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AquariusOne

Photographing Glaciers from Balcony vs out on open deck

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Hello, we are doing  a southbound inside passage Alaska cruise from Anchorage to Vancouver, in August 2020. We have booked a balcony cabin on the 8th deck. I will be carrying a lot of photo gear to take as many shots as possible, mostly during early mornings and late evenings of Glaciers. My question is this, will the view from balcony give my all the ‘sights’, even if I were to move around the ship (outside) with my equipment? Keep in mind that I will be in a more controlled environment on a balcony vs outside in cold, rain or wind. Any experience in this matter? Thanks

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I know that others will say it's best to be on an open deck in order to move from side to side to see "everything" and I can see their viewpoint. But here are some advantages I found when photographing from our balcony:

1) No arriving early or fighting to get to the rail for an unobstructed shot. And I could shift to a better angle without asking someone to move or blocking their shot. (Although early morning/late evenings may not be as crowded.)

2) Somewhere to safely place extra lens and other equipment - on balcony chair or just inside door.

3) Ability to set beverage cup/snacks nearby. (DH could use his binoculars rather than holding my drink.)

4) Could quickly go inside to use facilities - or if it were cold/damp to get into a warm/dry space for a minute or so.

5) Room service lunch - no need to vacate my vantage post.

6) Easy to shed/add layers of clothing - bed or desk chair made great "valet" spot.

7) As you mentioned, overhead provides some protection from rain and wind. 

 

We did not arrive at glaciers until around noon and didn't have any rain our entire trip - DIY land plus southbound cruise. When our side of the ship was not facing the glacier, we had lunch on the balcony and there were still interesting shots to be had.

 

When going back in 2021, we think DH's brother and SIL are coming too. If so, they will get a port balcony stateroom on the same deck as we have reserved one on starboard - plan to all 4 be on whichever balcony is facing the glacier. If they don't come, I may have to make friends with someone who does have a port balcony on our deck!

 

No matter which option you choose, you will get some great shots.

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Cruise Suzy just gave you the best reasons for having a balcony cabin so all I can say is Ditto.

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Great points Cruise Suzy!  We have not sailed Alaska before but we plan on doing most of our viewing from our balcony.  When we did our Norway Fjords cruise, it was just so peaceful (as in quiet) to sit on our balcony undisturbed.  Some days were very cold so nice to just leave the shades open and sit on the couch and get up and go outside if needed.  

 

 

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And one more advantage:

8 You don't have to stand all the time. As you approach the glaciers, there is plenty of time to stand up and shoot whatever you pass. Probably want to stand most of the time you're facing the glacier though - unless you are tall enough to shoot over the railing while seated. (The more "mature" you are, the more your knees will appreciate this.)

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We don’t usually get a balcony but haven’t found it difficult to find space on deck, usually on a lower deck like a promenade.  Most people head to the top decks where it can be crowded.  Many of the ships that do glacier sailings rotate while at a glacier such as Margerie in Glacier Bay so being on a balcony only gives you temporary views and photo ops.

 

Getting early morning or late evening shots will be a trick since you won’t be near any glaciers at those times or they will be at quite a distance.

 

If those glacier opportunities are important you might consider UnCruise or Alaskan Dream who actually overnight in Glacier Bay giving plenty of opportunities for what you seek.

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Thank you all for great tips. 

The one thing that I am still not sure is ‘views’. Would exposure from balcony be same, as being at the front of the ship? I am not quite ready to battle for a spot (with tripod & long lens) at the front of the ship (see picture) and have the facility to move my camera 180 degrees in that shoulder to shoulder line-up.. If I can ‘see’ what others see, while ship is turning, I am happy to be in my balcony (Southbound Portside). 

view from ship.jpg

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Also, I understand not all guest are allowed at the front of the ship, as in picture. Only guests from suites? I may be wrong.

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If glaciers are what you want to photograph, then you can be sure that your side will be faced toward them for about half the time you are at each and you'll get plenty of chances. Everything Suzy said above is absolutely true - but it leaves out the single biggest reason not to only take photos from your balcony... that you can only see what's visible from it!

 

Being on deck means you can spend the entire time with your camera pointed at the glacier - and if you are attempting to capture calving, whether with stills or video, that's literally going to double your chances of seeing this spectacular but uncommon event. Plus whatever else you might decide to photograph may be visible on the other side at any given time - especially if you were hoping to see any whales from the ship.

 

So by all means set yourself up all comfy on the balcony, but when the ship turns around why not take your gear to a public deck and double-down on photo ops? You should already have figured out how far away you are, lighting conditions etc. and be using the most appropriate lens/body that you brought with you with optimized settings, so just taking just that gear combo shouldn't be traumatically difficult - worst-case if there are too many people at every possible good viewing spot on your ship, you'll only have wasted a few minutes finding that out, best case you get even better shots than you did from the balcony... 😉

 

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The bow would be the worse place to be for the reason you mentioned plus it’s a temporary view as the ship rotates most of the time. There are too many other areas to photograph from that are much better where you can avoid people.

 

Another consideration is the long lens. Might be good if all you want is to try to capture close ups of calving. We’ve been so close to Margerie Glacier that I had to do a multiple shot pano with a wide angle lens to get the whole glacier in the photo.

 

Much of the bow access depends on your ship, some don’t allow access to anyone. We’ve only been on one Alaska cruise where only suite passengers were allowed on the bow, Oceania. If your ship has bow access it should be available to everyone.

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I find the view from the Promenade deck great. And it is not as crowded. Plus it is covered.

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2 hours ago, Glaciers said:

We don’t usually get a balcony but haven’t found it difficult to find space on deck, usually on a lower deck like a promenade.  Most people head to the top decks where it can be crowded.  Many of the ships that do glacier sailings rotate while at a glacier such as Margerie in Glacier Bay so being on a balcony only gives you temporary views and photo ops.

 

I completely agree. The Promenade deck is usually pretty empty as everyone goes to top deck.

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1 hour ago, AquariusOne said:

Also, I understand not all guest are allowed at the front of the ship, as in picture. Only guests from suites? I may be wrong.

 

We were on HAL and everyone was allowed on the bow.  There were great photo ops.  However, I did not have to set up a lot of gear.  

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It all depends on what you want to shoot. As the ship approaches the glacier the balcony is the last place you want to be. Spend time looking at the deck plan and then spend the first days on the ship finding the best spots to shoot. On HAL the deck under the bridge is very nice but not covered and generally not crowed. When leaving the deck under the aft pools are very nice. 

DSC07239.JPG

DSC07241.JPG

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2 hours ago, martincath said:

So by all means set yourself up all comfy on the balcony, but when the ship turns around why not take your gear to a public deck and double-down on photo ops? You should already have figured out how far away you are, lighting conditions etc. and be using the most appropriate lens/body that you brought with you with optimized settings, so just taking just that gear combo shouldn't be traumatically difficult

 

This is true for half the staterooms. The other half don't face the glacier until the ship rotates, so being on deck first means you still have to figure out which equipment is best. If you previously found a protected spot with a place for your not-currently-being-used lens/camera then I agree that going out on deck half the time would work for some. On glacier day I put one lens on my current camera and the other on my backup - that way both lenses are ready to be used. Each photographer had his/her preferred way to work - and how much gear is essential. DH thinks 2 DSLR camera bodies, 2 lenses and my point-shoot camera is far too much equipment for Alaska.  On the other hand, I have a friend who nearly fills a carry-on with his cruise camera gear.

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Thanks everyone for great input.

I am on Millennium, this is our first time on this ship. Ideally, for shooting landscapes, I would prefer to be as low as possible to the ground (water in this case). As suggested, I will scout the ship on the first night, for an ideal spot. I do need space to set-up 2 tripods, 2 bodies and 2 lenses (wide & long). There is no way can move around much. That is why balcony is so tempting. I am also spending 2-3 days prior to the cruise, shooting  Alaskan landscapes. 

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Depends on whether the captain is a “spinner” or not.  Some of them crank up the azipods/bow thrusters and spin the ship in circles for an hour, some do a half hour on one side and then the other.  Also be aware that some places on deck or balconies can have considerable vibration when the azipods or bow thrusters are operating.

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One more tip is to make sure you have photo back up and battery chargers w/ extra batteries in place so no shots are lost or missed. One of the first places we head is to get a plug board from front desk because sometimes there aren't enough outlets and they don't like the ones you bring. sightcrr

Edited by SightCRR
plugbds

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Been in your place a couple times before I finally learned--ditch the gear dude! Sounds like you have some nice stuff, including at least one really good and capable camera. Just take it, a warm jacket, extra battery or two and if you feel really insecure--stuff one of your extra favorite lens' in your pocket. Save room to carry a cup of coffee---and hit the deck. Higher spot and less crowded to take both port and starboard shots the better. And remember--Have Fun!!  You'll never miss the extra gear, but you will miss some spectacular shots of beautiful nature and even some of your passengers in total awe of what they are looking at, if you are too concentrated on your equipment. You are not out to impress anyone, just take great shots.

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Wander around the ship, its great to have many different views. I've found that as soon as the Captain turns the ship to leave everyone heads inside. Find a spot on the aft deck and you might have it to yourself. Some of the best scenery on your trip is the first couple of hours after leaving Whittier. Most people are inside and you will have the deck to yourself. Not sure when in Aug you sail but I love being outside for the long twliight hours

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Here is the thing. This is my first time doing some serious shooting from a moving ship. Most of my photography has been on land and with tripods and long exposures. And almost all, landscapes in early morning hours or late evening hours, when the light is ideal.  Looks like, from the comments above, most of that is not doable. This cruise ‘set-up’ is sort of making me unsure as to what will be the right approach. I do want to enjoy the cruise, but more than that, I want to comeback with images (memories) that I will enjoy for a long time. 

 

Bottom line seems to be, ‘adjust as I go’.   After all, its not a fast moving train that I am going to miss a whole lot.

 

Once again, I thank you all, for all your help

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2 hours ago, Cruise Suzy said:

This is true for half the staterooms. ...

Including OPs half (they already said they have a port balcony), which is why I mentioned they'd be good to go with really nothing to lose 😉 Also a good call that you may want to be up front if you're awake when the ship is heading toward glaciers, then move to your balcony when it comes alongside them. Every ship we've been on has just turned once, but if you have a 'spinner' I guess that you might be running to the deck two or three times instead if your balcony no longer has views of what you want to see (though as someone else said, just because you're not looking at a glacier doesn't mean there may not be other nice views worthy of a pic... it's all about what YOU want to photograph most OP!)

 

Also some good comments above about warm jackets - on a glacier day you may find that the right gloves/hat may end up more important than almost anything else, as the longer you can comfortably be outside, whether balcony or deck, the more opportunities you have to take pics and the extremities are the first bits to get chilly.

 

While I wouldn't describe myself as in any way a serious photographer, I've found that a small beanbag (like some of the neck-support travel pillows) can be really handy for shots from vehicles when vibrations might be an issue - place between the camera body and railing/windowsill/rooftop while shooting to get support with great damping if you find your tripod is transferring the vibrations.

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On glacier day I found myself moving from place to place to get different angles. Luckily the ship does not move that fast and I was also able to take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty and the experience.

 

IMG_7049.thumb.JPG.495e952fe790e3acabd760297de52263.JPG

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Most long ex from the ship won't be good because of the movement. In Juneau in Aug civil twilight is 0400 and sunset at 9:00pm. With the busy tours on port days the ship wont be at the glaciers or cities at the lighting you are used to. You will however have the decks to yourself at 0400. Try to find a youtube from your ship and trip in the past to give you an idea of the trip or read some of the reviews linked at the top. 

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It appears you will only have one glacier cruising day at Hubbard Glacier. You need to be prepared for not getting close to the glacier due to ice or weather. Of the 5 times we’ve been to Hubbard we were twice iced out at 10 miles, once iced out at 3 miles and 2 times made it to the face.  Since glacier photography is a priority you may want to consider the optional excursion if it’s offered by Celebrity.  Not sure tripods would work on the excursion vessel. Your photo in post 7 is of Margerie Glacier that you will not see. Also the one in post 23. Post 14 is of Sawyer Glacier.

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