Polar Bears, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

(© Ian Plant) It's Polar Bear Week! Polar bears are North America's apex predator, and one of the most magnificent animals on the planet. And the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is easily one of the best places in the world to view and photograph these stunning creatures. Every winter, dozens gather here to wait for the sea to freeze. When the snow starts to fall in early October, amazing photography awaits. This was my second year photographing polar bears in Alaska; here are a few of my favorite images from the trip.

There's nothing quite like having a 1000-pound carnivore stare intently in your direction. I caught this photo as a large bear was heading my way. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L lens with built-in 1.4x converter, ISO 1600, f/4.5,  1/400 second.

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When not busy hunting or wrestling with other bears, polar bears spend a lot of time sleeping. I was lucky to catch this moment when a sleepy bear stretched in the middle of its nap. Canon 7DII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L lens with built-in 1.4x converter, ISO 1600, f/6.3, 1/1000 second.

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The two beautiful bears were wrestling on newly formed sea ice (the ice came in early this year, creating some interesting photo opportunities). I was lucky to get some beautiful sunrise light on the bears as they played. Canon 7DII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L lens with built-in 1.4x converter, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/800 second.

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I watched this precocious cub get into all sorts of trouble during my week of photography. I was able to catch an expressive moment when it found this small piece of bone. Canon 7DII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L lens with built-in 1.4x converter, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/800 second. 

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When the sea ice first began to form, it wasn't quite thick enough to support the weight of an adult polar bear, but sometimes the cubs could haul themselves up on some of the thicker ice. Here, a mother and her two cubs were trying to make their way across the ice, but they ended up swimming most of the way, breaking through the ice as they went along. Canon 7DII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L lens with built-in 1.4x converter, ISO 5000, f/5.6, 1/500 second. 

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Polar bear cubs love to play, and they are constantly wrestling with each other or with their mothers. I always had my camera set to a high shutter speed (in Shutter Priority Mode) to make sure I never missed the action. Canon 7DII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L lens with built-in 1.4x converter, ISO 1250, f/6.3, 1/500 second.

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After a busy morning of roaming and hunting, a mother and her cub settled down for an afternoon nap. I bit of sun broke through the clouds, bathing the bears in warm light. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L lens with built-in 1.4x converter, ISO 1000, f/6.3, 1/320 second.

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I photographed this bear one morning as it crossed in front of the rising sun, passing the remains of a dead whale. The light was bright, so I exposed carefully for the highlights, letting the rest of the scene go into silhouette. Canon 7DII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L lens with built-in 1.4x converter, ISO 100, f/14, 1/800 second.

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This is one of the most incredible wildlife spectacles on Earth—so don't miss out. I'll be leading a Polar Bear Photo Tour September 29 - October 3, 2016. I hope you can join me!

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