The polar experience

15 05 2013

Seeing a polar bear is quite an ordeal.  Firstly, it means you are somewhere very cold, and I mean very cold!  Secondly, you join a privileged few to actually see one of these magnificent bears in the wild and finally, being in such a remote and seemingly inhospitable environment, you really get a feeling of the majesty of nature.  I was up in Canada on a photographic safari a few months ago, and had the great luck to see several different polar bears, as well as a few of the other brave residents of the far north.

 

The first thing that hits you when you set out on safari is of course the cold.  We were welcomed with a cool minus thirty degrees Celsius, topped off with winds blowing at around sixty kilometers per hour.  I can assure you, that is some pretty cold stuff!  Once you have accepted the conditions, and found a way to work with them, you realize the space that surrounds you.  Vast ice fields, seemingly endless, stretch off in all directions.  Seldom will you find yourself in so much space.  The great white plains of the Canadian arctic are something to behold.

It seems nearly impossible to find a white bear in amongst so much snow and ice, but with a bit of patience and some luck, they magically appear from their white world.  Being the super predator, they are generally quite relaxed with the safari vehicles, and allow you to follow them as far as they see fit.  What this translates to, is amazing photo opportunities!  We spent a total of six or seven hours in the company of these magnificent bears, freely taking as many images as we could.  The only limitation to the photography is how long you could stay outside for!  Even with all the gear, there is no real way of protecting your hands against such harsh conditions, which makes things quite a bit more interesting.

 

I have added a short video from the safari to show what it is all about!

To join me on safari, click here!





2012 in review

31 12 2012

Thanks to everyone for all the support during 2012!

I have put together a quick collection of highlights from the year for you, and want to wish you an incredible 2013 with plenty of good sightings, all of them in great light!

To join me on one of these amazing safaris, click here





Photographing the Northern Lights: Part 2

11 12 2012

After the excitement from the second night, I was keen to try photographing the Northern Lights again, which brings us to our final night.  We were lucky again with a perfectly clear evening, so the game was on. The Internet forecast for the lights once again left us with little hope, at a hard zero out of five possibility.  Playing the odds here would not be smart, but I figure you have to be in it to win, so I made plans for us to go twenty minutes out of town and into a pine forest, and see if we could get some magic there.

Arriving at our destination, a small, cozy log cabin standing alone in the forest, we searched around for some interesting foregrounds, should the lights forget to read the forecast and appear. We were now ready for the lights in all directions.  This having been done, we went back inside, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Just as we were getting ready to start packing up, I went outside for one last check.  I had been out every five minutes for over two hours to check if the lights would appear, and had no real expectations of seeing anything, but better to check and be sure.

Once my eyes re-adjusted to the darkness, I saw the smallest, thinnest sliver of green not far from the horizon, just over the pine trees. Almost excited, I began taking some images.  I set the camera to maximize the light and colour, and managed to get some images out that were decent given the near lack of the lights.  In a two-minute swish, everything changed.  The sky lit up a bright green, with purple, red and orange flames jutting out the side.  It was extraordinary!  The belt of green linked the opposite horizons, and turned the black, very cold night into a green, very cold night.  I was running around to all the foregrounds I had found earlier and was shooting away, having an absolute blast, forgetting about the conditions.

Real life soon caught up with me, and the brisk thirty below temperatures started taking their toll.  Unexpectedly, the camera was struggling before me.  The glass on the front lens kept frosting up, and the controls on the camera were lagging, seriously lagging.  It wasn’t long before the entire rig, camera, lens and tripod, started freezing solid.  This signaled the end of the session, which gave me a chance to head back into the cozy cabin, and regain some of the feeling in my fingers and toes.  You really learn to appreciate your digits after a couple hours out in the snow.

To join me on Safari, head to www.50safaris.com for full Safari info.

 





Photographing the Northern Lights: Part 1

5 12 2012

It is sometimes difficult to concentrate when you are experiencing a natural phenomenon for the first time, when it is absolutely breathtaking, and of course when it is 30 degrees below zero, but even more so, when it catches you completely by surprise.

I was leading a photographic safari in Canada recently; the main focus of which was to see and photograph polar bears.  I did have secret hopes though, of popping out at night, and trying my luck with the Northern Lights, a fantastic visual display that only occurs at a very high latitude (the Southern Lights only occur at a very low latitude, but are much the same thing).  The first evening we arrived was completely overcast with very low set clouds that didn’t look like they were going anywhere, so that was that.

The second night was clear and I was in with a shout.  I checked the Internet for the forecast on the lights (they can apparently do this), and it gave us a low probability, basically, a one out of five chance.  Not great, but being the eternal optimist, I set the camera up outside the lodge anyway, hoping for the best, and went off to dinner.

With a good steak in the belly, I went outside to check on proceedings. Nothing.  All I had managed to achieve was a really cold camera.  I picked it up to head back inside, and something unusual caught my eye, a big green cloud slowly moving through the night sky.  It was the lights!  I, like a champion, had been looking the wrong way.  In a mad panic, I took a photo with the first foreground I could find – the back of the local general goods store in town.  Not bad I thought, but now for the magic.  It was a split second after that that I realized I had no other plans.

I had seen a potential foreground when we arrived, and enquired hurriedly as to its exact location.  This set me off on a run to the other side of town.  To be fair, it only took me 15 minutes, not because of my incredible (lack of) fitness, but because the town is actually that small.   Finding what I was looking for, an Inukshuk (a contraption used by the Inuit people to navigate across water in misty conditions), I set up as quickly as possible, and started shooting.  The lights can stop at any second, so I was moving things along quickly to try get as many shots as possible. Once the camera was going it occurred to me that I was standing on the bay with the highest concentration of polar bears anywhere, at night, alone…  Not great.  I moved to a nearby building, leaving the camera on the bay to do the hard yards.

It must be said at this point, that I was wearing two layers of thermal underwear, a full ski-suit with a jersey underneath, a balaclava, a face mask, two beanies, two pairs of thermal socks with my trusty Sorrell boots and three pairs of gloves (it was minus thirty to be fair), and I had run the length of town.  The sweat that had been expressed during the run was now starting to freeze.  This nullified all the clothing I had on, and it was time to head back.  I braved the polar bear infested shoreline, picked up my camera/icicle and started the slow jog back to the lodge.  Midway along the main road in town, I looked up and saw a couple of locals (in jeans and a single jacket) having a drink on the balcony of the bar, (you read it right, not a bar, the bar), and they stopped mid conversation to take in the tourist dressed for an arctic blizzard with camera-on-tripod-over-the-shoulder jogging up the main road near midnight.  I laughed at what I must have looked like, but took comfort in the fact that between the balaclava and the face mask, they would not be able to name and shame me in the morning.

To join me on Safari, head to www.50safaris.com for full Safari info.





Some cool customers

27 11 2012

I was recently on safari in Canada, and had the amazing opportunity to head out into the tundra, and look for polar bears.  I had three full days to search for, and photograph, the great bears and each day provided new images in different conditions, but one thing remained the same: the mercury hit the minus thirty point on the thermometer without fail!  Chilly to say the least…

 

The first two bears we found were in quick succession of each other, and had slightly different plans.  The first, a large male, moved smoothly across the packed ice, right past us, and went to another tundra buggy to suss it out.  Fantastically exciting, but it was just the start.  The second bear, thought that ours was the buggy that needed the sussing out, and came to see what we were about.  This made my very cold shutter finger come to life, and click away furiously.  The true joy of seeing such a magnificent bear up close was enough to keep me just warm enough to stay out and keep shooting.

 

This pattern of being kept out in the cold by a bear keeping me entertained basically lasted for the next two and a half days.  However, after an hour in the gusty winds and minus thirty-degree temperatures, I did have to take an opportune moment (i.e. the bear took a quick nap) to get back inside the tundra buggy and warm my hands and face.  A rather snazzy (and first for me) fireplace in the actual buggy kept things toasty, and brought the life back to my frozen digits.  As if on cue, the bears would wake up just as I had recovered, and back out I went.  I did take a moment on more than one occasion to wonder how these bears deal with such harsh conditions.  The one bear that was out and about during an actual blizzard just carried on like nothing was happening.  Incredible.

 

To join me on a safari like this, or any other safari, check out www.50safaris.com!