What’s in my Camera Bag – Alaska Grizzly Photography

Alaska is grandiose in just about all ways you can think of.  While the landscape is awesomely wild, the wildlife often steals the show.  And at the heart of the Alaskan wildlife spectacle you have the venerable grizzly/brown bear. Endlessly photogenic, entire photo adventures are planned around them and each day is filled with perhaps some of the best photography of ones lifetime.

If you’re headed to Alaska for a Grizzly Photography Adventure anytime soon, you’ll want to read up here about what lenses and gear work best, as the most unusually amazing photo ops do have some unusual considerations.

Please note, photographic styles vary, as do conditions on the ground.  While this is meant to be a guide for choosing your camera gear, you should consider your own photographic interests first and foremost.

Ultra-wide Angle vs. Wide Angle?

Although you really must always carry a wide angle with you, is this adventure particularly suited to a “normal” wide angle (like your 18-55mm crop or 24-105mm full frame) or should you consider bringing an “ultra” wide angle like a 10-22mm crop or 16-35mm full frame?

If you know me, I always like the additional width an ultra-wide can give you. But whether a trip really needs it is a different story.

To me, I think you can get away with a traditional wide-angle lens on this trip just fine. While there are times when it would be fun to showcase big landscapes, or take fun travel photos, I personally leave this at home in favor of a wide angle that is capable of a bit more zoom and telephoto.  That is, if I can, I’d rather have a 24-105 vs. a 24-70.

The reason is that when photographing epic wildlife alongside amazing landscapes, versatility is key.  If you must photograph in tight spaces, you can bring along a versatile ultra-wide angle lens, but in the massive wilderness that is Alaska, you’re better off having a bit of telephoto power with your normal “walking around lens.”  Thus, the 24-105 (or 24-120, for Nikon fans) is my go-to.

If these crop vs. full frame terms are not familiar to you, please check out my article on crop vs. full frame terminology.

Zoom Telephoto

As with most wildlife experiences, this lens is going to be your workhorse of the photo adventure.  We’re talking about your 70-300mm, 100-400mm, or 200-500mm lenses here.

We’ll get to the super telephotos in the next second, where I’ll make my case for why a “big prime” like the 300 f/2.8 or 500 f/4 could be a choice lens.  However, I am personally more drawn to the versatility of a zoom telephoto, which gives you a ton of flexibility to compose your shot, zoom out when needed, fill the frame with wildlife when warranted…all while maintaining a relatively small size (compared to the bigger super zooms).

Remember, although wildlife is front and center, ensuring that you have range at the lower end of the spectrum, like between 100 and 300mm, will ensure you also get some amazing “wildlife in landscape” shots—some of my very favorite.

Super Telephotos

For most pro photographers, their go-to lens is going to be one of the big primes, as I mentioned earlier.  These are fixed focal length lenses anywhere from 300mm to 800mm in range (for most platforms).  In addition to amazing optical performance, they also usually have lower f/numbers than their zoom counterparts, which can make for excellent lower light photography, and add that professional “bokeh” in the foreground and background of wildlife portraits.

The last thing I’d do is to discourage you from bringing your favorite big lens, as they can yield sensational results.  However, I will caution you that for most grizzly photography adventures, there is a good bit of time walking and hiking, and often that can be in tidal zones, shallow waters, or otherwise unstable ground.

Before you add in the extra size and weight to your pack, just make sure you are ready to carry it for a couple miles in less than ideal conditions that could include muddy ground and misty weather.

Nevertheless, for those that have such lenses, a big prime super telephoto may yield your favorite wildlife portrait photo of the trip.


I often get the question of whether teleconverters are needed for Grizzly Photo Adventures, which are particularly suited for prime telephotos.  While it’s always helpful to “have and not need, vs. need and not have” I believe if you have capabilities of 400 or 500mm full frame equivalent, you have enough telephoto.

There are always shots that will present themselves where you wish you had more telephoto.  However, it’s always a balance between having the gear for 95% of the photo opportunities before you, without hauling too much with you or breaking the bank.

X-Factor lens

My x-factor lens for a bear photography trip has got to be the venerable 70-200mm f/2.8.  While this isn’t as light or as inexpensive as my usual x-factor lenses, like a macro, or a nifty fifty, the 70-200mm is a lens category that will send your photos to the next level when it comes to bear photography.

In addition to enabling low light and fast photography with its f/2.8 capabilities, it’s also one of the sharpest lenses out there, and is surprisingly portable.

You’re not going to take every photo on the trip with this 70-200mm, but I bet if you do bring one, you’ll take 30-40% of your photos with it.  This is a big deal!

Again, it’s not required, and you’ll do just fine with a quality zoom telephoto, but for those of you out there with the 70-200mm f/2.8, I do recommend bringing it along, as wildlife (bear) encounters can be closer than you think!


Although Alaska can be “weathery” it’s not known to be super cold at this time of year, which is the usual reason to re-think how many batteries you’d bring.  The standard two extra batteries is ample for this sort of adventure.

Extra camera body

A second camera body can be wonderful to have, as it allows you to have two different lenses available for instant shooting at all times.  However, with this of course comes the financial cost, as well as the cost of lugging two full setups around.

There of course can be moments where having both a wide angle (or medium telephoto) and a zoom telephoto at the ready is a great thing.  But for the hour or two of transporting, protecting, caring for, and hiking with a second body each day, you may find it a bit superfluous.

I’ll put it this way.  There are some photo expeditions that are very, very conducive to bringing a second camera body (African safaris come to mind).  For this adventure, it’s indeed beneficial, but only if you regularly bring a second body with you on most photo outings and adventures already. (i.e., this may not be the best trip to start doing this with)

Tripods and Stabilization

Stabilization is particularly helpful on Grizzly photography trips, as they often involve long stints of sitting or waiting for bears to come closer, walk by or engage in a particular behavior.  As a result, being able to mount your tripod in a somewhat ready position can give your arms and neck a big break!

You won’t really want your camera on the tripod when actually shooting (unless you’re using a big prime super telephoto), as the flexibility of being hand-held outweighs any need for tripod stabilization (light is usually good and plentiful).

For the reasons above, some people really enjoy the use of a monopod, as it helps balance a larger, heavier lens for longer.  You don’t get the hands-free benefit between shooting, but a monopod can be a happy middle between flexibility of hand held, while having just enough support to help with the weight of your camera and lens while actually shooting.

And there you have it.  If you’re headed to Alaska for a wildlife photo adventure, I hope to see you out there, and I wish you the best of luck!

If you yourself have any other thoughts or questions for what would be in your camera bag, please do leave us a comment below!


Court Whelan Signature