Blacker Than Black

Ice?  Scree?  Rock?  Black hills interupt the glacial white in St Johnsfjorden / Prins Karls Forland in Svalbard

I love photographs that you don’t understand immediately. Ice? Scree? Rock? Where are we? St Johnsfjorden / Prins Karls Forland in Svalbard. So what? Deception Island in Antarctica looks a dull grey but is ice govered in dust. This is a rock, isn’t it? Fully? That’s the nice thing about ambiguity… it makes you want to get off the boat and *know* what it is, with your boots whacking the floor and textures giving way.

The wisps of gorgeous orange light I like, but it’s the wisps of dark that fascinate me.

Sunset in the Arctic

An Arctic sunset made abstract, blurring parts of the cloud layer and sea by panning the camera on a tripod with a slow exposure (0.6s)

I was thinking the other day about what my favourite place *to* be would be, as compared to places that I *have* been. The two are obviously conflated, but though I have seem many magical things with wildlife, most often by change, when thinking of places when I’d just like to be there and see what happens I can only think of being on the bow of a ship in the Arctic at sunrise or sunset. This is sunset, made abstract, blurring parts of the cloud layer and sea by panning the camera horizontally on a tripod with a slow exposure (0.6s).

It may be abstract but to me it signifies travel, change, movement. From A to B, dissolution, fade. On a boat these are times of controlled peace. In the morning, perhaps 4 or 5am, you rise and gradually piece your polar layers around your body, velcro sticking together, thermal underwear straps wrapping around itself, gloves mysteriously missing, and bring your camera gear together – a far harder task. (“should I take a 10 stop ND filter out when there is no sun?”)

To deck, and collect a hot coffee en route, and then haul open the heavy sea doors, a biting cold and the fresh salty air, a single breath invigorating your entire being.

Hopefully, there are a few of you around. This is one of the times of day when I welcome fellow passengers – if they have been through the above, they understand why it’s worth it and the peace that descends. Conversations are sparse, a nod of the head, and we space out around the desk, almost ensuring your field of view is without human influence, perhaps hanging over the edge a little to soak it in.

At night on a ship, dinner is convivial and excitable and all about the evening – the sun has ‘gone’, so it’s time to look inward. Yet we know that you miss so much if you put the shutters down. You don’t feel the last wisps of heat from our star as they bounce around the earth, tingeing the clouds and stroking the sea. These are rare, rare moments, dramatic only when you are there, watching, seeing, and feeling. Dinner can wait.

Love, Fear, Confusion

Leaving the group behind, I took the path less travelled and embraced an opportunity to explore the rocky hillsides of Blomsterbukten in Greenland. I literally stumbled upon this couple of Arctic Hares. Immediately alerted to my presence, yet not familiar with human presence, they froze in anticipation. I immediately sunk to my knees and waited....and waited. With time they became more habituated to my presence and started to interact with each other once more. I sought this opportunity to frame what appears to be a stolen moment for this couple of hares.

Two Arctic hares on the rocky hillside overlooking Blomsterbukten, eastern Greenland. This shot is important to me because of what happened before, and illustrates why wildlife photographers need to understand nature perhaps more than they need to understand photography.

Arriving on the coast via Zodiac, we split into rough groups and walked up a shallow valley to reach the lake over the hill. One small group caught a glimpse of something white on the valley slope – it was September, so the Greenland coast was free of snow. A hare! In glorious white, quietly watching the scene.

Most people know hares and rabbits are very skittish and will disappear in a flash, so we slowly got prepared to set up a photograph, no sudden movements, taking time to be quiet and unobtrusive. Except for one fellow traveller. Zoom lens up, he walked directly toward the hare, perhaps unaware of his pace as he tried to grab the shot. People who are familiar working with animals may empathise when I say I could ‘feel’ the danger zone around the hare, the circumference line where it would bolt if anything crossed into its territory. I winced as I saw the photographer cross over my invisible line, and bang – the hare was up and over the crest of the hill, out of sight.

The group shrugged and walked on while I bristled at the lack of respect for the residents of this region, a place where we were visitors, guests. This, though, became my mission. I splintered off from the group and circled round to the other side of the hill, ascending slowly and always keeping eyes peeled. When you do this you become aware of the time elapsed, and start to feel downtrodden as the slow travel just adds minutes and metres to the hare’s escape.

As I peeped over the hill, I froze. Barely 10 metres in front me, TWO HARES! A blessing, a reward. I unfolded my tripod very slowly (for video stabilisation rather than stills) and settled down. The three of us sat quietly on the hillside overlooking the majestic Greenland scenery for a good 25 minutes – they played, cleaned, chewed, and as here, gazed into each other’s eyes, before bouncing off around the corner. I didn’t follow them – this is their place.

I descended back the way I’d came and walked round to join the group – no animal sightings for them, and it turns out Marie was having a wild time taking landscape shots while unconsciously sinking slowly into a sticky, muddy bog. I was pleased – I think I took the right path, but it was a mental path, not just a physical one. Approaching your wildlife photography with respect, caution, and patience is rewarding in the images you can create, and in the lift it gives your soul. Those 25 minutes are very special to me not because of the photos, but because the hares allowed me into their home.

Malfunctioning iceberg

A abstract of the weird, alien iceberg landed off Renbugten in Greenland

We saw many beautiful icebergs in Greenland, hundreds of them. Immense in size, colour and shape, they dotted the landscape like sheep dot English hillsides. Whilst I loved the majestic nature of the large smooth icebergs, I was also drawn to those which were less characteristically beautiful – like this one above.

This iceberg was sitting just off the shore line in very shallow water. We took the opportunity to sail around the berg to inspect it further. Age old blue ice mingled with clear newly formed ice and black debris. The jagged nature of the iceberg was courtesy of the motion of the waves – it’s likely that the iceberg would have twisted and rolled in the waters, each time exposing new ice to the skies and seas, thus continually reshaping and reforming the berg.

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For more images of icebergs please visit the Taraji Blue Arctic photo gallery.

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The Lone Iceberg

An ice cube hangs the ocean near Ny-Ålesund.

A lone iceberg floats in the calm of a Norwegian Fiord. This image was taken during our Arctic Expedition on the MS Expedition in 2010. We spent a glorious 10 nights exploring the fiords and seas of Svalbard, Spitsbergen and Greenland. We encountered many huge icebergs, but this wee one caught my eye. It’s stark contrast and clarity against the blue waters diverted my attention from the stunning scenery we were sailing though. It’s stillness coveys the silence of the Arctic and the remote and rugged beauty of the polar regions. We really must do everything we can to protect the Arctic.

Do your bit – email Obama and help protect the Arctic

Shell has abandoned its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska in 2013.

It’s big news. But just the start of something bigger. Now it’s time for President Obama to abandon the idea of Arctic drilling completely and declare the Arctic ‘off limits’ to industrial exploitation, forever.

Shell was supposed to be the best of the best, but the long list of mishaps and near-disasters from the company’s failed attempt to drill in the Arctic last summer is a clear indication even the ‘best’ companies can’t succeed in Arctic drilling.

President Obama and his administration gave Arctic drilling a chance and Shell proved that it isn’t possible. It’s time we kick our addiction to fossil fuels and deal with global warming decisively. That starts today and it starts with leadership from President Obama.

Do your bit and sign the Greenpeace petition today.