Explore Alaska

Photographing Alaska: Tips From Photographer Michael Dinneen

From photographing Denali to shooting the Northern Lights, pro photographer Michael Deneen shares the secrets of capturing great images of the 49th state.

My family moving to Alaska 40-some years ago was my father’s doing. He had landed a job in Juneau, and as is so often the case, sold the move to his wife with the following: “Jan, let’s leave Oregon, our relations and friends and try Alaska for three years—then we’ll move back.”

The fact that we have stayed is the silver salmon’s doing. In the first days, my sister, Celeste, landed that sea-bright fish from the shores of Auke Bay, where we filleted and barbecued it on the spot. From then on, our Alaskan adventure was a done deal.

Photographer Michael Dinneen
Alaska photo tips from the pro: Michael Dinneen
I began my photographic career with Boy Scout trips over the Gold Rush Trail of ’98 through the Chilkoot Pass and down the Yukon River to Dawson. I was a photojournalist and photo editor at the Anchorage Times, a photographer in the University of Alaska Anchorage system, freelance photographer and for the past year photo editor for Morris Alaska, which owns several publications, including Where and Alaska Magazine.

Q: What kind of equipment should I have to take good pictures in Alaska?
A: My favorite camera is the one I have with me when I need it. Professionally, I use high-end Nikon bodies and lenses with full-frame capacity. I have also a high-quality compact camera, the Fuji X10, which provides excellent image quality when I can’t lug a lot of gear.

Q: What advice can you offer about “care and feeding” for my camera?
A: The best insurance you can carry for your lenses are UV filters. I carry a soft cloth and cleaning fluid (rubbing alcohol cut with a couple of drops of Dawn) for the lens filters, and I never change a lens in an outdoor setting unless there is no other choice. Cleaning your camera’s CCD is a job best left to the pros.

Q: What do I need to know about photographing wildlife?
A: The amazing wildlife photos we use in Alaska Magazine are made by pros who carry equally amazing cameras and lenses and commit enormous amounts of time to their craft. Basically, everyone in this beautiful state is a wildlife photographer, because the likelihood is that you will see it. Inform yourself as to the characteristics of moose and bear if you are headed into the remote areas, and respect their space. Be safe by knowing your exit strategy.

Q: What is the best time of day to take pictures? Where should the sun be relative to the subject of the photo?
A: Given a clear day, morning and evening are the best times. On cloudy days, try not to include too much sky. Remembering that you are actually photographing light reflecting off your subject will help you analyze the light more effectively.

Q: Where are some good views of Denali without traveling to the park? What are some of your favorite places to shoot?
A: Denali is visible from as far as Anchorage on clear days. From Anchorage you can enjoy beautiful views of the city and Denali from overlooks such as Glen Alps trailhead, or the Near Point trail from Prospect Heights trailhead in Chugach State Park. Traveling north on the Parks Highway, the views get much better after the Talkeetna cutoff at mile 95. At mile 134, Mary’s McKinley View Lodge is a good spot and the nearby state pullout at mile 134.8 works well, too.

Q: How do I take pictures of the Northern Lights?
A: Necessary items include a tripod, a remote shutter release and a location away from a lot of light. You must be able to set your camera on manual, use a long shutter speed (experiment around 10 to 20 seconds to begin), set the lens aperture to its most open position, and focus on infinity. Dress warm, and have fun!

See more of Michael's work at his website, www.dinneenphoto.com.