Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Polar Bear Photo Safari Day Eight... Our Last Day.

We got out to the dens by 10a.m. and waited for a call from the trackers. The momma bear and cubs haven't been out of her den since it snowed three days ago. The trackers found a bear and cubs, but she was in the bush and stayed there for the better part of the day. In the meantime, we waited at the dens for about seven hours. At around 5p.m., we started making our way back home. On the way back we watched a red fox hunting out in the distance for a while, but that was about the height of our excitement for the day. It was a great safari this year. It was good enough to want to come back, but not so good that we won't want to come back next year a little more prepared in an attempt to get those elusive shots of active triplets in great light and a nice background.

New Post: I found this video from our trip on youtube after I got back. It summarizes the trouble that polar bears are in while showing footage of the triplets, two single cubs with moms and one single cub coming out of a den.

My next safari will be July 3-8. Brown bears and cubs in Alaska.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Polar Bear Photo Safari Day Seven...

We went to the den this morning and waited for a call from our trackers. I took pictures of the den sites yesterday, so we knew that there weren't any fresh footprints. I guess she must have decided that her babies weren't old enough to travel yet and went back inside. The trackers found some prints that led to a mom and two cubs. We got there around 3p.m. and photographed her in a couple locations. It was an easy day as we spent most of our time in the van chatting and snoozing until we got the call. By then the light was quite poor, but we still got a few good shots here and there. 
Mom had enough of the animal paparazzi, so she decided to take off.

We had word from the trackers regarding the triplets that we saw yesterday. They followed the tracks for five miles. The triplets were found eight miles away from the lodge as it was, so another five miles is getting out of range. Considering how small the littlest triplet was, it is remarkable to me how far they could travel in one day.

Our final photo day is tomorrow. Hopefully we will find active cubs in a good clean location in good light. Time will tell. It is a bit of a reach to ask for so much on the final day, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. I will upload pictures to all of the blogs when I get home and have a better internet signal.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Polar Bear Photo Safari Day Six. Triplets!...

I didn't get a chance to see triplets last year and have been looking forward to it. Finally today we hit pay dirt!

It snowed a couple inches last night which meant that all the old tracks would be covered over and that only the freshest tracks from the morning would be seen. We started out by finding two day dens and a main den with tracks coming and going from each, but not leaving the area. We set up and waited for a couple hours. The backdrop was perfect. The lighting was perfect. Triplets would be the tri-fecta. Unfortunately the bears never came out of their den.
Polar Bear Den

After a couple hours we got a call that Morris had found a mother and cub about 8 miles away. We packed up and headed out. On the way, we found more tracks. A mother and triplets. We followed the tracks and found the mother and cubs. She rested in a day bed surrounded by spruce. It wasn't a view that showed off her cubs really well, but one by one they did pop their little heads up. The smallest cub was just a little runt, about half the size of the other two. After a couple hours, mom got up and took her cubs up the hill. The pictures on the way were pretty good. The ABC guys got stunning video footage of the mom and little ones. Perfect timing too as they are catching the train to Churchill at 3:30a.m. tomorrow morning. All in all a great day. We never did make it to the single cub that Morris had found and I'm not sure that the mom and cubs that we were watching for this morning came out of their den. By the time we drove by it was dark, so it was difficult to see if there were more tracks leading out of the den or not.
Triplets! The third bear was just tiny. About half the size of the other two.

I got a refresher from Mike, the owner of the lodge on what 'Watchee' means and the history of it. Mike's family owns this land and the lodge was built by the Canadian Navy. They used it, then left  it. Mike and his brother Morris decided to use the lodge as a polar bear safari lodge for moms and cubs. Although their father thought it sounded strange, he gave his blessing and today the lodge has a long waiting list of people wanting to get in each year. Watchee means trees on a hill. The lodge is at the top of a hill surrounded by trees.
New Edit:
The ABC piece from this safari day ran on nightline. You can see it here: 
Tomorrow. Day 7 of 8. I have a good feeling about tomorrow. The forecast is supposed to be similar to today... Which by the way was sunny and the thermometer showed -13 this morning. I dressed a little down thinking it would be warm. Although it wasn't bad, with the wind it certainly wasn't balmy. My fingers are still burning from trying to change a camera card.
Pictures from my polar bear safari in 2010 and 2011 may be found at my new website here:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Polar Bear Photo Safari Day Five...Forty Below and a High Wind...

My dad used to always kid that it was forty below and a high wind any time it was cold outside. Being from Edmonton, I don't think I have ever actually truly experienced that kind of weather. And if I did, it was only very briefly as we hustled from one building to another. Today was definitely that day. Not only was it exactly that day, but to get the images we were looking for we stood outside in the wind for 6 straight hours. We only went back into the vans very briefly in case of necessity, not wanting to miss out on a potential great shot.

Today we found the bears after lunch around 12:30 ish. We found another mother with only one cub. The cub was busy and posed a bit for us, then curled up with his mommy and went to sleep. For most of the day they just stayed curled up. As the wind blew, they got completely covered with snow. Finally as we were starting to pack up close to 7p.m., the bears heard the snowmobiles and looked up briefly. I have to credit all of the photographers who stood outside all day waiting for that one shot. We wouldn't dare take a break any longer than absolutely necessary in case we missed "the shot" that we were all looking for... The picture of momma bear standing up and shaking the snow off her back. In the end we didn't get that shot, but we did manage to get some shots of her shaking the snow off her head. 
The same bears after three or four hours of wind.
The snow almost buried them.

The hardest part of the day for me was exchanging camera cards. It was so cold that taking off a glove, and switching cards took about ten minutes. (in the summer it would take literally 15 seconds). When your hands freeze instantly, they become much less nimble and the cards are very small. Not to mention that the cameras are made of metal, so touching something metal for any period of time with bare skin in that weather is not pleasant.

Tomorrow we cross our fingers and hope for the Wapusk National Park trifecta; active triplets, good light and a nice background.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Polar Bear Photo Safari Day Four...

We caught up with the polar bear mom and cub that we left last night. The mom had a collar on her. When we noticed her collar the photographers sighed and the WWF crew were elated that they were watching a bear that is being studied. It was kind of a funny contrast moment. This mom is apparently 22 years old. This year she only had one cub, so it was really healthy looking as it gets all of mom's milk. 

After the bear and cub took off, we had lunch. The trackers didn't see anything today, so we drove all day looking for dens. We didn't find anything of significance, but we did get stuck five times. Everyone gets out of the van and they tow us out. Considering the tracks get buried completely and the snow is up to the frame of the truck, the van tows out pretty easily each time.

Photo opportunities were pretty slim today. The cub was pretty active, but was behind and amidst a lot of willows, so the few pictures that we took certainly weren't the greatest.

It was somewhere between -30 to -35 today. Much nicer than yesterday. Still pretty damn cold if your gloves are off for any period of time.

Myself and the others that I came with have four photo days left. We're half way through. We have enjoyed nice clear weather and have seen bears every day but one. Unfortunately so far we have had nice light, bears and nice backgrounds, but not all at once. When we have the background, the bears don't come out. When we have the bears, the background is nasty. Now hopefully, we will get the light, the bears and the background all at once. Triplets would be nice too. In the past two years I have yet to see triplets.

Until tomorrow...

*New Post* Several months after we got back from this safari, I found a WWF youtube video from this day. You can find it here. My gallery from this safari and from my 2010 polar bear safari can be found here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Polar Bear Photo Safari Day Three...

On Wednesday we spent the day with a video team that is partly responsible for the filming of Disney's African Cats Nature Series. Gaye and I were in Kenya while they were filming this movie in September and saw them videoing for the movie. The videographers from Disney were up doing a documentary on North American animals. From here, they were off to Florida to video the aligators. Yesterday we not only had a slow day with no bears, but half the photographers in the lodge left, so we were down to 9 photographers yesterday. Last night another crew came in. Today we had a crew from ABC. They are doing a piece for nightline on polar bears. Along with the ABC crew are a crew from WWF (not the wrestlers, the world wildlife fund).

It was an interesting day. At about -45 with a wind chill, we stayed out for about 6 hours, only coming in about two or three times to quickly warm up and get a bite to eat. (It amazes me how warm those parkas are!). We were watching over a fresh den. At 2p.m., a cub poked his little head out of the den. Just my luck, I was in the van warming my toes up! Finally by about 6p.m. tired and cold, 20 photographers started taking down their gear and loading up the vans. With only a few people left outside, the little guy poked his head out of the hole and started almost posing a little bit. Most of us rushed back out. The light was great and we got some pretty good baby polar bear images. 15 minutes later, the light died and we left back for the lodge. I got about 3 or 4 pretty good images. In the end, not bad for 6 hours in the cold.
New Edit:
Several months after we got back from this safari, WWF posted a video from this day on youtube. It is ultra cute. You can view it here:

Images on my new website from this safari can be found here.

On the drive home, we found another set of tracks. I think this bodes well for tomorrow. We have one den that should serve us well tomorrow along with tracks and another den that they know of that may be active. Also, the sun is supposed to come out tomorrow and polar bears photograph the best in nice sunlight.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Polar Photo Safari Day Two...

Bears one, photographers one. We got skunked today. Not much to report. -35 degrees. Bad light. I was sick, sick, sick. Damn motion sickness! Eight hours of nothing but motion sickness.It is difficult when you can't see any horizons. Yucky! On a bright note, they found two active dens at the end of the day. We will go check them out first thing tomorrow. It is supposed to be -45 tomorrow. The light will still likely be yucky for one more day. Fingers crossed, but the forecast is looking good after tomorrow.

Polar Bear Photo Safari Day One...

A respectable first day. We found a mother all curled up at about 11:30a.m. We watched her for an hour or so, then finally one cub emerged. It was pretty active and played all around his mommy for at least an hour. We figured that he must be alone, when a second cub emerged. Although the background was horrible, it was still a pretty fun sighting as we stayed until 6:30p.m. 

The weather was pretty decent. It was only about -20 to -25 which is really warm for up here. That being said, we   stood at our cameras for six hours until we lost the light. Crappy background, but all in all a fun day and a good start to our safari. I took about 3400 pictures today. I have been trying to post some pictures to this blog, but they won't upload easily for some reason. I guess I will have to try later. In the meantime, you can see a few shots on my facebook page.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Polar Bears: Travel Day...

Interesting first day. The flight from Edmonton to Winnipeg was fine. The luggage arrived, all was good. I saw a photographer standing over by the check in area with what seemed like camera equipment coming out of every orfice. Oldest trick in the book. Weigh yourself down with camera gear in every pocket imaginable (Richard was wearing a photo vest with pockets all over). Then when they weigh your bags you remain under weight. As soon as they weigh your bags, you put all the equipment back in the bags again and load the plane. For some reason it doesn't register that perhaps the photographer is wearing 20 pounds in camera equipment. They only look at his bag on the scale. Anyway, we go to register and we of course each have a few bags, so they ask us "which bag would you like to go to Churchill? Which one is necessary?" I don't know about you, but I always go on photography excursions with unnecessary equipment. We are stunned and both reply "All of them." To which they explain that we can only choose one bag and the rest will get sent to us in a day or two. Miss two days of photography in the mean time??Yeah, that doesn't work so well for us, so after a lengthy discussion, we figure out that we can call a cab and go over to the cargo hanger and have it sent up as cargo. That works. Glad we thought of it.

Okay, so we get to Churchill and eventually so does our gear. We pick up my parka and get a bite to eat. Low and behold there is a bone in my hamburger. Go figure. A bone?! Oh well, it was good and now it was free. I was hungry. I didn't care. It kind of makes me wonder what kind of "burger" I just ate though.

The train to Chesnae is broken down, so we pile in the van and off we go. Two hours later, the van breaks down. The transmission is leaking, so we wait for reinforcements to come and pick us up. Finally at 11:30p.m. we arrive at the Lodge. Long day, but we are looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully we will see bears. Sounds like it has been hit and miss this year with the bears. Some good sightings, a few really good sightings and lots of sitting on dens waiting for them to come out. Sometimes a whole day of waiting on a den empty handed. Oh well, win a few, lose a few. Hopefully tomorrow is the day for us. We'll see. I'll blog about it tomorrow night when we get in.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ten Biggest Safari Mistakes and Lessons...Number 1

Work flow... Okay, not the most important lesson, nor the least. No chronological order. This is trial and error. I think everyone has their own system and that's okay. I don't believe there is a right or wrong way. It is more what works best for you. When I go on safari, I typically take between 6,000 to 20,000 pictures per safari, so I really need a good way of organizing my images, so I can easily and quickly find any pictures that I am looking for at a later date. In this blog, I am going to share how I organize my work flow.

For my work flow I like to make a folder, title it according to the subject and date it was shot. I do this between each safari drive or at the end of each day. I Copy the pictures to that folder on the first hard drive, then copy it again to a second hard drive. Sometimes the computer gets interrupted copying the files somehow. Be careful because if this happens, not all of your pictures will be copied to your hard drive. Make sure that the number of pictures on your card corresponds with the number of files in each folder before you delete the camera card.

A lot of photographers catalogue with lightroom. It is convenient and you can edit them from there, but I don't like that work flow for my own reasons, so I guess I am a rebel. I just don't like it. Don't get me wrong, I love lightroom. I just don't like to use it for cataloguing my photos. Instead, my pictures are all in a folder and I open them in bridge within photoshop. Likely not the most common way, but at the end of the day, I think you have to do what works best for you.

My next issue with workflow is organizing your pictures from good and bad.  I go through all of the pictures and pick out my favourites and make a copy of each picture in a favourites folder. Over the next year, I will likely go through all of the pictures once or twice more. Each time I go through them I tend to find another couple images that I missed the first time.

Not the most exciting blog, but believe it or not, I did go through quite a bit of trial and error before I figured out a system that I like.

Tuesday I fly out to Wapusk National Park to photograph polar bear mom's and cubs. I will try to blog daily over my safari as a diary. The sightings aren't guaranteed. Some days you have great sightings, some times we blank and sometimes the storms and weather prevent us from going out at all. So if you are curious about what a wildlife safari in the arctic is like, follow my next week of blogging from March 9th to 17th.

Polar bears starting Wednesday. Until then...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ten Biggest Safari Mistakes and Lessons...Number Two

Ten Biggest Mistakes and Lessons…

Number Two:
Traveling with camera equipment can be challenging. It costs a fortune and it's fragile. For that reason, I always try my best to bring my camera equipment on as carry on. I have heard horror stories about airlines losing baggage and have seen their workers throwing around bags as though they are playing some kind of “bag toss game”.

As a photographer, my worst nightmare is discovering that my camera gear has been stolen or damaged en route. Especially if I am going to the safari destination as opposed to coming home.

My first tip is to buy camera bags that are meant for airline travel. I really like think tank bags as they have a line of camera bags that have been specifically designed to fit in over head compartments and underneath seats. The other thing that I like about them is that the main compartment locks the zippers into a combination locking mechanism thus keeping your gear safe. My think tank bag also has a lock on the end of a wire that is hidden away behind a zippered pocket. I love that feature because sometimes I find myself traveling straight for two or three days. I don’t sleep very well on planes, so sometimes in airports I find myself having a difficult time staying awake. If I think I might doze off, I simply take out this cable, lock it around my other camera gear and lock it all to my chair. That way, all my gear is locked and secured together in case I fall asleep for a few minutes.

Sometimes when traveling domestically, you can find yourself on smaller planes and can't carry on any of your equipment with you. Remember this phrase. “May I valet my camera equipment?”  Often the people at the airline counters will say no immediately. It is important to stay calm and explain that you understand that there isn't any room in the over head compartment on this plane, but please could you valet your equipment to the plane so your gear is carefully stored on the plane last. That way, you can see them put it on the plane. This gives me piece of mind regarding how it is handled and I know it is going on the right plane. Secondly, it comes off first, so it is waiting for you right at the door when you get off the plane. This gives me extra piece of mind that it won’t be thrown around by the guys in the back and there is less likelihood of the equipment being damaged or stolen if you are watching them loading and unloading your gear and delivering it to you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ten Biggest Safari Mistakes and Lessons...Number Three

Lesson number three...This is the easiest and yet the hardest lesson of them all.

First shoot in raw. Stop shooting in jpegs! Jpegs are compressed files to begin with and every time you edit them, you lose even more image clarity. Every time you edit a jpeg, it is like passing a handful of sand from one person to another to another. At the end of the line, the product isn't the quality that it started with. With Raw images, you can edit them a million times if you like. If you don't like what you did, it is simple to start again from scratch. Sometimes, I look at pictures that I edited four years ago and think "I didn't do that picture justice, or I think of a technique that may make the picture look more appealing.
Mother and daughter elephant in
Tarrangire National Park, Tanzania
Having fun with sepia. Same picture,
different interpretation.
Second, learn to use photoshop and lightroom and/or other types of editing software. We are in the digital age and part of digital photography is digital editing. 

One of the great things about photography is the option to continue learning and never master. There are always new techniques to learn and different ways of viewing and interpreting what you are seeing. Photography also provides a wide spectrum of ways to capture experiences and moments that you can celebrate, record and recall for the rest of your life; and beyond your time, potentially touching lives for years after you are gone.