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Photographing Polar Bears in Canada, by Stuart Forster

1 October 2017

Stuart Forster is a freelance photographer based in the north-east of England. In addition to taking on editorial assignments he photographs food and travel. His work has been published in national newspapers, plus publications such as National Geographic Traveller and The Grocer. He regularly posts travel stories on his blog, Go Eat Do.

I'm based in the city of Sunderland and travel throughout the north-east of England on assignments, photographing news events as well as head and shoulder shots of people. In terms of colour I think that the Durham Miners’ Gala and Sunderland International Airshow count among the annual events that stand out as highlights in this region.

Travel is something that I’ve been passionate about for many years. I love interacting with people and have long been fascinated by wildlife, two aspects that often feature in my travel photography.

I think that food provides great insights into cultural influences. For example, I once did a story on the Goan sausage, which developed from the chorizo introduced to India by the Portuguese. Their global empire was also responsible for the introduction of the chilli to India, where I lived for five years. It’s hard to imagine so many of the many cuisines of India without the pungency, spice and colour provided by chillies.

In terms of dream travel assignments, there are many places still on my wish list. The Antarctic tops that list. Being out on the road pretty much anywhere is rewarding, as I love the challenge posed by photographing in environments that you can’t fully control. Last September and October I had an opportunity to photograph at Seal River Heritage Lodge, about 40 miles north of Churchill in Manitoba, Canada. It’s set by the shore of the Hudson Bay and polar bears regularly saunter past. The guides there are wildlife experts and it’s possible to walk with them on the tundra where the bears roam. At one point we came to within approximately 10 metres of a male polar bear weighing around 800lbs. He was walking towards us so while heeding my guide’s advice relating to safety I managed to photograph a number of frames conveying the power of the bear.

Due to the extreme cold I could only use one camera at a time and had to keep spare batteries close to my body. I was using a Canon 5D MkIII and, most of the time, a 100-400mm lens, to provide an element of flexibility. Once I arrived back in Churchill I met and photographed the officer responsible for operating the Polar Bear Holding Facility, known locally as the ‘bear jail’. It has 28 cells and exists to manage incursions by polar bears into Churchill, which is on a migration route for around 1,000 of the world’s 25,000 or so polar bears.

The photograph I’m showing here isn’t necessarily my best shot of a polar bear but I think it’s interesting because it conveys a story. It shows how close people can come to wild bears in the right circumstances.

See more work by Stuart Forster

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