Truckin’ On A Tundra Buggy; Photographing Polar Bears Near The Arctic Circle Page 2

Here's a tip passed on to me by my friend and famed nature photographer Darrell Gulin: "You mostly want to shoot with long lenses so you (and your camera) are not looking down on the bears from the height of the Buggy windows. That technique will make your pictures look more natural, because you will be shooting eye-to-eye with the bears."

Almost daily, a curious polar bear would approach the Buggies and stand on its hind legs to get a better view of the photographers.

In these extremely cold conditions, I used my SanDisk Extreme III 4GB cards, because these CompactFlash cards are designed for shooting in the extreme cold and because I shoot only raw files, which take a considerable amount of space on a memory card. For all my photographs, I set my exposure compensation at +1, which gave me an accurate exposure in the white-snow conditions.

By the way, a raw file contains a lot more information than a JPEG file. When you shoot a JPEG, 1/3 or more of the information is tossed away, usually in the highlight areas--which is something that you don't want to lose, especially when photographing a white subject (polar bears) against a white background (snow or ice).

Each night during "happy hour" in the Tundra Buggy's lounge, I downloaded my files to my PowerBook G4 and checked them out with Adobe's Bridge (like a digital light table for viewing and managing files). After that I transferred the files to folders (Bears, Scenery, Buggy, Other Wildlife) on my LaCie 80GB portable hard drive--always keeping two copies of each of the files on two different drives.

Dramatic sunsets provided special and memorable photo opportunities for the photographers on the trek--memories that will last a lifetime.

After the first two days of shooting, the towed Lodge/Buggies made the 33-mile, six-hour arduous and bumpy trip from Churchill to Cape Churchill, which in itself is an amazing sight to see and experience--the entire five-vehicle Lodge is disassembled, moved, and then reassembled in sub-freezing conditions. Guards stand by with shotguns to deter curious (and hungry) polar bears.

Upon arriving in Cape Churchill, we were greeted with a "whiteout," a blizzard that reduced visibility to about 100 ft with "the strongest winds I have ever seen," Frontiers North Adventures owner Merv Gunter said. That day and the next day were a total washout, as far as photographing polar bears was concerned. However, frozen landscapes and seascapes of "the cape" were
awe-inspiring, and our group was more than pleased with the unexpected photographic opportunities.

The last two days of the adventure turned out to be the most rewarding. Our group photographed a total of 21 polar bears sparing, posing, approaching our Buggy, and lumbering across the backlit ice at sunset, which took place about 3:30pm.
Summing up my Tundra Buggy experience, I'd say it was one of my all-time greatest adventures--resulting in some of my most rewarding wildlife photographs to date. In fact, the last two hours of the last days themselves made the trip totally the point where I had tears in my eyes knowing that I had experienced something that few photographers get to experience.

When framing a shot, try to capture some animal behavior. It's often more interesting than a nice portrait.

If You Go
Considering a Tundra Buggy experience? Here are a few tips for your adventure:
· Be prepared for up-close-and-personal experiences with polar bears.
· Bring your iPod. There is little privacy on the Buggies; all that separates you from the 19 other guests in your sleeping Buggy is a touch-fastener curtain.
· Dress in layers. Even though the shooting Buggies are heated, they get very cold when the wind is blowing and the windows are open. More than likely, you'll be wearing your hat, coat, and gloves for most of the day when you are out shooting. To help keep you warm, hot coffee, tea, and snacks are served during morning and afternoon breaks. Lunch, sometimes hot, is also served when you are out and about on the tundra.
· Pack hand and feet warmers (available at camping and skiing stores). Keeping your fingers and toes warm is one of the major challenges when out looking for polar bears for several hours. Also use the hand warmers to keep your batteries warm in your pocket (to preserve power).
· Be patient. Sometimes you'll go for hours without seeing a polar bear.
· Be prepared for one of the greatest photographic adventures of your life. Just remember to take a break from picture taking to enjoy the close encounters with the magnificent polar bears.

For more information on a Tundra Buggy adventure, visit

For more travel and nature photography tips and techniques, check out Rick Sammon's books and interactive DVDs at:


ShutterFan's picture

they are so cute

ShutterFan's picture

they are so cute