Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Alaska Cruise Photo Tips: Plan for Quirky Weather

Crowded decks at Glacier Bay make it important for photographers to find a spot early © 2018 Scott S. Bateman
Crowded decks at Glacier Bay make it important for photographers to find a spot early © 2018 Scott S. Bateman

Anyone with a camera will find that an Alaska cruise has plenty of photographic opportunities, both on the ship and off it.

Two basic tips for Alaska cruise photos will help a traveler take the best possible shots:

1. Plan for the quirky Alaska weather.
2. Develop a shooting plan in advance.

Few feelings are more fulfilling for a travel photographer than coming back with dozens if not hundreds of great shots, unique perspectives and favorite memories. Few feelings are more frustrating that coming back with a only handful of great shots, if any, from a full-week cruise. Planning can make a big difference.

Plan for Quirky Weather

Alaska gets an unusual mixture of rain, fog and sun during the summer cruising season compared to other destinations.

Fog is most likely in the mornings, so photographers who want to get eerie or atmospheric shots should plan on shooting at sunrise.

Rain and clouds are common, which means good lighting for outdoor shooting is unpredictable. When the skies are clear or patches of sun appear, prepare to drop everything and grab the camera.

Even with record summer rainfall, which happened in 2017, a photographer who researches how to shoot in bad weather may find some good opportunities for Alaska cruise photos.

Develop a Shooting Plan

Amateur photographers like myself tend to take a camera and start shooting whatever looks good. Experienced photographers research their subjects in advance to take advantage of every possible opportunity.

Go to a stock photo site such as DreamsTime that have descriptions with each photo. Look at what other photographers have shot on their Alaskan cruise for ideas.

Search the database using “long-tail keywords”, which are search terms consisting of two or more words.

For example, do a search on “skagway alaska cruise train” or just “skagway alaska train” to see how people photographed the White Pass & Yukon Route train for different perspectives both before the trip and during.

Common shooting subjects include glaciers, wildlife, scenery and ports of call.

Photos Aboard

After embarkation, get to know every possible vantage point on the ship for taking photos of the many panoramic views available in the days ahead. If the weather is good, take some practice photos on the decks and the surrounding coast and islands of the Inside Passage.

Glacier Bay makes this tip important because passengers cram every inch of the open decks to take photos of the glaciers. In fact, the crowd can be so thick that some passengers have to hoist their cameras over the heads to shoot past the people in front of them.

Plan to go to the best vantage points before the ship arrives at Glacier Bay. Once passengers fill the railings, they often don’t leave for the next two hours. Get to the best open spot early and stay there until taking enough photos. Then take a chance and move elsewhere on the ship.

Important vantage points include:

1. The bow. Some ships have an open bow section that holds a small number of people. This area at the front of the ship gets especially crowded because it is the best vantage point on arriving with clear 270-degree views.

It may have clear plastic safety windows over the railings, and seasalt and other material may make the windows a bit murky. So photographers either have to shoot between the cracks that separate the windows or lift the camera into the air to shoot over them. Shooting through them is possible but risky. Get there early!

2. Side decks. These positions usually offer the worst places to shoot photos because of much more limited views than the bow. They also have the plastic safety windows.

3. Top deck. After the bow, the highest deck on the ship offers some benefit for shooting down on the ship crowds and a glacier that may be less than 100 feet away. Some parts of the highest deck may have just railings and not have the plastic security windows in the way.

4. The stern. The benefit of going to the back of the ship may surprise some photographers. Many ships have an open-air cafeteria in the back. The time to go there is when the ship is turning around to leave. It offers many more opportunities for final photos from another vantage point.

Photos Ashore

Leap on any opportunity to take photos on days—if any—when some sunshine is available, even if it is just patches of sun. The weather can make or break photo opportunities. Lucky visitors with good sun will end up with the best photos.

Mornings are often the worst time to take photos because of higher chances of fog. The exception is anyone who wants to shoot an atmospheric photo.

Bald eagles are common, especially in Ketchikan and Juneau; bears and whales are uncommon. Photographing any creatures will require a camera with a decent zoom.

Take full advantage of the shooting plan during any good weather or a break in bad weather.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
December 30, 2022