October 1, 2017 ·

Ben Olson

Benjamin Olson
Art Wolfe Next-Generation Nature Photographers Grant
Alaska and The Brown Bears

As a young nature photographer, I have always found difficulty finding outlets that could further my growth not only as a photographer but as a conservationist. As soon as I heard of the Art Wolfe Next-Generation Nature Photographers Grant I knew I had to apply. Not only would it provide the opportunity to work in the amazing Katmai National Park, but also to work with one of the most accomplished nature and conservation photographers in the world. It was a dream come true, something I could have never fathomed.

A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) walks through the river as a bear sleeps on the distant bank in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) walks through the river as a bear sleeps on the distant bank in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Two Brown Bear cubs (Ursus arctos) play fight on the tundra in Katmai National Park, Alaska
Two Brown Bear cubs (Ursus arctos) play fight on the tundra in Katmai National Park, Alaska

Knowing I was going to be in the best place in the world to photograph Brown Bears I was inspired to try and create images different than what I had seen created before. This proved to be difficult with such a heavily photographed subject, but the challenge was inspiring. The biggest hurdle of the trip was not photographing the bears themselves, but getting into the park each day. Each morning we would fly into the park, however, this was dictated by the weather. On the days we made it into the park we would land on remote tundra lakes and hike to the river where the bears would be fishing for Chinook Salmon. Out of the five possible days in the field, we were able to get out for three of them. High winds kept the float planes grounded on the other two. This wasn’t a bad thing though, this allowed for ample time with Art.

A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) shaes the water from its coat in Katmai National Park, Minnesota.
A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) shakes the water from its coat in Katmai National Park, Minnesota.
Brown Bear on the edge of a snow pack.
Brown Bear on the edge of a snow pack.

While the bears were an amazing part of the experience, time with Art took the cake. We all were able to spend our grounded days watching his presentations, having personal conversations and even individual portfolio reviews. Through his presentations and insight, I was able to see the path he took that led to his successful career, and in turn, I have evaluated my path and have a much clearer direction of the route I need to take to be successful in the future. The personal experiences with Art were far more amazing and irreplaceable than the field time could ever be. Through this, I have developed a lasting friendship with Art and have had the honor to shoot with him again in my home state of Minnesota. If you would’ve asked me four years ago when I first saw him present at the 2013 North American Nature Photography Summit that I would have the opportunity to be mentored by him and photograph with him, I would’ve laughed!

A immature Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) walks on a sandbar in the river in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
An immature Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) walks on a sandbar in the river in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) walks through the river with a Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) in Katmai National Park, Alaska
A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) walks through the river with a Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) in Katmai National Park, Alaska

Out of all the things I took away from my time with Art, the most notable was this: pursue your passion. Passion exuded from Art and after all these years I find it remarkable. He emphasized photography as an art form and constantly pushing yourself to use new techniques as technology evolves, to revisit subjects already photographed and to constantly push the envelope on a rapidly evolving industry; and I believe his long-running passion is achieved by doing exactly this. I took these teachings to heart and try to employ them on a daily basis. While in the field, his main concern was the safety and comfort of the bears. This was highly admirable because so many photographers will go to extreme lengths to get the “shot.” While we had the freedom to move around to get different angles he emphasized to not approach the bears directly or too closely to keep in accordance with park rules, but more importantly to keep the bears from fleeing or avoiding. Educating us on ethical behavior around wildlife was refreshing and something I believe lacks in today’s practices.

Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) portrait in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) portrait in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Brown Bear walking in the distance.
A Brown Bear walking in the distance.

My advice to other photographers pursuing this grant or other projects they’re passionate about is to just do it. There is nothing to lose. As long as there is passion and drive the opportunities are endless. Researching your topic thoroughly, learning the species behavior and natural history, and connecting with scientists, advocacy groups, and the public will give you the ability to make an impactful story that is much more powerful than a single image.

A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) chases a Chinook Salmon up the river in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) chases a Chinook Salmon up the river in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) sow and cubs stare curiously in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) sow and cubs stare curiously in Katmai National Park, Alaska.

During this trip, I used a Canon 1DX Mark II, 7D Mark II, 6D, 16-35mm f/4L, 24-70mm f/2.8L II, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II, 400mm f/2.8L IS USM, and both the 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters.


Benjamin Olson
October 2017

Ben Olson

Throughout my life, I have consistently been exposed to the natural world whether it was through fishing, hunting, camping, canoeing, or hiking. I am incredibly grateful for those opportunities that my parents generously provided me – especially given the fact that I was raised in the surrounding suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul. At the age of 16, I made the decision to enroll in an alternative high school called the School of Environmental Studies (SES) in Apple Valley, Minnesota. It was there that my life began to transform for the better as I was exposed to environmental awareness, conservation, and an outdoor lifestyle. Shortly after starting school at SES, my grandfather whom I was very close to became terminally ill and gave me my first camera. Little did I know then how much this tool would forever change my life. The next five years were spent discovering and getting acquainted with the forests, lakes, animals, and plants of the surrounding area; my camera, and most importantly, myself. A few years after High School, I decided to begin pursuing a degree in biology with an emphasis in ecology, ethology, and evolution from Bemidji State University in northern Minnesota. Upon moving to Bemidji in 2009, I was immediately elated; it was as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The stress and anxiety that comes with living in the cities was gone and life became simple. As I furthered my education at Bemidji State, I began to understand the interconnectedness between the natural world and all of its inhabitants. The true importance of the natural world had revealed itself to me through the immense amount of time I spent in the woods and the information passed on to me by my professors. For this transformative period, I will be forever grateful. My life revolves around the wilderness. The majority of my free time is spent out in the forests with my camera. I hope to elicit emotion in others using photography while inspiring them to embrace the wonders of the natural world. I have a bachelors in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology, Ethology and Evolution and a A.A.S. in Digital Imaging Technology. My long term goals are to incorporate my education and photography to promote awareness of the perils the natural world faces today while working towards conservation and environmental restoration. http://www.benjamin-olson.com/ Benjamin Olson (651)-242-2357 https://www.facebook.com/BenjaminOlsonPhotography

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