Join me during September for an amazing experience photographing and hiking during Alaska's short but magical fall season. Located along a remote stretch of the Richardson Highway, the Lodge at Black Rapids will serve as base camp while we explore the rugged mountains and glaciers of the eastern Alaska Range by day and photograph the aurora borealis by night. This workshop isn't for the sedentary tourist or roadside photographer! You'll be earning your shots as we visit scenic locations off the Richardson Highway, hiking on little-known trails and off-trail across the varied terrain of the Alaska Range. The scenery in this area is on par with Denali National Park but it comes without the hordes of tourists and the terrain is not as overexposed...in fact, it's barely exposed! Let me share my knowledge of this majestic region with you as I personally accompany you throughout the workshop providing custom photography instruction in the field and at the lodge, including specialized instruction on shooting the aurora. When we're not adventuring, you'll enjoy private, luxurious accommodations and Alaskan fine dining at the Lodge at Black Rapids. (Did I mention there's a sauna and hot tub?) If you're an avid hiker and a serious outdoor photographer or want to become one, don't waste half your Alaska vacation traveling between locations and don't waste the other half taking the same cliché images of overexposed subjects most other workshops promote. Instead, come spend quality time in a quiet mountain setting where you can create your own unique images and escape the drone of tour helicopters and crowds while you enjoy Alaska's wilderness. Two date ranges available. See below for more workshop details and booking information, and don't hesitate to contact me with questions. —Steven
Participants will be picked up in Fairbanks after their arrival and transported to the Lodge at Black Rapids approximately 3 hours away. It is recommended you plan to arrive and stay in Fairbanks the night before to account for possible travel delays. If you have alternate travel plans, please mention this at the time of booking. On the first day of the workshop I will orient you to the local terrain as well as demonstrate techniques for shooting the northern lights. You will be served dinner at the lodge and if the forecast is promising we will photograph the aurora later that night. Throughout the rest of the workshop, the itinerary will remain flexible to accommodate group dynamics, weather, staying up late for the aurora, and for informal landscape photography discussions & image review sessions at the Lodge. Our goal is to capture the best landscape, adventure, and aurora images we can given the conditions Alaska throws at us while also having an enjoyable experience recreating in the wilderness. Participants will return to Fairbanks on the last day of the workshop in time for any afternoon-scheduled flights. The workshop will emphasize the following:
Fall Colors & Mountain Scenery
The leaves start changing color in the Alaska Range in late August and typically peak during the first or second week of September. The mountain scenery near Black Rapids rises to another level of gorgeous during this short window, and most of the mosquitoes have disappeared. Temperatures can be cooler than midsummer but still quite enjoyable for hiking. Catch Mt. Hayes and Mt. Moffit reflecting in Donnelly Lake at sunrise, Rainbow Ridge in full rainbow stage, and the rolling tundra coated in hues of red, orange, and yellow. (Image: The Alaska Range reflecting in Donnelly Lake, north of Black Rapids.)
Aurora Borealis (Read my Aurora Photography Guide for preparation!)
Nights are dark enough in Interior Alaska by September to permit viewing and photographing the aurora borealis. Instead of staying up all night every night like you would on an aurora-specific photography tour, we will look for the best windows to photograph the lights so we get enough sleep to balance daytime activities. (There’s no point in staying up on rainy or completely cloudy nights.) Our focus will be achieving artistic captures of the aurora with the Alaska Range as our backdrop. Aurora sightings cannot be guaranteed, but the odds of seeing the aurora over a 4-5 night period from our high latitude are high. Photographing the aurora in relatively mild September temperatures is also a much more pleasant experience than enduring the extreme cold of winter months, and it is easier to reach many scenic vantage points. (Image: Aurora over Devils Thumb, south of Black Rapids.)
Get up close and personal with the ice of a glacier! We will visit Castner, Canwell and/or Gulkana Glacier and hike on the ice, looking for interesting features such as moulins, crevasses, meltwater canyons, ice caves, and more. These are not your stereotypical blue tidewater glaciers that you view from afar on a boat, but rather long valley glaciers which serve as highways into the mountains. You'll feel like you're walking on the moon while you observe a landscape being sculpted in real-time by the ice. (Image: Gulkana Glacier, south of Black Rapids)
Go on an alpine adventure as we hike up one or more of the many ridges near Black Rapids. We'll gain sweeping views of the Delta River valley and the towering mountains across the river, as well as encounter stunning rock formations, cliffs, pristine mountain creeks, alpine flora, and a lot more. While photographing wildlife is not a primary focus of this tour, we may very well bump into Dall sheep, moose, caribou, or even a b-e-a-r, and we're certain to see signs of these wildlife as well as smaller creatures like arctic ground squirrels, marmots, eagles, and more. At lower elevations we'll seek out scenic waterfalls, lakes, creeks, and perhaps a few berry patches while we experience the many hidden gems the Black Rapids area has to offer. (Image: Hiking above Bear Creek, north of Black Rapids)
*Note about wildlife photography: Caribou and moose are generally present in large numbers on Army-owned land near Black Rapids, but this land is frequently closed due to training in the fall. The closure schedule is usually not available until a few weeks in advance so no guarantees can be made that the land will be open, but if it is we will possibly work in a wildlife photography session. Participants who are highly interested in seeing and photographing wildlife may want to consider visiting Denali National Park before or after the workshop—be sure to book your park shuttle well in advance.
Workshop Details & Booking
HOW TO BOOK: Complete and submit the form on the workshop reservations page.
Dates: September 1-5 (4 nights) or September 7-12 (5 nights)
Cost (USD) 5-night option: $3627.50 per person based on double occupancy; $4540 per person for single occupancy
Cost (USD) 4-night option: $2902 per person based on double occupancy; $3632 per person for single occupancy (Double occupancy rate is for two people booking together; rooms are private and singles will not be paired)
Deposit & Cancellation Policy: A 50% partially-refundable deposit is due at the time of booking. Only 50% of your deposit (i.e., 25% of the total balance) will be refunded if you request cancellation more than 90 days in advance of the first day of the workshop. Total balance is due 90 days in advance of first day of workshop, and entire payment including deposit becomes non-refundable after this time. Trip insurance is recommended.
Who: Active photographers ranging from beginner to advanced. Participants should be familiar with their camera menus & controls before arriving and basic photography concepts (aperture/shutter speed/ISO, depth-of-field, basic composition, etc.) but do not need to be experts.
Workshop Group Size: 6 max, 2 min. Workshop will not be canceled as long as minimum is met.
What's Included: Round-trip transportation from Fairbanks to the Lodge at Black Rapids, lodging & meals at the Lodge, transportation during workshop, photography guiding & instruction
What's Not Included: Airfare to/from Fairbanks, lodging/meals in Fairbanks, camera gear, outdoor gear, alcoholic beverages (imbibing is not recommended on nights we plan to shoot the aurora)
Physical Requirements: One or more days will involve moderately strenuous hiking, with "moderately strenuous" defined by 5+ miles round-trip distance and/or roughly 2000 feet of elevation gain, with potential for "very strenuous" hiking if participants are capable and interested. Hiking off-trail in Alaska is more demanding than hiking on well-maintained trails elsewhere, and don't forget you will be carrying camera gear as well. Slow and steady is fine, but participants should be agile and in good shape. Don't worry, there will be easy days for recovery and routes will be chosen with participant fitness in mind so you will not be left behind. Also, please be aware that in a remote location such as Black Rapids you are several hours from the nearest hospital and rescue personnel may take hours to reach you in an emergency—please be prepared to take care of yourself, especially if you require any medications or have known physical ailments. All participants will be required to sign a release of liability as a condition of participating in the workshop.
Mental Requirements: Positive, team-oriented attitudes are encouraged. It's Alaska, be prepared to endure bad weather. You may have to stay up past your bedtime to see the aurora. You will probably have to deal with heights, putting up with "cold" weather, possibly getting your feet wet, going to the bathroom outside, and other things that make some people uncomfortable.
Gear Recommendations: At minimum, participants should bring a DSLR camera (full-frames are optimal, especially for aurora) along with two or three lenses covering the wide to telephoto focal lengths, a tripod, and common accessories like extra batteries, filters, etc. For a detailed list of recommended camera gear along with clothing & outdoor gear recommendations, click here. Alaska Camera in Fairbanks rents camera gear, as do many online vendors.
About Your Instructor: My name is Steven Miley and I'm a professional photographer, guide, and author living near Black Rapids in Delta Junction, Alaska. I've spent eight years exploring the mountains and glaciers surrounding Black Rapids and I know the terrain as well as anyone. I specialize in photographing rugged mountain landscapes around Alaska and have written for Alaska, Backpacker, and Last Frontier magazines. During the workshop, I'll provide tips and techniques for improving your landscape and adventure photography from a technical and creative standpoint, focusing on how to conceive and plan your shots before you even begin your adventure. Follow the links on this website (stevenmileyphotography.com) for more info about me and to view my work.