Amazing midnight sunsets in Alaska

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I like to go places and take pictures, and the best time of day for photography is always sunrise and sunset. And that’s why I knew my visit to Alaska in early June was going to be tricky. This close to the arrival of Summer, the days are incredibly long, and the “golden hour” that photographers always talk about seems to last much longer than a mere 60 minutes.

With the potential for such lengthy (and late) sunset conditions, and lengthy (and early) sunrise lighting, I wasn’t sure when to sleep. Even before the trip, I decided I’d have to focus on sunsets and forget about sunrises. But even then, the sun wasn’t setting until 11 o’clock or midnight!

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As I’m sure you can guess, I didn’t get a lot of sleep on my Alaska trip. I simply couldn’t turn away from beautiful conditions like this, and call it a night.

So, let me share a few of my sunset stories with you. I’m certainly not an expert on shooting Alaska’s sunsets – you’ll have to look elsewhere for that kind of advice. But, I discovered that just about anywhere I was, I could find something worth shooting when the sun finally went down for the day.

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The first couple of pictures on this page were taken at Kenai Beach, near the outlet of the Kenai River on the Cook Inlet. Kenai is located on the west coast of the Kenai Peninsula, a few hours south of Anchorage. It’s also just a short distance from Soldotna, a decent-sized city along the Sterling Highway where I had booked a room for the night. After checking in to my room, I drove up to Kenai and explored the beach. I noticed it faced the west, with some mountains in the distance, and I figured it would look nice to see the sun set behind those mountains, straight out from shore.

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But you’ll notice, the sun was nowhere near those mountains. That’s because in Alaska, in late spring and summer, the sun doesn’t set in the west – it sets (and rises) in the north. When I returned to the beach around 11 p.m., I was shocked to see the sun in a completely unexpected place! It still made for some nice photos, though, and I learned an important lesson about Alaska.

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Kenai Beach was my first sunset, on my second night in Alaska. The following night, I was in Seward…

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… which is sandwiched between a lot of mountains. Without a clear view of the horizon, you’re left with the chance to photograph shadows sliding up the hillsides…

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… and lots of seagulls. Thousands of them. More than I’ve ever seen in one place.

My second night in Seward was dreary, so I didn’t even attempt a sunset shot. That led to the following day, where rain and clouds plagued me as I drove all the way up to Denali National Park. It was a long day, and I was ready to rest by 11 p.m….

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… but what photographer could go to bed with this happening outside! After hours of driving, I had managed to reach the edge of the storm system. It was still raining on me, but just to the north, the skies were much more clear. All I had to do was drive a bit further up the Parks Highway…

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… to see this…

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… and this …

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… and this. It was, by far, the most remarkable sunset I had ever seen – at midnight, with the sun setting in the north, and with rainbows appearing to the south, along a remote and lonely highway. I dodged the occasional big-rig truck, darting in and out of the road, to capture one photo after another. It was well after midnight before I was back at my motel in Healy, Alaska.

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The next night, I explored the paved portion of Denali National Park’s scenic highway – the part where private vehicles are allowed.  The mountains to the south were nicely lit…

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… and I even caught a glimpse of Mount McKinley in the distance.

 

On the following night in Fairbanks, I was too tired to seek out a sunset spot. But the following night…

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… I discovered a nice spot near my motel in Gakona. This view is on Tok Cutoff Road, near the Richardson and Glenn Highways. The mountains in the distance are part of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park…

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… and the river below me is the Copper River.

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On my final night, just hours before the departure of my flight, I hoped for a nice shot of downtown Anchorage, across Knik Arm, taken from the end of the airport runway. The sun didn’t appear, but if it had, the city and the mountains would have looked beautiful.

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