Reality versus cute polar bears
18th July 2019

Hi all, I am back from Svalbard, did you miss me?.....sound of tumbleweed....ok moving swiftly on. It was a pretty good trip by the end with great clients and some wonderful experiences with the wildlife and landscapes of this amazing place. So this BLOG is gonna focus on some aspects of this trip, and our attitudes to animals in general,  that might prove a little shocking to some of you. But first I will start with a nice one...

Olympus Update

So on this trip I had purely Olympus kit, ranging from 300mm (which shoots as a 600mm) to the 8mm fisheye. I put everything to the test and really pushed it to the limit. It's the first time that I have really used any wide angles in anger, I love the 28-200 and the 14-28mm, they are a joy to use. The lens I used the most though was the 300, usually with the 1.4x converter, and I have to say it really came into it's own on a bouncing zodiac. Some of my clients had big 500mm glass, and I still find it weird sitting next to them and having a longer reach with a lens that is so much smaller. In fact it is still taking me time to get used to using such a small "big" lens - I realise that this sounds odd. One thing I am getting to do is to trust the kit and the quality it is giving me. 

I've been giving the Olympus kit a very hard time on quality since the start. Well I have to report that my main stock agency has just accepted a whole submission on tigers, foxes, badgers and other stuff without a second glance. This is my main publication agency and it shows that any concern I have about pixels and sensor size is unfounded. The Olympus kit gives enough quality for my professional clients so end of that argument. 

I'm not sure what I like about it the best, having the lightest rucksack ever on a trip or having a tool that can do anything I ask of it. Of course by now I know the limitations of an M43 sensor and that is important. I have to watch the highlights as they can burn out more easily than a full frame camera (although this is prevented by the histogram inside the EVF to some extent) and above ISO 3200 I do need good light to retain image quality. I'm not bothered as all camera systems have their issues and for me the benefits currently outweigh anything else.  

Social Media encourages cute pictures

Generally speaking I show the images I want to on social media. I always evaluate the performance of all my posts and it's true that on certain social media, cute full frame images do better than anything else. If I post something atmospheric or thought provoking I get great engagement, but far less likes than I would for cute. To be honest this hacks me off a lot as I spend a lot of time teaching people to follow their own passions and creativity to find a style, yet social media is trying to control the style of our pictures as everyone wants decent likes. To be fair social media is just the vehicle, it's the perception of the general public towards wildlife that is perhaps the main issue. Cute rules, but no one seems to wanna see reality anymore. The reality of polar bears is that they don't eat huge fields of broccoli. They kill seals because they gotta eat. No point in being squeamish about it, they are apex predators and kill to eat. For some reason though we don't wanna see images like this...

I know graphical right? Shocking? No not one bit, it's actually a positive picture. This polar bear cub has a meal. It learnt a lot about hunting and watched it's mother in action. It learnt life skills. So we need to move beyond the gore and start appreciating true nature in the raw, rather than the sanitised nature we are shown these days. You will rarely see images like this in any magazine and I wonder why, after all they are just eating? It's because our society is becoming so sanitised. Apex predators aren't vegan and rather than hiding this we should celebrate it like I am going to do here...

Now we spent a good few hours with this family and then we left them as the female was moving off. The next day we encountered them again in a different bay and once again they warmed our hearts. The conditions were tough, for a lot of the time we shot through a light mist, but everyone again had a smile on their face. Perhaps these images are more to everyone's taste I don't know, but here they are for you to decide...

During this shoot I started to experiment a little with high key imagery, i.e. pushing the exposure towards 3, so deliberately over exposing. It's very easy to do with the EVF of a mirrorless camera as you can see the results as they are happening and modify accordingly. Too many high key shots are afterthoughts, to make them work you need to shoot them like you mean it i.e. actually capture the moment in high key, just like this...

So hope you enjoyed these images for what they are, pictures of a beautiful animal just trying to survive in a harsh climate. The biggest threat to it's survival is not climate change (although it doesn't help) but over inflated hunting quotas that have allowed approximately 1000 polar bears to be taken from us every year. Put aside any views about native hunting and rights for a moment, that is a ridiculous and unsustainable number. It's all being covered up, no I am a conspiracy theorist, it's the truth. Organisations that should know better support it. So what can you do? Support the good guy that's what. My fellow photographer and conservationist Ole Liodden has put together a compelling body of research into this hunting in his book and phase 2 is now starting which involves lobbying opinion formers to start making a seed change. You can support him by spreading his word and buying his book. Click here for the website to start understanding the whole issue and perhaps, if enough of us care, the polar bear will have a chance of survival. 

And Finally

I hope that you all enjoyed that, here's a few things that might be of interest. The Creating Atmospheric Images workshop was announced on Thursday and has proved really popular so more will be along soon!


Atmospheric Workshop

Come and learn how I take my trademark Atmospheric images in this seminar at Slimbridge WWT on Saturday October 19th.

Book Now


FlexShooter Black Edition

The Flexshooter Pro tripod head goes from strength to strength and has a growing army of fans. Find out why it's so awesome.

Read More


Noor Tiger Book

Great news that the Indian Tiger population has grown, so why not get our amazing Noor tiger book direct from Amazon Prime today!

Buy Book


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