Photographic Journeys with National Geographic

Amelia Tockston

Photographic Journeys with National Geographic

Amelia Tockston

May 2010

National Geographic Photographer, Kim Heacox, sent this Daily Expedition Report from Alaska on May 18, 2010. Heacox was traveling aboard National Geographic Sea Lion as the resident photographer, giving photo tips and coaching his expedition companions to take their best shots.

Glacier Bay National Park
And so we arrived in Glacier Bay where anything seemed possible. Where a land once buried in ice 5,000 feet thick now sings with life, reborn in the wake of glacial retreat. Where Steller sea lions bellowed and called, and tufted puffins strafed our bow and we stood on deck in quiet admiration, vaguely aware that some part of us might be reborn here as well, reawakened after a little too much civilization. Elevated by the wildness around us.

We picked up our park ranger Melanie Heacox (my wife, lucky me) dockside in Bartlett Cove, near park headquarters in Glacier Bay, and proceeded north toward the glaciers. A scalloped sky began to break apart as spokes of sunlight hit the bay and warmed our backs... After sighting puffins, murres, gulls, cormorants, oystercatchers and Steller sea lions at South Marble Island we proceeded up the bay’s West Arm to watch mountain goats nonchalantly climb the dolomite cliffs of Gloomy Knob. "Look at that!" we said. "Could you do that? I couldn’t that." Then came an hour off the tidewater face of Margerie Glacier, with one magnificent icefall after another, great 200-foot-tall columns of ice collapsing into the sea and sending percussion waves through the berg-filled waters.

We turned and sailed back down the bay, giddy as school kids who’ve gotten away with something, not unlike the way we felt last night after visiting Rosie’s Bar & Grille in the funky boardwalk fishing town of Pelican, writing our names on the ceiling and dancing to Elvis Presley, Motown and the Beach Boys. It was a first for the National Geographic Sea Lion.

But it wasn’t over. Is it ever for anybody with a rich memory and imagination? The day ended with a sighting of four bears in Geikie Inlet, two black bears followed by two coastal brown bears, and a pleasant walk for us all in Bartlett Cove, at the southern end of the bay, amid a chorus of soothing evening bird calls.

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KIM HEACOX, National Geographic Photographer
Kim Heacox has worked for the National Geographic Society (as an assignment writer/photographer) since 1985. He’s written four books for National Geographic, including Visions of a Wild America (200,000+ copies sold since 1996) and An American Idea: The Making of the National Parks (2001), which earned him a consultant position on Ken Burns's 12-hour PBS film on national parks and the U.S. conservation movement. His photos are sold around the world by Getty Images and Accent Alaska. He resides in the little town of Gustavus, Alaska with his wife, Melanie.

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Expedition-Style Photography Tips:

Want to practice prior to heading out on an expedition? Pick up some useful self-assignments from Ralph Lee Hopkins, Director of Lindblad Photo Expeditions & National Geographic Photographer.

* Become familiar or re-acquainted with your camera! Read your camera manual and practice changing settings (f/stops, shutter speeds, and ISO).

* To practice for landscapes, find a scene with an interesting foreground and experiment with depth of field (DOF) by shooting with different f/stops from f/4 (shallow DOF) to f/22 (deep depth of field using Aperture Priority mode. Use a tripod.

* To practice for wildlife, find a situation with moving subjects (birds, cars, kids) and practice focusing on a moving target and shooting with different shutter speeds in Shutter Priority to stop the motion (fast shutter speed) or to show motion blur (slow shutter speed).

* For close-up or macro photography, start in your backyard or at the local botanical garden and practice shooting with your macro lens or with your camera in macro mode (flower icon). Experiment by varying the f/stop, distance of the camera from the subject, the focus point.

* And to practice people situations, visit the local farmer’s market and look for interesting people in different kinds of light. You'll quickly discover that soft or diffuse light is best for making portraits, so shoot in the shade or on a cloudy day.