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A Day in the Life! – Alaska, Anchorage, Palmer Family Photographer

I’ve been trying to photograph my own family more often. I fiercely love these little human beings, but I’ll be the first to admit that I do get overwhelmed.  All of my kids have very strong personalities, and are not sweet demure people. I’m glad that they have their own minds, but it does end up with a lot of fighting. So, it’s constantly something we are working on. But at times, it does make it hard to pull the camera out.

For this day, I decided to set my camera to JPG black and white. It was fun! I love to watch light, and with great light black and white photos are stunning. Take a look at our day below, and thanks for looking.

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Summer Evening Joy – Alaska Family Documentary Storytelling Photographer

Pure joy, that is what is on the face of this 4 year old. Sometimes I’m in complete denial that he is old enough to be in Kindergarten next year. Where did the time go? He is a hoot to have around, and loves to get revenge on his older siblings. Although, he doesn’t know it, but they love this game that they play. They ride their bikes past him and he shoots them with the sprinkler! It usually provides a good hour of fun. He really is the sweetest little kid. He does this thing where he will take his little right hand and cup my cheek. Then he will stare into my eyes with the cheesiest smile you’ve ever seen, until I give him the same smile back. Then he decides that we’ve connected enough I guess, gives me a hug and goes to bed. I kind of hope he never stops doing it.

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What to do if your toddler wont cooperate for photos? Tips from a photographer who was that toddler!

Early one morning my mother decided that she was going to take me to go get my photo done at the local JcPenny’s. She had 6 kids at the time, and obviously wanted to show the world her youngest little beauty! I’m surprised that I can even remember this event seeing as I was so young, but I do. The photographer sat me up on the bench, stood behind the camera and told me to smile. Now just in case you don’t know me well, sometimes right off the bat I don’t like people. I did not like this photographer. Looking back on it, I felt like he was talking down to me. So, I did what every little sassy pants toddler does…I REFUSED to smile. He then proceeded to try everything he could do to make me smile, and nothing worked. Out of desperation my mother bribed me with an ice-cream shake if I would just give her one smile. I can still remember the desperation in her voice! At that point I knew I had won! I gave my mother what she wanted, this sassy little smile, and we were out the door to get that shake.  What is interesting is that this last Christmas this picture came up, and we didn’t talk about how cute I was. We laughed about what a stinker I was that day! So what can you do to have a stress free photo-shoot with your toddler….

  • First, hire a photographer that is good with kids. I try my best to get down to their level and introduce myself right off the bat. Kids often get talked down too, and if you read the above story you’ll know that they don’t like it.
  • Maybe a sitting portrait isn’t for them. Let them play for a bit, and then try to engage them. Talk to them about something that is interesting to them and try to capture their reaction. Please don’t ask your child to say “cheese”, there is nothing I hate more than the word “cheese”! Maybe a storytelling/documentary session to remember what their childhood was like would be a better fit for your toddler than a portrait session.
  • Try not to bribe. I’ve seen this tactic many times. I’ve seen kids be bribed with anything from ice cream to a trip to Disney Land. Often times the parent has to keep bribing to keep their kid to keep smiling. My approach with toddlers is to just let them be. They like getting attention, so take the focus off of them for a bit. Then when they are ready, play with them, and most of the time they will want to be part of whatever is going on.
  • In the end just ask yourself what you want to remember about this moment? Do you want to remember how frustrated you were? Or do you want to remember picking flowers with your toddler and making them giggle. The best photos are made from real emotions.

I hope this helps! Thanks for joining my newsletter!

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Tips on how to Photograph the Northern Lights – Alaska Photographer Christal Houghtelling

On Christmas night I stood next to my car in -40 degree temperatures outside of Denali National Park trying to capture the perfect photo of the Northern Lights.


Because photographing the northern lights is addictive, magical, and so much fun. It was also on my bucket list, and it’s probably on yours as well. The dancing lights can be fleeting, so I want to give you some tips on how to get it right the first time.

Denali northern lights dancing across the sky by photographer christal houghtelling of palmer alaska

Protecting your camera:

Taking your camera in and out of the cold can cause condensation, and so it is very important to properly protect your camera. I place my camera into an extra large airtight ziplock bag. I then place the camera into the camera bag that I have also had out in the cold. The condensation will form on the bag and not on my camera. The reason I place the plastic bag into a cold camera bag is to allow the camera to adjust slowly to temperature changes. Just be sure to let your camera warm up slowly, it can take quite a while.


Protecting yourself:

Be prepared for the weather! I live in Alaska and -20 or colder at night is normal. I wear thermal underwear, long sleeved shirts, a heavy winter coat, snow pants, snow boots, gloves, large mittens over my gloves, hat and a face mask. I also use hand warmers in my gloves, and my boots. I like to be warm! Obviously this might be overkill for where you live, so prepare yourself accordingly. DO NOT touch your tripod without gloves in very cold weather. It can be very painful, I know from experience!


Recommended Gear for photographing the Northern Lights

  • Tripod: You will need a tripod for the long exposures that are required.
  • Shutter release: Although this isn’t a requirement, I find that using one helps keep the photo sharp, and free from camera shake.
  • Wide angle lens with a wide aperture: I use a wide angle lens exclusively for my northern light photos.
  • Extra Battery: You will be taking lots of long exposures, and the cold reduces battery life! Be sure to keep an extra battery on hand. I keep mine inside my coat to keep it warm.

Recommended Camera Settings

Your camera settings will vary depending on the brightness of the Aurora, but here are some good starting points.

  • Aperture: Keep your f-stop around 1.4-2.8, or the widest your lens will open up.
  • ISO: Start with an ISO around 1000, and increase or decrease as needed.
  • Shutter Speed: Shutter speeds will also need to vary depending on your desired effect. If the lights are dim try shooting around 1/15-1/25th of a second. If the lights are bright and really dancing, increase your shutter speed to 1/10 of a second or faster to catch the movements.
  • Focus: I set my camera on manual focus, and focus to “infinity”. Then I check and adjust as needed.

The northern lights can be unpredictable, and can change in intensity. You will need to adjust your settings as needed throughout the shoot.

Don’t let the dark winters keep you indoors and away from shooting. Yes, it can be hard to drag yourself out of your cozy bed, but it is worth it! Just don’t forget to stop for a moment and really enjoy what you are seeing. Now get out there and capture some magic!

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Palmer and Anchorage Family Photographer – Alaska Family Photographer

None of these photos were staged, or posed in any way. Just real life moments here. I kinda love them.

Having a photographer document a day or two of your vacation to Alaska would be an awesome way to remember your trip.  Shoot me an email at if you are interested.

documentary family photos of alaska family


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Our Trip to Kenai – Anchorage, Palmer, Alaska Family Photographer

It’s that time of year again when we make the trip down to Kenai to dipnet. We had a blast! We got dirty, sandy, exhausted! It wasn’t all fun and games, we had to carry our gear down to the beach, which is a feat in itself. We decided at one point to try to park at the south beach to make it easier. We tried pulling our trailer behind us down the soft sandy beach and we got stuck. We had nothing to dig ourselves out with, so we used our hands and our sand toys. Lesson learned, never leave the sand toys behind! You’ll never know when they will save the day. Thankfully we were out within an hour. But, we decided never to go to that beach again. Let me tell you it was a miracle we got out of there! We came home with over 60 lbs of salmon. On the drive home we stopped at Granite Creek Campground, which is gorgeous! We spent some time fishing, and I got a bee sting. Which I am pretty sure might be infected. It was the first time I’ve ever been stung, so I don’t know what to expect. We packed up after fishing, and drove home. I had so much fun, I just want to go back to document the event without having to work so hard. If photos like these below are something you want for your family, shoot me an email. I would love to document your family! Family day in the life sessions are great for Alaska families, and families visiting Alaska that want a piece of their trip documented. I work all over Alaska including Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Kenai, Homer, Talkeetna.

photos of alaska family on vacation

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Mountains and Ice Cream Cones…the Pace Family! – Palmer, Anchorage, Wasilla Alaska Family Photographer

Check out this fun day in the life session below! If traditional portrait sessions aren’t something you love, document your family with a day in the life session. There is no posing, no directing, just your family being themselves. It is so important to have photos of your family. More than anything they really are for the kids and future generations. Have a look below!

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