The Challenge of Photographing Polar Bears

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How do you photograph polar bears successfully? The bright white tones of the arctic present challenges, especially this time of year when the sun never sets. Luckily for us, the weather forecast is for party cloudy skies with daily average temperatures at, or just below, freezing – these are perfect conditions as far as I’m concerned.

The challenge of white on white arctic camouflaging

The challenge of white on white arctic camouflaging

So what do you do when you’re presented with bright whites of the ice and the dark blacks of the nose and eyes of the bear in your viewfinder? Pro tip: Use your histogram to ensure you don’t push your exposure too far to the right while preserving the dark tones.

Walking from Expedition ship M/S Malmö, http://www.expeditionorigo.se

Walking from Expedition ship M/S Malmö, http://www.expeditionorigo.se

When we’re out walking on the ice, safety is our priority. Our clients’ safety and the health and wellness of the polar bears are all taken into consideration. With that said, here are some polar bear facts I always keep in the back of my head when we're out on the ice:

  • Polar bears are the only mammal that will actively hunt a human
  • They can run the length of a football field in less than 10 seconds
  • They can smell their food up to 2 miles away. (I'm taking any and all suggestions on how not-to-smell-tasty!)

Cruising through the ice of Svalbard

Ice chart

Ice chart

In order to make the most of our time in the arctic, we’ll be traveling by boat. It allows us to explore the coasts of Svalbard; weaving in and out of fjords, bays, and the surround ice while looking for polar bears and other arctic wildlife. 

The ice dictates our journey – we are completely at its will. Each morning, we study ice charts, wind direction, and speed, as well as sea state. But the ice information is the most crucial element – it tells us where we can and can’t go. The heavy, dense, and slow-moving ice can block access while the fast-moving ice can surround the vessel in no time.

Our boat, the Malmo is well equipped to handle the ice. It's also perfect for scouting out the stunning seascape with its expansive wooden decks. There's plenty of room for its 12 passengers.

malmo boat


Before we got aboard the boat, I took the photo below of a stuffed bear outside the local market... juuuust in case the bears are shy during our journey. At the very least, I have one bear photo of my trip to Svalbard!

My good luck bear. 

My good luck bear. 

Longyearbyen: Land of ice, bears, and seeds

Longyearbyen sign

After three days of travel, I have finally arrived at Longyearbyen where I will overnight. They call it the land of the midnight sun; it’s blazingly bright at 0100, I know I will definitely be sleeping on the plane at the end of the trip. 

Longyearbyen is a unique city, to say the least. The city is built on stilts to keep the buildings above the permafrost layers and it's so far north, it's home to the world’s northernmost commercial airport, ATM, post office, museum and university. 

When your other car is a dog sled.

When your other car is a dog sled.


With the last of the coalmines being shut down, the Island is now focused on arctic research, and tourism. One of the most fascinating parts of Longyearbyen is the Global Seed Vault (aka Doomsday Vault). The vault serves as a backup storage facility of seed samples from the world’s crop collections for use in case of an apocalyptic event or a global catastrophe.

Research planes outfitted with ground penetrating radar and other scientific instruments. They are conducting research to measure the depth of the icefields and polar ice movements. 

Research planes outfitted with ground penetrating radar and other scientific instruments. They are conducting research to measure the depth of the icefields and polar ice movements. 


It has been great reconnecting with Jim, Marc and folks from my first trip to Antarctica (Heather and Larissa). This will be my second trip into the area, as well as Larissa’s, who joined me two years ago aboard the M/S Orgino. Also joining me is Joni, who first joined me in Tanzania several years ago. It’s going to seem like old home week on the boat, loads of fun.

Bring on those bears!

Polar Bears & Arctic Landscapes – Travel Day

whatsinmybag-arctic

Polar Bears here I come (again).  

I’m off to lead another Muench Workshop photography adventure off the coast of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. This will be my second time into the frozen world, a world that I have fallen in love with. I will be co-leading this trip with Marc Muench.

As I sit here in the Newark airport, I’m keep going through the packing list in my mind to figure out what I’ve got and what I might have left behind. Can you imagine the feeling when you notice your laptop battery is in the red and in need of a charge, only to realize that you left the charger at home? (Let me tell you, it’s not a great feeling… OMG, off to scrounge the airport for a charger!) I lucked out and managed to find a store that sells Microsoft Surfaces. Now I am good to go.

So what’s in the bag?  

On my back is one heavy bag with the following equipment:

  • Hasselblad H6D, with 24mm, 100mm, and 210mm lenses
  • Nikon D5 (Thanks Nikon for the loan)
  • Nikon D810, Nikon 200-500mm, and 16-35mm

In my laptop bag: 

  • Nikon 70-200mm
  • support computer 
  • camera support gear

I have several connections and I hope my checked bag follows me.

I’m totally excited to photograph the bears with my Nikon 200-500 as well as the Hasselblad 210mm. Shooting in light lasting nearly 24 hours per day, it will be tons of shooting and lots of work with the clients. I am looking forward to shooting with Marc Muench again as well as a number of my retuning clients.

Let’s go get some bears…………

Over The Palouse

Friday is a travel day for me and I am off to the Palouse area of Washington State to lead another Muench Workshop. This area is known for its green rolling hills (spring) that are similar to those in Tuscany, only these are much more pronounced and require specially modified equipment for cultivation. Looking forward to showing my clients this magical area of Washington.

The image below was taken from a helicopter over the fields of the Palouse using a Hasselblad H5D40 camera mounted to a Keynon dual axis gyro stabilizer.

Be sure to take a look at this image on your computer screen or just click on it to get an idea of the resolution in the raw file. Simply incredible and that is why I shoot Hasselblad!

#Palouse #Hasselblad #Keynon #gyrostabilizer

Friday is a travel day for me and I am off to the Palouse area of Washington State to lead another Muench Workshop. This area is known for its green rolling hills (spring) that are similar to those in Tuscany, only these are much more pronounced and require specially modified equipment for cultivation. Looking forward to showing my clients this magical area of Washington.

The image below was taken from a helicopter over the fields of the Palouse using a Hasselblad H5D40 camera mounted to a Keynon dual axis gyro stabilizer.

Be sure to take a look at this image on your computer screen or just click on it to get an idea of the resolution in the raw file. Simply incredible and that is why I shoot Hasselblad!

#Palouse #Hasselblad #Keynon #gyrostabilizer