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It's time to check off another line item on your bucket list. With pleasure I invite you to join me in remote coastal Katmai National Park for 7 nights in mid-September, 2020 to photograph brown bears chasing salmon.
Arrangements have been made with a highly-respected, long-term (over 2 decades) coastal Katmai NP boat operator to host our group. After a 1-hour floatplane flight from Kodiak, AK, we will set down on a remote coastal Katmai NP bay where we will be met by a skiff and shuttled to the "Ursus", the original "Time Bandit" boat from the TV show Deadliest Catch, our home for the week. This is a solid ship that I've had the privilege of staying on and the Katmai NP bays we will be visiting are incredible (Geographic and Kukak Bays for example). While we will be boat-based (extremely convenient in this location), the skiff will transport us to the shores of the salmon streams where we will get up close and personal with the bears while photographing them. The amount of time allocated for this trip means that the ship can move from bay to bay, targeting the best salmon runs and providing variety in our images.
The September timeframe is ideal for bears looking good with new coats and a huge size, up roughly 40% from August. The lighting is softer at this time of the year with a low angle ideal that is ideal for photography. Also, the number of dark hours is adequate for a decent night of sleep while still taking advantage of the ideal lighting hours. Humpback/pink, chum/keta/dog, and sometimes sockeye/silver salmon, a bear favorite, run at this time of the year. There are no promises that we will see wolves, but this time of the year holds an increased chance of this encounter.
Plan on hanging out with a small group that shares your passion for wildlife photography in a spectacularly scenic location. Note that this is not Katmai NP's popular Brooks Falls where there is often a waiting line to get onto the observation deck.
When and Where
Thu, September 17 to Thu, September 24, 2020 in remote coastal Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Hopefully you, along with up-to-7 other participants. Sign up with your friends!
The cost for the 7-night Kodiak-to-Kodiak trip is $7,695 per person plus crew tips. Meals are included. Email me at Bryan@Carnathan.com to sign up or ask questions!
What are We Photographing?
Our primary photo subject will be brown bears. Wildlife, by definition, is "wild" and that means it is unpredictable and there can be no guarantees. That said, coastal Katmai National Park is an extremely reliable location to photograph brown bears and, as mentioned, the bears should be chasing salmon in the small streams at this time of the year.
In addition to brown bear, we could see other animals including sea otters, whales, and potentially even wolves. We will be opportunistic and take advantage of any interesting subjects that we encounter – and discovering those moments are part of the excitement. In addition to the immersive wildlife photography experience, there will certainly be opportunity for some landscape photography. The views from the boat are awesome.
While the implied definitions of these terms vary, I see "workshops" typically laid out with a planned schedule and "tours" typically designed to put you in front of subjects at the right time. I'm calling this trip a "tour" because the primary goal is for you to get great images and we will be opportunistic in that regard, making a firm schedule difficult to implement. That said, we will spend a lot of time together and I will teach (including as we are actively photographing), answer questions (please bring many), critique images, assist in editing, etc. throughout our time together. Thus, the educational element will also be a primary part of our time together – an "Instructional Photo Tour".
In the field, we will photograph side-by-side. You taking great images home will be a primary goal, but you capturing those images yourself is important and I can best describe what you should do if I am doing it myself at the same time. This also provides the participant opportunity to watch how it is done. Your constant feedback and questions during the IPT are important and will enable me to provide you with the best experience possible.
An "expedition" is another type of immersive photography experience and this event involves multiple daily mini-expeditions. Certain is that we will have an adventure.
This will be an only modestly strenuous trip, with much of the strain dependent on the size and weight of the gear you are carrying. Sometimes the hike from the skiff to the bears will be short and sometimes we might eventually end up as far as (roughly) a mile up the streams. Thus, one needs to be in reasonable physical condition.
What is Included
From Kodiak and back to Kodiak, all food and lodging (on the boat) is provided. In the boat's current configuration, lodging is two bunks per room and two rooms per bathroom.
What is Not Included
Transportation to/from Kodiak and any lodging prior to or post trip. Note that flights to Kodiak are typically out of Anchorage.
Tips for the crew are not included.
The schedule may vary, but a typical day looks like this: We will wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, slip into waders (hip waders provided, bringing your own chest waders is a better option), board the skiff with our gear, and, along with a bear guide, will head for the streams holding both salmon and bears. Typically, we come back to the boat for lunch and go back out for another round of photography later in the day. Staying out all day is an option we can request.
Please note: travel insurance is very strongly recommended for this trip. While the operator has had "only three trip cancellations in the past twenty-two years due to weather (guests didn't schedule buffer days)", they "cannot accept liability for costs incurred due to weather or other forces of nature." They are "a small company, servicing relatively few clients each season, and the nature of [their] trip presents some variables over which [they] have no control." Safety comes first. If conditions are not safe, they don't fly. Allowing some flexibility in travel (buffer days) is highly recommended in this part of Alaska.
This trip will fall under the operator's booking guidelines as follows:
To reserve your space, a 50% deposit (not refundable unless your reserved space can be rebooked) of trip price within 10 days of verbal confirmation of your desired dates. Final payment is required 90 days prior to trip departure date. Reservations made within 90 days of trip departure dates require full payment. Credit card payments are welcome. Cancellation fees are in effect. Anyone requiring a different payment plan can ask about the Custom Pay Plan.
Let's Do This! Sign Up Now!
Email me at Bryan@Carnathan.com to sign up or ask questions!
Camera Gear Needed
Aside from a great attitude and a strong interest in wildlife photography, you are going to need some gear and while most cameras with a telephoto lens will work fine, mid-upper-grade gear should be considered for best results from this event.
There will be times when a fast frame rate is beneficial (bears chasing salmon for example), but I will likely opt for higher resolution cameras that typically do not have the fastest-available frame rates. A DSLR camera or a late-model MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) should be in your bag.
A telephoto lens or lenses will be needed with a full-frame equivalent of at least 400mm (250mm on an APS-C) suggested and having longer focal lengths available will be appreciated at times (full frame 600mm equivalent is ideal and a 1.4x may even be appreciated behind this lens). Wide apertures are often an advantage, especially on dark days, and the wide aperture's ability to blur the background can be useful. Any telephoto lens can work, but there may be times when an f/4 or wider aperture is preferred. This is a great event to break out your big lenses for and it is also a great time to try a new one, perhaps via renting.
My current plan is to take a pair of high-resolution cameras such as the Canon EOS 5Ds R along with a 600mm lens such as the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens (probably along with a Black Rapid shoulder strap to carry it with) and a telephoto zoom lens such as the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens for my primary wildlife kit. In this location, I plan to carry both setups in a MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L.
We will sit together in a line on small folding stools while photographing streamside and a strong tripod with a gimbal head is ideal. I'll leave my backpack on the ground/sand beside me (on a garbage bag to keep it clean) with the second camera and lens ready to grab when the bears get too close for the big lens (expect them to get very close at times).
Bring some basic landscape photography gear.
Bring adequate memory card capacity, enough batteries to last at least a day and enough chargers to restore that capability overnight. Bringing a laptop is highly recommended, enabling review of your images throughout the time we have together. Bring an external hard drive (or multiple of them) for an additional level of backup. Bring a flashlight.
Consider what failure of any piece of gear means for your experience and consider bringing a backup for items identified as critical.
As always, feel free to ask us for gear advice.
Weather / Clothing
The weather in Katmai in late September is typically very nice, though cool and sometimes even cold (mostly mornings and late evenings). Dressing in layers is the best plan. Rain protection may be required at times, including rain covers for camera gear while in the field.
The wildlife we are pursuing is acclimated to humans and does not seem to care what we are wearing. Thus, camo clothing is not necessary. Just in case you were wondering, bears think salmon taste much better than people.
Sign Up or Ask Questions!
Contact me at Bryan@Carnathan.com.