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Photographer Paul Nicklen chats with Quark Expeditions

5 min read

Feature photo by Göran Ehlmé, National Geographic Creative

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Paul Nicklen and I'm a contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine. I'm also a polar specialist in communicating the issues of climate change in the Polar Regions.

What drives you to go to the Polar Regions?

I continue to go to both the Arctic and Antarctica because they are the fastest climates changing in the world. They are also the most pristine, beautiful and least visited by people in the world. In order for change to happen, people need to be connected to this ecosystem. Not everyone is able to see these regions first-hand, so I need to bring these images to them. These images have to be intimate, powerful and emotive to bring people into this world that I care so much about.

What are the three lenses always in your camera bag?

When I travel, I would make sure I have 16-35mm wide-angle lens. It would capture the vastness of the Arctic or Antarctica. I love to be really close to my subject, and the closer I am and the wider I am it creates this three-dimensional feeling and sort of transports you into that image. I also pack a 24-70mm for portraits of people like the Inuit, animals like penguins and seals. And then I like to bring something a little longer like the 80-400mm or 100-400mm or the 70-200mm. Then you're covered from 16mm to 300mm.


Do you use any specific filters,like polarized filters?

To me, if you are using a filter you are trying to mask something that's not there. The luxury I have being an assignment photographer, I visualize the picture I want to make and I will sit there for weeks or months until the conditions I want are right. People on Quark's voyages are going to see amazing things but they are not in control of their own time all the time. So yes bring a filter, but I wouldn't go beyond bringing anything more than a polarizer.

What's your advice for passengers traveling with Quark?

My number one advice for people going on a Quark trip is put your camera down and take pictures with your mind as well. You have to really soak it all up; a picture never can capture what's in front of you. Yes take pictures, but don't be forcing yourself to sit there and shoot a whole book.

How do you protect you gear when you're in such harsh conditions like the Polar Regions?

Most of the gear nowadays is fairly weatherproof. Don't get excessive rain or salt on it; make sure you dry it off when you get inside. The biggest thing is, say we have a really cold, windy and wet day, don't just bring your camera inside and set it out in the heat. That's when you get condensation and that's when the camera gets wet and it gets into the lenses. You want to bring the camera into your room and throw a towel or a jacket on it and let it acclimate slowly to the room temperature. Sometimes I will keep my gear in a pelican case and when I bring it back inside I will just leave it in the pelican case. This way the transfer of heat is very slow. Also keep extra batteries in you jacket, and keep your batteries warm.

As a photographer, when do you know you've achieved THE shot? Is it the moment you take it, after an hour or so of shooting or only after reviewing all the pictures on your laptop?

I never know that I have the shot until I have been through the entire editing process. I did not like the cover shot of the Spirit Bear story at all. I would have thrown it away. But, the boss liked it and it became popular. I knew instantly, the second I got the cover of Polar Obsession [book] however.

How do you celebrate success – the achievement of THE shot?

When I get the shot, it is incredibly powerful but not a moment that I normally share. I usually give thanks to anyone and everyone around me and thank nature.

Join Paul on Quark's Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica November 17, 2014 – December 6, 2014, voyage.

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