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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.