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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

Alan Karchmer has been a freelance architectural photographer for about forty years. His life in photography began while studying architecture. He got a camera and found that he had a good eye for form and space, and photography came naturally. Karchmer completed his Masters degree and began a career in architectural photography at that point.

He brings to his work an authoritative sense of space, form, texture, light and use. He hones in on defining angles in photographs that capture the spirit, life, and poetry of the architect’s vision. Karchmer’s photographs have been published in the architectural press worldwide, and appeared in major museum exhibitions.

Q&A with Alan Karchmer

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

Image-centric, simple, engaging

Q2: How often do you typically update your website?

Not as often as I should, about twice a year.

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

First priority is strength of image. Then I look to represent the range of my portfolio and importance of the projects shown.

Q4: What is your favorite new feature of liveBooks8?

The ability to filter and find images within the Image Library using keywording.

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

Think about what your prospective clients are looking for.

livBooks is a great platform for showcasing photography. The EditSuite interface is robust, intuitive, and easy to navigate and there is tremendous range to customize to tailor to your needs and aesthetic preferences. During the development stage when transitioning from the old Flash site to liveBooks8 I found support to be prompt, responsive, and thorough.

See more of Alan Karchmer’s work here.

T-2 Tanglewood House 2, West Stockbridge MA, Architect: Schwartz Silver Architects

When online portfolios emerged as a marketing tool, the layout recipe for pages was simple: a block of text and an image to go with it was the standard for most pages, while portfolios used one page for each gallery. Now, with the evolution of social media and apps, we’ve got the hang of scrolling and customer anticipate to get all the info they need from one single stacked page.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we should all build only one-page websites, but a little stacking will greatly improve the way your visitors engage with your content. A stacked page will:

  • Paint a clear picture for your customers and draw their attention on all aspects of your work.
  • Aid Google spiders to better understand what your website is about when they crawl it; consequently, a stacked page has a greater change to place your website higher on Google’s rankings.

Stacked Homepage

We’ve covered the guide to an ideal homepage and, as you might have guessed, it’s stacked. Use this layout to introduce your business and its many facets in a few well-placed info blocks. You want to be as clear as possible in a short, yet complex, page.

Stacked Galleries

Our platform features many gallery layout options for you to choose from, and slideshows are the best choice for stacking. Use text blocks to introduce each collection or choose a unique background color for each of them, add borders or leave them as they are, your stacked galleries will give your visitors a proper understanding of your aesthetic.

Stacked Info Page

Use this page to fully introduce yourself. An image and a block of text is great to set the tone, but keep going! Use a simple list to showcase your clients, publications and awards. Follow this with testimonials from previous projects. Add a slideshow video gallery, a service and price list, items with professionals you work with, leave nothing out.

Our platform features a great number of website templates that use stacked pages. Black&White is a great example of how a stacked homepage should look and feel, Audio used stacked galleries, while Flash has a one-page layout. These are just a few examples of how we use stacking when designing our website templates. See for yourself with a free trial!


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