"The trip to Alaska for the northern lights, the ice sculptures and the dog sled races was excellent. We got some really nice images. The logistics on this trip were prefect—it was well organized and we had fun. An additional benefit of these trips is meeting some good people and making new and lasting friendships."
These magical lights are just one feature of the surprising week of photography in and near Fairbanks, the gateway to the Arctic. The diverse photography of this adventure highlights not only on Alaska’s spectacular and colorful night sky, but also the exciting daytime activities that coincide with the dates of the tour—the action-packed Limited North American Championship Sled Dog Races and the World Ice Art Championships.
The aurora borealis
has both fascinated and terrified humans for millennia. The aurora is probably the progenitor of dragon mythology in China and Europe, a supernatural omen prophesying war, doom and destruction as the heavens “turned red with blood.” For northern peoples living under the “aurora belt,” the northern lights have been incorporated into their stories and legends of creation, death, and even celestial sports.
In the past, photography of aurora borealis
was a difficult proposition. Exposure calculations of light intensity, and lengthy shutter speeds using film, were usually hit-or-miss—and a night of shooting could have been lost by a simple mistake. Now, in the digital age, with relative ease we can take a few test shots to check exposure and set our ISO, aperture and shutter speed accordingly. And the results can be spectacular!
Our time in Fairbanks corresponds with the winter sled dog races and ice sculpture championships. During the day we allocate time along the dog team racecourse, capturing action images of the teams, sleds and “mushers” as they run through photogenic birch and aspen woodlands during 8-dog, 6-dog and 4-dog competitions. In the evening we photograph the intricate large-scale ice sculptures created during the Fairbanks World Ice Art Championships. Just at dark and thereafter, the numerous carvings are lit with a variety of colored lights that radiate a photogenic internal glow. Then, as the night fully darkens, with a clear sky, we concentrate on photographing the aurora.
Sixty miles northeast of Fairbanks is the acclaimed Chena Hot Springs Resort—world renowned as one of the best places on Earth to see the northern lights. The resort is located directly under one of the world’s most active regions of magnetic fields producing aurora borealis
. It is away from the light pollution of cities, and the skies over Chena are clear more often than those over Fairbanks. To see the lights all you have to do is walk out of your room—and they are there. There is no time wasted driving somewhere while the lights are happening overhead.
We have scheduled four nights at the resort to maximize our opportunities for aurora photography. On one night we travel by snow coach to a nearby mountain top—with a sheltering hut—for unobstructed viewing. Prior to our nighttime photography sessions, we spend a portion of our days photographing iconic Alaska winter landscapes, learning about sled dog racing, or simply relaxing at the resort.
This photo shoot is a rare combination of excellent conditions for viewing the aurora borealis
, along with snowy northern landscapes with a perfect selection of photo subjects to line up on the horizon, plus exciting sled dog racing and a colorful and photogenic ice festival. Join us in March for a wonderful variety of photo opportunities that should be on every photographer’s bucket list!
For more information on this trip, read Kevin McNeal’s 2015 trip report with photos by Stuart Westmorland in the Photo Safaris blog.
Day 1 (Mar 10)
Our group meets in the lobby of our Fairbanks, Alaska, hotel for an orientation session followed by dinner at a local restaurant. (D)
During the day we photograph the Limited North American Championship Sled Dog Races. The races are a three-day series of sprint sled dog races and skijoring (skiers pulled by dogs). In the evening, ice sculpture photography at the World Ice Art Championships is our focus, with amazing large and intricate ice sculptures colorfully back-lit by floodlights. They glow like jewels! From the “ice festival,” with clear skies, we head out for our first opportunity to photograph the northern lights. (BLD)
We drive to Chena Hot Springs Resort, photographing wintry Alaskan landscapes and watching for moose and other wildlife along the scenic route. We have time to relax before dinner and then shoot late into the night if the aurora activity is good. At the resort, it is possible to just step out of your warm room to see the aurora—with no wasted drive time! (BLD)
We have the option of getting some extra rest this morning in preparation for our late night of aurora photography. Bring your bathing suit if you want to enjoy a relaxing soak—Chena Hot Springs Resort is known for exceptional indoor and outdoor hot springs. This afternoon we photograph wintry landscapes and ice carvings at the local “ice museum” and have time to enjoy an apple martini—served in a martini glass made of ice!
We head out at 9:30 PM tonight. A 30-minute drive by snow coach takes us to a nearby mountain top for unobstructed views of the northern lights. A large yurt and hot beverages provide shelter and warmth as we photograph until early morning. (BLD)
We sleep in this morning after our late night. In late morning a private tour of the lodge’s sled dog kennels is a unique opportunity to learn about the history of sled dog racing and to photograph a few of these hearty canines. In the afternoon, we photograph amid the snowy landscape and explore some of the resort’s diverse photo subjects, including rustic old cabins, classic old cars, a river and creeks—all great foregrounds for photographing the northern lights later tonight. (BLD)
Today we experience one of the most popular activities at the resort—sled dog riding! Following an afternoon nap and dinner we head out to shoot the aurora late into the night. (BLD)
Following breakfast we load our vans and head back to Fairbanks, photographing along the way. Later, if time allows, we return to the World Ice Art Championships or, if conditions are right, have one final opportunity to photograph the northern lights. (BLD)
Day 8 (Mar 17)
Depart for home. (B)