explore. An iceberg’s color changes with the light and the angle by which you are looking at it. It changes as it melts and the water coming off an iceberg offers a chance to explore movement. Grounded icebergs extend the opportunity to explore landscapes both up-close and wide. You can explore how they affect their environment and the feelings they conjure. An iceberg is ephemeral. By the next tide cycle, the iceberg is dramatically changed, or it’s gone. You can never go back, so spend as much time exploring as possible.
I have learned from our workshops that visualization plays an important part in developing my style as a photographer. As I explore what my subject has to offer, I visualize what it is that I want from the photographs I’m creating. I’m searching for the emotions or feelings I get while looking at my subject and how to convey those emotions and feelings with my camera and in post-processing. With the iceberg, I might try to visualize something abstract, or maybe a vast landscape that shows off the scenery where the iceberg grounded. There was some reason the iceberg caught my attention and I use my imagination to visualize how I want to remember the emotions I felt about the scene and the iceberg and how I want to convey it.
Photography is playful. It provides an opportunity to experiment and create. Not only do I like to go ashore and play with my own camera, but I enjoy being in the wilderness with our participants and instructors and watching them playing with their cameras through exploration and experimentation with new or old techniques. I have learned from these workshops that playfulness either at the time of creation or in post-processing, is where we develop our own unique styles.
Learn From Others
The last topic that I’ve gleaned from our instructors is how much you can learn from others. Sometimes it’s by studying a famous photographer to see what elements of their style appeal to you and sometimes it’s from a good old-fashioned critique session. I love critique nights on the boat when everyone gathers in the saloon and our instructors and participants show their work, ask questions, and get feedback. It’s always fun and I always learn something. These sessions have taught me that when you have a small group of photographers all in the same place, every photographer will see something different. Learning from others has taught me how to see things differently, and how to look for different interpretations of the same scene.
Alaska is an amazing place to develop your skills and your style as a photographer. It offers outstanding opportunities to visit unique landscapes and photograph incredible wildlife. It can also be a place that is challenging to access and many of the best locations can only be reached by boat or float plane. It’s one of the reasons we offer photography tours and workshops so that you will have the ability to spend quality time immersed in Alaska’s wilderness with professional instructors and an experienced crew so that you will get the most out of your photography.