Professional photographer keeps Alaska in focus

For Natalie Fobes, taking a photo is more than simply capturing a moment. It’s about creating a deeper connection to the time and place and the people (or wildlife) behind the photos – experiences that she will take with her forever.



Nathalie Fobes

As a professional photographer, Seattle-based Fobes has traveled the Pacific Northwest and the world capturing animals in their natural habitat for National geographic, doing photo shoots for corporate clients, and everything in between. Her work also took her to a destination that captured her heart and mind throughout her life – Alaska – the final frontier. Fobes’ first trip to Alaska was to Dutch Harbor in 1981 and since then she has returned to the state numerous times to photograph wildlife, fishermen and Native American cultures. With his extensive experience in Alaska and on fishing boats, Fobes was able to hang out with fishermen and capture the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.

Most recently, Fobes cruised across Alaska helping travelers connect with their natural surroundings as an onboard “Alaska Insider” photography expert for UnCruise Adventures, a small boat adventure cruise company that promises “NO LINES, NO CROWDS, GREAT ADVENTURE”.

As an Alaska expert, Fobes was hired by the cruise line along with other photographers, biologists, environmentalists, professors, and natives to enrich the guest experience by presenting workshops and leading activities. On board. Fobes presented two lectures and a series of half-day photography workshops, and provided informal instruction to UnCruise guests with varying levels of photography experience.

“Someone told me that people have to love and feel committed to something to want to save it and protect it,” she says. “I hope anyone who travels to Alaska will come back feeling like it’s such a special place; it needs our protection.

Cruising keeps the economy afloat

The UnCruise fleet includes small expedition vessels and boutique yachts – each uniquely suited and equipped for an incredible experience. The shallow draft makes each ship capable of nimble exploration and opens up new places big ships can’t go.

Although UnCruise Expeditions depart from Alaska to operate more sustainably and save fuel, most UnCruise employees live and work in the Seattle office, right at Fishermen’s Terminal. This is a great example of how the cruise industry supports local jobs in our region. For example, during the 2022 Seattle cruise season, 1.2 million cruise passengers will depart from Seattle, delivering nearly $900 million in economic benefits supporting 5,500 jobs. Cruise ships drive the economy through jobs on board and in corporate offices and dollars spent at restaurants, hotels and local attractions. And even supplying home port ships with local products like wine, fresh produce, dairy, seafood, flowers and services like piano tuning.

Teaching rejuvenates and inspires

Kayaks circling the UnCruise ship

Fobes derives personal satisfaction from sharing his love of photography and watching his students improve their skills.

“That’s the best thing about photography. When you take a picture, you are emotionally attached to that experience. Through photography, you can relive that experience over and over again. When you help people improve their photos, it’s not just about enjoying and having that experience. They present this experience to others and help others react to this photo. It’s really satisfying for me.

Fobes loved teaching so much that she ran a few extra, personal workshops for UnCruise guests. While they were on deck looking at the scenery, she provided quick tips for all levels of photographer and showed examples of what she photographed on the cruise.

“We were talking about composition and color and defining moments,” she says. “At the end of the day people would gather and I would set up my laptop and show people how to adjust photos in (Adobe) Lightroom. I loved the interaction between the guests, the wildlife, the environment and the photography. Working on the cruise ship was a great combination of all of those things. I had a lot of excitement and inspiration from the guests and their enthusiasm to see the beauty of Alaska. The whole experience was wonderful. I came back refreshed and inspired to resume my work.

Life changing experiences

When people travel to Alaska, they come back forever changed, Fobes said.

“Alaska is where I go to recharge. The ecosystem and the environment are so beautiful. It’s very fragile and I hope anyone who discovers the beauty and wonder will realize that it must help protect it so that others can experience what they have experienced.

Humpback whale breach

Marine mammals

Fobes recounts several close encounters with wildlife that have brought all travelers closer. One night after dinner, guests were on deck looking out at the clear blue sky and calm water, on the lookout for whales. Suddenly, the skipper sees humpback whales in the distance. Travelers saw the whales exhale and slap their tails a quarter of a mile ahead of the ship. Suddenly a humpback whale jumped out of the calm water and crashed about 300ft ahead of the ship, silhouetted against the evening sun which highlighted the splash.

“You could hear a shout from the crowd – a collective gasp from the people on the bridge,” she says.

Then laughter and cheers.

“There was no indication that a whale was that close to us. I had turned around to talk to someone, and the only thing I saw of the whale breach was the ‘splash,” she said. “It was one of those moments, a collective experience that no one will ever forget. It has been improved by the reaction of people who have experienced it.

Fobes had planned to give a talk later that evening about her experience photographing the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a tragic story and always a moving experience for her.

“I said to the cruise director, ‘I don’t think I should be giving a talk on the Exxon Valdez today.’ I wanted this incredible moment to be the story of the day,” she says.

spying orcs

Orcs in the inner passage

Fobes shared another epic wildlife moment on another cruise with an organization focused on environmental and biology stories. The ship was passing through the Inside Passage and encountered killer whales near Johnstone Strait, British Columbia. The ship shut down its engine and kept its distance to avoid interfering with the orcas.

“We saw killer whales approaching and then they disappeared,” said Fobes. “When I got to the rail and looked down I saw they had gone under our boat and turned sideways so they could look at us. It was amazing.”

Another time, Fobes was on the deck of an UnCruise ship listening to the calm around her and the rain in the trees and on the water. In the distance, she heard a humpback whale blowing. The experience reminded her why Alaska is such a renewing place for her and why it touches people when they go there.

“I think the personal experience people have in Alaska reminds them that living in crowded cities may not be normal for the human species. We need to monitor wild places to make sure they don’t go extinct. No. We need it as a human species.

Enhance your photos

Eagle with mountain decor

Keep reading Natalie Fobes’ tips that will take your photos to the next level.

1. Think about composition

Before you take your photo, take a minute to think about your photo and what the audience will see.

“When you start out photographing, people tend to put whatever interests them in the center of the photograph,” Fobes said. “I encourage people to look at the guidelines in nature and see what they are doing by creating a photograph rather than taking a photo.”

Pro tip: When composing your photos, use the rule of thirds. Divide your photo into nine equal sections with a set of vertical and horizontal lines. With the imaginary frame in place, place the most important element or elements of your shot on one of the lines or where the lines meet.

2. Go horizontal

“Alaska is vast, and people tend to shoot vertically with their smartphones,” said Fobes. “Consider putting your phone in a horizontal position and exploring dialing that way.”

3. Anticipate the action

You need to think like a sports photographer when photographing wildlife. A photographer must learn the rules of the game, anticipate the action, capture those decisive moments and give way if a football player or a brown bear runs in his path.

“Anticipate the behavior of the animals in your photo; anticipate the action, she says. “Be ready for this action when it comes.”

4. No filters, more pop

“I don’t believe in using filters or drastically altering photos, but I recommend upping the contrast a bit by adding a deeper black in post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom. Often this will bring up the photo.

She also teaches students dodging and etching, a technique originally used in a darkroom that can now be recreated in image processing software. Dodging can lighten a spot in the photo, and engraving darkens a particular area.

Alaska backdrop

More resources

Take these LinkedIn Learning courses from Natalie Fobes to learn at home before heading out into the wild.

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