Camera Ready

In Alaska, even a lazy photographer can take decent photos

[by Russ Lumpkin]

From the November 2016 issue

Here’s a decent photo of Eldred Rock Lighthouse Russ took from the deck of the MV Leconte.

Here’s a decent photo of Eldred Rock Lighthouse Russ took from the deck of the MV Leconte.

TRUTH IS, I’M A DECENT PHOTOGRAPHER, I’m just lazy about it. How lazy? Some friends and I have made a hiking–fly fishing sojourn each spring for the past 13 years, and I have only one photo to show for it.

I almost always carry my best camera, which is a couple steps below professional grade, but rarely do I employ it. I have neither photos of my friends and me on the trails nor images of us smiling big and hoisting trout out of the cold water. On occasion, we’ve been skunked and had no fish to put in front of a lens, but more often than not, I’ve weighed the amount of time it’d take to pull my camera out and snap a few frames against the amount of time I have remaining in the day. If taking a photo will deprive me of six or seven casts, the camera stays packed. Fishing wins. Every time.

Since they hit the market, smartphones have made snapping photographs more convenient, and the technology is good enough now that it’s possible to take photos of fairly high-quality. They easily fit into an exterior pocket and make taking decent pictures as easy as applying lip balm.

Still, I’m old school enough to think that taking photos with a smartphone is kind of like cheating. It’s difficult to forge adventure and compose works of art, but taking photos with anything less than your best gear is a shortcut. Often, I think of the photos I passed up in the name of convenience or captured only with my phone, and feel a sting of regret.

My first steelhead. For several days, I plied the fine steelhead waters in Southeast with camera gear stowed in a backpack. After countless presentations and drifts and a couple spooked fish, I failed to catch even one. On the last day, I carried only my phone and landed a nice hen. I’d have loved to have a portrait of me with that beautiful fish. Instead, I have only a snapshot of her, taken just before releasing her back to the creek.

Or the day I spent hiking and hunting sooty grouse with our gear editor, Bjorn Dihle, somewhere on Douglas Island. Rain and fog compelled me to leave my camera in the vehicle, but several hours later and nearly 2,000 feet up, occasional sun through the clouds left me wishing I had my camera to try to capture the golden beauty of young skunk cabbage or the verdant greens of the temperate rain forest. Then there’s the moment I held a sooty grouse, warm and hefty and soon-to-be meal, and thought, “I wish I had my camera.” In each instance, I settled for a less-than-mediocre snapshots from my phone.

In Alaska, it pays to travel with camera in hand. While going through the great shots in the photo contest, I saw places I’d seen and knew, places I had photographed: the Russian Orthodox Church at Ninilchik, Mount Redoubt, the Grewingk Glacier, the Eldred Rock Lighthouse. Stunning sights all, and I had taken time to shoot them for the sake of attempting to, as Will Rice states later in this issue, convey what I felt.

And it’s easy to feel photographs here—from the awe-inspiring wildlife and breathtaking scenery to the honesty of people and the experiences that can range from fairly tame to wilderness beyond imagination. It’s a camera-ready land.

Still, those photographs were pretty easy to take—just off the road or from the deck of a ferry. Maybe one day, when my memory is full of wilderness experiences, I’ll care more about photos than I do the exploits. But for now, when I finally catch a rainbow trout that exceeds 25 inches, I hope someone is near me—with a camera in hand.

Russ Lumpkin