Shooting whales in Juneau

Fear not. We come in peace; our weapons are cameras.

Jim Hammond collects us from the Holland America stand at 8am, just after we dock in downtown Juneau, the capital of Alaska. It is a bright, sunny morning as we head the five miles or so to St Stephen’s passage where another Jim, the captain of the Voyager, helps us board his small vessel. For the next two hours we will learn about exposure, light and speed from Jim No 1 – and a whole lot more about Juneau, Alaska and its place in the world. Jim is courteous, knowledgeable and happy to share his photography skills to ensure we take great shots of the gorgeous terrain and amazing wildlife. First up is a pair of bald eagles on top of, fittingly enough, Eagle Rock. Next we head further out in the Gastineau Channel and here the fun begins as we, and four other small craft, spot the blow of the humpback whales and our captains manouevre rapidly to get us closer to the action, but always at least 100 metres from these magnificent creatures, to ensure their immediate space is not disturbed. We are magnificently rewarded as whale after whale signifies its presence with a mighty – and noisy – rush of water. Next the outline of a huge, dark form and then jackpot – the tail! And because we have slowed the speed of our cameras our shots are actually capturing this amazing display.

All too soon it’s time to head back to land, but the second half of our shore excursion is equally rewarding as we hike toward the Mendenhall Glacier, spotting elderberries, Devil’s Club and even a black bear, high in the overhead trees. Our hike concludes at a lookout point staring straight across at this ancient glacier trapped between two deep green mountains iced with snow. To say it is spectacular simply doesn’t do it justice. I spy some kayakers heading to the edge of this might mass of ice and promise myself next time to get out there with a paddle in hand. For the photography bufs, Jim’s top three tips for great wildlife shots are:

  • Make sure your story is told simply and clearly (i.e. don’t fill the frame with distractions, just isolate your subject)
  • Fill the frame with YOUR story – you are telling the story, so make sure the features that matter are there
  • Feel free to break the rule of thirds if an amazing subject demands it!

Jim has kindly shared a DVD of his best photography tips so I will ask Drew to put these up on our site at a later date.

Alaska Cruising

Written by Kaye Fallick