For the most part, a visit to Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska is going to be either for the sport fishing or the bear photography. Usually, not much is mentioned regarding landscape photography within the park. That being said, there *are* all sorts of landscape photo ops waiting to be captured within that amazing place.
From Naknek Lake Beach
The beach along Naknek Lake is mainly the purview of floatplanes, a few boats, kayakers and the bears. Humans are advised to walk the path paralleling the beach since bears have right-of-way along the shore (actually, bears have right-of-way *everywhere*). Sometimes, though, when no bears are around, Naknek Lake’s shoreline affords great landscape venues – with or without the floatplanes.
If it’s a sunny day out on the lake, then make sure you have a polarizing filter and/or graduated ND filter to bring out the blue and aqua hues of the water and sky, and to better define the cloud pattern.
Of course, during your visit, you might encounter an overcast day. This happened to me shortly after arrival in the park back in July 2013. The sky was a matte gray color with no cloud definition; no filter would really have helped remedy the situation. On days like that, concentrate more on how to frame your composition for an interesting shot.
From The Brooks Lodge Area
It’s not quite as easy to get an expansive landscape image from the Brooks Lodge vicinity, unless you happen to plunk your tripod and camera down on the ground in front of the lodge rooms pointing toward the oxbow portion of Brooks River. From that vantage point, you can see bears way out in the distance splashing around the water in search of salmon and sea gulls (and maybe even an eagle) looking for a finned snack as well.
Just be mindful of where you stand, because it’s not unusual for a bear to suddenly pop out from within the tall grass that creates the borderline between lodge and landscape beyond.
The route from the lodge rooms up to the Cultural Center also offers opportunities to capture such “intimate” landscapes as sunlight on the grassy trail or wildflowers carpeting a forested scene beyond.
From “The Corner”
Images of the mountains, bears, and fishermen (and women) in the distance make for great landscapes as seen from “The Corner” along the bank of Brooks River, right next to the floating bridge. If you are photographing in that spot during the morning hours on a clear sunny day, set your aperture small enough (the smaller the aperture, the bigger the f-stop number: f7.1 to f18) to attain a neat starburst effect with the sun and its reflection in the water. You can capture a cool shot even if – like me – you forget to bring your polarizer with you that morning.
From The Lower Platform
Many landscape images may be captured from the vantage (and safety) of the bear viewing platforms. You might need to pen a little post-it note reminder and stick it to the inside of your camera pack, though, since it’s easy to forget a landscape shot when you see a bear right there in front of you, posing for your camera – thoughts of landscapes tend to fly beyond memory when that occurs.
While you are at it, pen another note to remind you to bring your polarizer to this location.
The river water is shallow enough at the bridge for people to see the silver flash and silhouettes of the migrating salmon and a polarizer will cut out that extra glare on the water so you can achieve an even clearer view of the fish swimming en masse.
Evening is a fantastic time for landscape images near the Lower Platform (although the light is a little sweeter in the morning). During July, it never really gets dark up there until about 2AM, and even then, it’s more like twilight than total darkness. One evening around 9PM, I and some fellow photo tour attendees were heading back from Brooks Falls toward our lodge rooms. Two of the attendees stopped at the Lower Platform and set up their tripods in the bear-trodden grass beside the riverbank for a little landscape photography. Yours truly, nervous about a big ole bear stepping from beyond the tall grass unexpectedly, decided to capture more landscape images from the relative safety of standing on the gated bridge (which is not really that safe, either, but it gives the appearance of being safer than just standing out in the open).
Looking toward Brooks Falls from the vantage point of the Riffles Platform Most photographers are concentrating on those frame-filling images of the bears and as such are all crowded cheek-by-jowl at the Brooks Falls Platform, a few hundred yards beyond the Riffles Platform. When it’s too crowded, then a jaunt back to The Riffles can afford some really nice landscape images, with or without incorporating any bears into the scene.
Incorporating The Wildlife
Speaking of incorporating the bears, sometimes the wildlife will just be too far out of reach for whatever lens you happen to bring along with you that day. When that occurs, include that small blip of wildlife into your landscape scenery. This adds scale as well as a better concept of the wildlife’s surroundings.
Yup, I admit, I didn’t capture too many landscape images during the four days and three nights I spent in the park. But hey, I got some. And there were other opportunities just waiting for me around the corner (like a day trip to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes) had I chosen to eschew a day of bear viewing. Maybe next time….