Polar Bears on the Edge – Heading for Extinction

It isn’t often I get on board for a crowd funding project. Frankly there are so many of them these days that deserve support that its impossible to contribute to them all. However, the recent events in Svalbard with the senseless death of a young female Polar Bear (I photographed this bear only days earlier) combined with my own additional experience witnessing the decline of these magnificent animals in the wild puts this particular effort at the forefront of my thinking and efforts. I want to urge all of you to help save the Polar Bear and to take just a few moments out of your day to do so.

Morten Jørgensen, who is arguably the leading authority on Polar Bears, is about to release a new book to help save this incredible animal from extinction. The book “Polar Bears on the Edge” has taken two years to write and I believe this will probably be the most important book about polar bear conservation in many years. In fact, it may well be one of the last chances to help save the species.20150319032943-isbj_rn.vinkel.s_1200The book ‘Polar Bears on the Edge – Heading for Extinction while Management Fails’, will be available to the general public including the press towards the end of April this year. You can order an advance copy by contributing to the campaign. To help fund the message of the book out to as wide an audience as possible, Morten has launched a campaign to cover the costs of production and distribution. This fund raising is not for profit – it is for polar bears.

Please check it out at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/polar-bears-on-the-edge I encourage and urge you to assist in whatever means you feel comfortable and able. To ensure polar bears have a future, we need to see a policy change in the Arctic. One way you can contribute to helping the polar bears is by donating to the campaign. But you can also contribute by spreading the word. You could forward this page to people around you, let people know through your mailing lists, through Facebook and Twitter etc, or embed the link to the campaign on your webpages. I encourage you wether you are a photographer or not to contribute to this campaign. Every little bit helps and with your support we can hopefully save this magnificent animal.
Polar Bear

Polar Bear Shot Dead in Svalbard because of the Ignorance of Tourists

Today I am sharing a photograph I took less than a week ago in Svalbard whilst I was on a scouting trip to photograph Polar Bears in winter from snow mobile. I watched and photographed this magnificent Polar Bear play around this piece of blue ice against the backdrop of the glacier in Tempelfjorden in Svalbard for several hours only days ago. The teenage bear had been in the fjord for days and had been hunting seals at breathing holes along the edge of the frozen ice. I photographed the same bear two days before this image as it lay on a fresh seal kill under the polar winter sunset.

I was deeply saddened and moved to tears today to learn that this Polar Bear is now Dead. Shot dead because of the ignorance and arrogance of tourists who travelled to Svalbard to witness the Solar Eclipse. From what I have been able to piece together from the various news reports now popping up online it seems a tourist suffered minor injuries when the polar bear attacked the tent where he was sleeping. An area where the bear was known to be hunting and where these tourists irresponsibly set up their camp. Svalbard-RIPPolice spokesman Vidar Arnesen said the man was among a group of six that was on a combined ski and snow scooter trip on the remote islands more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of the Norwegian mainland. The group was camping north of the main town of Longyearbyen.

The man, Jakub Moravec, told local media he hoped to be out of the hospital later Thursday.

“Now I am fine. I have some scratches in the face, on one arm and on the back. But I feel fine,” he told the Svalbardposten newspaper.

Jakub Moravec I am glad you feel fine. You don’t deserve to feel fine. It is because of you and your friends ignorance and stupidity that this beautiful Polar Bear had to be killed. Tent camping in an area a Polar Bear is known to be currently in is not only incredibly stupid, but its incredibly ignorant. Shame on you. I hope the life of this bear that you and your friends caused the death of haunts you for a very long time.

South Georgia Antarctica Experience Video 2014

My good friend and fellow photographer Antony Watson has just finished a video of our experiences last year in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica and you can now watch the video online (Click to Read the Trip Report). Just click on the image below to watch the video – Enjoy.southgeorgiavideoIf you are interested in travelling to South Georgia Island and the Weddell Sea Antarctica I have an expedition this November to South Georgia Island and to Antarctica in February next year. Places are now extremely limited on both expeditions. There is now only one remaining place on South Georgia Island expedition before it will be sold out.Antarctica-Weddell2015I am heading out of Reykjavik later today up to the very north (and very wild and remote) western tip of Iceland on an expedition to Photograph Arctic Foxes for an ongoing project. See you back in Reykjavik in a week or so – weather permitting a timely return.

Landscape Photography with Emotion and Mystery Part Four

Yesterday I was delayed leaving Svalbard by eight hours from my Winter Scouting trip to the Arctic due to significant ice on the runaway. This isn’t the first time I have experienced lengthy airport delays due to weather (and I am sure it will not be the last either) but the time did give me an opportunity to put further thought toward Landscape Photography with Emotion and Mystery and as such I want to expand a little further on the previous articles.

There is another aspect to the creation of evocative imagery that I have not yet touched on in this series of articles (See Part One, Part Two and Part Three) and that is post production. Post production is the generally accepted term for the adjustments made in software to the original RAW file that was captured in the field (post production can be applied to jpeg files as well but there are significant advantages to using RAW images). There are numerous programs available in the marketplace that facilitate post production. Two of the most well known and commonly used are Adobe Camera Raw and Adobe Lightroom.

The purpose of this article is not to provide a step by step set of instructions on how to process your photographs in these applications to create emotive photographs. That is frankly beyond the scope of this article and it is best demonstrated in person or via a video tutorial in any case. Or dare I say it – in a book. One of the best books on this topic is Jeff Schewe’s ‘The Digital Negative‘ (I recommend you add it to your library and will be reviewing it here on my blog in the coming weeks). Rather the purpose of this article is to understand the relationship between time of capture, post production and the creative vision.

When we return to the studio with a memory card full of RAW files what approach should we take to fulfil our creative vision? Specifically, what is the mental process we go through that is going to lead to editing, selecting and ultimately processing a RAW file that is powerful, evocative and that tells a story?

In order to attempt to answer this question I think we need to look at the step between capture and post production that I feel gets glossed over all to often by photographers (especially in this age of social media and the rush to share photographs) and that goes a good deal of the way to understanding the mental process of going from capture to fulfilled vision. When we are out in the field capturing photographs we are actively looking at the ‘real world’ in front of us. The ‘real world’ for lack of a better term gets absorbed by our eyes and baked into our brain as a memory. Occasionally, when the conditions are really good we ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ (known affectionately as ‘chimping’) because we feel we have captured the scene in such a way that it meets with our eyes and brains perception of what lies in front of us. We then come back to the studio, look at the file on our monitors and are subsequently disappointed. We are disappointed because the flat 2-dimensional file on our computer monitor fails to live up to the image and memory we still have in our minds eye. This is an interesting phenomena that I have experienced many times and I have learnt how to overcome it to some degree with a staged approach to my post production. Just as an interesting observation: I will caution you now that the approach I am advocating goes against everything you are witnessing (and possibly participating in) on Social media today. Social Media has given birth to an age where prolificacy is seen as a virtue. Quantity is rewarded over quality as photographers race to outdo each other by simply posting more images more quickly than the next photographer.  Its a death spiral that has resulted in a torrent of mediocrity.

The problem is that the original scene is still fresh in my mind and quite honestly the flat 2-dimensional photograph cannot compete with my memory of what it was like when I pushed the shutter. Something got lost in the translation between being at the location in person and the capture of the image. Or did it?

With the experience of being out in the field still fresh and at the forefront of my mind I feel I do myself a disservice when I try to compare my recent RAW capture to my memory of what it actually looked like. I need to let some time go past so that my memory of the scene fades. I need to forget about the morning dew droplets on the long grass, the smell of the clean, cool air, the sound of the nearby waterfall, the way the low mist hugged the ground, and the way the slight breeze caused it to curl ever so gently over the fallen logs. All of that sensory input got locked up in my brain when I was out trying to capture the photograph and its what my brain is now using to compare against what my eye sees in the RAW file on my computer monitor. Good Luck with that!

The problem for me is that this comparison gets in the way of my vision and the story I want to tell in my photograph. If I let a period of time elapse the memory of the scene begins to fade. I forget that the dew drops were so pure, that the air was so fresh and clean. I no longer remember the sound of the nearby waterfall or how the mist was gently curling just so at the time I made the photograph. My memory has faded and like the RAW file that lacks contrast the playing field has been levelled. Now I can look at my photographs without my brain instantly telling me they are a failure because they fail to live up to the fresh memory my senses worked so well to create. I can now also be far more objective in my assessment of the RAW file and am far better equipped to make the critical decision of wether I should process the file and take it to output – and then possibly share it. This is something I have experienced time and time again in my own photography and learning to understand it has enabled me to give myself the best chance to overcome it.

It has been an interesting experience for me to watch other photographers grapple with this phenomena. I have seen photographers on workshops and expeditions come back from a single days shooting in places like Antarctica with over a thousand photographs. I have then watched them diligently sort, edit, select and process their favourites all within the space of a few hours. What I find when I subsequently look at their photographs is that quite often they are what I term ‘record shots’. ‘Record shots’ are photographs that have accurately recorded the scene but that usually fail to convey an emotive story. This isn’t always the case, but I find it holds true most of the time. It holds true because the photographers brain is working to record the scene as they remembered it and not to fulfil a creative vision. They are not trying to tell stories with the photographs and are focusing instead on documenting the scene as quickly as possible (usually because of the seemingly omnipotent Social Media call).  There is nothing wrong with this by the way and I do not mean to in any way disparage this approach. It is just not an approach that works for me if I want to do more than document the scene.

There is a marked difference between just recording the scene in camera and fulfilling your creative vision through storytelling using a photograph as the medium. I want to also clarify that I am not advocating extensive post production long after the image was taken (I don’t do extensive post production – see my Ethics Statement. I actually have a strong distaste for post production that disingenuously misrepresents Nature and will have more to say on this rather disturbing trend in a future article). I am advocating story telling and understanding the relationship between what you were thinking when you pushed the shutter, how the RAW file matches up to your vision both immediately after the shoot compared to how it compares with your vision after the passage of time. And finally how the passage of time ultimately frees you from the memory of being there and thus liberates you to fulfil your creative vision.

Personally, I can make a few quick selects after a field shoot (I call it cherry picking), but I find I really need that passage of time to go past before my vision is clear and I can be sure I have selected the very best photographs to subsequently process. That passage of time that has dulled my memory somehow lets me take the RAW file and better fulfil my creative vision. Its a fascinating phenomena that I admit I do not fully understand. Part of this process is certainly letting the RAW file speak to me about what ‘it’ needs in terms of post production but a larger part is about my brain recognising the story I am trying to tell whilst being free of the immediate memory of actually being there. And remember telling a story is the key to the creation of an evocative photograph.

Svalbard Arctic Winter Scouting Trip Complete

Yesterday we arrived back in the small town of Longyearbyen via snow mobiles from our scouting trip to the wilderness in the north of Svalbard where we photographed Polar Bear, Reindeer and icy landscapes in the deep freeze of an Arctic Winter. This scouting trip ranks in the top five most amazing and extraodinary expeditions I have ever been fortunate to undertake – it was also the coldest. The mercury plummeted below -30º Celsius with wind chill on many occasions. Although it was cold (its the Arctic in Winter!) we had a mix of incredible light, landscape and wildlife in a deep winter scene that was a very special experience. Part of the problem in dealing with the cold during this test trip was that we were out in the elements for ten or more hours a day with no option to return to our hut to warm up. This meant donning lots of layers and being prepared to deal with really extreme temperatures for many hours. One of the few places you could actually get some warmth into your body when the cold seeped its way through the layers was from the heated handgrips on the snowmobiles and I was personally very pleased to have these available. Being able to operate the camera requires thin gloves and these offer little protection in this extreme environment. We were over two hundred kilometres from Longyearbyen in the remote northern part of Svalbard  which limited us to what we could take with us and the provisions already supplied at the hut. We travelled more than five hundred kilometres in total during the expedition.

During the expedition we encountered and photographed Polar Bears, Seals, Arctic Fox, as well as Reindeer and were able to make some very unique photographs of these animals in the Arctic Winter light. I will be sharing some of the photographs I made when I get a chance to process them on my return to Australia. As tempting as it is to process a few images on my macbook now, I really prefer to save this work for my studio editing machine where I have a much more tightly controlled colour managed environment.

I am going to stay in Longyearbyen for the next couple of days before I fly back to Iceland to continue my Arctic Fox project in the extreme north-east of Iceland. As it happens, there are several fox dens just outside of town in Longyearbyen and I want to check these out before I leave and potentially spend a day photographing the foxes if they are around. Once back in Iceland I am going to to drive up to Isafjord where I will take a charter boat up to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. This very remote part of Iceland is very rarely visited in winter and is only accessible by chartered boat (approximately four hours steam north of Isafjord) and there is no infrastructure (power, running water, roads etc.) in place in this wilderness so we have to take everything with us for the duration of the trip. It is a major undertaking to travel and photograph in Hornvik in winter requiring the co-ordination of not only a chartered boat, supplies, and emergency EPIRB, satellite communication equipment, but also special permission from the park ranger. I want to take a moment and thank my friends in Iceland who have helped make this all possible. Without their assistance in co-ordinating and arranging this expedition it simply would not have been possible. I spent a week or so last year in this area photographing Arctic Fox with their assistance from a snow blind and was able to get several images for my project that I was extremely happy with. I hope to get sufficient images from this expedition to complete the project. In the meantime I am going to enjoy a couple of days in Longyearbyen with hot water, electricity and a warm room. See you back in Iceland in a few days.

Arctic Fox Howl