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February 27th, 2013

Celebrating International Polar Bear Day With a Look at Conservation Photography

Today the conservation organization Polar Bears International is celebrating International Polar Bear Day, a day of action and awareness that encourages people to think about their carbon footprint and the steps they can take to reduce their impact on climate change and the loss of arctic ice.

In honor of International Polar Bear Day we thought we’d highlight the work of a pair of photographers we’ve had the opportunity to interview in recent years: Paul Nicklen and Florian Schulz. Each of them has photographed polar bears and other arctic animals, and they are leading voices in the effort to conserve arctic ecosystems.

Below is our 2009 interview with Paul Nicklen about his book Polar Obsession. When we published the interview in 2009, we also featured a handful of his photographs from the book on our “PDN Photo of the Day” blog, which you can check out here. Since we published it, it’s become one of the most popular and shared posts ever on “PDN Photo of the Day.”

More recently we spoke with German photographer Florian Schulz about his book To the Arctic, about photographing in some of the remotest places on earth, and about working as a conservation photographer.

Happy International Polar Bear Day!

A Pretty Picture Isn’t Enough: An Interview with Paul Nicklen

This interview first appeared on PDNOnline on November 20, 2009.

After beginning his career as a biologist, Paul Nicklen quit his job for the Canadian government and dedicated himself to wildlife photography. Nicklen grew up in the only non-Inuit family in a small Inuit community on Baffin Island, in the remote Nunavut territory in northern Canada. There he developed an appreciation for and knowledge of the arctic that fed his photographic work.

In 1994, while struggling to make money as a young photographer, Nicklen wrote a proposal to the Nunavut territorial government asking for funding to begin a book project documenting wildlife in the arctic and Antarctica. The government cut him a check for $8,000.

For the next 15 years, first as a freelancer and then as a National Geographic photographer, Nicklen worked to document nearly every species of wildlife in the polar regions, while never losing sight of that first proposal. “When I’m mentoring young photographers, I tell them to think of some major project all their stories can fall under, so you can have an identity some day, and do a book and all that,” Nicklen says. National Geographic Focal Point recently released Nicklen’s book, aptly titled Polar Obsession. It’s the realization of a decade and a half making pictures in some of the harshest and most remote regions of the world.

But as Paul Nicklen told PDN, beautiful pictures aren’t enough to capture the attention of audiences during this critical time for polar ecosystems.

PDN: What do you hope the book conveys to readers?

Paul Nicklen: Being a biologist for so many years and working so hard to collect data, I felt so helpless with these data sets that we worked so hard to bring back to the government. We were really slow at sharing the data and having other scientists share their data with us. Eventually, [after establishing a photography career] I did some scientific stories for Geographic, and then one day I did an article that was more of an emotional plea to the readers of Geographic. I actually thought it was going to bomb. I was very surprised that it was ranked as the number one story in Geographic that year through their readership survey, and it was ranked as the highest [readership survey] score in the last 17 years at National Geographic, so that gave me the confidence that I had found a formula of reaching out to people.

What the book does and what the article did is just to let people know how connected the animals and species are to an icy polar existence. I had a very respected scientist say to me: If we lose ice, we lose an ecosystem. Ice is like the soil in the ground. One piece of multiyear ice has 300 species of microorganisms in it. When the sun returns to the arctic in the spring, you get the big phytoplankton blooms under the ice, all this algae growing, you get the copepods and amphipods feeding on that, which makes up the biggest biomass in the arctic ecosystem. You’ve got the arctic cod feeding on that, you’ve got the seals feeding on the cod, you’ve got the whales feeding on the cod, and then you’ve got of course the polar bears feeding on the seals. This chain all the way through is tied to the ice.

When there’s a bad ice year, those copepods and amphipods are severely affected. The original projections were that the arctic was going to be ice-free by 2100. Now they say the arctic is going to be completely free of ice in the next 7-15 years, and so the projections have been off, its accelerating at a much faster rate than we ever thought. Were all getting caught off guard by how quickly its disappearing.

PDN: When you began this work, were you at all aware of these concerns?

PN: No, not at all. When I first started in photography in 1994, that was around the time that game farms really broke onto the market and you could go photograph snow leopards and rent a wolverine and a black bear and grizzly all in one day for $500. Because of my science background and my biology training and my passion for the polar regions, I thought, The more people that [go to game farms], the better, the more I need to go up and shoot the habitat and show the interconnectivity between the species and the ice. So I gambled and it paid off. I shot hard for those 7 years. Then 2002 rolls around and thats when we started to get the first cries that things were changing in the arctic. I went on some scientific trips, and then by 2004 people were saying were in serious trouble. I felt lucky to already have a really big body of work at that point. Ive photographed every species in the arctic and most of the species in Antarctica now. So I was lucky to be on top of it.

PDN: Once that information started to come to light, did it change your work or your goals, or what you did with your photographs?

PN: Yes and no. I started out in photography as a pretty picture photographer. I just wanted to shoot beautiful pictures of beautiful creatures sitting in the polar regions. But that left me feeling really empty in my work. Then luckily I met [wildlife photographers] Flip Nicklin and Joel Sartore and they both mentored me, and really taught me the power of telling a story. I realized you don’t need a lot of different pictures, you can still have the candy, and then you just need a few pictures of ice and copepods to show people how its all tied together. I don’t need hundreds of pictures of people taking ice core samples. One quote from a scientist will cover all of that type of photography. So I’m again coming from the angle of celebrating the life in the arctic and saying this is what we stand to lose unless we change our ways.

PDN: Are you making more of an effort now to find ways to do be an advocate for climate change issues?

PN: I allow [all the scientists that I work with] to use my photography at no charge. The best scientists I’ve worked with were the worst communicators, by far. My goal is to bridge the gap between good scientific research and the public. These scientists are out there speaking and showing all these really bad pictures, they’re showing PowerPoint presentations of these pie charts and I think that people are glazing over. So I’m like, Why don’t you insert a few pictures to keep them entertained and then hit them with the pie charts and the graphs?

I speak as much as possible. It’s a decent way to make a living and its also really getting the message out there. I spoke to Dow Chemicals; I spoke to a bunch of ad agencies, to Microsoft and Apple; I spoke to Frito-Lay, PepsiCo. At the end of the Frito-Lay talk I got a standing ovation, and the CEO got up and said, “I’m buying 1000 copies of your book and giving it to all upper management in my company.” You just start to get the message out there any way you can.

PDN: Do you have an agent for your speaking engagements or does National Geographic set them up?

PN: I’m with the speakers bureau here at Geographic and I book my own gig the odd time. I like it because on the [Geographic speaker] Web page it talks about photographers with environmental messages, and I don’t shy away from that. I’m not trying to do these high-paying motivational speeches, I’m coming in with a message and if people don’t want to hear it they wont enjoy my talk. I had one complaint yesterday with someone saying my talk was entertaining but it was just a little too environmental. And it wasn’t even that environmental, but people just don’t want to hear it. People are busy; they’ve got their kids, their spouses, their Blackberries and cell phones going off, and its just one more thing to have to worry about.

PDN: How have the downturns in the economy and the magazine market affected what you do?

PN: It hasn’t affected me financially, maybe because I’m shooting global warming issues and polar regions. I think I’ve had my best stock year ever. But what has really hurt what I’m doing and what message were trying to get out there, is as soon as the economy tanks, climate change drops way down the list. Almost all the decisions people make are financially based [in a bad economy]. So I feel that my message is falling more on deaf ears.

PDN: How has photographic technology influenced your work?

PN: It’s just huge. I was on a story in 2004 for Geographic diving in the fastest ocean currents in the world, really technical diving, and to go down with multiple film housings and multiple strobes—when you shoot underwater strobes you have to shoot manual exposure, TTL just does not work underwater—and my project wasn’t going well. I talked to Kathy Moran, my editor, and she said, I can see you’re trying, it looks really difficult, but you’re not getting it, you’re just missing it. Right then I went and bought two brand new, expensive [Canon] EOS 1D film cameras, and I thought I’ll just buy a digital [Canon] 1D Mark II just to have on the side so I can start dabbling. Well those film bodies never came out of their boxes. I paid $3000 each and I sold them on eBay for $200 each and I’ve never looked back. That was in 2004. Now I can put a camera in my housing, put in a 16MB card that will shoot 500 frames. I’ve got [the equivalent of] 15 rolls of film underwater without having to go back up and change film, and I can instantly see what my lights are doing, I can instantly check my histogram.

When I did the leopard seal story [published in the book], all of a sudden I’m having an encounter with this animal that’s feeding me penguins, it’s the most magical encounter I’ve ever had with an animal, and if I had film I would have shot 35 frames, I would have lost most of those to bad exposure or other things, and I would have turned my back on that animal and ended that encounter. Swim away from an animal like that, you end the encounter. So here I am, I was able to shoot 15 “rolls” on my first dive with a leopard seal and I ended up shooting that entire assignment in four days. Normally an assignment is 12 weeks. So that’s what digital has done for me. And in the underwater world its very dark, and now I can switch to 1000 ISO. On one of my assignments [I was hand-holding], doing ten second exposures at night underwater and just sitting on the bottom. I never would have considered doing anything like that with film.

PDN: What advice would you give to young people who are interested in photographing wildlife as a career?

PN: I would tell them to get really used to the idea of rejection. Start off high. Shoot something you are really proud of. Send it to someone where you want it [published]. When they send you a rejection letter, send it to three more people who are next on the ladder, and if you get rejections from them send it to 90 more people, until someone picks it up.

People get so emotional in this business and they get the first rejection letter and the negative thoughts start to run through their heads. It takes a lot of patience, because no one else is going to believe in you until you build up that portfolio. You have to keep hammering away.

Don’t quit your day job until you have all of the equipment that you need and enough money to travel. I quit my government job, announced to the world that I was a professional photographer and I had saved 60 thousand dollars. Within one year of running my business I was flat broke and had not sold a picture. It took me three years before I was breaking even in my business, six years before I was making a profit, and then I got lucky to get into the Geographic system. Know that its going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, by far.

PDN: Has the majority of your work been self-assigned or have you done it on assignment?

PN: The first six years of my career were freelance, just shooting all my own personal stock, trying to get noticed by National Geographic. I did a bunch of stories for Canadian Geographic and Equinox and other magazines, but I wanted the big yellow monster. In 2001 I got my first assignment with Geographic and then they assigned the next two after that, and then the last eight have been my proposals.

PDN: How many projects are you able to do in a year?

PN: I’ve been shooting for [National Geographic] for eight years and I’ve shot 11 projects, so 1.3, I would say. And that’s pretty busy. You’re not [spending] a lot of time in the field but you have a lot of research time, you’re doing lectures, you’re editing, you’re at home buying and fixing gear trying to get ready for the trips.

PDN: Are there other organizations that you work for, or do your Geographic assignments eat up all of your time?

PN: I just did an assignment not too long ago for New York Times Magazine. That’s about it, and that was a real push for me, I had to squeeze them in one week between Geographic lectures and traveling. I’m really a bit of a recluse. When I’m not shooting I like to put my camera away, I like to hide it. You need down time and my dream is to fly my airplane. I bought an airplane five years ago and it sat in my driveway for those five years and I finally got to fly it this summer.

I’m also associated with the International League of Conservation Photographers. I do work with them, lecture with them and go on their RAVES, (Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions), so I go try and help their cause as well. I’m busier than I want to be, but the snowball started to roll on its own and I cant run from it at this stage. If I’m tired and exhausted and working hard, that’s it, you’ve got to keep going.

September 28th, 2012

On Sustainable Business Models, and Comparing Apples to Oranges

The American Society of Media Photographers’ program, “Sustainable Business Models: Issues & Trends Facing Visual Artists,” held September 27 in New York City, can be viewed online via ASMP’s video library. Speakers and panelists provided useful context and insights into the current marketplace for photography, as well as thoughts on how professional freelancers might adapt their marketing and licensing in today’s economy. A warning, however: Along with provocative insights, the afternoon panel also included the predictable, banal observation that photojournalists have no role to play now that “everyone has a cellphone,” and statistics on how many images are uploaded to Facebook or Instagram each day or each hour or each minute. If you’re like me, you find these comments irritating. Because the first comment is untrue, and the second is irrelevant to any discussion of the professional photography business.

Yes, news editors trolled Instagram to get images of the aftermath of the Empire State Building shooting, but those image sales had no impact on the market for photos by professional news photographers: If amateur cellphone users hadn’t been on the scene, we simply wouldn’t have had any images of the carnage. Yes, a zillion snapshots of cats, babies and plates of food are shared on social media every day. What bearing does that have on what a professional photographer offers to clients or their audience? (more…)

March 1st, 2012

Photo Editor Explains How Vintage Photos Lead the New York Times Onto Tumblr

Earlier this week The New York Times made its first foray onto Tumblr with The Lively Morgue, which showcases vintage photographs from the newspaper’s print archive, which is known as “the morgue” for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, according to the Times.

“[Launching a Tumblr blog] made sense for a lot of reasons,” says deputy photo editor Meaghan Looram, who was one of several Times staffers who worked on the project. “Obviously Tumblr is a super visual platform and on top of that, from what I understand, vintage photography is really popular on Tumblr.”

In addition to showing the scans of vintage photographic prints, The Lively Morgue’s custom design also allows viewers to inspect the backs of the prints, where they can see editors’ markings, original captions and other information about the images, and the way the newsroom trafficked and filed them.

“For someone that’s not interested in that level of detail they can appreciate the fronts of the images,” Looram notes, “but I think [showing the backs of the prints] gives the project a really nice level of sophistication and added value. And for people that are interested in photo archiving or photo history or the history of the paper, I think it’s just a really interesting level of detail.”

Through its first few days, the Times‘ Tumblr has featured photographs from the 1930s, 50s, 60s and 70s, ranging in subject matter from sports to fashion to crime. As of Wednesday night, the blog already had roughly 10,000 followers, Looram says. Several of the images had hundreds of notes and reblogs.

Looram notes there is some concern over the amount of control the Times is relinquishing, because Tumblr allows for rapid sharing and dissemination of content. To encourage people who like the images they see on Tumblr to buy prints, The Lively Morgue features a link to a Times store where prints can be ordered. “In a lot of cases these are prints that you can buy through our store, so we’re hoping that people will do that,” Looram explains. “But I think that that’s something that we have to be concerned about even with images on our Web site.”

Though The Lively Morgue links to a print store, Looram says the project was “primarily motivated by an interest in editorially getting these images seen, and also finding an appropriate foray for us into Tumblr.”

The project, which was based on a series of posts picture editor Darcy Eveleigh created on the Times‘ photojournalism blog, Lens, originated with Heena Koh, a member of the Times’ digital design team, and Alexis Mainland, the social media editor. Looram says everyone working on it is doing it “in addition to their own duties” because they are excited about the platform and the opportunity to share the archive.

The social media success of the Lens blog, and of the Times‘ photography in general, also generated energy, Looram says. “I think we’re very encouraged by the popularity of the Lens blog and the amount of sharing in social networks about our photography and photography that we’re highlighting, so that’s definitely encouraging to us and probably was a good indicator for the level of interest we would see in a project like The Lively Morgue.”

February 29th, 2012

Apple Apps Have Access To Your Private Photos, Report Says

The New York Times‘ Bits blog published a report today suggesting that companies that make apps for Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch may have access to the photographs and videos you store on your devices.

When apps ask permission to access a user’s location information and the user grants it, the app “can copy the user’s entire photo library,” the Times reports.

Pros who use their iPhones to make images for business or pleasure should consider pressing “don’t allow” the next time an app asks to use your location data.

February 8th, 2012

In Syria, Photojournalist Bears Witness to Violence

photojournalist Alessio Romenzi in Homs, Syria

© Time/Photo by Alessio Romenzi

With Syria strictly limiting access to foreign press, most foreign journalists trying to report on the uprising in Homs, Syria, have had to remain in nearby Lebanon while relaying reports from locals on the scene.  Italian photojournalist Alessio Romenzi, however, has managed to move through the besieged city. More than two dozen of his images of civilian casualties, women and children taking shelter during shelling, and fighting between the army of the Assad government and the rebel Free Syrian Army were posted today on Time’s Lightbox. Patrick Witty, Time‘s International Picture Editor, edited the pictures.

Romenzi, whose previous work from the Middle East and elsewhere has been published in Time, The New York Times, Washington Post, Le Monde and other publications, has been in Al Qsair and Homs, Syria, since late January. Previous posts to his PhotoShelter page include his images of Syrian journalists as they have tried to file reports on the fighting.

On assignment for Time, he has moved among fighters in the Free Syrian Army and at one point he took shelter from the shelling in the basement of a home in the southern Homs neighborhood of Bab Amr, according to a report on Lightbox. He reported seeing 25 civilian casualties in two hours of shelling. In an email to Time he wrote, “The word ‘safe’ is not in our dictionary these days.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported on February 8 that Syrian journalist Mazhar Tayyara, a stringer for AFP and other news organizations, was killed in Homs on February 4, when the Syrian government shelled the neighborhood he was reporting from.  “The Syrian conflict is growing increasingly dangerous for all kinds of journalists, from citizens who have taken the role of documenting unrest in the country to international journalists who report from the frontlines,” says the CPJ.

January 11th, 2012

On Marrying a Photographer: Alec Soth, Martin Parr, Zoe Strauss, Spouses Weigh In

On Alec Soth’s blog, Little Brown Mushroom, the Magnum photographer has responded to a reader whose partner is a photographer, and wants advice about planning a future life together, “marriage and babies included.” His post has inspired loads of comments (51 so far) from photographers and people married to photographers.

Martin Parr, who has been married for 35 years to a woman “who is bored with being Mrs. Martin Parr,” cites the challenge of constant travel. Zoe Strauss says if it weren’t for the support of her wife, “I doubt I’d be a photographer.”  Rachel Cartee Soth, wife of Alec Soth, notes that when you live with an artist, things can be fantastic when “the creative juju is flowing,” and not so great when the juju is blocked.  She also warns, “It’s easy to lose yourself, especially when your partner is successful.” Photographers Rebecca Norris Webb and Alex Webb are thoughtful and candid about the problems and rewards of life in a two-photographer household.

Having met lots of photographers struggling with the demands of family and a freelance career, I was touched by photographer Paul Shambroom’s comment about what sacrifices have to be made when both partners are “accomplished and busy”: “Many of us (some posting here) could probably also be wealthier, but we made career adjustments in order to have functional marriages and try to be good parents.”

Take a look:

December 27th, 2011

Is Rihanna Risking Another Copyright Fight?

Two months after she settled a copyright suit brought by photographer David LaChapelle, pop singer Rihanna once again has the blogosphere in an uproar. Recently, a LiveJournal blog posted screenshots from her new video, “You Da One,” alongside images by photographer Sølve Sundsbø. The scenes from the video show Rihanna in a bowl-cut wig wearing what appears to be a nude bodysuit with the shadows of various shapes projected on to her body. The shots are remarkably similar to editorial work Sundsbø has done, which Fashionista reported appeared in a 2008 issue of Numero magazine. Neither Rihanna nor Sundsbø, who is represented by Art+Commerce, have released statements regarding these latest accusations.

Earlier this year, Rihanna was sued by LaChapelle for copyright infringement, who claimed scenes from her video “S&M” borrowed heavily from various sadomasochistic images he’s made. The two reached an out-of-court settlement agreement, the terms of which were not disclosed.

Related articles:

Rihanna Settles Lawsuit with David LaChapelle

David LaChapelle Sues Rihanna for Infringement

November 30th, 2011

National Geographic Photographers Launch “Photo Society” Web Site

The Photographer’s Advisory Board for National Geographic magazine has launched a new Web site to showcase the work of National Geographic photographers. Membership in the group, dubbed “The Photo Society,” is limited to photographers who’ve published at least one feature story in the magazine.

The purpose of the group and their Web site is to promote the work of the photographers, and to inform the public about their work. It also appears the site is meant to help would-be (or wannabe) National Geographic photographers understand what it takes to work for the magazine.

“Explaining the diversity and composition of this group is the easiest way to answer the question, ‘How do I become a National Geographic photographer?'” writes photographer Randy Olson on the site. “‘It is not easy or glamorous,” he explains, “And this is not where you begin your career. You are competing with world-class documentary photographers and within that genre there are men and women who are the absolute best at their specialty.’”

Check out The Photo Society site here:

October 28th, 2011

PPE Panel: Photogs Ignore Online Pub Opportunities at Their Own Peril

During a seminar titled “The New World of Online Magazines and Curator Web Sites” this afternoon at PDN PhotoPlus Expo, photographer Sophia Wallace posed a question to photographers who’ve been hesitant to harness the full power of the internet for fear that their work might be stolen: Should you be more afraid of image theft, or of working in obscurity?

This rather direct question, which had resonated with Wallace after she heard it at another talk recently, gets to the heart of the decision that photographers must make in today’s market. You can embrace online publishing on blogs, online magazines, Tumblr pages and the myriad other platforms on which people are looking at imagery these days, or you can keep your work to yourself.

Suffice it to say that nobody in the audience was interested in the latter option. But in case they were, Wallace and fellow photographer Manjari Sharma shared stories about their own experiences that made a strong case for diving headlong into promoting one’s work online.

By getting their work featured by online platforms, such as those run by moderator Stella Kramer (StellaZine) and panelists Julie Grahame (aCurator) and Michael Itkoff (Daylight), each of the photographers had built momentum for bodies of work that eventually led to concrete achievements like exhibitions, advertising commissions and essential project funding.

After having her work circulate one image at a time across various online publications (and in a couple of print magazines), Wallace received what she termed “the email she’d been waiting for.” It was from a curator asking if she would show her work in a three-person show at Colgate University’s Clifford Gallery with photographers Catherine Opie and Jo Ann Santangelo. During her presentation Wallace also showed how, through Google analytics, she could track who was looking at her site and where they came from. It was amazing, she said, to realize that people all over the world were looking at her photographs.

Sharma showed two projects that she’d promoted online. A series of portraits of people taken in the shower in her Brooklyn apartment was discovered by art directors at the ad agency JWT in Delhi, which lead to a commission to replicate that work for ads for a German maker of shower heads that was expanding their business in India. Sharma’s photographs appeared on billboards in 23 cities, she said.

After she created a well-produced Kickstarter video to raise funds for her project Darshan, several photo blogs and other online publications wrote about the work. She ended up raising $26,000 of funding over the course of three months.

Each of the panelists encouraged the audience members to build networks online through Facebook and Twitter, and to help promote other photographers whose work they appreciate. Wallace made the point that opportunities for group exhibitions often come from other artists, and introductions to clients often come from fellow photographers.

Kramer also made another useful point for photographers who might still be hesitant to publish their work online: “The more you are associated with your work, the harder it is to steal it,” she said.

September 16th, 2011

Q&A: Zombie Engagement Photographer Speaks!

©Amanda Rynda

Photographer Amanda Rynda’s “zombie engagement photos” were an Internet sensation this past week, ending up on blogs and websites all over the world.

We caught up with the Los Angeles-based Rynda and asked her a few questions about how it felt to “go viral” and whether she thinks her ghoulishly good photos might start a new trend in wedding photography.

See the full zombie sequence and Rynda’s other work here.

PDNPulse: Please give us some background on you and your photo business.
Amanda Rynda: I’m a color stylist for Disney by day and took up photography this year in my spare time to have a new creative outlet. I’ve been working as an associate photographer with LA-based wedding photographers, Jen Harris and Charise Proctor on the weekends.

PDNPulse: How did the idea come up to do the zombie engagement shoot?
Amanda Rynda: Juliana and Ben asked me to shoot their engagement session but they weren’t into a soft, PDA filled engagement session. They wanted something fun and quirky to show off their fun-loving and creative personalities. Juliana came to me and said, “Ben and I want to survive a zombie attack and then hug because we’re in love.” It was such a fun idea, I knew right away we’d have a great time making it happen.

PDNPulse: Had you ever done anything like this before?
Amanda Rynda: No, I’ve never shot anything like this before. I’m pretty new to photography so I haven’t worked with too many clients of my own yet. I’m just so happy to have been given the opportunity to work with people as fun, creative and eager to open up as much as Ben and Juliana did for this e-session. I hope that trend continues.