Alaska Cruise Photography Workshop | August 2011

Alaska Cruise Photography Workshop - August 21th to 28th 2011


A lot goes into planning a large scale photography adventure. It takes a cast of highly motivated, dedicated professionals to pull it off. It also takes a group of motivated, fun, and adventurous individuals to trust that cast to pull off something this huge. Such was the case this August when the cast of the Aperture Academy met up with 40 photographers for an Alaskan Adventure aboard Holland America's Oosterdam.

The trip began as any cruise does, with long lines, paperwork, and all the other joys of boarding a large scale cruise vessel for a week of living. While our group of eager photographers was dealing with the process of getting themselves and their families settled into their staterooms the Aperture Academy gang was busy loading up all the gear they would need to turn the Oosterdam into a floating photography superstation. This meant a 10 station iMac classroom, and a super large scale Canon printer capable of printing images 36 inches wide. Getting a device of this size on board a ship is a lot harder than it looks. It took a team of 4 cruise officials, a crane, and navigating a maze of elevators in the belly of the ship to find the ONLY one large enough to hold the printer (if you're curious, that elevator is in the kitchen)

Once the gear and ApCad crew were safely on board it was time to get the classroom set up for the week so the workstations were powered up and ready, and the printer was online ready to send out the images the students would make during their stay in Alaska. This kept the team busy until after midnight making sure everything was up and ready. The only break the team took was for class orientation and cocktail party sponsored by All Cruise travel. What better way to introduce the team at Aperture Academy than with them dressing up as appropriately nautically themed cast from Gilligan's Island.

The instructors for this 7-day and 3-hour tour were as follows:

  • The Skipper AKA Stephen Oachs
  • Gilligan - Brian Rueb
  • The Professor - Scott Davis
  • Mary Ann - Kelly Baldwin
  • Ginger - Tonya Hastings
  • Mr. Howell (Thurston) - Scott Donschikowski
  • Mrs. Howell (Lovey) - Ellie Stone

This group of talented professionals was ready, willing and able to provide a weeks' worth of in-field instructions, classroom Photoshop and Lightroom classes, as well as large format printing. Dressing up as the gang from Gilligan's Island allowed us to show the class first and foremost, that while we stress the educational part of the trip we also like to have a lot of fun in the process! The students enjoyed the costumes and the trip was off to a great and successful start. The horn on the Oosterdam gave a final deep bellow and our ship set off towards the wilds of Alaska, and Glacier Bay.


The route to Glacier Bay Alaska takes nearly 2 days over open seas. To fill the time the Aperture Academy instructors set up a lecture series by Professional Photographers Stephen Oachs, Brian Rueb, and Scott Davis. The first afternoon's lectures were began with Brian Rueb talking about the basics of a large scale photography adventure as he showed slides from his extensive travels to Iceland and talked about the process of how the images were created. When Brian had completed his talk Stephen talked about the basics of composition and how to think about capturing the best of a scene while knowing what your camera is capable of capturing. Both Lectures were full of information, laughs, and of course amazing photography. The rest of the day at sea was spent allowing the group to get to know the instructors and one another better. The beautiful thing about being aboard a cruise ship is that there is always plenty to see, do, and of course EAT while waiting for your ship to pull into the next port of call.

DAY 3 - Glacier Bay National Park

Day 3 was our first full and busy day on the ship. The day began with a lecture by instructor and professional photographer Scott Davis on photographing wildlife. Scott shared his breathtaking and original compositions of wildlife taken from his many travels. He shared some tips on how to make sure the images you capture are creative as well as technically sound. The class ‘ooohed' and 'aaaahed' as Scott displayed everything from cute and interesting looking elephant seals taken in Antarctica, to Lions on the Serengeti. Scott's images were as diverse as his travels and the class enjoyed each and every one of them

The next portion of the day was spent with part of the class taking the opportunity to learn Camera Raw adjustments from our Adobe certified instructor Scott Donschikowski. Scott took the students through the basics and even some of the more advanced procedures the Photoshop program has to offer in the Raw converter. These adjustments are non-destructive changes to images and allow students the maximum quality in each image. The ship was entering Glacier Bay National Park, and this information would serve them well as the students were only a few moments away from being able to begin capturing their own Alaskan images that needed processing to be ready for print!

Glacier Bay is an amazing site. The glaciers in Alaska are both advancing and receding! It's strange to see glaciers as they move and shift adding to the extreme Alaskan landscape. As we approached the narrow inlets of the bay, chunks of ice could be seen floating in the calm turquoise waters and the landscape became more and more rugged. It was all hands on deck as we pulled alongside several glaciers as they sprawled into the sea. The instructors worked with the students on composition, camera settings, and how best to capture the scene that unfolded in front of them. The day was overcast and the fog in the bay created nice layers and mood that contrasted nicely with the stark white and blue of the glacial ice.

The boat slowly navigated the fingers of the bay until it came to the Margerie Glacier, which was the highlight of the trip. The boat was less than ¼ mile from the huge wall of ice. The class watched with awe and cameras ready as huge chunks of ice calved from the sheet and fell into the blue arctic waters with a thunderous splash. The instructors made sure the class had the proper shutter settings in order to capture the action and catch the ice as it created a those huge action packed splashes. It was Ice paparazzi for a good three hours as the boat navigated the bay, stopping only to spin near a glacier to give the boat time to see the ice and grab as many photos as possible. Our class made the most of each stop and ran back and forth across the boat as the view changed. During the times the boat was not near a glacier, the class focused on shots of chunks of ice floating in the water, and abstractions of the water as the boat moved through the bay. The scenery was top notch and the class came away with some truly stunning images from their first shoot!

The remainder of the day was spent with instructors working with instructors in the lab to begin processing their images. It was also the first formal attire night in the dining lodge, which meant Skipper and Gilligan along with the rest of the participants in the workshop and team members had to put on their best and get to the dining room for some delicious food! The workshop participants we saw in the dining room were dressed to impress and everyone looked top notch!

Day 4 - Juneau

Day 4 saw us arrive at port in Juneau, Alaska, the state capital. The weather had changed and a slight rain fell over the landscape. No matter, because our day was to be spent in the water looking at whales from covered boats. Whales don't need nice weather to do their thing and the goal was to find as many whales as possible in the bays and inlets surrounding Juneau. The graceful and beautiful humpback whales use Alaska as their calving grounds and spend the summer months eating as much as possible to make the long migratory journey to Hawaii in the winter for breeding.

The Aperture Academy group was large and a portion of the group was split to head off with Scott Davis in another boat. The goal was to see as many whales as possible, but the question was which boat would see the most. The waters were fairly calm and the captains did their best to get the classes in positions to see the whales. The large boat instructed by Stephen, Brian, Scott Donschikowski, and Ellie saw several humpbacks in the bay, but none seemed eager to cooperate by showing us a tail or breaching. We did have a large orca swim very near the boat which was both exciting and quite rare for the area according to our guide. Many students got some really nice shots of the whale's dorsal fin as he swam by the boat.

Scott Davis' boat had better luck and they had a humpback whale that breached for them practically on cue. The class was thrilled and many came away with absolutely stunning shots of the whale as his massive body rose almost completely out of the water before landing back in the sea with a thunderous splash that would win any belly flop competition.

While one boat clearly had the better luck with the whale viewing, any chance to be out seeing these magnificent creatures firsthand is always special and the memories of seeing these magical mammals will remain with the group for a long, long time.

When the whale boats returned to the harbor many of the students opted to head back out into the drizzle and explore the town of Juneau hoping to catch a glimpse of Sarah Palin, or perhaps see some of the rustic bits of history that made this isolated community one of the hubs of this wild frontier. A few of our photographers ventured out to the Mendenhall Glacier to take a tour, fly a float plane or just experience more of the wild things Alaska had to offer us at every turn!

Once the group was back aboard the Oosterdam there was time to work in the computer lab working on processing some of those whale shots, or viewing some of the first sets of prints to come out of the printer showcasing some of Stephen's work, and the high level of quality the students could expect in their own prints later in the week.

Of course there was always plenty of time to catch a show, explore the ship or grab one of the delicious desserts available onboard 24 hours a day. We saw many students walking the boat with a waffle cone, or bowl of some kind of treat. What better way to work off a long, wet day of photography than with having all the comforts of home right there waiting for you when you return. Better still, not having to cook, or do a single dish for the entire week!

Day 5 - Sitka

Welcome to Sitka! The sun was out and the day was absolutely gorgeous! The boat arrived early and our team of photographers led the class on a walk of the harbor on our way to the rainforest area that surrounds the city. The rainforest trail begins with several large totem poles that not only give a glimpse into Alaska's rich native history, but also provide a very interesting subject for photography.

The class worked with instructors on how to best capture these scenes in terms of exposure, white balance, and composition. Once the group had assembled at the trailhead the class took a group shot together before heading off into the forest. Once inside the lush greenery of the forest the class had a choice of many shots, including many nice macro shots of the ferns, mushrooms, and other interesting pieces of flora that make up this stunning ecosystem. Stephen and the other instructors also spent time working with students on how to compose wider angle views of the scene using ferns, logs, and other interesting items as foreground lines to lead the viewer through the composition.

The group crossed a river that was teeming with salmon making their way home to spawn, and ultimately die. The class was giddy in hopes they would see a bear or two scramble out of the woods to grab an afternoon snack, but unfortunately the day was so nice most of the bears were probably resting or sunning themselves on a beach in the Bahamas. Bears weren't the goal of this day though. The destination was Sitka's raptor recovery center. This wonderful bird sanctuary provides rehab and housing for many of the areas injured birds of prey including bald eagles, owls, and hawks. The class split up and the instructors worked with the class to help them see compositions, and use the best settings possible to get the sharpest and most stunning bird shots they could. Even though some of the species were located behind a cage, Brian and the others showed the students how a long zoom lens from the right distance could get passed the cage and still give you a wonderful image of these regal birds.

The class spent a good hour in the raptor center before it was time to start heading back towards the ship. The class broke into smaller groups for the walk back. Some groups took a path by the local churches, and cemeteries of Sitka, while others went back through different trails in the Rainforest Park. Other groups yet walked back choosing to spend time along the harbor photographing the boats and other pieces of interesting nautical history of the local fishing community.

Having each group take a different way back to the boat allowed the instructors time to get to know the students better, and have more one on one time with them showing them new techniques or answering questions they may have about photography.

It was such a beautiful day that many students took their time getting back aboard the boat so they could maximize their enjoyment of the sun and mild weather. Many students came back with very nice images from the time they spent exploring this coastal town on their own.

In typical fashion the evening was spent by students relaxing on their own or spending time in the computer lab working on processing tips with our pros so they could get ready to print. The first student prints began to come out of the machines and MANY nice images were had. It was funny to see how much uncertainty the class had with what they'd photographed thus far in the trip change as they worked with our instructor, brought out the best in the images and then had them printed out nice and big for all to see. A big portion of maximizing the aesthetics of an image is processing. A lot of students come to us with very limited knowledge of how to bring out the best in their shots. Even though our instructors approach a photograph differently in terms of processing they all end up at the same end result. It's neat for our classes to work with these professionals, get to know them and what works for their processing then pick up the tricks and tips that best fall in line with their own vision and learning style.

DAY 6 - Ketchikan

This was a day full of different opportunities for capturing the beauty of Alaska in photographs. Several small groups loaded float planes and set off into the wild frontier in search of bears to photograph. The salmon run is at its peak during July and August in Alaska and bears of every size and color are in the streams and rivers catching as many of the fish as possible to fatten up on before the cold of winter dwindles the food supply and the bears head off to sleep until the following spring.

While these groups were off trying their hand at bear photography another group of photographers set off to explore the logging town of Ketchikan with Scott Davis and Ellie Stone. The goal of this group was to work on documentary style photography. Photographs can tell a story and part of what Scott and Ellie do best is capture series of images that help tell the story of a person, or even a place. The instructors helped the class to use different techniques and approaches to capturing this type of image.

Part of the challenge is that when a photographer has an assignment, many times they are forced to shoot even when the weather is cold and rainy like it was in Ketchikan. This type of photography can be a lot of fun, and for many of the students they expressed a great deal of satisfaction with what they learned as well as the types of images they were able to come back with despite less than ideal conditions.

Other students minimized their time ashore and chose to focus more on the post-processing and print side of their images. They stayed in the computer lab with Stephen, Scott Donschikowski, and Tonya working on getting the most from their images and printing out some of them to show off to the rest of the students when they returned from their excursions.

That night was the farewell cocktail party aboard the Oosterdam and a chance for Bill from All Cruise Travel to show his appreciation to our group with an open bar cocktail hour. The cocktail party was a great way for the class to continue the strong camaraderie they had been building during their trip as well as get caught up on all the various adventures they had been on during their course of the day. Groups talked about the rickety float planes, the amazing site of seeing bears plucking salmon out of a fast moving stream, challenges capturing fisherman as they worked the docks of Ketchikan, or just showing off those nice prints they had made during the day. The group had gelled nicely over the week and it was a great gathering of friends that helped to wind down what was turning out to be quite the adventure in the great northwest.

The night was concluded with Brian doing some FAN-TASTIC karaoke songs with the Halcats in the Queen's Lounge. All who witnessed it said he should stick to photography….we're pretty sure he is.

DAY 7 - Victoria night shoot!

Day seven was a photo-lab fest. All our instructors were aboard the boat in the lab helping student's process their images on one of our iMacs or on their personal laptop computers. The goal for the day was to turn out as many impressive prints as possible. The instructors and students worked all day together to keep Tonya on her toes pumping out print after beautiful print. When the afternoon was done literally dozens of prints lined the floor and walls of the ship. Cruisers that were not even part of our group would pop into admire the images and inquire more about the Aperture Academy and the concept of an all in one photography cruise.

While still at sea the class assembled in the aft of the ship, the instructors again donned their Giligan's Island attire and the group took a last group shot together commemorating their time together. It was also a fun way for the students to get some more shots of Stephen, Brian, the Scotts, and the rest of the gang as they paraded around the boat in their hilarious costumes.

The ship sailed hard and the day flew by. Before we knew it we had pulled into the docks at lovely Victoria Island, British Columbia. The focus for the evening was to head into the lovely downtown harbor area of Victoria to photograph the parliament building, famous Empress Hotel, and lovely reflections and colors of this European feeling city.

A short bus ride brought the class to the center of this location and our instructors got right to work helping the class visualize different c compositions using some of the lovely floral arrangements found throughout the city of Victoria as foregrounds for the images. When the lights went down the class enjoyed using a colorfully lit fountain as a leading line and balancing element for a stunning shot of the parliament building, which was lit like a giant Lite Brite. The students worked the lawn area around the building creating a variety of interesting, original, and visually stunning images of this historic and iconic part of the city.

When the class had shot its fill of the parliament building it was a short walk to the harbor to shoot the might Empress Hotel and the lights of the scene reflecting among the calm harbor waters. The hotel lights up splendidly as it sits as head of the harbor watching the docks and all the commotion that goes on around it. Students composed a variety of vertical and horizontal shots. Stephen, Brian, and Ellie walked the line and helped students fine tune their last compositions and tweak the white balance a bit in order to created images that had visual impact alongside accurate color representation. Many students aren't as knowledgeable about white balance as they are the other functions of their camera…night shooting allows them a chance to see how and why it is an important aspect of photography.

When the class had finished shooting both of the prearranged locations the instructors planned it was time to turn them loose and let them explore a bit on their own before the bus picked up the group again in order to return them to the ship. The class quickly dispersed and sought out their own unique and creative perspectives of the city. The ApCad gang tried their best to find the students and look at their images offering critiques or suggestions on how to maximize the shots they were trying to get on while on Victoria walkabout. The images that the class got were great. They showed both an increased knowledge in technical skills and a stronger sense of composition than they had just a few days before. It was really great seeing the wide variety of images the students came away with.

It seemed that we'd only just arrived in Victoria and we were back on the bus again headed back to the ship. The ride back was quiet as students reflected on their week and scanned through their images on the backs of their cameras. It was a long fun week together for sure!

When we arrived back at the ship the classroom was still buzzing with students picking up last minutes prints and getting the rest of their images to Tonya so she could have them ready for them before they left the boat the following morning and returned back to their respective homes.

In the original Gilligan's Island the cast was stuck on an island for a long time. In this version, there was no island, and the cast and crew got to return home after only a week at sea. When we returned I think it was obvious to everyone that despite the weather, everyone got some great images, made some new friends, learned a heck of a lot, and most of all had a hell of a good time. There's a reason people keep coming back to the Aperture Academy, and why we keep breaking new ground in the world of photography education. Even though the ship had to return to dock, the memories that were made on the Oosterdam are portable and able to be carried off the ship to keep with you until your next adventure

Bon Voyage!

Until Next Time,

Stephen, Brian, Scott, Scott, Ellie, Kelly, Tonya, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team.

If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.                                                                                     Leave & read comments below...

Student Pictures from our 2011 Alaska Cruise Photography Workshop
Student Copyright © Cari Broding
Student Copyright © Paul Cannizzo
Student Copyright © Chuck Chen
Student Copyright © Betsy Cline
Student Copyright © Michelle Cruz
Student Copyright © George Dimitrov
Student Copyright © Bob Hodges
Student Copyright © Syl Holdt
Student Copyright © Laura Jackson
Student Copyright © Beth Ketterman
Student Copyright © Monika Kloudova
alaska-2011-Morlando Russ.jpg
Student Copyright © Russ Morlando
Student Copyright © Meg Rich
Student Copyright © Russell Rockwell
Student Copyright © Larry Wetzel
Student Copyright © Preston Scott
Student Copyright © Bill Thomas
Student Copyright © Kevin Wang



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