Photographing the Four Seasons of Kodiak Island, Alaska: Autumn and Winter

Throughout my 40 years on this planet I’ve been blessed to see and explore some of the most beautiful places imaginable. When I’m asked which I like the best, I respond without hesitation, “Kodiak Island, Alaska.” It’s a place I dreamed of as a child, and where I now call home. Among many special features of “Alaska’s Emerald Isle”, it is a photographer’s dream! And, like anywhere else in the great 49th state, Kodiak offers unique photographic opportunities with each season of the year.

Close-up photo of watchful eyes of a red fox in Uyak Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.
I’m Watching You! Red Fox in Uyak Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska

Many of these opportunities are overlooked and remain unnoticed by the casual observer, but with a little extra guidance, one becomes aware of the possibilities for making great images year-round.

Autumn sunset of mountains and the Buskin River of Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.
A peaceful autumn sunset along the Buskin River of Kodiak Island


I’ll take you through a quick tour of Kodiak Island’s four seasons and share some photography ideas that can most likely be applied to your neck of the woods as well. I’ll begin the tour with autumn and winter and save some other ideas for spring and summer.


Autumn is my favorite time of year, no matter what the geographical location. Growing up in the Midwest, I constantly looked forward to the display of colors that annually emerged in the hardwood forests. By contrast, I was not sure what to expect during my first fall on Kodiak…towering green spruce trees look pretty much the same year-round – tall and green!

However, I was surprisingly delighted to find quite a diverse palate of vibrant colors when late September arrived. The cottonwoods, alder thickets, berry bushes, and other species of trees, all produce stunningly beautiful fall hues that complement each other wonderfully!

Landscape image of mountains and tidal creek taken in the autumn on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.
Autumn colors along a tidal creek on Kodiak Island.


Something to keep in mind when photographing the magnificent Alaskan landscapes of autumn is that one must act relatively fast, as the land itself is changing fast. While each day can offer a unique variation in the tone of fall colors, the powerful, howling winds that are regularly experienced on Kodiak can quickly blow away and destroy a masterpiece of fall foliage in a matter of hours. Like a Boy Scout, one must be prepared at all times!

When you see a breathtaking display of autumn beauty, make those images and make them now! Get into the habit of carrying a high quality camera (not a cell phone) with you at all times. If you don’t have a DSLR, make a point of investing in a high quality, compact “point and shoot” camera – this applies to any location you might visit throughout the world. Though the image quality is not quite on par with that of a DSLR, a high resolution JPEG can still produce some great prints! As I always say, “something is better nothing” when it comes to capturing truly magical moments in nature.

Harbor Seals with heads sticking out of the water in Ugak Bay at Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.
A group of Harbor Seals curiously watch the photographer as he kayaks around a small island in Ugak Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska.
A Kodiak Brown Bear sits in the water of the Ayakulik River eating salmon at Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen
A Kodiak Brown Bear’s nimble paws hold the salmon caught for breakfast along the Ayakulik River at Kodiak Island, Alaska.


The fall months are a major time of transition not only for the landscape of Kodiak Island, but for the wildlife as well. Massive brown bears are eating voraciously to fatten up for the winter, and while one has to be even more cautious in their presence during the fall, bear activity is at a peak and there are many opportunities for photographing them along the many salmon streams.

Along with the bears, bald eagles, foxes, other critters are all on the rivers, gobbling up the hundreds of spawned-out salmon carcasses. It’s an unbelievable sight to see the cycle of life carried out in such a manner right before one’s eyes.

A Bald Eage and its offspring having a meal along a bay at Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.

A Bald Eagle and its offspring sit together at bayside to have a talk over dinner.

But again…one must be extremely cautious and well educated as to proper safety procedures, as bears and other animals are very protective of their pre-winter food sources and will not tolerate anything or anyone threatening them. Learn all you can before you arrive and ask lots of questions of your guide or the locals before you head out to photograph all the magnificent wildlife.

A Kodiak brown bear smiles while enjoying a sunny, beautiful autumn day along the Ayakulik River at Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.

A Kodiak brown bear smiles while enjoying a sunny, beautiful
autumn day along the Ayakulik River at Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Autumn on Kodiak Island is truly a thrilling time of the year for the nature photographer and like with any photography, the light of sunrise and sunset will make the colors of the season and your subject come alive with golden hues.

A lone tree overlooks Chiniak Bay at sunset on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.
A lone tree overlooks Chiniak Bay on Kodiak Island.



When “Old Man Winter” sets in on Kodiak, the reality of living in Alaska comes back with a vengeance! The cold, short days and rather colorless landscape is not the most enjoyable. During those winter months it often seems like everyone is in a nasty mood…including Mother Nature. But, while one is powerless to change the forces that govern the natural world, one can certainly change the forces that govern one’s way of thinking about it. With a little attitude adjustment now and again, those miserable days of winter can turn into an exciting new world of photo opportunities!

Long exposure captures the rocks and blue crashing waves at Isthmus Bay on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.

A long exposure captures the crashing waves at Isthmus Bay on Kodiak Island.

For example, because of the short days (average daylight of 6-7 hours), one does not have to get up insanely early to capture some spectacular Alaskan sunrise images. During the winter months one could sleep in till 10:00 AM, have a nice breakfast, and still photograph the sunrise.

You may not have many daylight hours, but there are still many subjects to photograph. It’s an ideal time of year for photographing the hundreds of majestic bald eagles that inhabit Kodiak Island. You’ll find them most anywhere, but they are sure to stay close to their food sources.

Black and white image of Bald Eage sitting on a post at the dock of a bay in Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay


While it seems that the only colors which are present in nature during those cold months are black, white and blue, I suggest taking advantage of the palette. Winter is perfect for creating black and white landscape images, as well as concentrating on the varying degrees of blue that come alive in seascapes.

Black and white winter landscape of bay, mountains, and frozen ice and snow on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen

You can project that feeling of being cold when creating black and white images of the frozen landscape – Lake Rose Tead on Kodiak Island.

Photographing beaches, tidal areas, and monoliths are exciting and challenging subjects, especially when you are freezing your butt off! Which reminds me, make sure you dress properly for your winter photo-safari, and have an extra, fully charged camera battery or two ready to go.

Tip: Cold weather will drain the camera’s battery more quickly. Keep the extra fully charged battery inside your coat to keep them warm.

Freezing waterfall and frozen ice and snow on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen

A freezing waterfall gushes forth along the side of a ridge on Kodiak Island.
A snow white Ptarmigan roosts on a branch in subzero winter temperature on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen

A lone snow white Ptarmigan calmly sits on a roosting branch in subzero temperatures.

Blue abstract image of frozen bubbles in a slab of ice along a river on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen

Look for interesting winter subjects! Psychedelic frozen bubbles in a slab of ice along a river on Kodiak Island make a great subject for beautiful abstract photo art.

Tip: Condensation (moisture) and cameras really don’t get along well – it can damage your gear. Be sure to get your camera acclimated to the cold weather and before bringing it back into a warm room, place it inside a plastic bag with the air squeezed out and place it in the coldest, unheated area you can find.

Because the sun goes down earlier in this part of the world, one has more hours of darkness and that provides great prospects for astrophotography – images of the colors and dance of the aura borealis and a sky full of stars, which means you can also create long exposure star trail images. Night photography is great fun and a whole new world to explore for those who are used to only doing photography in the light of day.

The rainbow colors of the Aurora Borealis in dark winter sky on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen

The Aurora Borealis creates rainbows in the dark winter skies.

Tips: Use a wide angle lens, set your camera’s auto focus on a subject at infinity while it is still light outside, use a high ISO with noise reduction and slow shutter speeds. Carry a flashlight with you, so you can make adjustments as needed during the photo session.

As a final suggestion, get down and dirty with your landscape compositions no matter what season of the year. Be adventurous! I often find myself doing things like putting on fishing waders and standing right in the middle of frozen creeks while doing my photography. Don’t be afraid to crawl in the dirt to get those super low angle shots, or climb a steep mountain in the dark of the morning for that bird’s eye view of a sunrise – best to scout the area first or go with a guide or with someone who knows the area. Be careful and respectful, of course, but get a little wild while photographing in the wild!

The tracks of a Kodiak bear frozen in the ice and snow on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.

The tracks of a Kodiak bear are frozen in the ice and snow.
Landscape photo of frozen creek, pine trees and snow during a snow storm on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen

The frozen beauty of a creek in the midst of a blizzard on Kodiak Island.

The last frontier offers unforgettable photographic adventures anytime of the year! Start planning it, and most importantly…do it! Come on up and visit Alaska’s Emerald Isle and create stunning image memories of your own.

by Joseph Classen
All text & photos: © 2013 Joseph Classen. All rights reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.