Last August, I visited Svalbard for the second time to photograph Arctic wildlife, especially polar bears. I was invited by my close friends to be the photography guide on their expedition. It was a fantastic opportunity and I got to make a number of new friends, but dang is Svalbard a long way from Kauai. The highlight of our trip was definitely the days we spent motoring around at 82°N searching for polar bears in the pack ice. Did I mention that it was cold? Like really cold, but not winter cold. I wonder how my body body is going to keep up with my ambitions now that I live in Hawaii? Anyway, we experienced some truly wonderful encounters with over a dozen bears. This is one of my favorite images as this polar bear jumped from one ice flow to another.
If anyone has flown on Alaska Airlines this month, you might have seen my polar bear mother and cub image and read my tips for creating better photos in the current issue of Alaska Beyond. The article features several of the Northwest’s top photographers offering advice about photography, so I was honored to be included. I have heard from a several people who have already read it, but I think that no one was more surprised and pleased than my parents when they saw it on their flight to Florida last week. You can read more about this photo here, in case you missed it.
This is my favorite underwater walrus image from my Svalbard sailing expedition last summer with my co-leader Tony Wu. Early in our trip, we encountered walrus resting on iceflows with ideal blue sky conditions that allowed for great underwater visibility. As both the trip leader and inflatable boat driver, I cautiously motored towards a group of walrus to allow my clients to photograph them without disturbing them. Eventually, I delicately approached them and got close enough to extend my underwater polecam out to shoot the most curious animal. I love how he is looking right at the camera and the detail in this image is truly amazing.
I encountered this curious female polar bear during my June 2015 Svalbard expedition. This image was featured on the first page of my article about Arctic wildlife in the January 2016 issue of Popular Photography. During this once-in-a-lifetime encounter, I leaned over the sailboat’s railing and lowered my polecam down to her level on the ice. She repeatedly checked it at point-blank range which allowed me to photograph this incredibly close-up and intimate portrait.
Last June, Tony Wu and I lead our first expedition to Norway’s Arctic Svalbard archipelago. We departed Longyearbyen for 14 days of exploration with our incredible captain Heinrich and three of the best clients that a photo tour leader could ever wish for. Like any truly worthwhile adventure, we experienced a lot of down time while sailing and due to bad weather. Our primary goal was to photograph walrus, but of course we were also hoping to encounter polar bears during our voyage.
I tend to stay up all “night” during the Arctic summer and sleep from 6am to noon, or so. Imagine my delight when I woke up one afternoon to discover that we were anchored to some solid fjord ice and had a bear in view, albeit over a mile away. Looking through a pair of binoculars for several minutes, I observed a female bear and her small cub before resigning myself to patiently waiting to see if they would eventually approach us. I went back down below to prepare myself some food, but in no time at all one of my clients alerted me that the bears were already walking towards us! I hurriedly finished my meal and got dressed in anticipation of our encounter.
I was hoping to get some nice images of the bears on the ice using my medium telephoto lens, but the momma bear walked right up to our boat, stood up on her hind legs, and proceeded to check us out. This was way too close for anything but a wide-angle lens. Our captain assured me that she was just curious and that he had the situation under control, so I grabbed my underwater polecam and set to work. I began photographing her by cautiously leaning over the railing of the sailboat while gently lowering my camera down to the ice. Early in our encounter she stuck her nose against my dome port which left snot all over it. It took me a few minutes to clean off and from that time forward I did not allow her to touch my camera again. She walked back and forth along the ice edge for over an hour, but her cub mostly stayed by our anchor. Towards the end of our encounter, the cub finally decided to join her close to the boat. I could not see what I was photographing, but realized that the cub was beneath her and quickly repositioned my camera in order to capture this incredible moment.
I’ve been behind on my photo editing, blog posting, and social media-ing, so hopefully in the next few weeks I will get back on top of it. To start it off, I want to share my walrus image that graced the January 2016 cover of Popular Photography. I photographed this behemoth last June while co-leading a small sailboat expedition around Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago with Tony Wu. I cautiously waded into the shallow water with my polecam outstretched and quickly shot some images before he let me know that my presence was unwelcome.
I want to start sharing some of my incredible new images from my spectacular Svalbard expedition that I co-lead with Tony Wu this past June. I have been hesitant to publish what I consider to be some of my best work ever given the fact that publishing photos is not what it used to be, not to mention that a lot of my work gets used without compensation by copyright infringers. However, I can not be afraid of holding back my new photos forever.
This is an underwater walrus image that I created while standing in the Arctic Ocean, holding my polecam, and waiting for a walrus from the nearby colony to swim up to me. Eventually, this very curious walrus took interest and swam directly at me as I nervously stood my ground with my polecam held under the surface in front of me. I blindly fired away as this extraordinary encounter unfolded. After the walrus grew tired of staring at its reflection on my dome port, it gently settled into the shallow water in front of me and proceeded to scratch itself for what seemed like an eternity. It was truly an unimaginable experience as both of us were just relaxed and hanging out at the beach while enjoying each other’s company.
I was very happy with my first encounters with polar bears while co-leading my Polar Bear Photography Tour this fall. These amazing creatures are incredibly photogenic and life-changing to see in the wild. I’m currently updating my website with information about next year’s tours, but for anyone that is interested our scheduled dates are September 24-27, September 28-October 1, and October 2-5. The cost will be $5400 all inclusive from Fairbanks, except for the optional $175 per boat ride paid directly to our native guides. We are also able to offer a multiple tour discount to anyone that is interested in extending their photographic opportunities by joining back-to-back tours.
During this year’s tours, my clients and I photographed these two-year old cubs playing in the Arctic Ocean from the safety of our native guide’s boat. They appeared to be having a ton of fun as they played with each other for several hours. Their interactions were frequently so comical that we all chuckled out loud. We were also fortunate to be able to photograph them in beautiful golden sunlight. I created this image with a Canon 1DmkIV and my 400mm f4 DO IS lens. It is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
The young polar bears that I photographed during my recent Polar Bear Photography Tour in Alaska spent a lot of time playing with their siblings both on land and in the Arctic Ocean. Polar bears are considered marine mammals since they spend so much of their lives in and out of the water. They are capable of swimming hundreds of miles when they have to. I really like the way that this young bear looked over its shoulder and right into my lens. I find eye contact like this incredibly compelling. Of course, the nice low angle light was an added bonus. I created this image with a Canon 1DmkIV and my 400mm f4 DO IS lens. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
This is another one of my favorite photos from my recent Polar Bear Photography Tour. I was standing next to the boat with my local Inupiat guide when this mom and cub came over to have a closer look at us. We very quickly got back in the boat, but not before I fired off a few pictures at 10fps with the Canon 1DmkIV that I borrowed from Canon Professional Services. The light was absolutely spectacular and for a moment these bears walked side by side allowing me to create this striking image. I hand-held the camera with my Canon 400mm f4 DO IS lens attached and used a right-angle view finder to get the camera as close to the ground as possible while kneeling. It is a single-exposure which was slightly cropped from the original and required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.