About Carl Johnson

Carl is an award-winning nature photographer. He resides in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife Michelle.

Carl was born in Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. An "Air Force brat," Carl moved around a bit in his youth, living in Arizona, California, Guam, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota. But most of his youth was spent in Rapid City, South Dakota, at the gates of the Black Hills.

Education and Early Career

Carl took a rather unorthodox path to get where he is today. His first formal training in photography was at Naval Activities Yokosuka Japan, followed by two courses at the University of Minnesota - all in a black and white film and darkroom environment, including one course on the Ansel Adams "Zone System." Not realizing that he wanted a career in photography, he majored in Political Science. For the two years following college, Carl worked as a guide and camp program manager in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. This is what inspired his interest in nature photography. He also became inspired by Minnesota photographers Jim Brandenburg and Craig, Nadine and Les Blacklock, as well as by the writings of Sigurd Olson. But he still did not think he would have a career in photography.

Carl then earned his juris doctorate at the University of Minnesota Law School. Before and after law school, he started his first paid work in portraits and sports action photography. Then he moved to Alaska in 1999, working for two years as a law clerk for the Alaska Court System and then practicing law for nine years, in business, property, environmental and Indian law. After leaving the practice of law, he worked as an analyst for the Federal Subsistence Management Program in the Department of the Interior for over seven years.

Photography Career

Since 2004, Carl has run a photography business in addition to his "day job." He first provided services for weddings, portraits, sports action and commercial photography, even working as the team photographer for Anchorage's short-lived arena football team, the Alaska Wild. He maintained a gallery at the Fourth Avenue Marketplace for four years, which is where he met Michelle.

In 2008, he transitioned to focus solely on nature photography, selling prints at local shows and markets. He started providing tours and workshops in 2015 through Arctic Light Gallery & Excursions. In 2018, he opened the Arctic Light Gallery at his property on the Anchorage hillside. Carl and Michelle took what used to be a wood workshop in an outbuilding and converted it to a gallery.Then, in 2019, he left his day job entirely. He and Michelle took over ownership and operations of Alaska Photo Treks, Anchorage's premiere dedicated photo tour company.

Carl has earned numerous awards and other recognition for his photography. He was awarded an Artist Fellowship by the Rasmuson Foundation in 2010, recognized as the "Environmental Issues" winner for the 2010 Windland Smith Rice International Awards, two honorable mentions in the 2014 Wilderness Forever competition, and in 2017 the prestigious Daniel Housberg Wilderness Image Award for Excellence in Still Photography, Film, or Video by the Alaska Conservation Foundation. His first book, Where Water is Gold, was recognized with Silver Medal in the 2016 Nautilus Book Awards and a Gold Medal in the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Carl has served as the artist-in-residence for Badlands, Gates of the Arctic, Rocky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks.

Carl’s clients have included Tony Robbins, Princess Cruise Lines, Denali Backcountry Lodge, the National Park Service, Getty Images and National Geographic Education. His stock agency is the Canadian firm DesignPics. Carl is a member of Nikon Professional Services, the North American Nature Photography Association, Professional Photographers of America, and the Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers. Carl is the only full-time Alaska resident who is a Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers. He was also the first American photographer to document the Norwegian long-distance dog mushing race, the Finnmarksløpet.

Why Arctic Light?

Arctic Light seeks to celebrate a legacy of examining the dynamic quality of light in remote, wild locations. One of Carl’s early inspirations was California-based photographer, Galen Rowell, who named his business Mountain Light. Carl is also good friends with C.J. Kale, an owner and founder of Lava Light Galleries in Hawaii. Recognizing the quality of their work and, and paying homage to Rowell’s inspiration, Carl chose the name “Arctic Light” to continue the lineage and highlight the primary focus of his own work, the vast landscapes of the Arctic.