As all of creation begins to come to life and basks in the morning sun, a magnificent beast emerges before you; it simply materializes out of the shadows and evaporating mist. The excitement and privilege of witnessing such an overwhelmingly beautiful, hidden moment, makes the heart beat wildly. It’s just you and your camera that can capture, immortalize, and share such a rare experience. It’s a moment in which much of humanity will never experience anything like it, a moment that is genuinely priceless, a moment that will be cherished for a lifetime, and beyond. This is what I love about wildlife photography!
I’ve watched and photographed thousands of wild animals over the years in some of the wildest places in North America. I’ve spent entire days, from sun up to sun down, for weeks at a time, perched thirty feet up in a tiny tree stand, carefully watching the ways of wildlife. I’ve hiked along thousand year old bear trails…still used by thousand pound bears. I’ve had many unforgettable adventures while capturing my wildlife images. The ones featured here are among my best from Alaska. (May I humbly recommend my wildlife photography book if you’d like to learn more.)
Joseph Classen heading out on yet another Alaskan wildlife photography adventure.
Foxes are fascinating creatures! While they are certainly wild animals, predatory wild animals, in fact, they are at the same time amazingly friendly. I’ve been out in some of the wildest, most remote parts of Alaska, where very few humans go, and I’m always amazed how when a fox or two show up, they tend to take on the character of a long-
Once a fox (or family of foxes) gets acquainted with you though, they tend to act like a pet dog. I’ve had foxes stop by my camp first thing in the morning, then follow me around all day while I’m out and about exploring the wilds. They appear and disappear when you least expect it…sort of checking in periodically to see what you are up to. At a remote fishing camp I stayed at for part of a summer years ago, a pair of foxes even befriended the family’s two pet dogs. The dogs and foxes would playfully chase each other around, roll and wrestle in the tall grass and exchange barks and yips. What’s more, the foxes got so friendly with us humans, that they would almost sit right in your lap and rub up against us asking to be pet. However, when the sun went down, the night air was filled with the shrill, distress screams of dying rabbits who fell prey to those foxes. Even though they were so friendly around us humans and domestic dogs…there was no questioning their wildness. And again, that’s the way it should always be.
These images are of many of those friendly foxes that I have encountered over the years. I’ve always tried to capture a wide variety of photos that show the many facets of their personality…from playful pet to intense hunter.
Bison were introduced to the mainland of Alaska in 1928 and have mostly inhabited the interior regions of the state. On Kodiak Island, where cattle ranching goes all the way back to the late 1800’s and was once a major industry, buffalo were brought in by ranchers in more recent years as a replacement and/or alternative for cattle. The Kodiak bears were notorious for decimating cattle herds…which led to an all-
No matter where in Alaska one encounters bison…wild or more domesticated…they are always a majestic sight that conjures up thoughts of the great frontier days of the American west and the struggle for survival. The bison is a noble symbol of perseverance and strength. This is the spirit in which these images were captured and created.
© 2017 Joseph F. Classen -
I’ll never forget this fox or the morning I took these photographs. I was exploring the Karluk Lake area, home of the biggest of the big Kodiak bears, as well as many other creatures. I got up early that particular morning to watch a spectacular sunrise and have some breakfast before heading out on the day’s adventure. After breakfast, while getting my gear in order down by the lake, something caught my eye. I glanced up to see a beautiful red fox trotting along, looking for his own breakfast. As he neared the lake’s edge, I knew a magical moment was about to happen. He gently tip-
This is another of my most popular fox images. Several years ago, while heading out to do some evening salmon fishing, I encountered this foxy lady. When she saw me coming, she slowly came out from under the thick brush, and very curiously looked me over, probably trying to figure out my intentions, or maybe looking for a handout of some kind…as foxes tend to do when they realize that people often have food with them. Whatever the case, after intently studying me…while I captured some photos of her…she casually headed back into the brush with her pups and disappeared. When I got home later and looked at the results of our encounter, I realized I had some real gems! The expressiveness in her face was fantastic! It was almost as if she read my mind and purposely posed for me.
Most of the moose that I have encountered in Alaska have been from fairly long distances…and that’s good…as moose can be unpredictable and very temperamental creatures. A rutting bull moose, or protective cow with calves, can bulldoze you over and stomp you into the dirt in a heartbeat! In fact, an Alaska wildlife biologist friend of mine reports that he has had far more deadly encounters with moose than he ever has with bears. For the most part, the only place that I have encountered moose regularly at close range is in urban areas such as the city of Anchorage…where one can see moose strolling right down the sidewalk and around neighborhoods!.
The moose in these three photos though, are of a couple of bulls that I was able to photograph at relatively close range. As is always the case when photographing potentially dangerous animals, I made it point to have a natural or man-
The third image here is of another fine-
Horses, especially wild horses, are among the most popular subjects for wildlife and nature photography enthusiasts. Human beings and horses have shared a special bond for centuries, and that bond has been celebrated and immortalized in many forms of art over the years. There is just something about the sight of a long, lean horse peacefully meandering about in the open countryside or galloping along in the cool mountain air.
While I do not know of any truly, 100% wild horses in Alaska, there are many what I refer to as “semi-
Sea lions have become one of my favorite “off season” subjects. When the rest of the Alaskan landscape becomes not-
I’ve found sea lions to be very expressive creatures. They smile, grimace, show excitement or fear, and a wide array of other emotions. I’ve photographed these titans of the sea in all sorts of situations: while warming themselves on a cold winter day, while violently attacking other lions or something that would ultimately become their food, while peacefully torpedoing though the clear ocean waters, while resting contently after a sumptuous meal, and while frantically fleeing for their lives while a pod of killer whales (orcas) chase them down. These images capture many of those scenarios.
Like the sea lion, the much smaller seal, is also a fun fellow to photograph. They each have their own personality and their behavior ranges from silly clown to deadly hunter. I’ve found seals to be very curious creatures. Quite often, when I’m out strolling along a beach somewhere, I look over my shoulder to see a seal or two peeking out of the water, swimming along as if following me like a shy, lost puppy dog. And, when I purposely make eye contact with them and acknowledge their presence, they quickly dive back down and disappear…only to pop up again later and continue following me around. I always enjoy those peek-
Seal Hunter Close-
In the midst of all that frenzied activity, I noticed that large groups of the fish would at times literally explode out of the water! In the shallower areas of the creek mouth and out in the ocean in front of me, I could see the seals launching themselves like torpedoes into the massive schools of fish, and when they did, again, the salmon would come flying out of the water like a bomb went off, desperately trying to get out of the line of attack. It was wild!!! While the seals were in such a focused, intense hunting/fishing mode, they paid no attention to me and didn’t even know I was standing by watching it all. So, I got my camera and hung out right at the water’s edge...totally still and curled in a ball to make my profile as small as possible…which is hard to do when you are 6’3 and 245 lbs! At one point, a seal popped up right in from of me while pursuing the salmon…just feet away. I was able to capture this wonderful shot that remains one of my favorites and most popular.
The Dall sheep is an iconic Alaskan animal. When one thinks of vast, rugged landscapes, huge, jagged mountains, and all the imagery associated with the Great Land, the Dall sheep always comes to mind. Such is the reason that these incredible creatures are often the subject of a wide variety of artwork or marketing materials that have to do with Alaska.
The Dall sheep (along with the mountain goat) is also one the most dangerous animals to pursue. Not so much because of any deadly aggressiveness toward humans, but because of the fact that they dwell in some of the most deadly, inaccessible terrain on earth. Every year people die while pursuing sheep and goats in Alaska. I almost did as well. I’m very lucky to be alive. But, that is another story.
This particular Dall sheep was thankfully at a much lower elevation and in an easy location to photograph. He was a great model and worked perfectly with the light that day for me.
Salmon are one of the most incredible creatures on earth…in my humble option. They are born in beautiful rivers and creeks, eventually head out to the ocean for a number of years, depending on the species, and when the time comes to continue the cycle of life, they travel thousands of miles through Mother Nature’s gauntlet, through all sorts of obstacles, and eventually make it all the way back the place of their birth to spawn and then die.
During the actual spawning process, salmon go through an incredible metamorphosis. Their dime-
Another of Alaska’s famous creatures is the mighty musk ox, which can be found mostly in the northern regions of the state. These hairy beasts have always reminded me of some kind of mythical animal out of a Star Wars movie. Seeing one of these shaggy, long-
The adorable, fuzzy, long-
I encounter sea otters all the time, and like anyone else, I always thoroughly enjoy watching them floating around doing the backstroke, cracking open shells, eating all sorts of interesting things, playing with their pups, and all the other fun things that sea otters do. While one can get fairly close to them at times…especially when in a boat…they only tolerate people so much. Like any other animal, or human, they do not like their personal space being violated.
I’ve personally found sea otters to be rather difficult to photograph…mostly due to that thick, luxurious fur…as it seems to suck up the light. I just can never seem to get the perfect combination of the right angle with the right lighting. However, there have been a few occasions when things worked out nicely. Here are three such images.
There are dozens and dozens of different species of water fowl in Alaska. This image is of a beautiful Trumpeter Swan on a beautiful day. Simple as that! There is something very peaceful, and even mesmerizing, about watching such a graceful creature gently paddle around in colorfully reflective, tranquil waters. This image captures such a moment.
The king crab is a wild looking, fantastically delicious creature that dwells on the bottom of the sea! It’s not often that one gets the chance to study one up-
Alaska Wall Art
|Meet the Artist|
|About the Art|