Photographing the Four Seasons of Kodiak Island, Alaska: Spring and Summer

The lush greenery and mountains reflect in the waters of Anton Larson Lake on Kodiak Island by Joseph Classen.
The lush greenery and mountains reflect in the waters of Anton Larson Lake on Kodiak Island.

In my first article I shared some experiences and ideas for photographing Kodiak Island, Alaska, in the autumn and winter months. I’ll be picking up where I left off and kick around some thoughts about the spring and summer months. Again, many of the ideas that I’ll be discussing here can be applied to other locations besides Alaska.

It’s often said that there are only two seasons in Alaska: summer and winter. Indeed, those transitional months of spring and fall do seem relatively short by comparison. Not long after the glory days of summer are over, the leaves change color rather quickly, fall off the trees, and the next thing you know darkness is upon the land and everything is covered in snow for what often feels like an eternity.

So, let’s get right to it and spring forward into looking at those post-winter months.


Spring

When the ice finally melts and the days get warmer… by the time one thaws out and realizes that it is officially spring, the season is already over and the long awaited summer time is back!

As short and as fast as the spring months are, they bring about a great resurrection of the natural world. And this is most obvious in places like Alaska, where all of creation has endured the long, dark “death” of a cold, brutal winter.

When the month of May emerges there is a great excitement that fills the air! The brown, dead grasses begin their transformation into the lush greenery for which the “Emerald Isle” of Kodiak Island is known. The salmon runs are about to kick into gear, migrating songbirds and whales are on the move, colorful wildflowers are beginning to sprout, and the days are getting longer.

The mighty Kodiak Brown Bears have awakened from hibernation and the Bald Eagles have dispersed from their winter hangouts. Life is good! In a nutshell, spring brings about a wonderful renewal all throughout the land and the island is literally exploding with opportunities for the photographer!

A Kodiak Brown Bear sow and cub spend some time bonding on top of a steep cliff overlooking the Frazer River by Joseph Classen.
A Kodiak Brown Bear sow and cub spend some time bonding on top of a steep cliff overlooking the Frazer River

Spring, like autumn, goes by quite rapidly. One has to act fast to make the most of it. Something that I especially enjoy about late spring is that it offers the ‘best of two worlds’: one can make photographs of the spectacular emerald green of Kodiak and still have majestic snowcapped mountain peaks in the background (lead photo). What landscape photographer would not get a thrill out of that?

Along with the various shades of green, white, and fading browns that the mountains and hills offer, one can begin photographing the wildflowers of Kodiak, as large expanses of lupines begin to bloom and blanket the land during the month of June.

Purple Lupine and other wildflowers decorate the landscape along the Karluk River in Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.
Purple Lupine and other wildflowers decorate the landscape along the Karluk River in Kodiak Island, Alaska.

TIP:The month of June has an average maximum temperature is 55 degrees, so be prepared by bringing warm clothing, waterproof boots, hats and gloves. Even if the daytime temperatures rise, the evenings will be quite chilly.

If one decides it’s time to check out all of photo subjects on or near the water, you may be lucky enough to photograph sea otters, porpoises, Harbor Seals, Steller Sea Lions, and various whales.

During the spring months, one can watch the many whales that are on the move by photographing from a mountain overlook or by taking to the sea. It’s an unbelievable sight to watch dozens of these massive creatures breaching and diving throughout the course of an afternoon.

Kodiak Island Wildlife: Bald Eagle, Red Fox, Spotted Seal, Gray Jay, Gray Whale Tail, Sea Otter

TIP: Have your camera settings ready for the available light and action – work with fast shutter speeds.

As those spring months get underway, so does much of the fishing on Kodiak Island, as the various species of salmon are in the process of making their annual spawning run. This can be a great time of year for action and adventure photography, as there are fisherman and fishing boats everywhere!

Kodiak is home to one of Alaska’s biggest fishing fleets and a visit to one of our boat harbors will provide more than ample opportunity for some great photography. Of course, one does not want to aggravate the captain or crew of a vessel while they are hard at work or you will hear about it!

So, it’s a good idea to maybe head down first thing in the morning, or later in the evening, when much of the activity has settled. Plus, the color of the light during the sunrise and sunset hours will be to your creative advantage.

Photos of the fishing fleet at St. Herman Harbor, Kodiak Island, Alaska, and a wall of new red crab pots wait to be sent to sea by Joseph Classen.
The fishing fleet at St. Herman Harbor. A wall of new crab pots wait to be sent to sea.

Summer

There is only one word to describe a beautiful, summer day on Kodiak Island: Paradise! The island is alive and teaming with life everywhere! All the photographic opportunities that I described for the spring months are amplified even the more! The long Alaskan days and the famous “midnight sun” offer hours upon hours of time to explore and create unforgettable images.

Sunset photo of dead fallen tree and sun, star burst rays at Isthmus Bay on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.

Deadfall Tree Sunset – Isthmus Bay, Kodiak Island

PHOTO TIP: To get that star burst effect of the suns rays, use a wide angle lens and use a narrow aperture (f/16 or higher).

A summer orange sunrise and rock reflections near Brookers Lagoon on Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.

A summer sunrise near Brookers Lagoon on Kodiak Island.
Dense green moss covered Stika Spruce trees of Fort Abercrombie, on Kodiak Island by Joseph Classen.

The moss covered Stika Spruce trees of Fort Abercrombie, on Kodiak Island.

While driving the limited, but very scenic road system of Kodiak Island, one can walk the many beaches, hike through the wilderness, kayak around the bays, wade along the rivers, and partake in a great deal of “self-guided” adventures. Local stores carry maps and a visit to the Kodiak Island National Wildlife Refuge center will provide one with lots of information about places to go and things to do.

Kayakers go for a peaceful paddle on the waters of Eagle Harbor. Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.

Kayakers go for a peaceful paddle in Eagle Harbor. Kodiak Island, Alaska.

TIP: If you’re new to the area, be sure to do your research and ask lots of questions on arrival before you head out into the wilderness alone.

For those who want to get out of town and venture into the true, remote wilderness of Kodiak, there are many lodges, public use cabins, bed & breakfasts, fly-out bear viewing services, and plenty of other businesses that offer genuine “off the beaten path” opportunities to experience the best of what the island has to offer. There is even a Kodiak Camera Club page on Facebook that one can get some great tips and photographic ideas from as well.

Brilliant Fireweed blooms are lit up by the morning sun as the fog lifts along the banks of the American River, Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.
Brilliant Fireweed blooms are lit up by the morning sun as the fog lifts along the banks of the American River, Kodiak Island, Alaska.

TIP: Bring a variety of lenses – wide angle, telephoto and macro so you don’t miss one photo opportunity.

Finally, be forewarned! Those beautiful, bluebird days of summer that everyone enjoys and looks forward to are quite often hard to come by on Kodiak Island. What makes the “Emerald Isle” so emerald green is rain, and lots of it! And make no mistake, we get the rain and sometimes for days and weeks on end.

High quality rain gear and a healthy, adventurous attitude are a must for getting the most out of time spent in a place like Kodiak Island. I often find myself going out on days with torrential downpours and 50 mph winds and still have a wonderful time creating lots of great pictures! But, it’s not for everyone and I’m half crazy!

So, be prepared and keep in mind that while Mother Nature can display her beauty ever so abundantly in places like Alaska, she will also readily give you a severe beating. But this too is great training and conditioning to become a better photographer, as “bad” days force one to see and strive for the “good” that is still all around and always present.

Kodiak Brown Bear bore sitting on a fishing path with sign that reads Keep Off Fish Path at Kodiak Island, Alaska by Joseph Classen.

You go tell him, “You need to get off of the fish path!” No, you go tell him!

No matter what season you choose, you’re going to have a great photo journey on Kodiak Island.

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

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