Polar Bear Photography Workshop Highlights

Polar Bear Photography is one of the holy grails for intrepid wildlife photographers. To make this trip as productive as possible, I have joined forces with Hugh Rose. Hugh is one of the pioneers of small boat Polar Bear photography tours, and with 15 years of experience leading trips throughout Alaska and the world, we could not be in better hands. Between the two of us, you will be guided through the frozen tundra (not in Wisconsin) by two leaders with combined experience of more than 30 years! You will love this quest to find and photograph Nanuq, the Polar Bear, on our 11-day photography tour in Alaska’s High Arctic.

You will photograph wildlife and landscapes in the diverse Arctic Alaska landscapes like a boreal forest, the tundra, and Brooks Mountain Range. Early winter in the Arctic means Caribou and Musk Oxen are beginning their “rutting’ season. The Polar Bears are reveling at being back on snow and ice after the heat of the Arctic summer! And oh, by the way, we are traveling during the Autumnal Equinox, and that means we are there during the peak season for the magical Aurora Borealis aka Northern Lights aka really cool lights in the sky!

Tour Highlights
  • Photograph polar bear from small boats as well as land
  • Experience the colorful dance of the Aurora Borealis
  • Learn about the culture of a native Inupiat village
  • Search for iconic Alaska Wildlife: Caribou, Moose, Muskoxen, Dall Sheep and Gray Wolf.

This is the first time that I will be doing this workshop, and those of you know me that is something that I have rarely done during my career. I spoke with Hugh quite a few times while trying to decide whether or not to offer this workshop blindly, and I trust him, and his experience. As you see in the video, his photography work over his 15 years of running Polar Bear workshops speaks volumes. I am offering the workshop at a substantial discount for those that are ok, with knowing that I have not personally made the trip. I would not have done this workshop with my faith that we could run a fantastic workshop together. So jump in and book soon, you’ll save some cash, and have an incredible experience.

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October 8, 2019 – Day 1

Arrive in Fairbanks, Alaska
Travelers arrive in Fairbanks after flights from lower 48 states or other Alaska destinations. A shuttle van from your hotel Pikes Waterfront Lodge, (see your pre-trip email for details on your accommodations) will meet travelers curbside for the under 5-minute ride to where you will be staying on this first night of the trip on the banks of the Chena River.

We will meet you in the main lobby of the hotel at 6:00 PM for a pre-trip briefing, followed by a hearty Alaskan welcome dinner at a favorite local restaurant!

During the pre-trip briefing, we will have a discussion on the basics of aurora photography technique. When we return from dinner, you can sign up for the “Aurora Wake-Up Call List” at the hotel main desk and perhaps have an opportunity to practice aurora photography on your first night from the banks of the Chena River.

October 9, 2019 – Day 2

Drive North to Wiseman
After breakfast we will depart in two, 12-passenger, comfortable, customized Mercedes Sprinter vans, (4 people per van) driving north on what some people describe as the most scenic road in North America, the Dalton Highway. The Dalton or “Haul Road” as it is known to Alaskan truckers, was completed in 1974 so trucks could haul equipment and supplies to the recently discovered Prudhoe Bay Oilfields. The roughly 420-mile gravel road begins approximately 100 miles north of Fairbanks and is the only road that traverses the Arctic Circle in the United States. The first 100 miles of the drive is on the Eliot Highway, which traverses rolling hills in the White Mountains, before connecting with the Dalton Highway. The Dalton winds through mountainous terrain covered by boreal forest before crossing the Yukon River at mile 58 of the Dalton. Fall colors have faded into subdued hues as winter and snow overtake this land during this time of year. From the Yukon River, the Dalton climbs into the open alpine country of the Caribou and Ray Mountains passing by Finger Mountain and Kanuti Flats, home to a resident caribou herd. Shortly after passing through the open mountainous terrain around Finger Mountain the road crosses the Arctic Circle, where our crossing will be celebrated! Another hour of driving brings us to the south side of the Brooks Range, which will already be accumulating their winter snowpack by this time of year. The snow-capped peaks of this wilderness mountain range provide for spectacular landscape photography. As we enter the Brooks Range the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which parallels the Haul Road becomes more apparent, standing on steel pillars, as it converges with the road corridor. A short drive later the road enters the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River valley, and we arrive at Coldfoot, the only truck stop on the five hundred miles of road between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay.

Coldfoot was a gold mining town at the turn of the last century and has the distinction of recording the broadest range of temperatures anywhere in the United States! A truck stop, diner, and hotel, Coldfoot gives a unique look into the lives of truckers who make this 1,000 miles round trip year-round, even in the depths of winter when temperatures dip to 70 below zero! We will stop at the diner in Coldfoot to enjoy a meal at this backcountry outpost on North America’s most remote highway!

Our destination for the day is Wiseman, a turn of the 20th Century gold mining town that offers a glimpse into the recent human history of the south side of the Brooks Range. Located approximately 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the heart of the Brooks Range wilderness, Wiseman provides the perfect base for exploring and photographing this region. Accommodations in Wiseman may be considered slightly rustic, but are cozy and comfortable and the hospitality provided by our hosts, the Hicker Family at the “Arctic Getaway,” is legendary north of the Arctic Circle! The three main cabins where we stay, feature five well-appointed bedrooms, sitting areas, kitchen facilities and two full bathrooms that are shared by trip participants. Meals are served family style in the in the “dance hall” of the historic Wiseman community center. Away from the light pollution found in the south, we will spend our first evening north of the Arctic Circle looking for and photographing northern lights (cloud cover permitting). If sky conditions and aurora cooperate, we will stay up late into the evening and get a hands-on northern lights photography lesson. This will be the first opportunity for us to teach the technique and composition of aurora photography in the field, and we will make the most of the evening if conditions are favorable.

October 10, 2019 – Day 3

Explore the Brooks Range Wilderness Around Wiseman
This morning you will enjoy a more leisurely breakfast while you get to know your new surroundings. After breakfast, you will set out for a day of exploring and photography on the south side of the Brooks Range. Autumn has passed, and foliage has been replaced by snow and ice on the mountainsides, while the animals of the Arctic are frantically preparing for approaching winter with its long nights and cold temperatures. Moose and caribou tend to be on the move this time of year as they begin moving into their wintering grounds. As we drive north towards the continental divide of the Brooks Range, you will watch the trees thin as the highway slowly climbs toward Chandalar Shelf and Atigun Pass, and approaches the northernmost edge of the tree line in Alaska. The “Shelf” and “The Pass” are the two main “hills” that the Dalton Highway climbs to gain access to the “Northslope.” The next few miles of the road climb dramatically to 4,800-foot Atigun Pass, the highest road in Alaska, and Continental Divide of the Brooks Range. As you ascend Atigun pass, you will enter the high alpine environment, home to Dall Sheep, Golden Eagles, and Gyrfalcons! Snow typically blankets the landscape at this time of year, and it is not unusual to encounter caribou migrating southward over the continental divide.

After a full day of photography and exploration, you will return to Wiseman and “The Arctic Getaway” for dinner in the Dance Hall. After dinner, weather permitting, we will set up for our second night of aurora photography north of the arctic circle.

October 11, 2019 – Day 4

Drive North to Prudhoe Bay and the Coastal Plain
After breakfast, we will set out on the on the all-day drive to Prudhoe Bay or “Deadhorse” as it’s known, the hub of oilfield activity and the end of the Dalton Highway. The first section of the drive will cover the same territory we saw the day before, but we will be looking for new and different wildlife sightings.

Descending onto the north side of the Brooks Range from Atigun Pass we enter a different world devoid of trees, and home too many species of Arctic wildlife, such as musk-oxen, caribou, grizzly bear, fox, wolf, and moose. Many birds of prey can be found in the open tundra landscape of the Northslope, such as Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Gyrfalcon and Snowy Owl. Additionally, year-round bird residents such as Rock Ptarmigan and Common Redpolls can be found in willow thickets by the roadside. We will budget our time to allow for numerous stops to photograph the scenery, wildlife, and birds in this dramatic landscape. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline snakes over the open tundra parallel to the road and is a constant reminder of what lies at the end of the way on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in Prudhoe Bay. Our destination this night is “Deadhorse” or Prudhoe Bay the hub of oilfield activity and the location of the airport where we will catch our flight the next day. This night we will stay at one of the oilfield hotels that provide food and housing to visiting oilfield workers. This offers a unique view into the life of workers at North America’s northernmost industrial complex, and the place where roughly 20% of the US’s domestic oil supply originates from.

October 12, 2019 – Day 5

Explore Prudhoe Bay and Fly to Native Village
After a hearty breakfast at the oilfield hotel, we set out to explore the area around the Prudhoe Bay oilfields. Most of the species of migrant waterfowl that rear their young in this area on the myriad of lakes and ponds that dot the landscape have already departed on their southward migration, but a few of the last to leave such as Pacific Loon, Tundra Swan and Red-throated Loon may still be found on open water. Short-eared and Snowy Owls hunt the open tundra for voles and shrews, while Arctic Fox stalk ptarmigan and lemmings in the dense low growing willows along streams. The abundance of both bird and mammal life in this harsh climate is impressive and a photographers dream. We will spend whatever time we have this morning exploring and photographing this area before we return to Deadhorse to catch our flight.

Mid-day we will proceed to the bustling Prudhoe Bay Airport and get checked in for our flight to the native village. Luggage weight and size will be restricted on this flight to 50 pounds total per person (including camera gear), so everyone will consolidate their gear and take only what is needed for the next three nights on the Arctic coast. Your equipment should consist of necessary camera equipment and a small duffel with a toothbrush, change of clothing and cold weather gear (Hugh supplies appropriate size duffels for people needing them). Arctic weather conditions will be encountered so suitable apparel and equipment will be required, please see the gear list at the end of this itinerary for what is necessary.

A short (35 minutes) flight takes us over the spectacular arctic coastal plain and the well- known if not controversial “1002” area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Depending on the altitude flown at, we may see wildlife on the tundra or bowhead whales as they migrate west along the Beaufort Sea coastline. Upon arrival in the Native Village in the early afternoon, we will be transported from the village airstrip to our accommodations for the next three nights. Although our lodgings are not luxury, what they lack in appearance is made up for in hospitality and a certain charm. Built from modular oilfield camp buildings, the Inn is basic yet comfortable. Accommodations are in double rooms with twin beds, bathrooms with showers are located down a short hall. All our meals are prepared and eaten in the café located on site and are always hearty and tasty! Our schedule will depend on weather and individual interests, but the best photography tends to be early in the morning and later in the evening, so we will try and schedule meals around our photographic forays! While on the Beaufort Sea coast we will be photographing polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where we operate under a special “Polar Bear Viewing Permit” through US Fish and Wildlife Service. Polar bear viewing and photography will be both land and water based. For the water-based forays, we will be boating 6 people at a time, with one guide and a local boat driver on the sheltered lagoons that surround the village. For land-based activities, we have a large and comfortable bus with many opening windows, which provides a safe and convenient platform to observe and photograph the bears from. After lunch we will set out on our first boat ride to the barrier islands just offshore where bears tend to lounge during the daylight hours before swimming to the island to feed on whale remains in the evening. For people not going on the boat ride, they will accompany the other guide on the bus for a land-based excursion.

October 13-14, 2019 – Day 6 & 7

Photography and Bear Viewing
These two days will be spent viewing and photographing bears and other wildlife that inhabit this area, both from a boat and from the bus on land. You are scheduled for a total of 12 hours of boating during your stay, spread out over 4 or 5 boat rides. The polar bears are resting, playing, nursing, sleeping and socializing on a barrier island located immediately offshore, so the actually boating dime and distance to where we photograph the bears is short (less than a half mile). The boat excursions are typically scheduled as 3-hour trips every morning and evening (including the trip on the afternoon of your arrival day and the morning of your departure day. Boat trips are weather dependent, but if wind or fog does not allow the boats to operate we have the bus to take you out for bear photography on land.

We will have opportunities to explore the island during our search for bears and other wildlife and may see Snowy Owl, Arctic Fox, and even Grizzly Bear. If we are fortunate, we may have the privilege of witnessing the bowhead whale harvest. If this is the case, we will be allowed to watch and possibly photograph this fascinating Inupiat tradition. Observing and photographing this cultural event will be entirely up to you as the travelers, but this would be a unique opportunity to witness something that few have ever seen. We will have to exercise cultural awareness on this subject and may not be able to photograph the people involved. It is essential that you ask if photos are permissible.

October 13, 2019 – Day 8

Return to Prudhoe Bay and Drive South Back to Wiseman
This will be a long day of travel and our last opportunity to observe and photograph the bears before we depart midday. We will head out early on our last bear viewing foray, staying out on the boat until mid-morning. After a quick return to the hotel to use the restrooms and eat a light lunch we will board our airplane for the flight back to Prudhoe Bay and arrive in Prudhoe in early afternoon (be sure to read the travel section of some essential knowledge about flights). Upon arrival at Deadhorse, we will pick up a picnic lunch and start our drive south towards Wiseman as soon as possible. The goal is to spend as much time as possible exploring the area of coastal plain that we had to pass by earlier in the trip on our drive north to Prudhoe Bay. This will be our best opportunity to photograph muskoxen, and we will make sure that we leave time to spend with these amazing prehistoric creatures. Also, we will be watching for other wildlife in this stunning landscape, such as caribou and Grizzly Bear, moose and fox. This time of year the sunset light is endless and the day lingers late into the evening hours. We still have a long drive ahead, and with photography, stops will not reach Wiseman until later in the evening. After the sun sets, we will keep our eyes peeled for the Aurora, as this may be an excellent opportunity for aurora photography!

October 14, 2019 – Day 9

Explore Around Wiseman
The beginning of this day will be marked by a leisurely morning to give everyone an opportunity to rest after the previous long day of travel and if weather permitted aurora photography. After breakfast, a “local” will take you on a walking tour of Wiseman. Bring your camera to photograph some of the historic gold-rush era cabins and antique steam-powered gold mining equipment. In the afternoon some of you may choose to continue exploring the local area around Wiseman, or you can spend the last afternoon looking for wildlife or photographing along the Dalton Highway on the south side of the Brooks Range. For this afternoon, we can focus on whatever interests you, whether it is the mining history of the Wiseman area, looking for mammals or absorbing and photographing the stunning scenery on the south side of the Brooks Range! This evening will be spent searching the Arctic night skies for aurora one last time and finding the ideal location for you to compose aurora photographs!

October 15, 2019 – Day 10

Drive Haul Road South, Return to Fairbanks
After our last breakfast at the Arctic Getaway and final photos around Wiseman, we will bid our host goodbye and depart for the drive south to Fairbanks. As with the drive north, we will maximize wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities during this day of travel. Upon arrival in Fairbanks, we will check in at the Fairbanks hotel, get cleaned up from a day on the road and head out to our farewell dinner at an excellent local restaurant.

October 16, 2019 – Day 11

Flights Home
After breakfast this morning you will be transported to the Fairbanks airport for your flight home or on to other destinations in Alaska.

Included in the price:

  • Airport transfer in Fairbanks, provided by the hotel.
  • All accommodations during the 11 day tour.
  • All meals from welcome dinner to breakfast on the final day.
  • All transportation on the trip including flights within Alaska.
  • Boat excursions in Kaktovik for Polar bear photography (weather permitting)
  • Bus excursions in Kaktovik for Polar bear photography (weather permitting)

Not included in the price:

  • Flights to and from Fairbanks to your home in the lower 48.
  • Additional days in Fairbanks before or after the trip.
  • Money for personal or souvenir items. (Cash is recommended since credit cards are not universally accepted at all our locations. ATM access is available in Fairbanks prior to departure if necessary).
  • Weather related itinerary alterations: Travel in remote regions of Alaska can be unpredictable due to weather. Additional fees may apply if we are required to spend extra nights at hotels.

We will share our photography knowledge with you so that you will leave a better photographer than when you arrived. You will learn about planning shots, reading the light and making the correct camera adjustments, landscape, astro and wildlife photography techniques. We will share our post processing work flow and help you create a workflow that is best suited to your needs.

Our goal is to not merely setup your camera for you, but to give you the knowledge so that you can get the same results at home as when you were with us.

We provide assistance throughout the trip regarding all aspects of photography. In addition to instruction in the field, there is generally time for small group discussions around a laptop in which we address topics like file management, image processing in Lightroom, proper exposure and other specific questions.

Gear, Equipment & Clothing

We will supply a comprehensive PDF that details our recommendations for camera gear and clothing after booking.

Lenses and Tripods

  • A telephoto lens in the range of 400-500mm is recommended (in conjunction with a 1.4 and/or 2x converter as necessary). 600mm lenses are very large, heavy and hard to handle quickly, and are generally not recommended unless you are very adept at handling it.
  • A wide angle lens with a minimum of 24mm f/2.8 is essential for photographing the aurora.
  • Tall tripods and fast (f/2.8 or faster) wide angle lenses (at least 24mm wide) are essential for effective aurora borealis photography.
  • Wimberley tripod heads do not work for aurora photography, and due to the more spontaneous nature of the wildlife photography we encounter, a general good ballhead is strongly recommended.

It’s almost impossible to list everything that you’ll need, you will be sent some recommendations and then this will be covered again before your trip on a one on one phone discussion we will have with you.

At any point feel free to reach out to either of us and we’ll talk you off of the ledge!

US Citizens Traveling To Namibia*

Passport

Valid for a full six months after your scheduled departure.

Blank Passport Pages
Six blank pages required

Visa Requirements
Yes, planeside visa available for tourists up to 90 days.

Vaccination Recommendations
Yellow fever, if traveling from a yellow fever endemic country.
Arrival and Departure Airport

Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH) is the ultimate destination airport in Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek. Our drivers will meet us at the airport after we clear customs and immigration and re-claimed our luggage.

Note: the easiest way to get to Windhoek is to fly to Johannesburg (South Africa) where the group can meet, and take the same flight to Windhoek together. We will forward the flight specifics in a future email.

Early Arrival
Let us know if you need help with accommodations if you plan to arrive early.

Departures
We will drop you off at the airport after our last adventures in Windhoek.

Lodging & Transportation

The workshop includes all lodging and local transportation as described in your itinerary. You may be liable for any changes to that itinerary.

Trip Insurance

We always use trip insurance. It’s so much easier and with so many more benefits when you compare it with your insurance. I’ve found the costs to be reasonable given the benefits. I use Travel Guard when I travel and even though; I’ve not had a claim they were helpful and easy to deal with on the phone.

*Information for US citizens travel to Namibia was obtained from the US Department of State and was valid as of April 2018. If you are going to Namibia from another country, please check with your embassy to check the travel requirements for your country.

Click the Green Button at the Bottom the page and that will take you to my payment processor and you can choose your favorite method of payment for your deposit. In the White Box you can enter the number of places that you would like to book.

Please note that the payment terms and cancellation information is not the standard Wildlife WorkshopsTerms and Conditions.

Payment, Reservation & Cancellations:

  • After space confirmation, a non-refundable $1,000 deposit per person is required to secure the booking.
  • Following two payments must be paid by check made in US dollars, (Credit cards may be used but merchant account fees will apply)
  1. March 30th, 1st half
  2. June 15th, balance
  • Cancellations, excluding the $1000 deposit, subsequent payments are refundable until June 1st. Refunds for cancellations after June 1st are not guaranteed. For this reason, and for medical emergencies, we require trip insurance. If we can fill the space with another booking we will refund the payments (minus small fees for booking changes with our vendors).

Be sure to read the Terms and Conditions and or the FAQ to fully understand about deposits, cancellations and other important, but boring stuff.

I’ve been very passively advising my clients to purchase travel insurance for a while, but lately it seems like there have been multiple people having travel issues. Some have lost their deposits and sometimes even the cost of the entire trip!

Based on my client’s experience, I cannot stress more strongly how crucial it is to purchase travel insurance. Like I said before, and here it comes again, there is never a way to predict what is going to happen when you are booking trips months and years into the future.

You can read more about my thoughts about the importance of travel insurance in this blog post.

Or you can go get a free quote and book your vital travel insurance.

https://wildlifeworkshops.link/Travel_Insurance_Quote

Trip Expectations

This tour focuses on the diverse photography opportunities in Alaska’s Arctic that range from macro photography of ice crystals to telephoto photography of wildlife. We cover a lot of geography and topography due to Alaska’s great size, so be prepared and willing to travel long distances in a vehicle.

  • Skill sets vary among the participants from beginners to professionals.
  • Group size is limited to 8 people
  • Two vehicles are used to offer sufficient space for photography.
  • Each person has window access.
General photography occurs both from the vehicle as well as taking small forays across the tundra. Polar bear photography occurs from within a vehicle, and depending on weather conditions, from a small boat. We do not engage in extensive hiking but one should be in good shape and mobile enough to easily do the following:
  • get around well on uneven and snowy tundra surfaces
  • quickly enter and exit a vehicle
  • straddle the side rail of a boat when entering and exiting
  • navigate dimly lit, uneven surfaces at night when photographing the aurora

Registration Information

Tuition

The tuition for the Polar Bear Photography Workshop is  $9450 USD

Deposit

The deposit for this workshop is $1000 USD. Hugh will be collecting all of the funds for this workshop.

Ready to Go?

As I mentioned Hugh is going to take care of the registration details and deposits. When you are ready to go just click the ummm, I’m ready to Go Button!

I’m Ready to Go