Photographing Arctic Landscapes and Lifestyle
I'm going to take you to some of the most interesting places in the world the arctic regions, regions of the world that are often un accessible to people because they're great distances that travel is difficult, the conditions can be challenging and I mean that just basically walk you through how I work in these environments and you'll see a repetition of style and a repetition of the way I pieced together a shoot and we're goingto go to small barred, which is this really arctic archipelago of islands several hours north of the most northern portion of norway so we're talking deep north and then we're going to go southwest from there to iceland a place that I've been many times over the years and I continue to go to and then finally will stop in antarctica and at the end of that go up to the island of south georgia. So you really want to go d l where your warm clothes for this by the way, some of the places I'm showing you there's no bacterias reason because I'm actually teaching works...
hops in these places in the next year so I want you to get excited about this place and so fall bard is really a siri's of islands and their arctic islands they've got glaciers, they've got more importantly, a lot of wildlife that live in and around and so when I first go to any place for instance these photos were taken on my very first arrival and small bart you start to get used to the place I tend to be known for wildlife and landscape and in more recent years culture but I'm shooting abstractly aiken be justice happy wandering in the town of I forgot what the name of this place is only like thirty six letters long but the first time I come to a place I'm going to document everything everything culture the daily lives of the people the animals that might live within this community this's the only place on the planet that I'm aware of that has a sign on the outskirts of the town that you're not allowed to walk out of town without a rifle and why would that be there's polar bears that live in and around the town and they are dangerous polar bears are you know animals that eat anything that comes their way because it's such a spartan existence so that was the first thing that I was struck I was struck by so now I'm on my first day in this town and I'm photographing people doing their thing and the first thing I saw where this husband and wife that we're using sled dogs but with sleds on wheels and they're just keeping their dogs active and accustomed to command says they're going through there so I'm like a sponge I like to say I photograph without prejudice that means whether it's, rusting pipes in a gutter or the grand landscapes or everything in between, I'm now in my, you know, season career, I'm really photographing everything because regardless of the content eventually will go into a book project. If you do enough books and I've done eighty over mike thirty five year career, eventually anything will wind up in the aa book that identified, and the interesting thing is, I followed these people I I didn't know their name, they we didn't speak a common language, I just kind of followed them. I rented the car and followed them back up into the hills to where their dogs are. And so that was interesting to see that this sled dogs, I'm sure that they have a cod is cottage industry when the snows come in the fall, where they would take people out on the adventures, but they're drying fish. So these people obviously go fishing in the big day where this town is and they drive the fish, so that was of interest, and I'm kind of taking patterns, my backgrounds, painting an art and so elements of designed patterns, textures, lines are the first red lights that go off and alert me to the fact that there could be a photo, so once I've alerted to the fact that these drying fisher kind of in a pattern, then I'm going to shoot them two or three different ways. I'm not going to spend a lot of time there because I've got other agendas, but you can see how everything's very stylized it's, not random it's not just, you know, a makame aurra and walk past. I'm framing a shot, I'm tryingto make a really abstract shot of anything. I turn my camera two, and then I start to bring the camera back and shoot a wider angle. I'm showing context of where these fish are drying, you know, there's fish in their environment with the mountain as a backdrop, and then I noticed there seals, so, you know, for western cultures in modern cities, the idea of hunting seals may be repugnant to us, but in in an environment like that is very much part of their culture, so they're providing probably meet for their dogs. They used the skins for part of their clothing, and so I'm not making a judgment. I'm just taking opportunities and documenting the entirety of their environment and how they live, but my main objective, of course, is the landscape beyond, but I'm going to pause for a day, really to get to know the culture. And then I shot this shot because it looked like a face. It looked like an abstraction of a face it's, a seal skin drying and how many of us walk passed the house where your have skill as skins of steel drank never. So this is an opportunity, and then there's this sign that warns you and below it was written in norwegian, don't go beyond is little literally illegal to go beyond without a rifle in your hat, so that really speaks volumes for the fact that this is a seriously wild place, and communities like that little town are just a tiny little footprint and on otherwise large environment now to the point of getting around, this is a very broad and wide area there you could go for hundreds of miles, any direction and hit islands and icebergs and glaciers along the shore. It's not like a tiny little island you're going to visit for one afternoon, so how you travel would be by cruise ship and these air cruise ships that I've often used as early as the nineteen eighties and seattle going to antarctica there, about one hundred passenger, they are built specifically to be able to get through the ice and transport people and the whole idea of tourism and traveling to while places really came in the early seventies and has progressed to this day but they're usually small ships like this and many of these ships leave south america during our winter but antarctica's summer so they just this ship more than likely would be down in antarctica during the period of november through february. But now in the month of july this is where we are in the high arctic and in july through august is when the seas opened up and you can start to get into the ice so I love the landscape because you know, to be honest there's great landscapes in iceland as you'll see but what it lacks is the variety of wildlife that you would find on this island on these islands, so I love that big just as a general rule I shoot broad landscapes and then as I get used to the environment, I shoot tighter and tighter and then I go for the abstract urgency and along the way I'll should the mine osha, the wildlife so layering of like what my mission overall is is to convey a sense of place I'm shooting for it an audience that may never, ever be here but I want them to have and a sense of a place and I almost feel like you've been there and we certainly tried to do that with the tv show I hosted for years I certainly have done that with all the books, so the broader bigger picture is vitally important but not just noon daylight I'm shooting very specifically when the light and land and the elements all come together and something that is surreal and beautiful, I want to inspire people I want to uplift people and I want to educate people about a place and so those are the over our king missions of when I travel so you can see the rugged mountains are unique and then glaciers reach the sea and this is how you get there. You can photograph a lot from the ships, but also on a daily basis often two or three times a day you're onto zodiac and you're exploiting exploring the inter bays of small and let's where the bigger boat cannot go to and this is a great time I mean, for people have never been around avalanche ing glaciers and icebergs floating around it's a thrill to see ice like this on that level is a real thrill, and as I say, I shoot the bigger picture, putting you in the raft within the context of these walls of ice, then I always go for the details I always go for a tighter shot, a more abstract shot, and again this plays to my background is an artist and, um a graphic design person and so there's something about ice that really is alluring to me because it's no two icebergs look alike, and the way the light fractures through the eyes always is presenting something different. And then again, isis very different. The top layer of any iceberg glacier is fairly opaque as you see here, but as it gets compressed and his older eyes, it almost becomes as clear is cut glass. So you have all this different type of glass eyes to work with. You'll see some of that clear ice in the photos in iceland and just a little bit, so I'm out on the deck often, you know, sometimes they're serving dinner and people are just munching away, but if I see through the window something developing, I'll leave dinner and get out there because the light is so ephemeral, changing all the time and it's often that little bit of light coming through a cloud cover that eliminates the wisp of ah different layer of clouds coming up that gives the landscape separation it gives it depth and depth is important because you want again the photo not just to be a flat image, but it's the more depth movement of the eye, your eyes as you look through these photos. If you're if I look at somebody looking at my photo and they're just static that I know I have not succeeded in what I'm trying to do trying to create movement of the eye throughout the entirety of a composition so you know, in this particular image, your eye kind of follows the glacier up into the clouds are the mountains that are disappearing in the distance and as you see, I'm establishing a sense of place I'm establishing the wild, raw, cold, austere and yet beautiful environment us fall, bart, but as I progress during these slides, you'll see that we start to get more intimate. We start to look at the plants, the animals that live within this environment and maybe some of the historical components as well. So it's interesting to me that I started off in the early seventies as a photographer and I started off as a climate climber with a camera, and then I got into a wildlife photography and I met several people along the way that were specific to photographing docks doc's they had big lenses and they were so excited about photographing docks and I said, well out of iraq in walked by, but I'm not so much interest in mammals, and I took a lesson from that that's some people that are so singular in their vision often run out of inspiration five years later you know they've done every doctor in the world every shorebird or maybe they're in tow plants and they wouldn't you know, raise a camera to a bison or wolf for the life of them I'm abroad generalist I'm interested in everything and as I've matured as a photographer everything includes everything the only thing I will not photograph is bar mitzvahs or weddings or graduations which other people are much more qualified to dio but beyond that yeah everything's subject for my camera and by having that openness and this really comes out of my background as a painter I had painting instructors that would always be drooling on a cigar and they would just say kid, if you can't do something different just leave the program and it it was they were trying to inspire me to be broader and more open in my subjects not be singular about this because the biggest thing that challenges photographers is the same thing analogous to writers black if you run out of ideas, you'd likely going to hang up the camera and move on so I've always broadened my interest but today we're really singular on these arctic environments so when I go to these places is not usually in the dead of winter it's in the height of the summer whether it's the arctic or the antarctic so temperatures are not unlike spring in seattle or fall in seattle we're talking temperatures that are usually around fifty degrees fahrenheit yeah, there can be those odds storms in the middle of the winter with our middle of the summer with a little bit of snow and hail but for the most part we're not talking ten below zero though I have been in many environments here at the height of the summer it's really in those temperatures so here's the typical we've landed on the land I see first the mountain and the striations of snow coming down the slope and we're in a tiny little pond that was unlike undoubtedly created by a chunk of ice that kind of remain and melted out and so I've got people in the lower left and I'm just going to show you a syriza about five photos to show you how it involves so the first thing it was about the reflection putting people in the environment otherwise it's a pretty great it could be a black and white photo right? So there's not a lot of color and depth in this image it's a graphic image of reflection so the next shot forget the people I'm going to get lower to the water make on I choose to make it a panoramic I when I crop I'm often cropping to a panoramic format and there's about three different agreed upon for mass of a panoramic so that kind of plays to the linear landscape in front of me right vertical lines of snow horizontal landscape then I said, all right, there's going to be something more and at my feet, I thought were logs, but in fact, they are the vertebrae, bowhead wells or humpbacks small barred was at one time a wailing center, so there's a few in let's, where you see the residue of the wailing days, and now these bones have been land out here in this cold environment for many, many years, and now they've got layer of moss and likened so that's pretty cool, so if I shoot it like that that's one thing, but if I start to get lower now, I can bring the bones in as a foregone element, but that's pretty inconsequential, you can hardly tell what that is, so I'm going toe walk left and right until I find something a little more engaging now, I'm I'm really getting lower and closer to where it's undoubtedly unquestionably the foreground is the foreground of these old bones. The green starts to bring in a element of color, which again adds depth to the image and those mountains air remaining basically, as in that first image. And yet this photo doesn't quite work as well as this image. Now this one starts don't have it, you see the form of the vertebrae, you start to get a sense that this isn't an old lock so I'm telling the story, as I said earlier trying to inform and educate I don't want you to have any doubts what you're looking at and yeah, this is just too tight there's not that breath of the open landscape and ultimately this is the shot that I like the most so it's got the lake it's got the reflection but it's got these bones as really the crescendo of damage and see in five different shots helen from a graphic black and white to something that's got depth and sweep and I'm using the lines of these bones to direct your eye up into the mountains beyond so this is the best in my estimation of the siri's and it's the evolution of thought rarely do I or any of my top colleagues arrive in a landscape and shoot the best shot it's like everybody we just kind of say, oh, this could be better shoot maybe this is a little better should move in your experiment and that's what everybody should be doing. I think a lot of people have the belief that oh my god she's a top professional she probably walks right up there and shoots the best shot and walks away that's not true it's the evolution of three four in some cases fifteen different shots until you arrive at the best one that's the way the human mind really is wired and then I would put on a telephone or a macro lands I don't really travel with a macro lens I usually use extension tube's between a lens that ivory god and that enables me to focus closer is an economy of wait and scale and then certainly the years in the last five or six years has wait restrictions become more and more evident on planes you choose what you're going to bring along and you make do with what you have so dedicated macro lenses or swing until lenses are less likely on an international trip if I'm just going to the nearby cascades yeah I could probably bring everything I own and put it in the back of my subaru but right now no so these shots are with a seventy two, two hundred with an extension tube and I miss still able to bring in amazing detail so I love doing that because it's a mental calista nick if everything was just a grand landscape I would get over that pretty quick but if I can break it up with close ups cultural debris the wildlife the mood the abstract and as you'll see it's going to get more abstract than I stay engaged them I stay enthusiastic and then there's the bears the bears are why most people would go to small bart the people that are in europe they don't think of going tio arctic canada they think about small bar because polar bears like orcas like great white charts like lions and tigers are iconic animals. I don't care if you're a little kid growing up in johannesburg, south africa or beijing, china, you know what a polar bear iss and so it's an animal that draws attention and people want to see him safely and fall. Bart is probably one of the best places to see it, so this is a typical shot of a bear on the eyes. The boat is accessing it by going through these leads of ice, and then you can see they find them and they slowly drift the plane, the plane that boat up to it and you know these air for me, they're kind of documentary style photos there's no art to it blood and entrails isn't really where I make my career, but it is interesting for people they just love the fact that there's a dead animal there and the polar bears munching away for me, I'm going for more abstract I'm trying to use the bear within the context of the environment, but I'm going to shoot these as well I'm not going to not shoot them so that's a cleaner shot, you know, no blood on the animal, but it is also a shot that's slowly changing the climate change that we're all experiencing regardless around the world. Of course, is happening up in the arctic even more dramatically, so what's happening every year, despite the fact that this past year was the coldest in new england for a long, long time, the world is warming on every every plane is warming, and in the arctic, a tw the height of the summer, you see that in less ice every year, and so polar bears thrive on eyes, they've got to walk across ice to catch the seals and that they don't have the eyes, they're like a duck out of water or a duck in water, I should say so. This photo of this polar bear was intentionally put in the middle to symbolize tio overstate the case that it's in the middle of a big ocean. Now these bears are capable of swimming hundreds of miles. Can you believe that a mammal swimming hundreds of miles and unfortunately, they're required to do that on occasion, so they're moving from one location to another, and this is a very unusual shot here. Ah, polar bear on a glacier is a very unusual scene. I've never seen it before, but in small bart, it becomes more and more of the norm, so they're crossing lands that they were never required to do before they're coming on the land more frequently, so if you can't get to your normal food which is seals where you going to do what you're going to come on land you're going to eat help you're going to eat anything that can feel fill your vast belly and so that's what's happening a lot with the polar bears which then makes it a little more dicey to go ashore because you're more likely now to encounter polar bears hence the signs on the outskirts of the town so these thieves father's you're seeing are taken during the course of two different trips so a polar bear in amongst the ice then the land and then wandering to shore scavenging and what's also then on svalbard are the musk that there's not musk ox but there's walrus and there's also reindeer and so the polar bear is now challenging the walrus and the walruses ah formidable animal it's got huge tusks of ivory and it takes a very strong polar bear to go after a walrus because like lions taken down animals often polar bears khun b gored by the tusk of a walrus and be disabled and infections can rise and there's been more than one polar bear killed by the animal he's trying to kill and so they have to be really discreet and it's a game and the warriors are not an easy prey but that's part of the story you know that drama between predator and prey unfolds also in small bart if you're lucky so with puller with walrus you know I'm not just trying to show walrus as a specimen I'm trying to show maybe interaction between two or three you know there's there's a sense of cuddling in this image whether it's happening or not these are the kind of anthro pour more fick images I'm after because quite honestly the photos that sell for me in books or on are ones that connect to people on an emotional level so just a portrait of animal is less likely to be used in our books then something that shows a little bit of interaction between two individuals when I generally photograph animals just like the landscapes I shoot with a broad lens I'm tryingto convey a sense of place to the animals and if I can and the animals permit that I go closer and then I go closer and closer toe ultimately I wind up with a portrait so that's just my m o I'm not going to try to do the portrait first and back away I'm going to start from afar and I'm very aware award the mountains are the land and as in this image you can see the the perrys caribou are in the lower quadrant of the image then I go closer and I'm gauging because I've not been around this particular herd of caribou before I am not sure whether they're going to boo the right away or hang out and in fact these were quite tame, but I wouldn't have known that from the get go so I'm getting in closer I'm using different lenses now at this point I know that they're fairly tame because they're walking towards me, so at that point I make a decision to go from horizontal to a portray and ultimately there's no point in getting any closer than this so it's that portrayed looking straight into the face they look pretty moth eaten at this point because it's the height of the summer and so they're losing their winter for and there's charm in this thing that looks like an old carpet you know it's it's not a regal looking animal, but it looks like it's in misery but it's like that sleepy old dog that's just uh oh it's got a personality to it because it's losing half its fur if the light isn't great and the animals are just kind of slowly moving isa pretty boring image and this may be a time where I would intentionally take my f stop and dollar down tow my small zappa trope opening, which would be what around f twenty two and then I would lower my eye so two, one hundred rather than four hundred or thousand and what am I doing? I'm intentionally trying toe lengthen the shutter speed and by doing that then if the animal start to move, I can pan with their motion so that then make something a little more compelling out of an average scene again, these particular caribou don't have very large, uh, caribou antlers, but that sense of motion gives it an element of art that otherwise static image would not convey. So there are times where choice of shutter speed rules the day and that's determined by what what I can get away with had it been a sunny day there's no way there's no way to do that, I said earlier, I'm looking for patterns you saw that in the drawing fish, you know, flocks of birds, herds of animals, swarms of fish, anything that looks like a pattern I'll go for, I've hard wired to do that. I did an entire book called migrations, which was exactly that, so, you know, opportunities like these gray leg geese are molting that don't they don't have the requisite wing feathers right now to fly, so they're just kind of walking around in big groups so that's an opportunity and other things, though I, you know, shooting unique birds like this are really good for my archive, but rarely do we ever make money from it, but how could you not shoot that? And in this particular case is kind of interesting way these adults guard against perhaps fox is that would take the young so that's what's happening here there's they pulled all their babies together, they're hurting their babies and then the adults are kind of surrounding them for protection. And then again, when you travel to really remote islands, just like what you saw, what the caribou you could get really quite close. This is a common eider is the eider down that often feels the really high end sleeping bags and jackets you may wear these birds are you could literally walk up and touch its head and is not going to move off the nest. It doesn't associate humans with danger, and therefore it doesn't have any fear so bird like this, you can get in really close and what they are seventeen to two hundred with extension two you can do beautiful details of the feathers, the forehead without really getting on top of it so I can still run remain a respectable five feet away and it's definitely not going to move it five feet away, but that's pretty extraordinary, and you'll see this to be true as we head south to antarctica. Just remote islands means the population the animals had never been hunted by humans are just simply unafraid as a great feeling to be in and around wild animals that aren't freaking out with your presence, our arctic terns great subjects the's arctic terns will go all the way down to antarctica in four months after the shot so they got the longest flight pattern of any animal on the planet and then there's these little I did a book you know what as long a career as I've done I've done so many books and one of them was called penguins puffins and auckland's and these air little locks they were part of the but these air tiny little sea birds that nest in the rocks and of course, wherever there's an animal there's usually a predator. So I photographed this predator in very much the same way I did a book called vanishing act which is hiding the animal in front of you so there's an arctic fox in this but because it's the same color as the rocks I shot it in a way of trying to hide it in front of you and so you may see it here so he's just running through the rocks trying to get into the cracks to find the uh little ox ness and he had another shot where it's down here so it's meant tio confused I did that entire book we could have a titled it where's waldo because people love that book they love looking for the animal right in front of them speaking of the birds this is a very typical shot here's a siri's of shots where as I'd stay with the subject they reveal themselves and ultimately I'm after you know a beautiful pattern and that was in fact the basis of migrations it was repetition of similar shapes give you pattern and so that was would've been a good candidate for that book which by the way is being reintroduced next year so that book came out twenty years ago and now with all new images coming back out so it's great you know if you live long enough everything is repeated right these air amazing sea cliffs that live that are part of the small barred experience millions of yours and ox and other seabirds live on these vertical cliffs and yet though I've not seen it personally I know from other travelers that polar bears now or navigating these very vertical cliffs risking their lives to get to the nutrients of the eggs and the birds so they're driven to extremes to find food for their bellies so you get on a raft you go under the cliffs and then you look up and you try to make sense of it and it's kind of a cool shot but there's not really clear this is when I would put on a seven to two hundred and go in for the patterns again it's just patterns repetition of lines of birds and we're on these particular cliffs there's little fissures in the rock and maybe just an eight inch ledge is enough for these birds to get a hold on for their feet and over time and evolutionary about biology, they've farmed eggs that are pointed on one end and round so they never roll off a cliff. They just roll in circles and that's how they survived so you have to get along with your neighbor if you were on a cold cliff hundreds of feet of above the arctic ocean trying to raise your young and then below the cliffs they're eating the tiny fish uh, that nourishes a million birds in one clip, so as I stay with the subject, it will show you a little bit of how I'm hardwired, so I'm shooting a biology shot right here, right? And as they take off, I start to notice the o t o under here and their lines of the reflection well, on a calm day, then that could be come a subject, so the more a state with it, the more I see it and you don't see it from the beginning, but then you start to pay attention and it may be a unique way of seeing birds. This is entirely now a reflection of birds above reflected in the calm water so these things I would never have seen when I was starting out, but today I'm mohr aware of detaching myself from the reality of what I'm shooting and mining the possibilities and this is a possibility the reflections of birds abstracting if you will the complete reflection and that search to get back to my roots as an artist the more I live and shoot the mohr the painting background merges with the photography of today so of course in this image a little more straightforward the shadow becomes an element that I work with and the relationship of the bird to the reflection is important. So of course you only get that on a very calm day but some of my favorite shots are these minimalist type of shots where you almost if you will have a water color background and the bird so it's not a biology shot is more of an art shot surreal, very simplistic image and once I have got that as a subject and I can expand on the reflections of water the textural qualities when you have a lot of ice in the open ocean it breaks up the waves and the rhythm of the sea and often creates these very beautiful inland enclosures of water that are extraordinarily textural and reflective of the arctic sky. So again it's background of art and design that allows me to start to see these things faster than historically might have and so the simplicity of texture is often played by the complexity of nature and in the arctic you have these really graphic mountains but also thie lines the textures of the ice and that then becomes the subject. So I think the broadness of my background and my interest interest allows me to come away from anyone experience with a litany of very different elements they're very different images that enabled me teo use these photos and not only a lecture form like this, but also in books and art work, you know, I could see an image like this printed on a wall and being a cz part of ah more modern corporate office so blocks of ice floating in a random pattern on the ocean and the other thing I want to say is I'm now being represented in galleries in new york in las vegas, and I'm often taking a graphic image and rendering into black and white and I often them of course, giving lectures. And so when I d saturated in image, I'm really trying to play to the graphic elements of what's happening. And as you see with these closing photos of uh svalbard is all about graphic design is no longer so much about svalbard because this could be anywhere but it's looking at the lines on these slopes in mid summer with the residue of ice remaining in the vertical cut valleys that becomes the basis of art work because I'm no longer really concerned about ice or location it is about is that something that looks graphically pleasing and the more I turn into a black and white the more I see it and I teach it so when I teach I talk about positive and negative space and utilizing all four corners of the composition light entrance into dark dark into light and if you can do it in a balanced way you've got the image that you know worked on that level so playing with ease residue patches of lingering snow is a great challenge I could spend hours out there and the challenge then is to fill all the frame with interesting line and patterns then I start to abstract it like this patch of snow what if I inverted what does it look like? Well to me it looks like you know in morganza it looks like a woodpecker it looks like I'm organza and we would call them this metaphors a metaphor is something that reminds you if something else and so if I start to really get and it helps to have a little drink on the boat if you start to look at these hillsides and you start to see things it is fun because it's challenging your perceptions of where you are and within that hillside of snow I start to see eyes and animals fighting and it's as crazy as that may sound and whether you like this or not it makes you a keener observer of what's in front of you I start to see abstraction of wilder beast in the horns in the shape of the head, fighting against something else with abstraction of legs again and again. This enables me to start to look at things objectively, not translating them in a literal sense, but mining him for the abstract. And whether you like it or not, you can't help but become a better observer. And that's basically, that, uh, the corner store stone. Being a photographer, I think, is seeing the possibilities going beyond the obvious. Being on going beyond translating on ly literally and seeing the abstract is a great journey to be on. And I think also this image on a cold, foggy morning conveys that sense of place to this could be the arctic of any ocean on the planet. It could be, in fact, antarctica s a generic, cold, austere environment where man would never survive on his own devices. And yet there's beauty in that austerity.