Category Archive: Photo Essay

The Polar Bears of Cape Churchill

Posted by on February 10, 2017

Every year, the polar bears of the western Hudson Bay region congregate in the area around Churchill, Manitoba as they wait for the sea ice to form. Given circulation of water in Hudson Bay, and the location of river systems which flow into Hudson Bay, the ice near Churchill is the first to freeze in the region.

Since the 1980’s, travelers have been able to see the polar bears of Churchill with the creation of the tundra buggy; a giant vehicle which can traverse over frozen tundra and is so large, even the tallest polar bears can’t reach the windows. Almost every visitor to Churchill will see polar bears in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, which is right outside of the town of Churchill.

However, once a year a single trip gets to go further all the way to Wapusk National Park and the end of Cape Churchill. It is at Cape Churchill that you can see the greatest concentration of Polar Bears and it is probably the great polar bear experience in the world. I had the pleasure to be on this trip in November 2016 with Frontiers North Adventures. It quickly ranked at one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in 10 years of traveling around the world.

Polar Bear sign in Churchill, Manitoba

1 The town of Churchill isn’t very big and the economy is almost totally based on tourism with the recent close of the Port of Churchill, Canada’s only port on the Arctic Ocean. Almost every business in Churchill uses the name “polar”, “polar bear”, “aurora”, “arctic”, or some play on that theme. After the polar bear season ends, the population of Churchill drops dramatically until the summer when tourism, particularly beluga whale watching, picks back up.

Polar Bear danger sign in Churchill, Manitoba

2 Polar bears are a real danger in the town of Churchill. Several times during our trip we heard news of bears in or near the town of Churchill. As the bears have nothing to do while they wait for the sea ice to freeze, they often wander into town following the smells coming from the community. At the start of our trip we had a brief tour of the town, and even in town, we had people on the lookout for bears.

Polar bear traps in Churchill, Manitoba

3 The threat of polar bears to Churchill is so real that the town has their own polar bear holding facility. In the event of a polar bear sighting, these traps are used to catch polar bears. They are lured into the trap with the scent of seal fat, which is the primary food source for polar bears, and it drives them nuts. Once in the cage, they are taken to the holding facility where they are held until the sea ice has come in. While in the holding facility, the bears are not fed at all. They are only provided water. The bears have ample fat to survive off of and they have found that when bears are fed, they simply return so they can get the easy food.

Tundra buggies in Churchill, Manitoba

4 Polar bear viewing is possible only due to the creation of the tundra buggy. Created in 1979 by Leonard Smith, he originally took out a National Geographic film crew which popularized the idea of viewing polar bears. The best way I can describe a tundra buggy is that it is a school bus split lengthwise down the middle and widened and placed on top of a monster truck. Each tundra buggy is rather self-sufficient for a day’s adventure as they have their own heating, toilet, and are stocked with food for lunch.

The buggies travel very slowly along trails created decades ago when the area was used as a cold weather training facility for the US and Canadian armies.

Sleeping Polar Bear near Churchill, Manitoba

5 While the polar bears are waiting for the sea ice to form so they can go hunt, there is little for them to do. Most bears will do very little in the course of a day as they want to conserve their energy. Moreover, even if the temperature is below freezing, the insulation of a polar bear’s fur is so great, that they can still overheat if they exert themselves too much. While you will see bears walking, playing and sparring, mostly they are just sitting around.

Young male polar bears sparring in Churchill, Manitoba

6 Polar bears, especially males, are usually solitary creatures. During the gathering as they wait for sea ice to freeze, the young males will often use the opportunity to spar with other males. This activity is practice for serious fighting which may take place later on. At this time of year, there is little to fight over as the seal hunt hasn’t begun and it is not mating season. The males will spar for a few minutes, take a break to cool down and then go at it again.

A polar bear showing some buggy love

7 Polar bears are extremely curious. When they see a tundra buggy they will often walk up to investigate. When the bears get up on their hind legs and rest against a tundra buggy, it is called “buggy love”. It should be noted that the bears really have no vertical leap ability in this position.

Sunrise over Cape Churchill, Manitoba

8 In November, you have less than 8 hours of daylight at 59┬░ N. That means you don’t have to change your sleep schedule to see sunset and sunrise. The cloud formations around Hudson Bay made for some unique sunrises. I took this photo one morning when most of the sky was overcast and there was a break in clouds along the horizon.

The Tundra Buggy Lodge

9 Given the distances to Cape Churchill, and the slow speed of the tundra buggies, it isn’t possible to stay overnight in town. The solution is one of the most unique accommodations in the world: the Tundra Buggy Lodge. It is most similar to a train with sleeper cars. The lodge consists of several different modules which are hooked together end to end to create a single lodge. In the photo, you can see the two sleeping modules (with small windows), the lounge car (with the spiral staircase), and the dining car. There are also 2 other cars for supplies and the staff.

Each tundra buggy is backed up and docked in the space between the cars when not in use. Because you go directly from the buggy to the lodge, most people staying at the Tundra Buggy Lodge will never touch the ground during their stay. Several of the staff will not touch the ground for 2 months. People are usually prevented from touching the ground due to safety concerns with polar bears.

A snowy owl in Churchill, Manitoba

10 While polar bears are the star of the show and the most visually abundant animal on the tundra, they are not the only ones. One of the other creatures on the tundra is the snowy owl. We were able to spend about an hour photographing this owl flying from spot to spot, hunting voles for over and hour. This photo shows it immediately after its success in capturing its prey.

Snowy owl in flight near Churchill, Manitoba

11 Like the polar bear, the snowy owl is almost perfectly designed as a predator in this environment. Quick, quiet, and camouflaged with amazing eyesight, the snowy owl can survive where few animals can.

polar bears sliding in the snow

12 It isn’t hard to find polar bears on Cape Churchill in November. After a day or two, the novelty of just seeing bears laying down wears off. What you then look for are bears engaged in some sort of behavior. Bears who are up and about doing “something”. Occasionally we would see bears push themselves along the snow with just their hind legs with their backside in the air.

Wapusk National Park sign

13 Wapusk National Park named after the Cree word for polar bear. It was established as a park as it is one of the most important areas for polar bear dens in the world. The park is very remote and difficult to reach. There are fewer than 200 people who set foot in the park, most of whom are scientists, students, and park staff. The Cape Churchill trip which I was on is the only official tour which is allowed in the park each year.

Polar bear mother and cub

14 Because of its importance as an area for polar bear dens, you will see a fair number of mothers with cubs in Wapusk. The young cubs always stay close to their mother as a matter of protection. It is not unheard of for older males to kill younger males who they are not genetically related.

Six polar bears in one spot

15 While you will usually see polar bears alone or in small groups, sometimes you see even larger numbers. In this photo, you can see six polar bears all in one place.

Polar bear with paw print

16 The perspective you get from being in a tundra buggy can sometimes be unlike anything you can from any other platform. When the bears approach the vehicle, you can often shoot straight down at them.

Cape Churchill as seen from the air

17 While the tundra buggies can give you a unique perspective, you are still bound to the Earth. Once you get up in the air, you get a totally different perspective of the landscape. From above you can see just how desolate and barren Cape Churchill really is.

Polar bears waiting at the water's edge

18 From the air you can see exactly what the polar bears are doing. They are waiting for the ice to freeze. Once the sea ice is frozen, the seals can give birth and the bears can start hunting.

Polar bear footprints

19 From the above you can also get a sense of where the bears are going. If you look closely at these footprints, you can see a double pair of footprints which go in a circle. This is undoubtedly a mother and cub given how close together they are. The straight lines are all solitary footprints from single bears.

Polar bear mother with two cubs

20 You will almost always see a mother with one or two cubs. This year we managed to actually see a mother with three cubs. It was the first time any of the staff, many of whom had been coming up to Churchill for years, had seen such a thing. Most family units will look like the one shown here.

Arctic fox in Churchill, Manitoba

21 While the polar bears were congregating, we also managed to see a few of the elusive arctic fox. At this time of year they were much smaller in number, much smaller in size, and well camouflaged.

Sunset on Churchill

22 The short winter days ensure that we get to see the sunset, as well as the sunrise, every single day.

2016: A Year in Photography

Posted by on December 30, 2016

2016 was a year of changes for me. It was the first year I haven’t been living on the road since I started traveling full-time in 2007. I got an apartment in December 2015 which meant I had a place to go in between trips this year. It has radically changed how I travel and how I get work done. Oddly enough, I traveled more in 2016 than in did in 2015 even though I wasn’t on the road full-time.

This year I also made the big switch from Nikon to Sony. I had some minor issues with the change, but overall I was quite pleased with the quality of the results this year. All of the images I took in 2016 were taken with my Sony a7rii or a6000.

In 2016 I was also named Travel Photographer of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association for the second time, and I was a Bronze Medalist in the Travel Photographer of the Year competition for the Society of American Travel Writers.

I hope you enjoy my images as much as I did taking them!

2015: A Year In Photography

Posted by on January 1, 2016

2015 was a different year for me.

In 2014, I made the decision to cut back on my travels. In the two previous years, I had set foot in over 40 countries each year. I was getting burned out. 2015 was the year I instituted that change. The year I only set foot in 13 countries on 4 continents, the lowest number since I started traveling. I visited only 9 new UNESCO World Heritage Sites, leaving me stranded at 299 for most of the year.

Nonetheless, in terms of photography, it was a pretty good year. I won a Gold Medal in the annual SATW Muster Competition in the People category. I also won 8 awards in the annual NATJA competition, 6 of which were for photography.

I continue to improve and get better as a photographer. Even though I visited fewer places in 2015, I feel that I took more quality images this year than I have in past years.

You can view previous year end photo essays for 2014, 2013 and 2012.

[1]I began my year in the Catalonian Province of Girona where I stayed for 3 months. I took this photo while visiting the Garrotxa Volcano. The clouds parted just enough for this village to appear.

[2]While up in the Pyrenees we came across a farmhouse. The owners weren’t around, but this dog was inside the house and really wanted to come out and see us.

[3]I started taking more abstract shots this year. I went visiting some local farms in the region and I took this one on a morning when it was foggy.

[4] I tried to do more this year to capture smaller moments, not just big dramatic landscapes. This was taken during a sheep herding competition. The sheep were in a pen waiting for the next round of the event, staring at me.

[5]While in Griona I took a side trip to Finland for a conference. While I was there I visited the Aland Islands, a Swedish speaking achripelego which is part of Finland.

[6] In late January I left Girona and flew to Alberta. My goal was to photograph the frozen bubbles in Lake Abraham. The conditions weren’t perfect, but I did manage to get some shots.

[7] I had been to the parks in Alberta several times before, but always in the summer. Seeing them in the winter put the parks in a whole new light and allowed me to see things in the park I had never seen before.

[8] Winter in Alberta isn’t just stunning, frozen landscapes. There is also a great deal of winter activity going on. This father was teaching his daughter how to ice skate on Lake Louise.

[9] During my time in Banff, Callum Snape took me to a spot which few people know about and even fewer have seen. The cabin of The Hermit of Inglismaldie. The cabin was built in 1910 by Billy Carver who moved to Banff from England. He lived in the cabin for 27 years until he was taken to an old age home. The cabin has been abandoned since 1937. Today you can still see remains of his stove and some pots outside of the cabin.

[10] In February I finally got a chance to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Flordia. I was on my way to Haiti and I took the opportunity to fly to Florida early to go exploring.

[11] In February I was on the inaugural trip to Haiti with G Adventures. It was an incredible experience being able to see a country which is right next door to the US, but few people bother to visit. This photo was taken in front of the Palace of Sans Souci and won me a Gold Medal in this year’s Muster Travel Photography competition.

[12] There is so much to see in Haiti. This photo of a hillside in Port-au-Prince was my most liked photo on Instagram in 2015.

[13] I took this photo in a hotel bar in Jacmel, Haiti. I don’t think anything in here had been updated in several decades. It was the type of bar you’d read about in a novel.

[14] This Citadel in Haiti is one of the most impressive, and least known attractions in the Americas. It is the largest military fortress in the Western Hemisphere and, by far, has the largest collection of cannons and cannon balls I’ve ever seen. They have over 100 Spanish, French and British cannons. Most military fortifications you visit from the 18th or 19th century might be lucky to have a handful.

[15] I left Haiti by land and went to the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere: Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. I only spent 4 days there and didn’t leave the old part of town, but it was an interesting place to experience.

[16] In April I took a short trip with my assistant Amy and her family to visit Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas and Poverty Point, Louisiana, one of the America’s newest world heritage sites.

[17]Later in April I returned to Girona to attend a conference. Afterwards, I drove to Paris to shoot video for my upcoming travel photography training course. Along the way, we stopped in Bourges to photograph their World Heritage cathedral.

[18] Paris is such a photogenic city. Almost every street has something to photography. I took this photo outside the Louvre as museum goers prepare to enter.

[19]I’ve often said the most interesting thing about seeing the Mona Lisa isn’t the painting itself, it is the crowds of people surrounding it. I’d happily spend an hour in the room photographing the people who are photographing the painting.

[20]It is hard to take an original photo of the Eiffel Tower. I don’t know if my photos are original, but I had a blast photographing it at night, which was something I hadn’t done before.

[21]For one of the videos, I did a photo walk from the Louvre to the Luxembourg Gardens, just shooting vignettes of life I saw along the way. One of them was this bookseller along the banks of the Seine, near Notre Dame.

[22]These young girls were engjoying their day in the Luxembourg Gardens blowing bubbles and playing.

[23]On the way back from Paris to Barcelona, we stopped at two places I had always wanted to visit. The first of which is the famous Mont St. Michele.

[24]The other placed we stopped was in Normandy. We visited one of the American cemeteries in the region where the American dead from WWII are buried.

[25]In June I had a once in a lifetime opportunity open up to me. I was invited to land, and stay overnight, on a nuclear aircraft carrier. I drove to Norfolk, VA and along the way, I visited two unvisited national parks in the east: Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, and Shenandoah National Park in Virgina. This image is of a covered bridge in Cuyahoga Valley.

[26]Being on the deck of an aircraft carrier is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. To see how everyone operates in synch, and to experience the raw power of jet fighters, is simply incredible.

[27]They were doing certification during our visit in preparation for heading out to the Middle East. We were able to witness dozens of take-offs and landings. They were able to turn the planes around in a matter of minutes.

[28]Other than the deck of an aircraft carrier, the only place I know of on Earth where you can vicerally experience the power of a jet engine is Maho Beach on the island of St. Martin.

[29]In July I had several conferences across the United States. As always, I try to mix in some adventure with the business. My first trip in July was back to the Florida Keys, which I visited in February. Weather nixed my visit to Dry Tortugas National Park then, but I managed to finally get there in July.

[30]While in the Keys we visited Robbie’s on Islamorada where they have tarpon feeding. You buy a bucket of fish and get to feed the tarpon which have learned to feed there. Here is my friend Justin taking one for the team as his hand is engulfed by one of the fish.

[31]After attending a conference in Austin, I drove down to San Antonio to visit the United State’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Missions of San Antonio.

[32]In August I headed to the Atlantic provinces of Canada to visit some national parks. Hopewell Rocks, although not a national park, is one of the best palces to observe just how big the tides in the Bay of Fundy are.

[33]Fundy National Park in New Brunswick was a pleasant surprise. There is a lot of photograph in a very small space. This image is of Dickson Falls inside the park.

[34]Prince Edward Island National Park is one of the smallest in the Canadian park system, but it is also heavily visited by locals going on getaways.

[35]Without question, the highlight of my year was my visit to Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador. A little-visited park, it had Inuit culture, wildlife, and fantastic visits like this one. This photo is of the North Arm of the Saglek Fjord at sunset.

[36]The village of Hebron was the scene of one of the biggest tragedies in the Inuit community. In the 1950’s the Newfoundland and Labrador government forcibly removed all the residents of the community. You can still see the ruins of the buildings today and it has been declared a Canadian heritage site.

[37]During one of our excursions we had a shore lunch with fresh arctic char caught right on the spot. This is David, an Inuit elder, who caught a good number of the fish we ate.

[38]Even in late August, you could find icebergs off the coast of Labrador. The water that far north is so cold, that it doesn’t give icebergs much opportunity to melt.

[39]During our visit to Hebron, one of the women working at base camp had a grandmother who lived in Hebron. She brought her son to lay flowers on her grandmother’s grave.

[40]In September I had my annual photography tour. This year the tour was in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. The tour started in Quito where I took this photo outside the Quito Cathedral.

[41]Flamingos are a species which you can see around the world. I saw these two sparring on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos.

[42]You can see sea lions all over the Galapagos. We managed to see a group playing on the beach at sunset and I ran around to position myself to get the silhouette of one against the sun.

[43]This photo was a total accident. I was taking photos of the marine iguanas and didn’t even notice that there was a shark passing in the background!

[44]We rare sighting of two galapagos hawks during our trip. They were feeding on a placenta from a newborn sea lion. They weren’t that far from us, but acted as if we weren’t even there.

[45]Tortises in the Galapagos have been hunted since Europeans arrived. As an extremely old species, they don’t breed quickly. This photo of juvenile tortoises was taken at a breeding center on the island of Isabella.

[46]After the Galagapos I literally traveled around the world in October, going from Toronto to Chile, to Thailand to Florida to California. However, I didn’t take many photos as it was all for conferences. I did, however, manage to take this photo one morning in Puerto Varas, Chile.

[47]I didn’t snap a single photo in November or December this year. I made a big changed by moving into an apartment in Minneapolis. Having a base will actually allow me to travel more in 2016 and create more photos for you to enjoy.

2014: A Year In Photography

Posted by on January 2, 2015

2014 was another landmark year for me in terms of travel and photography.

  • In February, I was named the Travel Photographer of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.
  • In April, I was named the Travel Photographer of the Year by the Central States Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers.
  • In April I also took the Gold Medal in the annual Northern Lights Awards by the Canadian Tourism Commission for photojournalism of Canada.
  • In September, I was runner up in the Travel Photographer of the Year competition for the Society of American Travel writers.
  • In September, I also won a Lowell Thomas Award in Photo Illustration of Travel. My 3rd Lowell Thomas Award in as many years.

All-in-all, not a bad year.

Here are some of my favorite photo of 2014. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them! You can also go back view my 2013 and 2012 photography retrospectives.

Photo Essay: Laurence Norah

Posted by on September 20, 2014

Every so often I showcase the work of other travel photographers on my site. Today I’d like to introduce you to Laurence Norah. He has been traveling around the world since 2009 and blogging and photographing his travels since 2010. He is well known for his stunning landscape images which has garnered him a large online following.

I’ve met Laurence several times at conferences in Europe and I’ve always been a fan of his work. He is one of a select group of online travel photographers who have had great success with his work.

Enough of me yammering, here are his photos….

The Many Faces of Uluru

Posted by on June 9, 2014

Uluru is one of the most iconic images of Australia, which is odd because there really is no one image of Uluru. Every angle you look at it is different from the last. Every hour of the day, the color of the rock changes depending on the light. Not only does the look of it change, it doesn’t even have one name! Also known as Ayer’s Rock, Uluru is the traditional aboriginal name and also the name it goes by today.

I had the pleasure of visiting Uluru twice, once in winter 2008 and summer 2013. During my first trip, temperatures dipped below freezing. On my second trip, temperature reached 115F (43.3C). Not even the weather is the same!

This photo essay was very different for me in that it consists of multiple images of a single subject, with images taken five years apart. If you have been to Uluru, your photos probably look totally different from mine. It is a place that I’m always willing to revisit because I know it will always be different.


Visions of Namibia

Posted by on February 28, 2014

I visited Namibia for the first time in November 2013. What I experienced was far beyond my expectations. I found it to be a land of contradictions. It is a place where you can experience daily fog in the desert. Where you may have to wear a coat in the tropics. It has some of the oldest land and human artifacts on Earth, yet it is one of the youngest countries in the world.

It is also a spectacular place for photography. You could almost throw your camera in the air and be guaranteed a great photo.

This collection is the result of a five day trip I took into the Namib Desert and a shorter two day trip to Damaraland to visit the ancient rock carvings of Twyfelfontein. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


2013: A Year in Photography

Posted by on January 2, 2014

2013 was an epic year for me in terms of travel. I took 84 flights and set foot in 44 different countries and territories on 5 different continents. I visited 73 new world heritage sites and probably another 20 which I had visited previously. I didn’t even count the number of miles I traveled by car, train and boat.

Photographically, it was also my best year ever. I won the Gold Medal in the North American Travel Journalism Association for my photo essay of the Canary Islands. I won a Northern Lights Award and a Lowell Thomas Award for my photo essay of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.

The biggest news of the year was being named Photographer of the Year by the Society of American Travel Writers.

I’ve assembled some of my favorite photos taken from 2013. They represent a cross section of all the places I’ve been. I’ve been to so many places this year and took so many photos I easily could have doubled the size of this without hurting the quality.

I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them!


Photo Essay: The Southern Coast of Labrador

Posted by on December 30, 2013

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is politically one region, but in reality is two distinct places. 95% of the visitors to the province only visit the island of Newfoundland. Most people never bother to take the 15km trek across the Strait of Belle Isle to visit the other half of the province. Earlier in 2013 I had the pleasure of visiting the southern coast of Labrador, which is perhaps the most accessible part of Labrador. The purpose of my trip was to visit Canada’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station, but I discovered much more.


On the Trail of the Yukon Quest

Posted by on November 19, 2013

2013 Yukon QuestIn February 2013 I was invited to be part of the media pool which covered the Yukon Quest sled dog race which starts in Whitehose, Yukon and finishes in Fairbanks, Alaska by way of Dawson City. I knew next to nothing about dog sledding before my visit, but left fascinated by this little known sport. I also got to try my hand at driving a sled dog team and it was one of the enjoyable things I’ve done in all my travels.

Photographing the dogs and the mushers was a pleasure and I developed a respect for the men, women and canines which compete in this extreme sport.

The 2014 Yukon Quest starts February 1 in Fairbanks, Alaska.