Paul Nicklen: Utilizing Images for Conservation

Paul Nicklen is a photographer who makes use of his imagery to attach world audiences to the wonder and fragility of our ecosystems and the animals that rely on them.

Nicklen has worn many hats, together with that of a marine biologist, wildlife and effective artwork photographer, filmmaker, conservationist, speaker, and creator, and now the most recent is as a trainer who needs to coach photographers to seize imagery that may save the earth, its animals, and ecosystems from extinction. His profession has spanned 20 years, throughout which he has achieved quite a few assignments for Nationwide Geographic, the place he’s a fellow.

Nicklen’s work delivers audiences to an underwater realm witnessed by few. His delicate and evocative imagery has garnered over 30 of the very best awards for a photographer in his discipline, together with the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Yr and the celebrated World Press Photograph for Photojournalism.

A Bear Encounter at Three Ft

Again in 2010, Nicklen was doing a narrative on Spirit Bears for Nationwide Geographic, which turned the quilt story. Kermode bears are black bears, however just a few have a recessive gene and find yourself trying whiteish. It seems to be like a polar bear strolling via the large old-growth cedar forests of British Columbia [Canadian province above Washington].

Bear within the Nice Bear Rainforest. White Kermode or Spirit Bear, British Columbia, Canada, 2010

Nicklen had 80 days in his taking pictures schedule however solely had just a few good taking pictures days obtainable because it rains nearly daily right here, therefore the identify Nice Bear Rainforest.

After a complete month, he didn’t have any worthwhile photos to point out and was involved about informing the journal that he had failed on a undertaking he proposed as “they publish footage, not excuses.”

Face to Face, Svalbard, Norway, 2008

Sooner or later he adopted an enormous spirit bear into the forest and watched him eat a salmon he had freshly caught. Immediately, the bear stands up and begins to make his solution to the creek.

“I spotted that there was just one little entrance into this cove,” Nicklen tells PetaPixel. “And I used to be blocking his exit, so I stepped to the aspect, and he walked again and went all the way down to the river and bought one other fish. I’m three toes away from this bear, photographing him on a 16mm lens.”

The bear repeatedly glided by him and even “ran into the digital camera at one level.” He bought a lot of the images for a three-month story nearly in a day and a half.

Warning: Do NOT do this your self within the wild in the event you come throughout a bear. This was a particular occasion of figuring out what to do in an surprising scenario, and a First Nations information who knew this bear nicely was simply 5 toes behind Nicklen.

“Animals dictate the encounter,” Nicklen provides. “You by no means push the animal; you by no means drive an animal to do something. I used to be sitting there quietly, and the bear was strolling as much as me, and he was attempting to stroll by me going to the river, get a salmon, and he would sit there and eat proper beside me, generally a foot or two away.

“I began with a 100-400mm, then a 24-70mm, and eventually a 16-35mm, and earlier than it, I’m zooming out to 16mm to {photograph} this bear in his setting, and that’s the last word. However that was after eight weeks of sitting there ready, ready, and ready. The animal had in all probability been watching me, smelling me, listening to the clicks of my digital camera … it’s simply not that stunned.

“Animals are very constant of their conduct, and usually, they’re very reliable. I’ve seen maybe 3,000 polar bears, 2,000 grizzly bears, and 1,000 black bears in my lifetime, and I’ve by no means needed to shoot or pepper spray a bear.

“After I take individuals to Antarctica, and so they ask what recommendation I’ve for them, my reply is commonly to ‘put down your digital camera and take it in along with your thoughts and eyes, feed your soul for some time after which take footage.’ Don’t simply be a slave to the gadget in entrance of you.”

Favourite Animal

Daybreak Patrol, Northern Fjords, Norway, 2018

Nicklen doesn’t have a single favourite animal that he prefers catching on digital camera.

“I {photograph} whichever one provides me the connection at the moment to have the largest voice for an setting that’s below risk,” says the wildlife photographer. “It may be polar bears and narwhals within the Arctic, leopard seals in Antarctica, or sperm whales off Dominica [not to be confused with the Dominican Republic]. If I can inform a narrative utilizing their voice and their persona, then it’s my favourite animal.

“The polar bear is one animal I’ve spent essentially the most time with. I’ve seen and photographed polar bears in all probability a thousand days, like three years of my life.”

Photographer Paul Nicklen lined in frost, northern Greenland
On Historical Ice, Svalbard, Norway, 2007

Scary Conditions

Nicklen says he has had plenty of scary encounters over his life and profession, however solely with people and never with animals.

“I’ve crashed an airplane into an Arctic lake and was trapped the wrong way up underwater. It was a really shut name with a 99% fatality fee, in order that was scary,” he remembers.

“Virtually any scary encounter I’ve ever had is my fault — falling via sea ice, dislocating my shoulder, operating out of air on dives, getting misplaced at sea dives however hardly ever have I had a scary encounter with a wild animal.”

Shimmering Sail, Yucatan, Mexico, 2008

If he had been to die, he wish to go in a cool manner, immersed in nature, reasonably than via one thing like a automobile accident within the concrete jungle — he says he would favor to go throughout a scuba dive as a substitute.

Landscapes or Animal Images

Nicklen loves to mix animals and landscapes reasonably than take an image of a mountain, the aurora borealis, or a rainstorm.

“I wish to put issues into context and have layers of the setting,” says the previous skilled biologist. “I wish to have the aurora, the mountains, and panorama, the polar bear strolling throughout the ocean ice, a grizzly or spirit bear within the forest, or a small pond of narwhals from an aerial shot.

“I like my work to be layered however have that animal to present the story and the panorama context reasonably than simply straight landscapes.

Ice Waterfall, Svalbard, Norway, 2014

In 2014, Nicklen captured an necessary panorama, Ice Waterfall, in Svalbard, Norway. Arctic waterfalls sprout from the Nordaustlandet ice cap because it gushes excessive volumes of meltwater – a putting reminder of this icy ecosystem’s fragility. Despite the fact that this picture was taken simply 600 miles from the North Pole, the temperature hovered within the excessive 60s Fahrenheit. Because of local weather change; the Arctic could possibly be fully devoid of sea ice through the summer season months inside the subsequent 10 to twenty years.

Former vice chairman and environmentalist Al Gore has used the Ice Waterfall photograph in his talks and environmental tasks many instances.

“That’s why I shoot these things,” says the Canadian photographer from Vancouver Island. “What excites me essentially the most is once I take an image like Ice Waterfall, it seems to be highly effective and delightful. I’m proud when Nationwide Geographic makes it the gatefold opening unfold of the local weather change difficulty.

“Most individuals, once they take a great image, it’s over for them. For me, it’s time for that picture to go to work and to maintain speaking with the world. I liked it when Pearl Jam put that image on the quilt of their Gigaton album.

“I did a TED discuss in 2011 on the essential stage in Lengthy Seaside, California, and Al Gore met me on the finish of my discuss and requested me to affix him on his journeys. He’s all the time simply been a captivating, passionate advocate for the planet.

Defying Gravity, Ross Sea, Antarctica, 2011

Favourite Pictures

“I in all probability am most pleased with Polar Reflections,” says Nicklen. “A polar bear’s picture is mirrored towards the water floor because it dives beneath a pan of ice. It’s on Apple TV and Apple computer systems.

Polar Reflections, Nunavut, Canada, 2006

“After I do public lectures, individuals within the viewers will choose me. Cristina was within the viewers, and a few individuals mentioned it was faux and Photoshopped as a result of they thought there was no manner anyone may seize that.

“I like that {photograph}, which sits on the intersection of artwork, science, and conservation. It was shot on 400 ISO movie, and I didn’t even know if I had the shot. I bought the photograph within the mail a month after taking it. All of the photographs had been horrible aside from that one image. Slightly little bit of ice is there within the higher a part of the body, and it talks about local weather change and the results on polar bears who will disappear with out the ice.

“Ice Waterfall is my best-selling effective artwork piece in my 5 favourite images. I really like that picture. I’ve by no means put an image on my wall as I’d simply begin criticizing my work. However that’s the one one I’m going to be placing up in my new workplace in a few weeks.

Tusked Titans, Spitsbergen, Norway, 2007

The Energy of Video in Conservation

“Up to now, I’ve shot hundred p.c stills. 4 years in the past, I began taking pictures in all probability a 60/40 cut up of video versus stills. The Sony a1 with 8K video is a good digital camera. For some time, I used to be utilizing RED video cameras. Now I’m taking pictures Sony for stills, and it’s nice as I’ve 8K video and a nonetheless digital camera all in below one underwater housing.

“I don’t have to hold two cameras. I shoot the Sony FX9 for video, and now I shall be hitting the Sony Venice II. However they don’t have an excellent underwater housing but. Proper now, I can use the a1 underwater, have its incredible digital camera to shoot 20 frames a second on stills with high-quality 50-megapixel recordsdata after which change over to 8K video. It’s essentially the most thrilling time for visible storytelling.

Nicklen says he has not been to as many nations as his spouse Cristina, who has been to over 100.  Nationwide Geographic has been flying him primarily to the Arctic or Antarctic, however he has visited about 60 nations.

“I attempt to fly as little as potential as I don’t desire a huge carbon footprint. I prefer to go locations for lengthy intervals, to get immersed with the animals and the setting,” says Nicklen.

Greater than competitors awards and the honorary PhDs, it’s receiving the Order of Canada he appreciates essentially the most.

“[It means] you might have been value-added to this planet, that you just’re on a mission, you might have a function, you’re on the market preventing in your conviction and your beliefs… it means the world to me,” says Nicklen.

As a co-founder of the non-profit, SeaLegacy, Nicklen is opening a recent, progressive chapter within the story of ocean conservation. By visible storytelling, SeaLegacy evokes tens of millions of individuals to face up and have a voice for the pristine locations threatened by local weather change.

Emperor Reflections, Antarctica, 2011

“It’s actually about utilizing the facility of visible storytelling to impress a worldwide motion, to have conservation wins, and we have now had many wins,” says Nicklen.

“I’m extremely pleased with our crew, editors, storytellers, and work. I’m extremely proud to work alongside my spouse Cristina [Cristina Mittermeier, who started the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP)], who’s one of many nice conservation heroes of our planet and to be on the market and to see the fervour and the conviction she has.”

It saddens Nicklen to see individuals within the wilderness taking a look at their telephones as a substitute of taking within the lovely nature round them. He remembers a household, a father, and his children, sitting on the seaside in Hawaii, and so they had been all glued to their telephones when a humpback whale was breaching in entrance of them.

“I used to be simply laughing to myself considering, I guess you they’re googling the place to search out humpback whales,” smiles Nicklen.

Morning Kings, South Georgia, 2008

Most of Nicklen’s 7.3 million Instagram followers reside in huge cities. He has a big following in India, Los Angeles, and New York. It’s a pleasant combine. He has an unbelievable range of fifty/50 women and men, individuals from all around the globe, with most of them dwelling in metropolis facilities, and his feed and footage are an escape.

Rising Up within the Arctic

Nicklen grew up within the Arctic with the Inuit [indigenous people of northern Canada] and have become obsessive about wildlife, nature, and excessive environments when he was 4. Then, his household moved to Baffin Island [extreme northern Canada opposite Greenland].

“It was very a lot an immersive expertise the place we had been one in every of three non-Intuit households in the neighborhood,” remembers the environmentalist. “We by no means had a phone or tv and no computer systems again then. So, all of my time was spent exterior, taking part in within the ice and snow. [I learned] the Inuit language, survival abilities, the way to be robust, and the way to be immersed in nature.

“The Inuit inform tales via their huge, lovely soapstone carvings and lithograph work. They sit down within the night to inform folklore tales that fireside up your creativeness. So, whereas I used to be studying to be robust, I used to be studying the way to inform tales at a younger age. My head was crammed with these lovely creations of temper, mild, animals, sea ice, aurora borealis, and dancing polar bears.”

Golden Bond, Katmai Alaska, 2018

He didn’t have canines and cats for pets however native wildlife.

“I had a child ringed seal that the Inuit would give to us,” he remembers. “And a child pet seagull named Sammy who had a damaged wing, and I’d care for him, and people had been my two favourite pets.”

“I fell so in love with the visuals of the Arctic, and the one job that made sense to me was to develop into a biologist. So, I bought my BS in marine biology on the College of Victoria [and they gave him an honorary Ph.D. a few years ago for the impact his photography has had on climate change] and went again north.

I began to really feel demoralized that I used to be decreasing the great thing about the animals I really like a lot into knowledge units. So, I resigned as a biologist and went off in pursuit of turning into a photographer.”

Gathering of Unicorns, Nunavut, Canada, 2006

After seven years of ravenous, being broke, attempting to get seen, doing every part improper, and making all of the errors, Nicklen ultimately bought his first project for Nationwide Geographic Journal on salmon in 2003.

Getting Into Images

“My mother was a schoolteacher once we lived in Baffin Island,” says Nicklen, a Sony Ambassador. “She had a Pentax K1000 and would develop her footage in a darkish room within the little chilly storage of our house. I used to be all the time so in awe of the craft of images, however I by no means believed it might be obtainable to me.

“I by no means picked up a digital camera till late once I was 18 or 19, and I didn’t purchase my first digital camera till I used to be 20 — a Nikon FE, then FE2. After which I purchased the Nikon F4 — that was my huge buy. Subsequent, I switched to Canon, and in 2019 moved to Sony.

“I all the time watched Cristina shoot silently with these Sonys, after which the mirrorless cameras bought higher and switched.”

Grizzly Bear alongside the Fishing Department River within the Yukon. Majesty Surfacing, Yukon, Canada, 2012

Gear Selections

The transfer to digital images made life a bit of simpler for Nicklen.

“Most of my work is underwater, and also you’re utilizing flashes and strobes, and the lighting may be very advanced. I spent a variety of time bracketing within the movie days and attempting to get near the right publicity of a difficult scenario, whether or not you’re below the ice and there are icebergs and penguins or no matter it’s.

“These days, as a substitute of getting 36 exposures in my digital camera, I’ve 3,600 exposures. [It is great] to get all these possibilities at getting an important shot and to have a Polaroid assessment of that picture on the LCD display screen.”

Nicklen’s digital camera gear arsenal contains top-of-the-line Sony mirrorless gear.

“I’ve been utilizing 5 Sony a1 cameras,” he says. “I’ve obtained the Sony a7R V, changing my a7R IV our bodies. If I’ve landscapes or aerials the place issues aren’t transferring quick, or I don’t must shoot 8K video, I’ll choose up the a7R V. The a1 is my go-to digital camera that I’ve on a regular basis with me.

“I used to be taking pictures the a9 for a very long time as a result of I liked the quick motor drive for wildlife and nature, however now, I choose to have it multi function package deal, which is why I’ve so many a1 our bodies. I’ve seven Sony lenses: 14mm f/1.8 GM, 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, 24–105mm f/4 G OSS, 20mm f/1.8 G, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS, 200–600mm f/5.6–6.3 G OSS, and 600mm f/4 GM OSS.”

Nicklen feels that the 400mm f/2.8 may be very huge, heavy, and costly for many photographers and isn’t required as a lot at this time with digital because it was with ISO 100 movies. It’s good to have the f/2.8 for shallow depth of discipline, however usually you are attempting to get every part in focus and never taking pictures at f/2.8.

King Penguins within the surf and Oakum boys at St. Andrews.

When Canon first got here out with that vacuum pump 100-400mm, it was such a marginal lens, it was barely usable, however it was such an unbelievable focal size. I all the time had a 70-200mm, and there was all the time a 1.4x teleconverter on it, which solely bought me to 280mm. So, I all the time wished to shoot that 100-400mm, and I used to be usually very dissatisfied with the outcomes.

Even the Nikon individuals didn’t like their first, what was it, 80-400mm. Lastly, Canon got here out with their second technology, 100-400mm, after which Sony got here out with their 100-400mm, which is tack sharp, and it’s this lens that I exploit essentially the most usually. It’s the lens that I all the time have on my digital camera. If I must go to a 600mm from there, I do, however I’ll all the time have a 100-400mm on my digital camera to start out with. Subsequent week I’m going to Antarctica and can take the 200–600mm F5.6–6.3 G OSS as it’s a versatile lens [but he uses the 100-400mm more].

A Mastersclass from the Grasp

Nicklen has created a course of fifty episodes below Masters of Images, from animal encounters to composition to psychology.

I by no means noticed myself as a trainer, however I saved getting pressured by the Masters of Images crew within the UK to return and educate this course. I saved considering perhaps I didn’t have sufficient to say, after which as soon as the digital camera began to roll, and so they started to peel again the layers, I couldn’t discuss quick sufficient.

Photographers have a variety of insecurities, a variety of doubts, a variety of fears, these little voices that let you know you’re not ok, you’re gonna fail. I would like gifted, highly effective storytelling photographers on the market taking pictures the perfect photos on this planet to impact change for our planet. I wish to educate individuals to get on the market and imagine in themselves. This isn’t actually about my favourite f-stop and shutter velocity, though we do a few of that stuff. You possibly can Google and watch that on YouTube, however I am going via the psychology of images and the way to push your self to the very best degree in images. I discuss concerning the left mind and proper mind. We do objective setting; we take care of the way to break down doubt. We get into composition and shutter speeds and the way to be good, light, and respectful to the animals. It’s a course for photographers who wish to be close to animals, take footage of them, and get into Nationwide Geographic.

Parenthood, Ross Sea, Antarctica, 2011

Nicklen has a conservationist message in his images.

“I don’t ever wish to take ID photographs of animals. I would like individuals to have an emotional connection, the identical manner the Crocodile Hunter made individuals have a connection to animals. I just like the world to fall in love with leopard seals, polar bears, narwhals, no matter animal it’s.

“To do this, I’ve to spend an unbelievable period of time with these animals. I have to make that emotional connection. I’ve to have animals stare into my lens and join and have the viewer of that picture have an emotional response. I would like individuals to fall in love with animals, care concerning the ecosystems the place these animals are from, and finally be higher stewards of this planet.”

You possibly can see extra of Paul Nicklen’s work on his web site and Instagram or be a part of his Masterclass.

In regards to the creator: Phil Mistry is a photographer and trainer primarily based in Atlanta, GA. He began one of many first digital digital camera courses in New York Metropolis at The Worldwide Middle of Images within the 90s. He was the director and trainer for Sony/In style Images journal’s Digital Days Workshops. You possibly can attain him right here.

Picture credit: All photographs courtesy of Paul Nicklen.

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