Leaving the Kenai
Skilak Lake and the Kenai Wildlife Refuge was still closed so there was no way we could spend a week there. Smoke from the fires obliterated the view across Cook Inlet while we were at Discovery Campground in Captain Cook, so were weren’t sure we wanted to hang out near the fires anyway. But we did want to spend some time at Kenai Lake, so we headed east to Quartz Creek Campground.
We got there early enough that there were plenty of available spaces for a day or two – many of the campsites are reserve only. The campground is beautiful, with some sites on the Lake, some sites near the creek, and all sites wide, fairly level, and paved. We had Verizon 3G signal, though it was weak, and good, strong sunlight for about four hours a day, enough to keep our batteries mostly charged.
Our reason for stopping was to have some kayak time on Kenai Lake. The blue of the water with the mountain backdrop was irresistible.
The winds were a little high, gusting around 20 knots, so we didn’t get to explore as much as we liked. But we did enjoy a good workout and a sunny day.
The spot we were in was only available for two nights, so we packed up and moved to Bird Creek Campground on Turnagain Arm. Contrary to the reviews on RVPark Reviews, the campground is well paved, the sites are large, level and paved, and the campground overall is very clean. The sites are open (so not private) so it was great for batteries. The Verizon signal was only so-so. We were only a few steps down the hill to the bike path and a few more steps to views of Turnagain Arm, which was hidden behind trees from our campsite.
Our purpose in stopping here was to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. We were also within twenty minutes of Southern Anchorage and grocery stores and fifteen minutes from Girdwood.
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a great place to see and learn about Alaska’s wildlife up close. For a photographer, it is a great place to practice shooting wildlife.
Some tips for shooting wildlife that isn’t so wild:
Get close. Use the opportunity to capture their faces and expressions. This makes it easier to hide any fences, posts, and other stuff that draws attention away from the animal.
If there is a fence between you and the animal, get closer to the fence and shoot through it. Make sure that you are closer to the fence than the animal is – if you are focused on the animal, the fence will blur out of focus and be much less noticeable. (in this eagle picture, there is a fence link on his back and the upper right corner – places where there looks to be fade. Much better than if the fence was in focus.)
Sacrifice ISO for shutter speed. You may not be able to blow the picture up to poster size due to grain, but you will be able to capture interesting moments. This image was shot at f/6.3, ISO 400 for 1/1250 second. This allowed me to capture the detail in the water. Had I been using my usual f/8, ISO100, my shutter speed would have been closer to 1/125 and most of the image would be blurry.
Try for detail. I have never seen a reindeer antler and never seen an antler in velvet up close. The reindeer were all hanging around by a fence in a dark corner, so there was really no opportunity to get a decent reindeer picture. But, the antlers were fascinating to me. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to how they grow or why they take the shapes they do. So I took this as an opportunity to study the antlers just in case I someday get the opportunity to shoot caribou in the wild. (Reindeer are domesticated caribou).
Try for personality. Some of my most successful wildlife shots are not ‘great’ wildlife shots, but excellent expressive shots. People love to relate to wild animals on a human level.
Be patient. Sometimes, animals (or people for that matter) just won’t cooperate. They eat, they sleep, they hide, they make it impossible to get a great shot. But, just like waiting for a sunrise or sunset, sometimes you just have to wait them out. Had I been a little more patient on this day, I could have had an image of a momma grizzly and cub playing in the water. Instead, I got them eating grass.
And some days, no matter what you do, the animals just won’t cooperate. You just have to get what you can and learn from the results. When we lived in Washington, DC, I used to go to the National Zoo about once per month. The Zoo opens officially at 10AM, but they allowed people in at 8AM for jogging, wandering, and whatever else. Because the zoo was almost always empty at that time, I found it very easy to sit in one spot for a couple of hours and study the animals I was shooting. I learned a lot about them and could pick out specific animals by their movements and how they acted. This greatly helped my wildlife shooting. Some days I would return with fifty images, some days 400. But, if I had just one image that captured an animal and his/her personality in full, I was ecstatic. It’s the little things, I guess. Practice, lots and lots of practice, makes a good photographer; owning the best/newest equipment just makes practicing easier.
While I got no ‘iconic’ images at AWCC, I did learn quite a bit, had a wonderful day watching wildlife, and got to get up close with many animals I had not had a chance to shoot before.