Capturing The Beauty Of Alaska With Zach Sheldon
Alaska Photography, Zach Sheldon, Valdez
MRV: The Buzz, Your Outdoor Lifestyle Insider. Written By: Renee Wright.
Capturing The Beauty Of Valdez: Alaska Photography TOURS
Photographer/Guide Offers Customers Adventure Wanting To Experience And Capture The Great Alaskan Wilderness
“My father’s sister lived in Alaska,” Zach, who grew up outside of Seattle, WA, says. “I had been up for the summer, but when I came back I discovered my photos, which I had expected to be great, were less than impressive. I had used a little point-and-shoot, 110mm film. I was really disappointed. That’s when I switched over to a 35mm camera. I was determined that next time I was going to come back with some good photos.”
Fast forward a couple of decades and Zach and his wife were expecting their first child. “I said to my wife, let’s sell our house and move up to Alaska,” he recalls. “We built a cabin 40 miles outside of Haines and raised our kids off the grid for a couple of years.”
With a bigger family on the way, Zach decided to pursue a career in aviation. But serious injuries from an air crash set him on a different life course.
“That’s when I first came down to Valdez,” he says. “It’s such a beautiful area, with easy access to both the mountains and ocean. It’s my favorite location in Alaska.”
After his move to Valdez, Zach took up photography in a serious way. “There’s so much to shoot, tons of scenes that captivate me.” Soon the local tourism agency, Visit Valdez, asked him to offer tours. “There were plenty of tours out on the water - sightseeing cruises, fishing trips, kayak tours - but nothing for hikers or visitors who wanted to capture some great photos.” Zach founded Alaska Photography to meet the need.
Today about half of Zach’s clients are interested in photography, with the other half just interested in seeing the sights. “I get everyone from families with little kids to millennials looking for adventure to retired couples,” he says. “Every tour is tailored to the client’s abilities and interests, as well as the weather and the time of the year.”
Although Sheldon does offer tours in search of the Northern Lights, and into the wilderness of nearby Wrangell National Park, most of his tours center on the immediate vicinity of Valdez. The port town, located on Prince William Sound at the southern edge of Alaska, is accessible by Alaska’s ferry system, by air, and via the Richardson Highway, which links Valdez with Fairbanks.
“There are some cool places to take pictures,” Zach says. “Worthington Glacier is one of our most spectacular sights, you see it driving in, so everyone wants to hike to it. The state park has a trail to the base, but it doesn’t really give you a very wide view. I take people up another way where you get to see a lot more of the glacier.”
Another favorite trip is a paddle out to the icebergs in the fjord. “Some of my braver clients climb out onto the bergs to have their photos taken,” he says.
Valdez has something picture-worthy all year, Zach says: “The most popular time to visit is July and August when there’s more activity and action. The days are longer, bears are out feeding on the salmon runs, and the wild flowers are in bloom. May is the best month for whale-watching. You can go down to the ferry landing and watch the humpbacks breach right off shore. I saw one breaching non-stop for 2-and-a-half hours once.”
There’s plenty to do and photograph in the off-season as well. “It’s not impossible for us to get over 400 inches of snow during the winter. Around February, people start coming to play in the snow. We have great snowmobiling and heli-skiing. Keystone Canyon, which you drive through to get here, has all these waterfalls, and in winter, when they freeze, they are popular with ice climbers.”
Zach says a local organization, Levitation 49, plans an ice climbing festival every winter, as well as a summer rock climbing festival and a fat bike event in March. “They bike down the glacier,” he says. “It’s pretty cool.”
Valdez is a pretty good spot to see - and photograph - the Northern Lights as well. “People think you have to be farther north, but we get 30 or 40 nights every winter that are good for the Lights,” Zach says. “And here, you can have them accented by open ocean or mountains in the shot.”
Zach says his goal is to help people accomplish what they came to Alaska to see, in the safest way possible. Fulfilling everyone’s goals isn’t always easy, however.
“Every year I get a few die-hard photographers who want spectacular dawn and sunset shots. Well, in July sunset is just after midnight, and sunrise is at 2 a.m. So I take a lot of naps.”
Shots of animals are the most difficult wish-list photos to deliver. “We had one guy who wanted to photograph bears who came when they were all hibernating,” he recalls. “It would have taken a couple of days to dig one out, and another couple to wake him up.”
The best animal shots often happen by happenstance, he says. “I was driving down the road, explaining to a client how the ptarmigan turn snow white in the winter, when all of sudden there was one dead on the road. We circled back, just in time to photograph a red fox who showed up to claim his dinner.”
Zach stresses that he does not teach photography, but will answer questions if asked. However, he does have some suggestions that might keep you from feeling the disappointment he did as a boy. “The landscape here is so beautiful that people go for really wide shots,” he says. “But if you include something in the foreground it really accents the scene.”
Or, for some great shots of your vacation, Zach says just book a tour; he takes photographs throughout. “They get a tour, but they also get pictures of themselves having fun in Alaska.”
A graduate of Franconia College in Social Psychology, Renee has worked as Travel Editor for Charlotte Magazine and has written three travel guidebooks for Countryman Press among other writing assignments. She enjoys food and camping.
Make Sure To Stay At:
Bayside RV Park and Campground, beautifully situated on the Bay of Prince William Sound. Guests will be delighted with the unobstructed views of glaciers and majestic mountains surrounding the Park.