It happens every morning. And, in the evening, the process reverses itself wonderfully. From an abyss of
blackness, a slight glow emerges on the horizon. As the glow intensifies, the silhouettes of clouds
appear and slowly become back-
and blend in the eastern atmosphere. Meanwhile, subtly, the landscape below begins to take shape in
out of the darkness. As the horizon continues to brighten, the surrounding skies begin to absorb the light
and reflect it down upon the land, giving it greater clarity and definition with every passing moment.
While the clouds on the horizon remain silhouetted and dark, the atmosphere behind them becomes
increasingly brighter. In the east, an epicenter of intense color begins to exert dominance in the sky. A
fire slowly burns and impregnates the surrounding clouds with hues of orange and red. A soft pink and
yellow glow begins to overtake the horizon and gently evolves into a vastness that blankets the heavens.
As the pink and yellow light transforms into red and orange, the outline of surrounding mountains begin
to separate themselves from the clouds along the skyline. Meanwhile, the still waters below reflect a
mirror image of what is above, creating a perfect, earthly harmony.
As the clarity, exposure, and saturation of natural light and color are increased with every second of
passing time, the grand finale of earthly awaking rather suddenly reaches a climax and erupts from the
stoic stillness of the morning prelude. From the burning eastern epicenter on the horizon, the sun
begins to take a peek upon the land. As it fully reveals itself and rises above all of creation, the back-
clouds become a soft blue, and all the colors of the morning masterpiece explode into magnificence
and give birth to the new life of day. Yes, indeed, every Alaska sunrise (and sunset) is an original work
of art, which will never be duplicated exactly the same way every again.
Photographing the splendor of Alaska sunrises and sunsets is always a bit of a gamble. One never
knows what kind of performance the Divine Artist will give on any particular day. Sometimes the sky
explodes with the most incredible colors and cloud formations when one least expects it. And, on
other occasions, where the weather conditions are ideal, and one is expecting a fantastic sunrise or
sunset performance…it turns out to be a dud. This is especially disheartening when one has gotten up
at 3:30 AM, (the sun rises early during Alaska summers!) has driven for hours, or hiked for miles in the
dark, only to have the atmospheric artist not paint such a vivid picture that day. Again, it’s always a
gamble…but it’s a risk I’m usually willing to take, as the rewards are well worth the effort.
I’ve had the privilege of witnessing hundreds of stunning sunrises and sunsets all over the great state
of Alaska. However, there is just something magical about the ones on Kodiak Island, which is where
most of the images in this gallery are from. Enjoy.
This sunrise image is quite possibly my number #1 most popular photograph. It was first featured in
the September 2013 issue of Alaska Magazine as a full, two-
seen and showcased all over the world. As of 2017, it is exclusively available only as a limited edition
fine art print from Alaska Wall Art.
This photograph is also very special to me because of the story behind it. I captured this image in the
summer of 2012. At the time, I was working as the pastor of a church on Kodiak Island. Late one
particular night (very early in the morning, actually) I was called to the hospital to pray with an elderly
man who was a church member, and, who was about to pass away. After the customary prayers, I
stayed for quite some time in the hospital room with the family. The kind old man passed away around
3:30 AM. When I left the hospital around 4:00 AM, I was very tired, but too emotionally wired to sleep.
So, I drove out to a remote beach to reflect about the experiences of the night/morning, and to watch the sunrise behind a little set of islands. As you can see…it was a spectacular sunrise, indeed! It was a fitting end, and a beautiful new beginning for a soul who had entered into eternity.
While the previous photograph, Mayflower Sunrise, is my most popular, and perhaps most
memorable, this one is a close second, and my personal favorite, as far as the sheer beauty of
a sunrise is concerned. The particular location where I shot this image is one that I scouted out
and studied for months. Then, I had to wait for the best possible weather and lighting conditions
to attempt to capture this image. It took many attempts, and it cost me many hours of sleep, not
to mention a small fortune in gas money, but it all finally came together! This is my all-
place to watch the sunrise in Alaska. It’s almost always a great show!
Spruce Cape, located on Kodiak Island, Alaska, is known for getting some of the most ferocious winds
and extreme weather that makes its way across the island. When a storm rolls in, Spruce Cape is not
the place to be. Perhaps this is why the Nazy Seals Cold Weather Warfare Training Center is located
there. It’s the place to be for all the nasty beatings Mother Nature can dish out. The exact location where
I took this photograph from is not exactly off the beat path though. It’s an area on the outskirts of the city
of Kodiak, right behind a dumpster! It just goes to show; sometimes the greatest beauty can be found in
Mt. Barometer is the largest, and perhaps most photogenic mountain on the Kodiak Island road system.
Over the years I’ve continually searched out new locations and new ways to capture images of this
great leviathan. What has become my favorite place to shoot from is right smack dab in the middle of
the nearby Buskin River as the tide is either quickly coming in or going out. This photo is a long exposure
shot of both the sunset and the rapidly rising tide of the river. It was another of those elusive moments
when all the elements of nature aligned perfectly!
This spectacular late-
behind it. I went out hiking one particular afternoon along one of my favorite, remote, Alaskan rivers to
find an ideal location to shoot the sunset. As I was slowly strolling along, immersed in the lush beauty
of the area, I looked down for a moment to study some large bear tracks. “Boy, those sure are fresh!”
I said to myself. And, as soon as that thought left my mind, I looked up and sure enough, there was a
Kodiak bear about 100 yards away going to town on a pool full of pink salmon. I quickly changed
lenses, got set up in a nearby location to get an unobstructed view, and watched the bear dive and
charge into the pool of fish. At one point, the bear frantically chased a salmon downstream, right in
front of where I was sitting. When he spotted me, he suddenly slammed on the breaks, gave me a
shocked, surprised look, as if to say, “Who the heck are you and why are you watching me fish!” I was
still a safe distance away, and on the other side of the river, but the bear nonetheless bluff charged me
and gave me a few not so friendly “Woofs!” Not a good thing in bear/human communication! As he
then thankfully retreated…so did I. I respectfully let him know I was leaving, and the big Kodiak then
came right back for another round of fishing. It was quite obvious that I was not a welcome guest that
evening, so I headed out of the woods. In the process of doing so, I found a beautiful patch of
blooming fireweed flowers just as the sun was setting the sky ablaze! Another unforgettable experience
captured and preserved.
The Ayakulik River, on the far south end of Kodiak Island, is about as wild and remote as one can get.
It’s an hour floatplane ride away from the tiny city of Kodiak and is an area rich with salmon, gigantic
Kodiak bears, blacktail deer, reindeer, and wonderful scenery. It is also a location that has great
significance for the native Alaskans, as the remains of centuries old Alutiiq pit-
Barabaras) can be found along the riverbanks. I worked as a guide along the Ayakulik for a few
summers and had the privilege of getting to explore this incredible area quite thoroughly. This
particular image showcases the unmatched tranquility that one experiences in a place like the
Ayakulik River. There is no way to describe the feeling of being in such a wild setting. In this case,
a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words.
This is one of those pictures that I really didn’t think too much about when I took the actual photograph,
but it has since become one of my most popular sunset images. I was wandering along a secluded
beach one winter day, looking for something that would make a unique composition element, when I
noticed this rather large, gnarled, dead-
able to get set up for the shot and capture it right at that magical moment when the sun gives its
There is something quite soul stirring about encountering a lone tree in the rugged wilderness. The
sight is one that summons forth feelings of power and resilience, as well as loneliness and isolation.
No matter what one’s perspective or interpretation, the classic solo tree composition, coupled with
the fire of an Alaskan summer sunrise, makes for an emotionally evocative image.
I captured this amazing sunrise at a location just outside the town of Kodiak, Alaska. It’s a rather tame,
unassuming location on most days. The morning I captured this image, however, was a bit out of the
ordinary. There was a Kodiak sow and cub that had essentially set up camp in that spot for a few weeks.
I consciously avoided the area during that time, as walking through the woods in the dark (as one must
often do in the process of getting Alaska sunrise photographs) is not such a great idea when a very
large, and extremely protective mother bear is somewhere nearby. The day I took this photo, I thought
the sow and cub were long gone, as no one had seen them for a while. As I made my way to the beach,
through a patch of thick alder trees (where bears tend to bed), I noticed some fresh tracks in the mud…
very fresh tracks! So, I began the usual routine of identifying myself as a human: moving slow and
cautiously, and hollering the customary “Hey bear! Ho bear! Coming through bear!” I thankfully made it
through their domain without any altercations, and was able to capture another fantastic Alaska sunrise!
Just safely getting to a location for a photo shoot in remote areas of Alaska is often the adventure in and
Narrow Cape is a stunningly beautiful area of Kodiak Island. It’s also quite unique, as one can encounter
things such as herds of buffalo and elk, large numbers of migrating whales, fossil covered beaches,
small numbers of hearty Alaskan surfers, and if you are in the area at the right time, you may even witness
a rocket launch! Seriously! Many wild, interesting, and rather mysterious things take place out in Narrow
Cape. I’ve done everything from getting engaged to rescuing a bear cub out there. Narrow Cape is also
where the Kodiak road system ends. It feels like the end of the universe! Anywhere on the island beyond
that, you’ll need a boat or plane to get to.
I captured this long exposure image one cold, winter evening right where a small, tidal creek flows into
the ocean. It’s become a favorite location of mine for my photography work, as well as a place for simply
rejuvenating the soul with the incredible serenity and wildness of Alaska.
The Pasagshak River is another wonderful feature of Narrow Cape, on Kodiak Island. During the summer
and early autumn months, the river gets a fair amount of human activity from fisherman, but the rest of the
year it is for the most part abandoned, with the expectation of the eagles, buffalo, and bears that roam
This image is of the mouth of the river as it flows out into the sea. I’ve always enjoyed the curve, contour,
vivid color, and visual flow of this particular subject. And, thankfully, so have many others. This photo was
popular enough to end up on the cover of the official 2014 -
Lupine Lake, also in the Narrow Cape area of Kodiak Alaska, gets its name from the massive amount of
lupine wildflowers that bloom all around it in the spring/summer months. It is absolutely amazing to
behold! It is also a great location to photograph the sunrise, as the lake empties right at the edge of
the ocean at a fantastic overlook. At the time that I took this photo, I had many images of summer sunrises
from that location, but none from the winter. As always, getting great sunrise/sunset shots is a gamble.
This was especially the case on the day I set out to capture this image. Since it was winter, the roads
were covered in a thick, truly deadly layer of ice. Even with studded tires, navigating along those
treacherous, curvy, mountaintop roads (with few guard rails) can be quite nerve racking! Drive a little too
fast; take a curve at the wrong angle, and into the ditch, and possibly down the side of a mountain you go!
Along with the dangerous road conditions, that particular location also gets some very strong and very
cold, frostbite inducing winds that blow in from the wide open ocean. And, to top it off, there is no cell
phone service available, so if you get in trouble, your vehicle breaks down, etc., you’ve got a looooong,
cooooold walk back to town! But, undaunted by the challenges, I set out on a freezing, extremely windy
morning; hoping things would all come together, which they thankfully did!
I captured this beautiful sunset after a long day of hiking through the super-
Pass, located on Southeast Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. Along with the usual potential dangers that
one faces in the extreme wilds of Alaska, the mountains and hills of Whale Pass are notorious for the
many sinkholes scattered throughout the land. Many have entered the wilderness in those parts and
simply never returned. In many such cases, sinkholes are believed to be the culprit.
On the way up the steep mountain top where I took this photo, a friend and I discovered a long-
abandoned logging road, which certainly made for easier hiking, instead of bushwhacking through
the thick jungle-
harmless looking mud puddle (about the diameter of an average human) which upon further investigation
was actually a twenty-
literally vanished off the face of the earth and most likely died. It was a stark reminder of the many hidden
dangers that abound in such places. Capturing unique images of great beauty are often done in the
most deadly places on the planet!
Last, but not least, is this sunrise image from an area known as Brookers Lagoon, on Kodiak Island.
I really don’t have any unique or interesting stories about this one. It was just a beautiful morning that
I was blessed to immortalize with my camera.
© 2017 Joseph F. Classen -
Alaska Wall Art
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