I discovered photographer Ben Traylor on Instagram. I was really fascinated by his photography in Alaska. My memory went back to my youth when I had a trip to Scandinavia, precisely in Finland.
It was in the middle of the summer and the sun would not go down, just a long sunset/sunrise with a couple of blue hours in the middle. The sky colours were to die for.
I decided to contact Ben to have a talk about photography in Alaska. Any tips would have been more than welcome as I am planning my trips for the next months and Alaska is definitely in my bucket list.
Is Alaska a top photography destination in the world? After my talk with Ben and especially after seeing his photography work, I have no doubt the answer is yes.
I definitely have to plan a trip there, maybe in the Alaska summer, when the temperature is like winter in Melbourne LOL
Enjoy the talk and Ben suggestions about photography in Alaska.
Thanks again Benjamin for this interview. First of all, could you tell us a bit more about you and your work?
I have lived mostly in Alaska since 1983. My Dad worked for oil and gas so the family travelled quite a bit. I have lived in Indonesia and Colorado. I am originally from the Houston, Texas area.
I have been married 8 years to my wife Tracy. We have 3 kids, Nakai, Marley, and Aria. We have a Noah’s Ark with 3 dogs, 2 cats, and 2 Australian white tree frogs. I have been shooting since January of 2012.
My first camera was a Nikon D5100 kit. Everything that I have learned has been self taught. I discovered a photographer named James Beltz that has a great YouTube channel for beginners. I watched everyone of his episodes multiple times. Eventually things started to make sense.
In the last couple of years I have focused on panoramas. I capture just about anything in the panoramic style. A few of the things that I have shot panoramic are landscapes, cityscapes, and real estate interiors.
I have recently been doing more portrait photography. My newborn daughter Aria was born on January 26th. Since then I have been shooting every chance that I can.
I primarily shoot in Alaska, but I also photograph Hawaii when on vacation with the family.
You define yourself as an advanced amateur photographer. I am personally very impressed by your work. Have you ever thought about stepping into the professional photography world?
I labelled myself as “Advanced amateur” because I have actually sold a few images. I haven’t labelled myself professional, because I feel that to be professional I would need to have a steady source of income from my photography. I hope to next summer set up a booth at my local Saturday/farmer’s market.
Your website has some fantastic photos of Alaska. Could you tell us something more about photography in this part of the world?
Photography in Alaska is AMAZING!
Alaska is the largest state in the United States. If you were to lay the state of Alaska over the continental united states it would cover a little less than half of
the United States.
The state of Alaska has more coast line than the rest of the united states combined. We also have the tallest mountain in North America formerly known as Mt. McKinley, but last year was changed to Denali.
What are the best seasons for photography in Alaska?
Alaska is a great place to shoot year around.
- Spring is the only season that is considered not a good season to shoot, because after all the snow melts a lot of dirt and rotting fall vegetation is left behind. Each one of the other seasons has great pros and a few cons to shooting during that time.
- Summer(mid May-late July) you can see a lot of the wildlife that Alaska is known for, bears, moose, and eagles. There can be as much as 24 hours of sunlight in some parts of Alaska. Where I live in Anchorage, at the peak of summer we get around 22 hours of sunlight.
- Fall(early August -early November) People flock to Denali national park to capture the Fall colours . The downside is that fall is usually a very rainy season in Alaska.
- Winter(mid November -mid April) There are plenty of photo opportunities. The winter brings beautiful, late sunrises that happen around 8am in the morning. Great snow photography of course. At night it is easy to find dark areas to shoot the stars or Northern Lights.
The downside to winter is the cold windy conditions that make shooting outdoors for long periods challenging.
Do you have any location to suggest?
Here in Anchorage the WHOLE length of the Seward highway from Anchorage to Girdwood are the perfect photo locations. Along that stretch there are multiple rest stops and pull outs that allow for very scenic shots.
What is your typical photography day/session? How do you organise your shots?
Because Alaska’s weather can change by the second the first thing I always do before going out is check the weather forecast.
If I’m going anywhere near the coast line I check the tide times. Here in Alaska the tide can have a +/-30ft . Plus we have legendary bore tides that can move as fast as 30 mph. Surfers usually will catch the bore tides and ride them for miles down the Turnagain Arm that runs along the Seward highway.
Tell us a little bit more about your photography composition
When I compose my shot I try to find a scene that would work well with panorama. One that a single photo couldn’t fully capture. I check to make sure that the foreground and background both have interesting features.
I usually expose according to the brightest part of where I’m shooting. This usually gives me a underexposed set of images that I later correct in Lightroom.
Being based in Melbourne, I cannot complain about the mild winter, sometime up to 20 degrees Celsius. How is photography in Alaska in winter?
Some of the challenges of photography in Alaska are cold and rain. In the winter depending where you are at the temperatures can be around 10F to -15F (-10 to -25C) here in Anchorage. When that happens your fingers can get so cold that you can’t feel the shutter button or adjust tripod heads.
The trick to keep your fingers warm are hand warmers. They are little packets that when exposed to air the chemicals inside began to warm. They also make toe warmers.
Batteries also don’t last as long.
To combat the cold affecting the battery most photographers carry two batteries. You try to keep both batteries as close to your body, usually inside pocket of my coat, so they stay warm. Only taking them out to put in the camera until you are ready to shoot.
When you are done shooting condensation can be a problem. When you take your now cold camera back into a warm car or house moisture can build up inside the camera. To keep this from happening I carry a large seal able Ziploc bag.
By placing the camera in the bag before I return to the house or car I keep the moisture from the warm air from reaching the camera. The same thing that happens when you have a cold drink in a glass on a warm day.
In the summer and fall the weather can be an issue. We get an even amount of rainy and sunny days. Problem is that the cloudless sunny day can quickly change to cloudy downpour. It’s always good to have a good set of rain gear and camera bags that have rain covers.
In the summer the mosquitoes are also a big problem and it is always good to have insect repellent or you’ll spend more time swatting than shooting. Over all I have come to terms with the weather. At first I hated the weather.
My best advice for someone coming to Alaska is to plan for the worst. Have good rain gear for summer or cold weather gear for winter.
What kind of gear do you use?
What I have in my camera bag right now:
- Nikon D810
- Tamron 150-600mm
- Tamron 15-30mm
- Tamron 24-70mm
- Sirui N-2204X tripod
- MeFoto Q2 tripod head
This main gear covers most situations I run into. My favourite lens is my Tamron 15-30mm. The Tamron 15-30mm is great for catching the grandeur of the Alaskan scenery.
I have also about a half a dozen lenses that I don’t use. Most of them are older manual lenses and crop sensor lenses.
What software do you use for your post-processing?
I mainly use Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC. I also have used Photomatix, but I don’t do much HDR photography currently.
If you would buy today new gear for your photography what would be your choice in the current market?
If I were to buy new gear it would be the same Nikon D810.
I like the Tamron series of lenses that I have. I really like the Tamron customer service. They returned my dropped 15-30mm a week after I sent it to
How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
I further my education in photography by getting out and doing. I’ve taken a few intermediate classes a few years back.
Among your works, which one is your favourite?
I would have to say that my recent set of photos taken in Seward, Alaska, are my favourite. In particular the image “Reflect” is my favourite out of that bunch.
Who are the photographers you are taking your inspiration from?
Photographers that I taken inspiration from are Dave Morrow. He goes to some of the most amazing places. His YouTube channel is where I learned most of my post processing techniques for night photography.
Tomasz Raciniewski and his coastline photography is unbelievable.
Ray Jennings has been my biggest inspiration. His Panoramas are what inspired me to focus on the panoramic style.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started photography?
The one thing I wish I knew about when I started photography is more of what it takes for the business side. Specifically the marketing of my photos. As it sits right now I have no idea how I would advertise my photos to markets outside of Alaska.
I met you through Instagram few weeks ago. What do you think about this social environment?
The social media environment is great and not so great. To get the exposure on sites like Facebook and Instagram you have to spend a considerable amount of time to get major exposure. I feel that there are too many different social media sites out there.
I really enjoyed my talk with Ben. So many great tips. Alaska must be really a photography heaven.
The suggested accommodation for Anchorage is The Lakefront Anchorage. Amazing location with a beautiful view to the lake. As romantic as practical.
The Lakefront Anchorage
The other option, on a more intimate scale, is the 11th Avenue Bed And Breakfast. Run by some fantastic hosts it delivers all you need. The breakfast in the morning is the pinnacle to the all experience.
11th Avenue Bed And Breakfast
To read and see more of Ben Traylor photography work have a look to any of the links below
All of the photos in this post are property of Benjamin Traylor. Please contact him directly on his business page for any question