Cowichan rig carries photog to chilling images

National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen shows off some of the images he has captured in the arctic. - Andrew Leong
National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen shows off some of the images he has captured in the arctic.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

A little piece of Cowichan is helping National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen in his close encounters of the arctic kind.

The polar picture-taker recently left the valley in a Northern Light — a fully-loaded, 10-foot Canadian-made camper that’ll house him during the coming months in the Yukon.

The hefty purchase at CountrySide RV was eased with help from owner Doug Allan.

“Doug gave me a camper on wholesale,” said Nicklen. “He believes in the project and he got really excited and wanted to help out.”

That project is a story for National Geographic, although Nicklen — no relation to fellow photographer, and friend, Flip Nicklin — couldn’t give specifics on the article because of his contract.

“I’ll be in very remote areas where it would be hard to pitch up a wet tent every night,” hinted Nicklen, “and of course I’ve got all my camera gear.”

That gear is worth about $150,000.

“So you don’t want to be sticking it in a pup-tent,” Nicklen reasoned.

Anyone familiar with Nicklen’s impressive images will know he’s captured everything from polar bears and penguins to leopard seals and salmon.

But more important to Nicklen is the message behind the mammals (and other creatures).

“I get much more excited about the issues,” he said. “I’m excited by stories, rather than individual subjects and close encounters with the animals I’m trying to protect.”

Climate change is no friend of Nicklen’s, but rather than shoot the melting ice, he’ll shoot the polar bear on the melting ice.

“Every since I was four years old I’ve been passionate about the arctic,” Nicklen said. “I grew up in a small Inuit community and I’ve cared about it ever since.”

Ambitions to study biology were shelved in favour of photography.

“It’s good science, but I found myself more effective by being a photographer who bridges the gap between good scientific research and the public.”

Eleven years of shooting for National Geographic has produced 11 stories for the magazine, with Nicklen usually spending several months in the arctic — in addition to doing lecture tours, writing books and completing other projects.

His current Yukon trip will see a typical hurry-up-and-wait approach.

“It’s one of these stories where you sit for long periods of time to get just a few images,” said Nicklen.

He said anyone who wants to try wildlife photography has to do the same.

“You need patience and passion — those are the two key ingredients to make it,” he said.

You also need to realize photographers aren’t rich, they buy all their own gear, and expect just 14 of 50,000 images to actually be published.

“Wildlife photography has about a 95 per cent failure rate,” Nicklen added, “so you need persistence and patience and passion to push through those slow times.”

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