The Art Wolfe Grant – Andrew Snyder – Workshop Value $10,000 USD
When the Art Wolfe Next-Generation Photographer’s grant started routinely appearing in my Facebook newsfeed, applying for it was a no brainer. It is not that often that an opportunity like this presents itself! Upon getting the notification that I was one of the fortunate recipients, and with months to go, I started trying to invent the different experiences I might have on the trip. It soon became apparent that I truly had no idea what to expect and that is how I kept it. I left my expectations at zero, and just kept my hopes up that I might get to actually see a bear on this trip. Well seeing a bear certainly was not an issue. In what seemed like just a few minutes into our trek after our float plane touched down on the still lake we saw our first bear. Then another one, and another, and another. They were everywhere! Hunting boars, mothers, cubs, sleeping “teens,” bears gorging on blueberries, they were all there. Every day brought us some new encounter, experience or photo opportunity. So while I had nothing set that I “hoped” to do, the whole trip far superseded any expectations.
I’m a Nikon shooter and tried to make sure to use all of my lenses that I brought in order to come back with varied images. My main body I used was the Nikon D750. I most often had my Nikon 300mm F4 attached with a 1.4x teleconverter. However, I often scaled back a bit and used my 70-200mm. For wider landscape shots I either used my 24-120mm F4 or at times was able to borrow my buddy Joe Sulik’s 14-24mm F2.8. For certain shots, I even threw on my Sigma 15mm fisheye, just for a new take on things. During much of the week, I also had my GoPro Hero 4 Black attached to my head of chest, to get the first person perspective of what we were shooting.
It’s hard to fathom just how much you take in on only a week-long experience like this. The knowledge I gained was tremendous. From the technical tips of now being comfortable to crank my ISO up to values, I would never consider before, to the artistic techniques of embracing negative space that I might previously have cropped out. Unquestionably, however, the most important experience gained from this trip, more important than any new technical knowledge, was sharing these once in a lifetime experience with great friends. It is one thing to go to this foreign landscape and experience new wildlife alone or with a guide, but to be able to share the same memories – watching the same hunts, the tender moments of a mother with her cubs, accidentally laying in bear poop while trying to get THE shot, followed by wonderful meals together around the table and laughs on the couch.
To me, the shared experiences are far more valuable to me than if I had done a trip like this by myself. Going into it, I knew that the main focus during the trip was going to be capturing images of bears, however, I wanted to make sure to capitalize on the opportunity to come home with other images as well, especially the great salmon spawn. While I wasn’t necessarily story-centric, I wanted to try to capture as complete a picture as possible of what was taking place surrounding the bears and their interaction with their ecosystem. For instance, at one of the locations where we were shooting, both bears and salmon were incredibly abundant. There was a small waterfall that the salmon occasionally were jumping up, so I wanted to try to integrate the salmon component into image series as much as possible. After getting a series of bear hunting images that I was pleased with, I then set my attention to the salmon. At one point, I waded out into the waterfall and laid on a large boulder easily for an hour. With a wide-angle lens affixed to the camera, I wanted to try to capture the salmon jumping while also capturing the expansive landscape. After much time, and many failed attempts, I was able to finally capture the scene that I had been picturing.
After months of painstaking anticipation, the trip seemed to start and finish in an instant. While departing from Iliamna was bittersweet, taking a moment’s reflection about all that took place during the action packed week was enough to make any gloomy thoughts completely dissipate.
The trip was life-changing in so many ways, and for this, I am forever grateful to the Luminous Endowment, our private donor, Art Wolfe, Gavriel Jecan, and staff, and Jerry Jacques and the amazing team operating Bristol Bay Sportfishing and Adventure Lodge.