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Canada, Nunavut Territory, Repulse Bay, Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) climbing onto melting iceberg near Arctic Circle on Hudson Bay

“All the easy pictures have been taken. But I’m here to tell you there are still some stupid and crazy ones left out there.”

Coming September 2018, liveBooks client, Paul Souders, release his book Arctic Solitaire: A Boat, A Bay and the Quest for the Perfect Bear.

Published by Mountaineers Books, it tells the story of four summers’ worth of solo polar bear expeditions to the arctic ice of Hudson Bay. It’s a humorous look at all that goes into making polar bear pictures the hard way. No crew, no guides and no National Geographic expense money. Just a guy, a boat and a willingness to do almost anything for a photograph.

About Photographer Paul Souders

Souders never set out to be a nature photographer. He grew up between a trailer park and a chicken farm. Where he’s from, nature was mostly poison ivy, junk cars, and broken glass.

Souders began working as a new photographer back at his college newspaper in the early 1980’s. He started out imagining a career in photojournalism, and learned his craft at a small community newspaper outside Washington, DC. After a brief stint freelancing and maxing out credit cards to go cover an assortment of international conflict stories, he was broke and looking for a steady paycheck. Souders traveled north to another news job, up in Anchorage, Alaska. He spent most days chasing the happy staples of daily journalism; photographing house fires and car wrecks and local sports assignments. But along the way, he found himself drawn to the nature and wildlife he found outside his doorstep. He decided it was at least as much fun to go out and explore those subjects, and have focussed more and more on photographing wild places around the world.

In the 25 years since then, Souders has traveled to nearly seventy countries and visited all seven continents. Nearly all of it was shooting on spec for his stock photography agencies. He says,

“It was always a counterintuitive business model; spend my own money to go someplace, work endless hours creating new images, then hand them over to a stock photo agency, for free, in the hopes that they might actually sell the damn things. But it was a way for me to go out and do the work that I dreamed of doing, without having to beg for assignments or sponsors. It worked for a good long while, even if in the last few years, I’ve seen a precipitous decline in image royalties.”

Most recently, I’ve been drawn to working on longer boat expeditions to the arctic regions, and trying to tell the stories of a regions that’s undergoing rapid change. I already owned most of the gear and the boat I’d need, so I could keep my expenses down and spend lots of time out in the field.”

Canada, Nunavut Territory, Repulse Bay, Polar Bear Cub (Ursus maritimus) beneath mother while standing on sea ice near Harbour Islands

Q&A with Paul Souders

What made you decide to go out and do the solo polar bear expeditions?

A few years back, I started thinking about how to see and photograph polar bears on my own.

I had chartered proper expedition sailboats, steel-hulled seagoing yachts, to take more ambitious high-latitude expeditions; including a couple times up to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, near eighty degrees north latitude. I wanted to photograph polar bears and the barren, Arctic landscape. The place was otherworldly, halfway between the top of Europe and the North Pole—stark, frightening, and breathtaking in its austere beauty. It was also not cheap. The boat charter alone cost more than $25,000, on top of the extortionate costs of plane tickets, food, and the abundant stocks of liquor required to maintain the skipper’s good humor. Even during the photo industry’s flush years, I could never afford a three-week charter on my own, so I cast a wide net and dragged along anyone who could pay. A few even remained friends after the yelling was over. Others, well, there is no enemy quite like the one you make on a cold, cramped boat in the middle of nowhere, with no possible escape from each other. I will accept much of the blame. I know that I can be difficult.

I had come to photograph polar bears, and photograph polar bears I did. I would stand on deck in the cold wind for hour after toe-numbing, finger-freezing hour, doggedly scanning the ice. I adopted my best steely-eyed, thousand-yard stare, feet apart, and scanned the ice through a pair of bulky and overpriced German binoculars. When I finally spotted my quarry, I notified the skipper with a curt flick of my chin to show our new course, and say simply, “Bear.”

No wonder everyone hated me.

Before I found myself set adrift on some lonely iceberg by mutinous shipmates, I needed to find another way. I turned to my own small boat, named appropriately enough C-Sick. I imagined that if I could take her north, I might see polar bears on my own terms, living among them for weeks or months at time.

I wanted to go alone, since I never saw much point in venturing out into the wilderness as part of a group tour, paying good money to be alternately bossed around and cosseted by guides who were younger, smarter, and better looking than me. I wasn’t getting any younger, but I still imagined myself tough enough to travel hard across most any wilderness. Besides, sleeping in the dirt and eating dismal camp food makes good practice for the day my wife grows weary of these antics and changes the locks.

A trip like this could, and probably should, take years of preparation: a slow acquisition of the necessary skills and training and professional-grade equipment. Given enough time, anyone in their right mind would likely come to their senses and decide to stay home and catch up on the yard work instead. For me, it’s always made more sense to just go. Go before doubt creeps in, and then figure things out along the way. I wasn’t getting any younger and I imagined that, if nothing else, I could fail in truly spectacular and memorable fashion.

Canada, Nunavut Territory, Underwater view of Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) swimming near Arctic Circle along Hudson Bay

How would you describe your experience on your expedition?

The whole thing began as a sort of lark: I wondered if I could step out my front door and travel overland to the shores of a cold and mysterious sea; Hudson Bay, then set off by boat to see polar bears, maybe have some adventures? Whether any of this was possible, advisable, or even strictly legal, I never thought to ask.

Pretty much anybody can walk off the plane in Churchill, Manitoba, the self-proclaimed Polar Bear Capital of the World and, with the application of a few thousand dollars, hop onto the nearest oversized, overstuffed, and overpriced Tundra Buggy, and join a gaggle of other photographers and tourists to go trundling off to see dozens of polar bears in an afternoon. But that’s not really my style.

I decided that if I wanted to go out on my own, it would be a BYOB job—Bring Your Own Boat.

This is as good time as any to point out that I, at the time at least, I hated boats. I hated the smell of them. I hated the cloying dampness, the sea-sickening bobbing-cork lurch, and the musty, cramped spaces. I can’t be the first to notice that a life at sea offers all the benefits of prison time, with better odds of drowning.

Starting with the purchase of an inflatable boat barely ten feet long and a small ten-horsepower outboard motor, I assembled a mountain of gear in my garage. I packed up layer upon layer of long underwear and weather- proof sailing gear, goggles and gloves, hats and boots. I stuffed cases with photographic and underwater equipment. I gathered camping and survival gear, a stove and weeks’ worth of dried camp food, satellite phones and beacons and ‘bear-banger’ noisemaking shells.

I admit that I may have gone a little overboard with the bear protection. I found a tripwire fence that would emit a deafening shotgun-shell blast if a bear stumbled through its perimeter—great if you wanted to try reasoning with a wire-entangled, half-deaf, and fully enraged polar bear. I bought dozens of noisemaker shells and a pen-sized flare launcher, which was like the shittiest gadget from the worst Bond movie ever, a pen that goes “bang” . . . but not very loudly. I would deploy it in case stern looks and strong language failed to dissuade.

I’d owned C-Sick, a 22-foot cabin cruiser for a few years, and had traveled extensively along coastal Alaska. She was small enough—eight-and-a-half feet wide, and twenty-two feet long—to haul on a trailer, but came equipped with a rudimentary bed, table, and kitchen. She reminded me of my old VW camper.

I imagined a grand journey that would begin at the end of my driveway and ultimately deliver me to the top of the world. I started planning with an outdated Rand McNally road atlas. I traced the fat blue ribbons of American interstates to where they fed into an orange-colored line that marked the Trans-Canada Highway. From there, I could cross over the Rockies and traverse the rolling heartland prairie that spanned almost half the continent. After that, the path turned thin and red as it wound up into the northwoods of Manitoba, until finally dwindling to a tentative dotted track, like a string of breadcrumbs, that ended at a town I’d never heard of along a river I didn’t know existed.

If I could get past that last pinprick of a town, Gillam, and find the spot where my map showed the Nelson River flowing winding and blue, it would be only seventy-five miles to the vastness of Hudson Bay. From there, I’d hang a left at the river’s mouth and head north. It was only a couple hundred miles to Churchill. Beyond that, I counted five little dots, tiny towns or villages scattered along the coastline between Churchill and the Arctic Circle, nearly six hundred miles north as the crow flies.

And that was where I planned to spend as much time as I could, traveling along the edge of the melting summer ice and searching for polar bears.

Canada, Nunavut Territory, Young Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) peers through window of expedition boat on ice pack near Arctic Circle along Hudson Bay

How do you capture the “perfect” photograph?

The first year I went north, I had traveled ‘light,’ carrying my inflatable Zodiac dinghy, and outboard and 500 pounds worth of gear north on the train to Churchill, Manitoba in late June. I must have looked like a homeless, survivalist hoarder when I stepped off the train and unloaded everything.

I spent weeks driving the Zodiac through the melting sea ice on Hudson Bay, in northern Manitoba. I wound my way through the shifting maze, and stopped frequently, climbing up onto any high spot I could find on the ice, then slowly scanning the horizon with binoculars for the white-on-white outline of a bear. This had been going on for days, and I was venturing farther and farther from shore, feeling anything but hopeful about my prospects. But from one crumbled snow-covered ridge, I looked, and then looked again, and—to my surprise—saw movement. A half mile away, a young bear woke and quickly shambled from the ice off toward water.

Polar bears are creatures of the sea. Classified as marine mammals, they spend most of their lives on the ice or in the ocean. Though possessed of a fearsome reputation, most bears will often as not avoid human contact when they can. This one, a young female judging by her size and build, gradually calmed and began to grow curious as I slowly trailed her. We were soon moving through the water in tandem, separated by a hundred yards, then fifty, then—holy shit, that bear was really close.

I dumped my camera gear out of its waterproof cases and shot her with the works. Telephoto lens. Wide-angle lens. Underwater pictures with a housing and fisheye lens. I held the outboard’s throttle and steered the boat with one hand while shooting with the other. I even mounted one camera onto a six-foot boom and then awkwardly tried to swing it closer to her, but succeeded only in dunking the contraption into salt water, killing the camera, lens, and trigger.

Undeterred, I dug out a spare camera and began chewing the insulation off a copper wire to jury-rig a replacement shutter cord. As the bear swam beneath an iceberg, I managed to drift the boat in closer and hang the boom beside a hole in the ice. She rose to breathe and I began shooting, blindly pressing the shutter cable and hoping that something, anything, might be in focus. She submerged for a moment, then surfaced again for one more breath before disappearing beneath the ice.

I sat there for a long while, the scene burning into memory. But I was still more than thirty miles from shore, and darkness was gathering. I pulled the out- board’s starter cord, felt the motor catch, and steered my boat toward shore.

Canada, Manitoba, Churchill, Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) hides while submerged at edge of melting ice floe on summer evening

How did it feel you felt like you captured the perfect polar bear photos?

On the southbound train a week later, I finally had time to sort through all the photographs on my laptop. I finally got to that image sequence, and there was my bear, walking across the ice, swimming and diving. Suddenly, there it was: one magical image that I’d never seen before, nor imagined, not even in dreams. In it, the polar bear floats beneath the surface, staring back up at my camera, surrounded by ice and empty sea, lit by the burnished, hazy sun.

I laughed out loud, then started parading up and down through the passenger cars like some lunatic, showing the picture to a trainload of complete strangers.

Canada, Nunavut Territory, Close-up of Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) biting at camera near Arctic Circle along Hudson Bay

What else would you like to tell us about your book?

In the end, I spent four summers there, living weeks and months at a time on my small boat, cruising at the edge of the melting ice and searching for polar bears and other animals. I photographed dozens of polar bears living wild and unafraid near the Arctic Circle at the northern reaches of Hudson Bay. I spent vast amounts of time watching the bears as they moved along the melting sea ice and on shore. There were times when the bears relaxed completely, and I was able to show them staring through the boat’s window at me, or swimming through the water, hunting on the ice.

At the end of each day, while I was downloading and backing up my digital images, I began keeping a journal of each day’s dramas and minor disasters. I sometimes shared those in my blog, and that eventually evolved into my first book; Arctic Solitaire: A Boat, A Bay, and the Quest for the Perfect Bear.

The book took more than a year to write, and I finished it last summer while traveling alone up the coast of northern Labrador in a new boat, a 43-foot steel sailboat. Cranking out a quick dispatch or blog post is one thing, but writing a book uses a completely different set of muscles, and made me think about photography and wilderness travel in far greater depth than I had ever done.

A lot of folks imagine that working as a wildlife photographer is an altogether glamorous and wonderful job. On good days, it really is. But there’s also an incredible amount of hard work and frustration and disappointment. And, in my case anyway, a vast trove of ridiculous mistakes to be made. I like to think of this book not as a how-to manual for photographers, but more of a cautionary tale.

Find out more about the book here:

Purchase the book here:

Canada, Nunavut Territory, C-Dory expedition boat caught in sea ice in Frozen Strait near White Island on summer morning

Andrea Brizzi was born in 1950 in Firenze, Italy, where he studied Architecture. In 1977, Andrea moved to New York where he since been active as a photographer, specializing in Architectural and Interiors subjects. For the past decade Andrea has been based in both New York and Honolulu, while frequently traveling in the US, as well as Asia, the Near East and Europe. Long passed the million miles marker with one airline alone!

Q&A with Andrea Brizzi

Q1: How would you describe the aesthetic of your website?

AB: Minimalist.

Q2: How often do you typically update your website?

AB: 3-4 times a year – or whenever I send out a newsletter.


Q3: How do you choose the photos that you display on your homepage?

AB: I like to show the variety of projects I shoot, even within a niche photography specialty. I try to present projects my clients can relate to.


Q4: What is your favorite feature of liveBooks?

AB: Ease of use.

Q5: What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to someone designing their website?

AB:. I believe a website aimed at business serves different needs from one directed at art directors or consumers. In the former case, mine, I am comfortable with a template which is not unique to my site and I see no need for bells and whistles. Art directors going through many competing sites might find the predictable format repetitive. Consumers (say, for portrait photography) expect more pizzaz.

See more of Andrea’s work here:

Posted in Featured Website and tagged with , ,

Happy National Password Day!

Today we’re celebrating National Password Day, a salute to our most important online data and the crypto-keys that guard it. The average business user has at least 191 Open Sesames for their online accounts and hidden treasures, a true testament of how much of our activity takes place online. This contemporary status quo is the medium in which we’ve added a new and exciting feature to our websites: the Password Protection feature for private galleries, pages and items.

Password Protection 101

As photographers, we understand that some of your commissioned work is not for the general public, but for your clients’ eyes only, and we respect that. We also feel that your brand should accompany all of your work, and since your liveBooks site is the extension of your business, we figured it should also be the place to host your private collections. The Password Protection feature allows you to share galleries, pages or items only with those whom you’ve given the password to. It’s meant to ease the access to your private work while ditching the third image upload parties for your own personal cyberspace.

How to enable Password Protection

Go to your content editor and click on any page, item or gallery you want to make private. On the right side of the page you’ll see the Password dropdown field. Tick the “Require password” module and set your preferred password. Remember, this is a key you will share with your clients, so use something generic and simple. And don’t worry if you forget it: every time you access the protected page in your content editor, your password will be visible to you. Now your gallery, while still on your website, can only be accessed with the right key.

  • When the password protection feature is enabled on a page, a lock icon will appear next to its title in the content editor.
  • Using Password Protection on your home page will lock the entire website.

Just private, not hidden

Any page or item can be protected by a password on your liveBooks site. They will appear on your menu, in your dropdowns, on your pages, keeping your website’s style and feel. When you try to access them, a pop-up will notify you that until you type what you’re supposed to type, you shall not pass!

Once your clients enter the protected area, they can roam around the portfolio for as long as they want. For security reasons, we’ve added an extra layer of idle and off-site security: if you refresh the page or navigate to another one, the session will automatically close after five minutes. Don’t worry, you can login again with the same password.


Your pop-up style

When you first enable your password protection feature, the pop-up you’ll get will be set in plain neutral colors. Of course, you can leave it as it is, but you can use your brand palette to give it your look. To do this, go to your design editor, in Sitewide choose Style and the Password Protection setting will be the bottom one.

Take some time to play around with the style settings, colors, sizes and backgrounds. When you’re happy with the result, save, publish and you’re done!

Password Protection is available on all packages, so no one is left out of this wonderful and useful feature. Don’t have an account to test this on yet?

Go ahead and sign up for a free trial today!

We wish you all a happy and safe National Password Day!

Cassandra Plavoukos was born and raised in southern New Jersey. Her interest in photography started in grade school and continued throughout high school, shooting film back then. When she graduated, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in the business side of fashion, as she didn’t think that a career in photography was possible at that time. Cassandra lived and worked in New York City for 16 years.

Cassandra Plavoukos continued taking pictures, and was shooting digitally by this time. She relocated to Los Angeles in 2003 and continued working in the fashion industry, taking pictures on the weekends to fulfill my creative passion.

Then, her first child was born in 2005. Instead of a traditional “baby book”, she self-published a book of poems entitled, When You Grow Up, which expressed her hopes and dreams for his childhood and beyond. She illustrated the book with images that she had taken of his first-year milestones. The images were taken with a point and shoot camera. The book was successful among family and friends and was sold online as well. The book was also accepted into a book fair. To celebrate, her husband bought me my first DSLR, a Nikon D90, and encouraged her to continue shooting. With a new camera, she knew she had to up her game.

Cassandra Plavoukos began to really look at her images with a critical eye. She knew she could do better. Her mentality shifted. She began to focus on “making” pictures instead of “taking” them. She started looking for photography classes to learn more about photography and landed at UCLA extension where an instructor by the name of Josh Sanseri encouraged and inspired her even further.

After completing the Environmental Portraiture class there, she wanted more intense study, and enrolled in the certificate of photography program at Santa Monica College. After completing that program, she started taking classes at Julia Dean, which is now the Los Angeles Center Of Photography. Her daughter was born in 2009 and knew by then that photography was something she wanted to pursue full time. She decided to leave the fashion industry. Then, she incorporated Cassandra Plavoukos Photography, got a liveBooks website, business license, tax registration, and never looked back!

Cassandra Plavoukos now focuses on dance, athletic, fine art fitness and creative portraiture and couldn’t be happier doing what she loves.

Q&A with Cassandra Plavoukos

Q1: How would you describe the aesthetic of your website in three words?

CP: Clean. Modern. Minimalistic.

Q2.How often do you typically update your website?

CP: Once or twice per month.

Q3. How do you choose the photos that you display on your homepage?

CP: I try to showcase the most recently commissioned or self-assigned work to highlight on my homepage. Keeping in mind the overall aesthetics of the site, I consider not only how the images will sit together, but how they will work together to give the best “overview” of the contents within.

Q4. What is your favorite new feature of liveBooks?

CP: Hard to choose! I love the drag and drop design as well as the varied portfolio views, but because I update my site so often, I think I would have to say the site wide styling and page-level styling features.

Q5.What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to someone designing their website?

CP: Let liveBooks do it for you! But know who you are as an artist and what defines your work. This will help you to work with them to create the best website possible.


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