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Tips for Photographing Your Alaskan Cruise

Updated on July 20, 2011

An Alaskan Cruise can be the trip of a lifetime. This hub provides tips to help you capture beautiful images as you travel.

What Type of Gear Should You Take?

  • A quality digital SLR (or two). I used the Canon 40D and it worked great. You might also want to check out the Canon 7d. If you do carry two bodies, you may find that it is more convenient to keep a long lens mounted on one camera and a short zoom or fisheye mounted on another.
  • A quality digital point and shoot camera (try the Canon G12). It is not always convenient to lug your gear around the ship so having a point and shoot along gives you the option of more mobility without having to miss a photo opportunity.
  • 2-3 quality lenses, one of which is a minimum of 200mm. If you hope to shoot that frame-filling image of a majestic bald eagle or massive whale fluke, you need to carry a long lens and, possibly, a teleconverter. Also, consider a wide angle lens for the awesome landscapes that you are certain to encounter.
  • Plenty of compact flash cards. It is hard to take your finger off the shutter while the glacier is calving or the humpback is beginning its dive. Pack enough CF cards so you don't have to be stingy while shooting. If you plan to shoot in RAW format, I'd recommend 4 or 8 GB cards.
  • An external drive for backup. Maybe overkill...maybe not. Take a look at the Wolverine FlashPac portable storage drive or a similar product.
  • A laptop, or possibly an iPad, for editing. If you have over-indulged at the buffet and don't feel like putting on your dancing shoes, you can relax in front of your laptop and review the day's shoot.
  • A comfortable camera bag or backpack. You need to get your gear to Alaska and back in one piece. You also need to carry and access your gear while on excursions and tours. Invest in a comfortable and well built system to hold your gear.

General Tips

  • Reserve a room with a balcony. There is plenty to see, even on cruising days. Having your own balcony is a real plus for photographers.
  • Prepare for the weather. Hey, it's Alaska! Be ready for cool temperatures and a bit of rain. Be sure to pack so that you can dress in layers, especially on your excursions.
  • Plan ahead. Do a bit of research on the areas you plan to visit. What kind of photos do you expect to make in each place? Is there a "must have" image at a particular stop? If so, how will you be certain to capture it? For most folks, an Alaskan cruise is not an every other weekend affair - make the most of yours!

Basic Photography Tips

  • Most worthwhile images are not made with the lens cover on. Be ready to shoot - the wildlife in Alaska is not limited to the wilderness.
  • The sky is likely to be overcast. Check your camera settings and be sure that you are ready to shoot under cloudy skies.
  • Capture the action. Check your shutter speed - can you freeze the water dripping from the whale fluke? Adjust your ISO if necessary to allow for a proper shutter speed.
  • Stablilize. Much of your photography will be from your cruise ship or from a smaller vessel on an excursion. Be prepared to stabilize your camera. Either invest in image stabilized lenses or bring along a sturdy mono/tripod.
  • See the big picture. It is easy to get lost in the moment of calving glaciers and spotting whale tails. Take a moment to study the overall view and determine if you can capture an image that screams "Alaska".
  • Don't overlook the details. Opportunities for macro photography abound!


While in port, excursions provide an opportunity to explore the local area and, hopefully, make several great photographs. Chances are that your cruiseline provides information regarding excursions. If not, you can research and book tours online. Keep in mind that not all excursions are created equal from a photography standpoint. Choose an excursion that will provide you the freedom to move around and photograph as you see fit. If possible, choose an excursion specifically designed for photographers.

When researching excursions, pay attention to the details. How long will you be off the ship? Is lunch provided? Will you be hiking? What type of weather is typical? What type of travel is involved (boat, bus, etc.)? Be sure to pack the right camera gear and dress appropriately for the type of excursion you plan to take.

Don't forget

  • Extra camera batteries and/or battery charger
  • Rain cover for your camera/lens
  • Card reader for transferring images from CF to laptop
  • Camera/lens cleaning gear

Workflow Tips

  • Copy images from compact flash card to external drive
  • Copy images from compact flash card to laptop
  • Put the CF card back into your camera and format the card
  • Quickly review the shoot and delete any images that are obviously out of focus or otherwise poor
  • Rank your "keepers"
  • Add enough metadata to allow for easy identification of location and/or subject once you return home
  • If time permits, perform basic image adjustments
  • If necessary, use the on board internet service to upload images to your website, blog, etc. (Beware of the cost and speed of the internet service!)


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