Notch up your photography skills with Denali Photo Guides

I can’t believe I’ve never done a tour with Denali Photo Guides until now. During my recent trip to Denali last month, I went on a Midnight Sun Photo Excursion and I learned so much.  

Denali Photo Guides provides photography tours, taking photography enthusiasts to their favorite spots in the Denali area. The company was built in 2010 on Terry Boyd’s passion and experience with photography and interior Alaska. Now in its 12th season operating with a handful more staff than he started, it’s one of the best boutique tour experiences in the Denali area. They have three tour programs; the signature Denali Photo Excursion, the Midnight Sun Photo Excursion, and the Backcountry Photo Excursion to remote locations via helicopter. For this trip, I went on the Midnight Sun Photo Excursion, because it’s perfect for this midnight sun season.

Midnight Sun Photo Excursion

The Midnight Sun Photo Excursion is only available between May and July 31. Around the Summer Solstice time, the Denali area gets more than 20 hours of daylight per day. And yes, there’s no complete darkness in this part of Alaska in summer. Even with the long daylight hours, there are still sunset hours. Due to the high latitude, the golden hour in Alaska is more like golden hours. Different from what you might be used to in lower latitude regions. 

During this Midnight Sun Photo Excursion, we’ll be chasing light with the best light wranglers in the area. In summer, I’m never up late enough to see the sunset. I mean, sunset happens around midnight, so it’s rare for me to see it. So I was curious to see what Alaska’s summer sunsets are like and capture this rare (for me) scene. 

The tour begins at 9 pm 

We got picked up in their big, comfy pickup truck and headed out to our locations. It was a group of four including myself. All their tours run with a maximum of four, which provides plenty of one-on-one assistance. All of us had different levels of photography experience, from a beginner to professionals with three different camera brands. 

As any other day in Denali, the day’s weather had been dynamic. It rained for a bit, it was warm and sunny at times, and clouds were moving fast. That’s the main characteristic of weather in this area; it changes fast. We weren’t sure if the tour could go on but that’s the beauty of light wrangling. You just need to know where to go. There’s a list of possible areas that they go to for each tour, but it’s not fixed. That’s where the experience of the guide kicks in. They read the weather forecast and cloud movements, and we go for the areas that have the best light and sunset possibilities. 

It’s all about knowing where to go when 

Our guide Eva is an experienced photo guide and a prolific photographer herself. Recently returned from a documentary expedition in Greenland, she’s specializing in expedition and mountaineering photography. She has a long family history in this area and lived in Denali for years before moving to British Columbia. Not to mention that she has a deep love and passion for the Denali area and knows exactly where to go. 

First, we went south on the Parks Highway to the Denali Highway. Even though we were outside of the Denali National Park boundary, some areas we photographed are in the national park and even the scenery outside of the national park is equally beautiful and less crowded. We walked a very short distance onto one of the hiking trails along the roadside to capture this beautiful light on a mountainside. The sunlight was already low and glowing yellow, and clouds made the light even softer. Eva showcased a few possible compositions and we tested different focal lengths. 

Clouds were making really interesting shapes and lighting, so we stopped at a couple more places to capture interesting streams, lighting on mountain peaks, and the sky. While we were busy shooting in one direction, a rainbow appeared in the opposite direction. We heard this was great weather and the season to see rainbows and they were right. This rainbow lingered for a long time, so we were able to capture it with different compositions, focal lengths, and exposure. 

I learned so much from this photo tour 

What I really appreciated about this tour was that it gave me a new perspective. I’ve been shooting photos professionally for more than a decade. So I know my way around cameras and photography. My photography started with astrophotography but developed into cultural portraits and travel/street photography during my full-time digital nomad period. Capturing those moments is thrilling for me. Of course, I notice pretty scenery and take photos. I’ve been to some of the most amazing places in the world and Alaska has no shortage of beautiful landscapes. But through this photo tour, I learned how to appreciate landscapes and lighting. It was only four hours but it really opened my eyes to look at the lights differently and the landscape composition. It’s amazing how someone else’s input opens up a whole other perspective. 

Experience the Denali area more intimately 

Another reason to go on this photo tour is to experience the Denali area from a different point of view. I’ve traveled to Denali many times, and once to Denali Highway. But every time I visit, I learn something new and discover different places. Terry, the owner who started Denali Photo Guides, spent more than a decade in this area photographing and searching for the best light and vantage points. He holds high standards in all his photo guides, so all his guides are passionate, fluent in photography and gear, and knowledgeable. 

From this tour, I saw the same places I went to before but from a totally different point of view. The Denali area is also complicated. There are not many marked trails. You just need to know where to go. And the photo guides know exactly where to go and which trail to take. Just a few steps down from the main highway, the perspective changes and lakes open up. It would’ve been a great tour of the area even without a camera. 

Why join Denali Photo Guides 

  • 4-people maximum in every tour
  • The photo guide is your driver, light wrangler, and local tour guide
  • Pick up from any Denali location
  • Provide technical information and customized tips per gear
  • An opportunity to see the Denali area in a different and more intimate way
  • All tours can be arranged as private

They also have an online class where you can ask all sorts of questions including how to process your photos.  

I highly recommend this photo tour, even if you’re a professional photographer. I asked lots of questions about camera settings, composition, exposure, and so on, and it was really helpful. Sometimes it was a confirmation of what I already knew and sometimes it was a great setting suggestion from someone who knows the area’s conditions. Also, the best part is to see the Denali area a little bit differently than the rest of the crowds. 

If you have a higher budget and want to experience something unique, their Backcountry Photo Excursion would be great. I’m interested in experiencing that next time I’m up in Denali. 

Here are some of the photos from that night, and the rare Alaskan summer sunset!

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