a perfect composition showcases the beauty of mt. denali in alaska

How to get this shot – Clearly Mount Denali

Alaska is one of those places that just “has it all.”  It’s got extraordinary wildlife like bears, moose, orcas, and whales, but also has some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet.  Denali National Park is home to one of the most iconic in all of Alaska, if not all of North America–the towering Mt. Denali–the namesake of this breathtaking National Park.

If you’re headed to Alaska anytime soon on a special Alaska Photo Safari, you’ll want to brush up on general landscape photo tips, as well as those specific to photographing this amazing mountain range…all of which is contained in the points below.  Read up and look forward to what is surely going to be a highlight of your photo career!

  • First, getting a perfect glimpse of Mt. Denali like this is no easy feat.  It requires excellent timing, patience, and expertise to know how to maximize your chances as seeing this mountain in all its glory.  While there are many, many ways to get to Alaska, ranging from cruises, private tour operators, or even planning the whole thing yourself, I highly recommend going with a proper photo tour of Alaska if you are seeking the best of the best in terms of landscape and wildlife photographic opportunities.
  • Once you have started to make the plans necessary to get you there, it’s critical that you don’t just stop with the main road of the park and hope to get a glimpse on the park-run bus tour.  They operate a great tour, and I take my photo groups on this very same tour, but it’s for a different reason than most of the passengers.  We’re doing this so that we can get special access to the very interior of the park, at the end of the curvy 90 mile road, to spend a few days all on our own with the wildlife and landscapes all to ourselves.  Having multiple chances to view Denali is a must, as it can be shrouded by clouds at any time.  Ensuring that you are inside the park, with views like this, for 2 or 3 days, heavily increases your chances of getting a view (and a shot) like this!
  • Ok, so now that you’ve found a way to get into the deep interior of the park, and you’re able to spend a couple days at one of the lodges like The North Face Lodge or Kantishna Road House (pro tip: these often require booking years in advance due to demand), you are going to want to nail the shot, if and when a scene like this is presented to you.
  • The key ingredients in nailing a shot like this are the following: good foreground, sharp focus, good lighting and color, and composition.  I’ll go over each of these (briefly) next…
  • Foreground: because of the grandeur and magnitude of this mountain range, you want to support it with some sort of interesting foreground.  This is critical in providing additional color, texture and contrast.  Again, by overnighting deep within the park, you’ll have a variety of stellar foreground elements, such as patches of trees, the oftentimes-colorful tundra, and reflection lakes like this one.  In my humble opinion, a strong foreground is as important as the subject itself.
  • Sharp Focus: this one is obvious, but if you don’t have great focus, you won’t have a captivating photo.  In order to achieve excellent focus of both your subject (mountain) and the foreground, be sure to shoot at a big f/number, which gives you a wide depth of field.  In cases like these, I’m using f/11 or f/16.  If there isn’t enough light, a tripod will help, as you may need to shoot on a slow shutter to allow for such an aperture.  Start by focusing on the foreground and the wide depth of field will give you sharp focus throughout all parts of your frame.
  • Good Lighting and Color: being in-position for photography at the start and end of each day is a great starting point. However, because the summer days in Alaska are so long, you don’t have as pronounced dawn and dusk moments.  Instead, they last for hours, which is great!  So, indeed the best shots may be at the start and end of each day, but you also must wait for the mountain to show itself, which may be the limiting factor.  As a result, all you can really do is try.  But take this one step further and pick your white balance ahead of time to accurately match the colors you’re seeing with the colors in your camera.
  • Composition: so much of the artistry in photography comes from composition.  Thus, it’s imperative that you understand the various rules of composition and either use them to your advantage, or break those rules with the intent to do something different, clever, and inventive.  But as I always say, if you break the classic rules of composition, you ought to be able to explain why you did so to yourself and others, and not just because “I didn’t know I was breaking any rule.”  Rules are meant to be broken, but be sure to know when and why to do so.

Once you’ve incorporated all of these elements into your photo setup, start snapping away!

Fortunately mountains don’t move too fast, and you should be able to get multiple photos in a matter of minutes.  However, clouds do move fast, especially those over mountain ranges, so your readiness is paramount.  Once again, by going with the right photo outfitter, having the right mindset, and these tips, you are stacking the deck VERY much in your favor of enjoying an extraordinary few days in Denali National Park, and hopefully coming away with a photo you are thrilled with.

Go forward and give it a shot!

Court Whelan Signature