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Over the course of millions of years, wild animals have evolved to withstand frigid temperatures and environments hostile to human beings. They grow long, thick, oily fur and keep stores of blubber to shelter them from cold. They build dens and crowd together to keep each other warm.

Sadly, however, these extraordinary creatures could now be facing endangerment and extinction. As climate change continues to reshape our planet, species who have been around for countless millennia stand at a critical crossroads.

Ringed seals, the littlest of all seals in the Arctic, are conceived below Arctic sea ice and born atop it. They nurse their young in dens carved from snow and ice. As The Guardian reported earlier this year, increasing temperatures are causing these dens to collapse, leaving mothers and their dependent offspring separated.

In turn, polar bears lose both their food source– the seals– and their own ability to make dens and nurture their cubs. According to estimates, significant numbers of polar bears will be killed over the course of about three decades if the planet continues to warm, leaving as little as 20% of the population clinging to what’s left of their habitat. In Antarctica, penguins also rely on sea ice to breed and find food. In fewer than four decades, some species of penguin could lose 50-70% of their global population.

Facing these facts, it’s hard not to give in to despair, but photography has a crucial role to play in our quest for conservation and a better tomorrow. Pictures allow us to engage with animals most of us will never see in person. They reveal the beauty of frozen landscapes. They make us care, and they encourage change.

In honor of the winter season, we asked five phenomenal wildlife and nature photographers to tell us about their experiences with cold-weather animals. Below, they share their favorite stories and best tips for respecting the wild and making unforgettable pictures along the way.

1. “In winter, muskoxen conserve heat and energy, so they spend much of their time resting and sleeping.”

Giedrius Stakauskas

Image by Giedrius Stakauskas. Gear: Canon EOS 1D Mark IV camera, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 500mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f4; ISO 400.

Photographing Muskoxen

Muskoxen are extraordinary animals currently found in remote areas of the high Arctic. They date back thousands of years to the Ice Age. They lived together with mammoths and have changed little since then. The musk ox is a grazing animal, more closely related to sheep and goats than to oxen.

As a result of overhunting and climate change, they became extinct across much of their range in Europe and Alaska. Reintroduction attempts have since been reasonably successful, and muskoxen live once again in parts of Alaska and northern Europe. The current worldwide population is about 130,000 animals.

I wanted to photograph muskoxen in Europe instead of traveling to Greenland or Canada where the biggest population can be found. Dovrefjell National Park in Norway has the largest wild musk oxen population in Europe at around 300 animals.

After spending a cold night in a tent, just before the sunrise on the day I took this photo, I headed back up to the mountains in search of muskoxen. Soon it started snowing, and in half an hour the visibility became very limited. It was a cold, windy day – one of the toughest I’ve experienced while photographing wildlife.

I was climbing the mountain in a thick blizzard with poor visibility, and the wind was blowing ice and snow into my eyes. I had little expectation of seeing any muskoxen. But luckily, I found them and spent a couple of hours with them. In a blizzard, this was quite a challenge.

Image by Giedrius Stakauskas

Pro Tip

Muskoxen are herd animals and not difficult to approach. In general, they are not aggressive towards humans, but if threatened or approached unexpectedly, they can attack. They can run at the speed of 60 km/h.

While photographing muskoxen, I always keep a distance and approach the animals slowly, without hiding. It is important that the muskoxen notice me well in advance and acknowledge my presence. This way, I put neither myself nor the muskoxen under undue stress. The well-being of the animals is my main focus.

In winter, muskoxen conserve heat and energy, so they spend much of their time resting and sleeping. For me, that meant lots of waiting in the cold for any action to happen.

In winter, muskoxen also prefer to stay high in mountains where winds blow the snow away from dried grass, sedges, and willows. This poor vegetation is their main food source during this cold time. Their front hooves are larger than hind hooves, making it easier for the musk ox to dig through snow for food.

Image by Giedrius Stakauskas

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I find inspiration in wildlife photography “heroes,” as well as travelers and explorers. I like to set tasks for myself and work on these set personal projects. Most of the time, I choose a location or an animal that is near and dear to my heart and challenge myself by using different photographic techniques. My passion for nature and wildlife photography, adventure, travel, and activity is what gives me joy and excitement.

2. “You can get pictures from a boat without disturbing the walruses. As a bonus, you will also be relatively safe from polar bears in a boat.”

Lillian Tveit

Image by Lillian Tveit . Gear: Canon 7D Mark II camera, Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L lens. Settings: Focal length 60mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f8; ISO 100.

Photographing Walruses

The walrus is a large marine mammal found in the arctic areas in the Northern Hemisphere. It is famous for its tusks, which can grow to astonishing lengths, and for its prominent mustache. It has a bulky body filled with a large amount of blubber to keep it warm.

Svalbard is a part of Norway, my home country. Because it is located far north, it is very different from the Norwegian mainland. The light, climate, plants, and animals in Svalbard are fascinating, but it is also a place where no animal can live through the winter without being adapted to the cold.

The walrus is one of the animals that thrives up here. It is amazing how well they are adapted to the harsh Arctic environment. Svalbard walruses were hunted for many years, and the population was severely reduced before it was protected in 1952. Even if it is a slow process, due to their low reproduction rate, the population has grown since then.

When I went to Svalbard in August to look for walruses, I was not disappointed. I met many of them, and I watched them both in the sea and on land. We went to Prins Karls Forland, some hours by boat from Longyearbyen. It was a lovely day with nice, calm weather. The male walruses in this photo were sunbathing on the beach at Poolepynten.

During mating season, male walruses can be aggressive towards one another, but at this time of year, it is more peaceful and harmonious. Two of them had a small discussion, though, before they went back to sleep again. It was a tranquil moment for me just to sit there watching them. Nothing seemed to bother them at all, and they took no notice of us.

It fascinates me when I see these giant bodies relaxing in a big, social herd. Their sounds and smells are hard to forget as well. After their summer stay at this place, they usually move further north sometime in August. We were lucky they were still there.

Image by Lillian Tveit
Image by Lillian Tveit

Pro Tip

Walruses are intriguing animals. In Svalbard, the males in the colony often stay together in groups in the same place throughout the summer. Some places are well-known, and you can find guides and boat transport from Longyearbyen.

The walruses often rest on land close to open water, so you can get pictures from a boat without disturbing the animals. As a bonus, you will also be relatively safe from polar bears in a boat. If you go on land, you must make sure someone looks out for bears while you take your pictures.

If you approach the walruses, you should be quiet and move slowly. The animals might be resting, and you must take care not to scare them. At any sign of them being disturbed, you should step back.

Try to keep a low profile and look as small as possible. If you are in a group, you should walk close together. It is better to look as if your group is just one animal, instead of many spread all around the area. Walruses are popular animals, frequently visited by photographers and tourists, so you should aim to make your stay as unobtrusive as possible.

Image by Lillian Tveit

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

My inherent love for all kinds of wildlife inspires me, and it is the main reason I shoot wildlife. I am also inspired by other photographers, including members of my local photo club and photographers I follow on social media. I also watch wildlife TV programs. It is of great value to my development as a photographer to see a lot of work from a lot of other photographers.

3. “When they are going off to feed, the adults go in and out of the sea a number of times in gradually increasing group sizes before actually departing…This gives a photographer multiple opportunities to photograph the penguins going in and out of the sea.”

Jeremy Richards

Image by Jeremy Richards. Gear: Sony Alpha 99 camera, Sony Sonnar T* 135mm f/1.8 ZA Lens. Settings: Focal length 135mm; exposure 1/1250 sec; f5.6; ISO 100; Exposure bias: -1.30 to correct for early morning light reflecting off wet white plumage.

Photographing Penguins

My favorite type of penguin is the King Penguin. It is a beautiful bird with striking orange markings around the head that contrast with the black and white plumage covering its body. It is the second largest penguin, after the Emperor Penguin, and it lives in the Sub-Antarctic belt surrounding Antarctica.

The King Penguin is unusual in that it has an 18-month breeding cycle, which is a big plus for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts. Whenever you visit a breeding colony, there will always be chicks at some stage of development.

Breeding colonies are located on some of the many islands found in the Sub-Antarctic, including South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. I have seen King Penguins in a number of places in the Falkland Islands, although by far the best place I have seen them is at Volunteer Point on East Falkland, which hosts a growing breeding colony.

This image was taken just after sunrise at Volunteer Point. In order to be able to be on the beach at sunrise, I stayed with the warden; otherwise, it would have been impossible to be there at that time. This group started at about three penguins, and they had been going in and out of the sea numerous times, all the while zig-zagging closer to where I was waiting and gradually growing in size as penguins from the colony joined.

This was the last time the penguins came ashore before going off to sea to feed, probably for two or three days. The Gentoo Penguin in the foreground went straight to sea without hanging about, which I found an interesting contrast in behavior. I got wet and cold as I was standing in the surf with the sea lapping around my feet, but it was worth it.

My fascination with King Penguins is due mainly to their beauty and behavior. They are tolerant of people and will generally approach you out of curiosity. This is particularly the case with adolescent chicks, who at times approach very close, probably thinking they might get fed.

Image by Jeremy Richards

Pro Tip

My most important tip for working with penguins is to understand their behavior and work in harmony with it to get good images.

In the case of King Penguins, a key aspect of their behavior is the 18-month breeding cycle, which means the colony stays in the same location all year round and chicks will virtually always be present.

Another important aspect of their behavior is that when they are going off to feed, the adults go in and out of the sea a number of times in gradually increasing group sizes before actually departing. This gives a photographer multiple opportunities to photograph the penguins going in and out of the sea. They also tend to go to sea early in the morning.

Not interfering with penguins is very important to me, so I always try not to approach too close. Then, let the penguins get closer to me if they wish. Penguins will often approach as they are inherently curious, particularly adolescent chicks, who have on occasions approached me and pecked at my jacket and boots.

Finding penguins is relatively easy, as most penguins nest in colonies on open ground, return to the same place each year, and, being black and white, stand out against the background. Noise and smell can also help to locate them!

Image by Jeremy Richards
Image by Jeremy Richards

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

My inspiration comes from nature. It provides an unlimited mix of beauty, storylines, and behavior– always something new and unexpected. I am also inspired by excellent wildlife documentaries, in particular those narrated by David Attenborough.

4. “You can’t exit your car in this part of the park; you can only observe through the car window, so patience is a virtue.”

Jim Cumming

Image by Jim Cumming. Gear: Canon 7D camera, Canon 70-200 2.8 II lens. Settings: Focal length 90mm; exposure 1/1000 sec; f5; ISO 320.

Photographing Arctic Wolves

The Arctic wolves I’ve photographed can be found at Parc Omega, a wildlife reserve about an hour’s drive from where I live just outside of Ottawa, Canada. It’s a place where you can drive and walk through the winding trails of lakes, valleys, forests, and rocky hills featuring an abundance of wildlife such as bears, bison, coyotes, caribou, deer, and wolves, just to name a few.

Being able to watch these wolves as they go about doing what comes naturally– be it playing, fighting, or just resting in the snow– is an absolute thrill. They are highly social, and watching them interact with one another is always fun to witness and photograph.

This is one of my favorite photos of an Arctic wolf. It was an incredibly cold and snowy morning, and the roads around the park were quite slippery. Even when driving slowly, you still had to drive with caution.

Finding this wolf in close proximity to my car, I had to get a shot with snow on his nose showing how cold it was. It was the photo I had been hoping for. I did not want him looking at the camera, so the fact that he was looking away shows that he did not fear me and ignored me for the most part.

Image by Jim Cumming

Pro Tip

You can’t exit your car in this part of the park; you can only observe through the car window, so patience is a virtue. Time of day is also important, as the morning usually proves to be the most active part of the day. And shooting while the weather is cloudy or snowy is the best.

Getting the right exposure is always tough while shooting a white animal against a white background, so I shoot in RAW because I know I can work on it later in Photoshop. I underexpose the image to get all the details. If you overexpose, you would lose most of them.

Image by Jim Cumming

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

Finding motivation is never a problem when it comes to photographing animals, be it in the wild or at a reserve. Many of these animals lead secret lives, and having the chance to see a little part of them is absolutely satisfying. To be able to get a photo is just a bonus.

5. “We can see and take photos of the polar bears from the vessel… it’s best and safest way to take photos of these animals.”

Alexey Seafarer

Image by Alexey SeafarerGear: Nikon D610 camera, Tamron 150-600mm lens. Settings: Focal length 600mm; exposure 1/800 sec; f9; ISO 450.

Photographing Polar Bears

I met these polar bears north of Spitsbergen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. They live on the ice, and they like to stay at the edge of the ice, where they can find seals to hunt.

I worked on the vessel “Polar Pioneer” as a second officer. This vessel is used by Aurora Expeditions for touristic voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic, and the company has a qualified staff that knows all about the polar bears and where to find them. These are photographs of two young female polar bears, probably sisters. We met them north of Svalbard. They were playing together.

Image by Alexey Seafarer

Pro Tip

I like that we can see and take photos of the polar bears from the vessel because it’s best and safest way to take photos of these animals. You can approach the bears, and usually the bears aren’t scared by the vessel. You can see their normal life – the haunting, the playing, and the feeding of cubs.

Image by Alexey Seafarer

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I like to travel and take photos of nature and wildlife so I can show people our planet’s amazing places. I especially like to take photos of animals in the wild.