It was a huge thrill to be announced the winner of the Polar Category of the Frank Hurley Photography Awards in Hobart last Friday. All of the finalists are on display in TMAG (the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery. If you’re in Hobart, please pop down to TMAG to support TMAG and the exhibition and purchase a ticket to give yourself a chance to win a trip to Antarctica with Chimu Adventures. Proceeds go to the Mawson’s Huts Foundation.

My winning image titled “Ursus Maritimus” was taken north of Svalbard in 2016. It was a foggy moody day in the high arctic. Decaying ice, a mosaic stretching to the horizon and beyond to the north pole less than 500 nautical miles away. The young bear inquisitive, approached, and circled our ship.

When I started out in wildlife photography my first instinct was to get the big lens out and fill the frame with faces and fur. I learned close-ups can be beautiful but they rarely tell the story of an animal in its environment. By the time I encountered this bear I had the benefit of experience. I knew with the beautifully patterned and decaying ice that this presented an excellent opportunity to tell a story about the bear and the very real challenges bears face with receding ice. I opted for the wide-angled lens and started taking shots of the bear standing alone in the vast remote icy wilderness.

Sometimes you cannot engineer the magic. Sometimes it just happens. On this occasion it happened and I was ready. I still recall vividly watching the bear rise onto its hind legs and sniff the wind. I remember trembling and firing rapidly to get a few different compositions. The moment lasted a few long seconds that will be forever etched in my memory, one of there best polar bear encounters of my life and an image that tells a story.

The cherry on top is the association with one of my favourite photographers, the extraordinary Frank Hurley. Hurley ‘s images from Shackelton’s Endurance expedition are some of the finest images I’ve seen. If you care to learn more about Hurley’s work you will find plenty online. You can read more about Hurley by picking up a copy of a book by my friend Alasdair McGregor titled “Frank Hurley, a Photographer’s Life.”

For good measure here is another image taken from the 2016 Svalbard season. I call this one Fulmar Fogbow. A Northern Fulmar had been circling the ship at very close quarters. We were also experiencing a bright fogbow so I positioned myself to try and capture both at once. The Fulmar banked perfectly just metres above the bridge wing and again I had my wide angle lens ready to capture the moment. I’m equally proud of this shot as I was able to plan and react quickly to another short-lived but special moment.

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