Paul Nicklen is a photographer who utilizes his imagery to link worldwide audiences to the charm and fragility of our environments and the animals that depend on them.
Nicklen has actually used many hats, consisting of that of a marine biologist, wildlife and fine art professional photographer, filmmaker, conservationist, speaker, and author, and now the latest is as an instructor who wants to train photographers to record imagery that will save the earth, its animals, and environments from termination. His profession has actually spanned 20 years, during which he has done many assignments for National Geographic, where he is a fellow.
Nicklen’s work provides audiences to an undersea realm witnessed by couple of. His delicate and expressive images has actually gathered over 30 of the highest awards for a professional photographer in his field, consisting of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the distinguished World Press Image for Photojournalism.
A Bear Encounter at Three Feet
Back in 2010, Nicklen was doing a story on Spirit Bears for National Geographic, which became the cover story. Kermode bears are black bears, however a few have a recessive gene and end up looking whiteish. It looks like a polar bear strolling through the huge old-growth cedar forests of British Columbia [Canadian province above Washington]
Bear in the Great Bear Jungle. White Kermode or Spirit Bear, British Columbia, Canada, 2010
Nicklen had 80 days in his shooting schedule but just had a couple of great shooting days available as it rains almost every day here, for this reason the name Great Bear Jungle.
After an entire month, he did not have any beneficial images to reveal and was worried about notifying the magazine that he had stopped working on a project he proposed as “they publish photos, not reasons.”
Face to Face, Svalbard, Norway, 2008
One day he followed a huge spirit bear into the forest and saw him eat a salmon he had newly caught. Suddenly, the bear stands up and starts to make his method to the creek.
“I realized that there was only one little entrance into this cove,” Nicklen tells PetaPixel. “And I was obstructing his exit, so I stepped to the side, and he strolled back and decreased to the river and got another fish. I’m 3 feet away from this bear, photographing him on a 16mm lens.”
The bear consistently went by him and even “bumped into the cam at one point.” He got the majority of the photographs for a three-month story nearly in a day and a half.
Caution: Do NOT try this yourself in the wild if you come across a bear. This was a special instance of knowing what to do in an unanticipated scenario, and a First Nations guide who knew this bear well was just 5 feet behind Nicklen.
“Animals dictate the encounter,” Nicklen includes. “You never push the animal; you never force an animal to do anything. I was sitting there silently, and the bear was approaching me, and he was attempting to walk by me going to the river, get a salmon, and he would sit there and consume right next to me, often a foot or two away.
“I began with a 100-400mm, then a 24-70mm, and finally a 16-35mm, and prior to you know it, I’m zooming out to 16mm to photo this bear in his environment, which’s the supreme. However that wanted 8 weeks of sitting there waiting, waiting, and waiting. The animal had probably been enjoying me, smelling me, hearing the clicks of my video camera … it’s just not that shocked.
“Animals are really consistent in their habits, and typically, they’re extremely trustworthy. I’ve seen perhaps 3,000 polar bears, 2,000 grizzly bears, and 1,000 black bears in my lifetime, and I have actually never had to shoot or pepper spray a bear.
“When I take people to Antarctica, and they ask what guidance I have for them, my response is typically to ‘put down your video camera and take it in with your mind and eyes, feed your soul for a while and then take images.’ Do not simply be a slave to the gadget in front of you.”
Dawn Patrol, Northern Fjords, Norway, 2018
Nicklen does not have a single favorite animal that he prefers capturing on video camera.
“I photograph whichever one provides me the connection at that time to have the biggest voice for an environment that’s under threat,” says the wildlife photographer. “It can be polar bears and narwhals in the Arctic, leopard seals in Antarctica, or sperm whales off Dominica [not to be confused with the Dominican Republic] If I can narrate using their voice and their persona, then it’s my favorite animal.
“The polar bear is one animal I have spent the most time with. I have actually seen and photographed polar bears most likely a thousand days, like 3 years of my life.”
Photographer Paul Nicklen covered in frost, northern Greenland
On Ancient Ice, Svalbard, Norway, 2007
Nicklen states he has had a variety of scary encounters over his life and profession, however only with people and not with animals.
“I have actually crashed a plane into an Arctic lake and was caught upside down underwater. It was an extremely close call with a 99% fatality rate, so that was scary,” he keeps in mind.
“Nearly any scary encounter I have actually ever had is my fault– falling through sea ice, dislocating my shoulder, running out of air on dives, getting lost at sea dives but seldom have I had a frightening encounter with a wild animal.”
Sparkling Sail, Yucatan, Mexico, 2008
If he were to pass away, he wishes to go in a cool way, immersed in nature, instead of through something like a cars and truck mishap in the concrete jungle– he states he would choose to go throughout a scuba dive rather.
Landscapes or Animal Photography
Nicklen enjoys to combine animals and landscapes instead of take an image of a mountain, the aurora borealis, or a rainstorm.
“I want to put things into context and have layers of the environment,” states the previous expert biologist. “I want to have the aurora, the mountains, and landscape, the polar bear strolling across the sea ice, a grizzly or spirit bear in the forest, or a little pond of narwhals from an aerial shot.
“I like my work to be layered but have that animal to give the story and the landscape context rather than simply straight landscapes.
Ice Waterfall, Svalbard, Norway, 2014
In 2014, Nicklen caught an important landscape, Ice Waterfall, in Svalbard, Norway. Arctic waterfalls grow from the Nordaustlandet ice cap as it gushes high volumes of meltwater– a striking suggestion of this icy ecosystem’s fragility. Even though this image was taken simply 600 miles from the North Pole, the temperature level hovered in the high 60s Fahrenheit. Thanks to climate change; the Arctic might be completely devoid of sea ice during the summer months within the next 10 to 20 years.
Former vice president and environmentalist Al Gore has used the Ice Waterfall picture in his talks and ecological projects many times.
“That’s why I shoot this things,” states the Canadian professional photographer from Vancouver Island. “What excites me the most is when I take a photo like Ice Waterfall, it looks powerful and beautiful. I’m proud when National Geographic makes it the gatefold opening spread of the environment change problem.
“The majority of people, when they take a great photo, it’s over for them. For me, it’s time for that image to go to work and to keep communicating with the world. I loved it when Pearl Jam put that picture on the cover of their Gigaton album.
“I did a TED talk in 2011 at the primary stage in Long Beach, California, and Al Gore met me at the end of my talk and asked me to join him on his journeys. He’s always just been a lovely, passionate advocate for the world.
Levitating, Ross Sea, Antarctica, 2011
“I probably am most proud of Polar Reflections,” says Nicklen. “A polar bear’s image is mirrored versus the water surface as it dives below a pan of ice. It’s on Apple television and Apple computers.
Polar Reflections, Nunavut, Canada, 2006
“When I do public lectures, individuals in the audience will judge me. Cristina was in the audience, and some individuals said it was fake and Photoshopped because they thought there was no way anyone might record that.
“I like that photograph, which sits at the crossway of art, science, and preservation. It was shot on 400 ISO film, and I didn’t even know if I had the shot. I got the photo in the mail a month after taking it. All the photos were terrible except for that a person photo. A little bit of ice is there in the upper part of the frame, and it discusses climate modification and the results on polar bears who will disappear without the ice.
“Ice Waterfall is my best-selling art piece in my five preferred photos. I love that image. I have actually never put a photo on my wall as I would simply begin slamming my work. However that’s the only one I’m going to be putting up in my brand-new workplace in a couple of weeks.
Tusked Titans, Spitsbergen, Norway, 2007
The Power of Video in Preservation
“In the past, I have actually shot hundred percent stills. Four years earlier, I started shooting probably a 60/40 split of video versus stills. The Sony a1 with 8K video is a terrific cam. For a while, I was using RED video cameras. Now I am shooting Sony for stills, and it’s fantastic as I have 8K video and a still cam all in under one underwater housing.
“I don’t need to carry two cams. I shoot the Sony FX9 for video, and now I will be hitting the Sony Venice II. However they don’t have an impressive undersea housing yet. Today, I can use the a1 underwater, have its great cam to shoot 20 frames a second on stills with top quality 50-megapixel files and after that switch over to 8K video. It’s the most exciting time for visual storytelling.
Nicklen says he has not been to as many countries as his wife Cristina, who has been to over a hundred. National Geographic has actually been flying him generally to the Arctic or Antarctic, but he has visited about 60 nations.
“I attempt to fly as low as possible as I don’t desire a big carbon footprint. I like to go places for extended periods, to get immersed with the animals and the environment,” states Nicklen.
More than competitors awards and the honorary PhDs, it’s getting the Order of Canada he values one of the most.
” [It means] you have actually been value-added to this world, that you’re on a mission, you have a function, you’re out there defending your conviction and your beliefs … it indicates the world to me,” says Nicklen.
As a co-founder of the non-profit, SeaLegacy, Nicklen is opening a fresh, progressive chapter in the story of ocean preservation. Through visual storytelling, SeaLegacy inspires countless people to stand and have a voice for the pristine places threatened by climate change.
Emperor Reflections, Antarctica, 2011
“It’s truly about utilizing the power of visual storytelling to galvanize a worldwide movement, to have conservation wins, and we have had numerous wins,” states Nicklen.
“I’m incredibly happy with our group, editors, writers, and work. I’m incredibly happy to work together with my better half Cristina [Cristina Mittermeier, who started the International League of Preservation Photographers (ILCP)], who is among the excellent conservation heroes of our planet and to be out there and to see the enthusiasm and the conviction she has.”
It saddens Nicklen to see individuals in the wilderness looking at their phones rather of taking in the beautiful nature around them. He keeps in mind a household, a father, and his kids, resting on the beach in Hawaii, and they were all glued to their phones when a humpback whale was breaching in front of them.
“I was simply laughing to myself believing, I bet you they’re googling where to discover humpback whales,” smiles Nicklen.
Early Morning Kings, South Georgia, 2008
The majority of Nicklen’s 7.3 million Instagram fans reside in huge cities. He has a large following in India, Los Angeles, and New York City. It’s a nice mix. He has an amazing variety of 50/50 men and women, people from all around the world, with most of them residing in city centers, and his feed and photos are an escape.
Growing Up in the Arctic
Nicklen grew up in the Arctic with the Inuit [indigenous people of northern Canada] and ended up being consumed with wildlife, nature, and extreme environments when he was 4. Then, his household moved to Baffin Island [severe northern Canada opposite Greenland]
“It was quite an immersive experience where we was among three non-Intuit families in the neighborhood,” remembers the ecologist. “We never had a telephone or television and no computers at that time. So, all of my time was invested outside, playing in the ice and snow. [I found out] the Inuit language, survival skills, how to be hard, and how to be immersed in nature.
“The Inuit tell stories through their big, lovely soapstone carvings and lithograph paintings. They sit down in the evening to tell folklore stories that fire up your imagination. So, while I was learning to be hard, I was discovering how to inform stories at a young age. My head was filled with these gorgeous creations of mood, light, animals, sea ice, aurora borealis, and dancing polar bears.”
Golden Bond, Katmai Alaska, 2018
He did not have dogs and felines for animals however regional wildlife.
“I had an infant ringed seal that the Inuit would give to us,” he keeps in mind. “And a child animal seagull named Sammy who had a broken wing, and I would look after him, and those were my 2 preferred animals.”
“I fell so in love with the visuals of the Arctic, and the only job that made sense to me was to become a biologist. So, I got my BS in marine biology at the University of Victoria [and they provided him an honorary Ph.D. a few years ago for the impact his photography has had on climate modification] and returned north.
I started to feel demoralized that I was lowering the beauty of the animals I enjoy a lot into data sets. So, I resigned as a biologist and went off in pursuit of ending up being a professional photographer.”
Gathering of Unicorns, Nunavut, Canada, 2006
After 7 years of starving, being broke, attempting to get observed, doing everything wrong, and making all the errors, Nicklen ultimately got his very first assignment for National Geographic Publication on salmon in 2003.
Getting Into Photography
“My mom was a schoolteacher when we resided in Baffin Island,” states Nicklen, a Sony Ambassador. “She had a Pentax K1000 and would establish her photos in a dark space in the little cold storage of our home. I was constantly so in wonder of the craft of photography, but I never believed it would be available to me.
“I never got a cam up until late when I was 18 or 19, and I didn’t buy my very first video camera until I was 20– a Nikon FE, then FE2. And then I purchased the Nikon F4– that was my big purchase. Next, I switched to Canon, and in 2019 moved to Sony.
“I constantly viewed Cristina shoot quietly with these Sonys, and then the mirrorless cameras got better and switched.”
Grizzly Bear along the Fishing Branch River in the Yukon. Majesty Surfacing, Yukon, Canada, 2012
The transfer to digital photography made life a little simpler for Nicklen.
“Most of my work is underwater, and you’re using flashes and strobes, and the lighting is really intricate. I invested a lot of time bracketing in the movie days and attempting to get near to the proper direct exposure of a tricky situation, whether you’re under the ice and there are icebergs and penguins or whatever it is.
“Nowadays, instead of having 36 exposures in my camera, I have 3,600 direct exposures. [It is excellent] to get all these chances at getting an excellent shot and to have a Polaroid evaluation of that image on the LCD screen.”
Nicklen’s camera devices toolbox comprises high-grade Sony mirrorless devices.
“I have been utilizing 5 Sony a1 electronic cameras,” he states. “I have actually received the Sony a7R V, replacing my a7R IV bodies. If I have landscapes or aerials where things are stagnating quickly, or I don’t need to shoot 8K video, I’ll get the a7R V. The a1 is my go-to video camera that I have all the time with me.
“I was shooting the a9 for a long period of time because I loved the quick motor drive for wildlife and nature, now, I prefer to have it all in one bundle, which is why I have so many a1 bodies. I have 7 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 is very big, heavy, and costly for the majority of photographers and is not required as much today with digital as it was with ISO 100 films. It’s great to have the f/2.8 for shallow depth of field, however often you are attempting to get everything in focus and not shooting at f/2.8.
King Penguins in the browse and Oakum young boys at St. Andrews.
When Canon initially came out with that vacuum pump 100-400mm, it was such a limited lens, it was hardly usable, however it was such an amazing focal length. I constantly had a 70-200mm, and there was constantly a 1.4 x teleconverter on it, which just got me to 280mm. So, I always wished to shoot that 100-400mm, and I was often really dissatisfied with the results.
Even the Nikon people did not like their very first, what was it, 80-400mm. Lastly, Canon came out with their 2nd generation, 100-400mm, and then Sony came out with their 100-400mm, which is tack sharp, and it’s this lens that I use the most typically. It’s the lens that I always have on my video camera. If I require to go to a 600mm from there, I do, but I’ll constantly have a 100-400mm on my electronic camera to begin with. Next week I am going to Antarctica and will take the 200– 600mm F5.6– 6.3 G OSS as it is a flexible lens [but he uses the 100-400mm more]
A Mastersclass from the Master
Nicklen has created a course of 50 episodes under Masters of Photography, from animal encounters to structure to psychology.
I never saw myself as an instructor, but I kept getting pressed by the Masters of Photography group in the UK to come and teach this course. I kept believing possibly I didn’t have enough to state, and then once the electronic camera started to roll, and they began to peel back the layers, I couldn’t talk quickly enough.
Professional photographers have a great deal of insecurities, a great deal of doubts, a great deal of worries, those little voices that tell you you’re not good enough, you’re gon na fail. I desire skilled, effective storytelling professional photographers out there shooting the very best images in the world to result change for our planet. I want to teach people to get out there and think in themselves. This isn’t really about my preferred f-stop and shutter speed, although we do a few of that stuff. You can Google and see that on YouTube, but I go through the psychology of photography and how to push yourself to the highest level in photography. I talk about the left brain and best brain. We do setting goal; we handle how to break down doubt. We enter into structure and shutter speeds and how to be great, gentle, and considerate to the animals. It’s a course for professional photographers who want to be near animals, take pictures of them, and enter into National Geographic.
Being A Parent, Ross Sea, Antarctica, 2011
Nicklen has a conservationist message in his photography.
“I do not ever wish to take ID photos of animals. I desire people to have a psychological connection, the same way the Crocodile Hunter made individuals have a connection to animals. I like the world to fall for leopard seals, polar bears, narwhals, whatever animal it is.
“To do that, I need to invest an incredible amount of time with these animals. I should make that psychological connection. I need to have animals stare into my lens and link and have the viewer of that image have an emotional action. I want people to fall for animals, appreciate the ecosystems where these animals are from, and eventually be much better stewards of this planet.”
You can see more of Paul Nicklen’s work on his website and Instagram or join his Masterclass.
About the author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and instructor based in Atlanta, GA. He started among the very first digital electronic camera classes in New york city City at The International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was the director and instructor for Sony/Popular Photography publication’s Digital Days Workshops. You can reach him here.
Image credits: All pictures courtesy of Paul Nicklen.