Big and Small

Polar Bear on pack ice, 90 degrees N.

This polar bear approached our ship and stayed with us for nearly an hour. During that time, I took dozens of shots with my long lenses, straining for close-ups, as if full-frame bears were somehow the gold standard. I had to force myself, in fact, to put away the big glass and try and capture the world this bear inhabits – the vast, featureless, expanse of floating sea ice.

We all have a tendency to shoot visual trophies, I suppose: big, in-your-face portraits that reward those photographers with the longest lenses. But story-telling demands more than simply an endless series of close-ups. Confident that I had plenty of those, I slapped on a wider lens to show the bear pacing the ice: alone, confident and eternally on the hunt.

The ice in Svalbard had retreated early this year, and this bear was riding it north. But food is scarce in late summer and seals few and far between. Not a conventional portrait, this image is a glimpse into the challenges that confront bears in the face of a changing arctic. That’s the story I wanted to tell.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm lens