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On Skinny Ice: Exploring Daniel J. Cox’s Journey as a Conservation Photographer

Mainstream advertising has employed the lovable and cuddly polar bear for many years, most famously by Coca-Cola. However as local weather change has worsened and continued to ravage the planet, these stunning creatures have been disproportionately affected and are disappearing quickly. As a species, their picture has gone by means of a large transformation: from sitting around in scarves drinking soda to starving and scavenging for food on land that was once covered in ice

One photographer who has adopted the harrowing journey of the polar bear is Daniel J. Cox. With greater than 40 years of expertise, he’s obtained two Nationwide Geographic covers below his belt, numerous awards and is the Director for The Arctic Documentary Project, a corporation centered on the long-term survival of polar bears. “I’m principally recognized for my wildlife pictures, however I like to think about myself as an explorer with a digital camera. Documenting nature with integrity and respect is essentially the most thoughtful factor a photographer can do for our planet,” he says. 

Featured as a part of our Earth Day celebration here and on our Instagram, I caught up with Daniel to be taught extra about his work in conservation, his workflow and the gear he makes use of to doc all of it. 

This interview has been evenly edited for readability and size. Cowl picture by Daniel J. Cox.

PhotoShelter: Are you able to share a bit about your work with polar bears? When did that begin? 

Daniel J. Cox: My first foray into the world of the polar bear got here in 1987. I used to be a 27-year-old child attempting to make my manner within the craft of photographing nature. I had labored on black bears for a number of years and at all times dreamed about seeing a polar bear. After in depth analysis, I noticed that Churchill, Manitoba, on the shores of Hudson Bay, was the world’s polar bear capital of the world. However at the moment, the bears in Churchill had been documented extensively. I used to be involved the photographs would all have an analogous look to those that had come earlier than me. So I selected a spot additional north known as Wager Bay that had a a lot completely different look than Churchill. I spent seven days at Wager Bay and noticed one bear, shot one roll of 36 publicity movie, and left nearly empty-handed. I made a decision my subsequent journey can be to Churchill. 

The next autumn, I made my approach to Churchill, the place I signed on to a visit with the oldsters of Tundra Buggy Excursions. It was my first of almost twenty-five journeys to the magical land the place polar bears congregate. It was in Churchill I met my spouse, Tanya, whose father had began the polar bear tourism enterprise. I additionally related with my expensive good friend Robert Buchanan, liable for taking the little-known group Polar Bears Alive and turning it into Polar Bears International. And eventually, it’s now the city that PBI has invested in by constructing a science heart and a home for PBI workers. All of that is below PBI’s present CEO Krista Wright, who has taken the group to the following stage. 

Churchill was the start line of my work within the north, which has included Alaska, Norway, Greenland, and the arctic’s far northern ice pack.  

Steve Amstrup and Geoff York, USGS biologists, taking subject knowledge from an immobilized massive male polar bear (Ursus maritimus). Kaktovik, Alaska. Picture by Daniel J. Cox.

What’s the position of photographers and pictures in conservation efforts? 

DC: Since pictures started, it’s been THE device to carry viewers to the locations they both can’t or don’t need to go. Whether or not it’s stunning locations or horrific occasions, capturing photographs to share has at all times been the best manner of training an viewers in mass. 

Take, for instance, Yellowstone Nationwide Park. When the park was proposed, there have been only a few individuals, apart from native Individuals, who had even heard about Yellowstone, not to mention seen it. For years politicians again in Washington have been conscious of the tales concerning the effervescent scorching springs, fumaroles, geysers, and dirt pots in a spot often known as Colter’s Hell. The tales from this unexplored land have been so outlandish many again east had no religion the place truly existed. In 1871 photographer William Henry Jackson was invited to affix the Hayden Geological Survey to discover the area and produce photographs of this uniquely stunning surroundings. The purpose was to carry again photographic proof to assist persuade our authorities it was distinctive sufficient to be preserved. Due to Jackson’s black and white pictures and the coloured work of Thomas Moran, 1000’s of individuals again east have been in a position to see for themselves this otherworldly panorama. These photographs have been sufficient to encourage most of the people to help the thought of our authorities creating the world’s first nationwide park, now often known as Yellowstone. With the success of Yellowstone got here different parks across the US, and ultimately, the thought of nationwide parks caught on around the globe. You may simply say that the photographic expertise of William Henry Jackson are liable for all nationwide parks. For it’s properly documented that Yellowstone gave the world the idea of preserving distinctive locations. All because of International Photography Hall of Fame recipient William Henry Jackson and his 11×14 inch glass unfavourable digital camera. 

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) wrestling in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.
Picture by Danile J. Cox.

Are you able to inform us about your Arctic Documentary Undertaking?

DC: The Arctic Documentary Project (ADP) was an concept I got here up with someday round 2006. I had simply returned from a shoot within the excessive arctic, and I used to be feeling the ache of the quick deteriorating inventory {industry}. I discussed to my good friend, Robert Buchanan, who was CEO of Polar Bears Worldwide on the time, that the times of me having the ability to donate my work have been coming to an finish. There was simply no manner I may proceed touring to the arctic with out funding. The gravy days of inventory have been behind us, and inventory gross sales may now not subsidize my professional bono work for conservation. However with that disheartening information, I additionally requested him a few plan I had, tentatively known as the Arctic Documentary Undertaking. The concept can be for me to boost cash below the nonprofit umbrella of Polar Bears Worldwide. PBI would set that cash apart for paying the prices of my journeys to the far north. The concept would encompass me nonetheless engaged on a professional bono foundation, however the ADP would pay for my bills. He liked the thought, and the remaining is historical past. 

The ADP’s purpose is to doc the land, the animals, and the cultures that make the arctic their dwelling. International warming and local weather change are taking place sooner within the Arctic than in every other place on the planet. Documenting the adjustments within the arctic is an important step to assist individuals perceive that world warming is actual, it’s taking place now–and can ultimately have an effect on life as we all know it across the globe.

Daniel J. Cox

Polar Bear A feminine bear comes to analyze the digital camera cage on Buggy One. Gordon Level on the shores of Hudson Bay close to Churchill, Manitoba. Picture by Daniel J. Cox.

I used to be taking a look at your web site and noticed this image. Do you utilize distant cameras? If that’s the case, what’s your setup? If not, how do you obtain your shut ups?

DC: This picture was shot from a cage utilizing a distant digital camera on what is named Buggy One. Buggy One is the Tundra Buggy donated to Polar Bears Worldwide by Frontiers North Adventures. It began off as a distant streaming platform within the mid 90’s and right now is used as a cell broadcast studio that brings the Subarctic tundra into school rooms and houses around the globe. We regularly use Buggy One to seize nonetheless photographs and video for PBI’s outreach efforts. 

On a associated Buggy One word, Lego toys is contemplating providing a Lego model of Buggy One. To get an genuine Lego toy produced they require {that a} new concept be voted on by way of their web site. 

For all readers of this put up, Polar Bears Worldwide can be grateful if all people takes the time to go to this link and vote for Buggy One. You want to create an account and click on the Assist button within the higher proper hand nook of the web page. Buggy One wants nearly 4000 extra votes. Your assistance is significantly appreciated.

I’m solely beginning to discover the usage of distant cameras. I do know I’m a bit late to that recreation however higher late than by no means. Utilizing cameras at shut vary is a difficult affair and might usually result in wildlife harassment so I’m very cautious about utilizing them sparingly and solely in the best circumstances. A lot of my near the bottom, low angle views of polar bears have been shot utilizing a monopod and distant set off again within the 90’s. 

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) a big male lies immobilized on the ice as Dr. Steven Amstrup and his assistant head for a feminine that was darted on the identical time and is down on the ice. Beaufort Sea, Alaska. Picture by Daniel J. Cox.

What PhotoShelter instruments do you utilize most frequently and the way do you utilize them? I’d love to grasp extra about your workflow and method to archiving your work.

DC: The principle instruments we use in PhotoShelter embody the Lightbox and Galleries. When deciding on photographs for a consumer we create lightboxes. For including new work we create galleries that dwell on our Photo Archive home page

Concerning my workflow course of, every thing I’m going to say will sound very unusual since lots of my workflow instruments are unconventional. However take into accout I used to be just lately awarded the 2022 TrailBlazer Award from the North American Nature Photographers Affiliation (NANPA), so I assume I’m formally atypical. 

My workflow consists of a number of items of software program. An important being a little-known program known as Mylio. Mylio’s most notable characteristic is its potential to sync my complete 1.3 million picture library throughout ten completely different gadgets. Two of these gadgets, each with 70TB Drobo NAS models connected, maintain all my originals, they usually robotically again one another up. The opposite eight gadgets, together with my 256gig iPhone, have all 1.3 million photographs in previews or thumbnails. If I want the unique RAW file, I can shortly name it over to any of my gadgets so long as the iMac or Mac Mini is on and working Mylio. I ingest all stills and movies on the identical time utilizing Mylio. Every file, each stills, and video, obtain a file quantity on import, and video recordsdata dwell alongside the stills. It’s tremendous quick and environment friendly for importing. If I’m engaged on a video mission, I can simply inform Mylio to point out me all movies, permitting me to Export these recordsdata so as to add to Remaining Reduce Professional. It’s fast and environment friendly.

Together with Mylio’s sync capabilities, it’s additionally the one program I’ve discovered that may deal with a catalog of 1.3 Million photographs. I initially began with Apple’s Aperture, then migrated to Lightroom. Sadly, LR couldn’t deal with that many photographs in a single catalog. Which will have modified, however Mylio’s Sync capabilities cease me chilly from attempting the rest. 

My second piece of software program is Picture Mechanic. I take advantage of PM to cull my preliminary shoot shortly. I’m additionally in a position to mark the folders with coloured tags, permitting me to simply monitor the pictures I’ve checked out and determined to maintain or reject. PM can also be essentially the most environment friendly approach to caption and key phrase all my footage.

Lastly, my RAW processor of alternative is DXO PhotoLab. Though PhotoLab is an important device, it’s solely vital for about twenty % of my work. Mylio handles most RAW processing for my Weblog and Social Media. I take photographs into PhotoLab that I’m processing for conventional publications, nice artwork prints, and something I could have missed the mark on technically. PhotoLab can not add or take away components that weren’t there within the authentic scene. Authenticity is paramount in my thoughts, and I’m comfortable to say I don’t use Photoshop, nor do I even know the way layers work. Name me a dinosaur, and I’ll take that as a praise.

Lastly, all my work within the video realm is with Remaining Reduce Professional. Like my stills, authenticity is important, so I’m not doing something fancy inside FCPX. 

The entire above is the method that takes me to the ultimate step of getting footage to my PhotoShelter on-line searchable database. My workplace supervisor checks all recordsdata for key phrases and captions, then uploads the photographs to my Latest Work folder. 

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on the frozen ice of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada in the course of the night. Picture by Daniel J. Cox.

It seems to be such as you’ve been photographing polar bears for years. Are you able to share a bit about your course of for modifying and refining that work?

DC: Sure, I’ve been photographing polar bears for a really very long time. Like most photographers, my approach and imaginative and prescient have improved over these a few years. To shortly discover essentially the most compelling photographs, I take advantage of the star score system in Mylio. Like different applications, Mylio makes use of the 1-5 star score course of. One Star identifies absolute junk. Two stars are for the individuals I shoot on our picture excursions so I can shortly discover them to offer to our friends. Three stars is a wonderfully good picture that will not be an award winner however are high quality sufficient to make our PhotoShelter on-line searchable database. 4 stars are comparatively particular, and 5 stars are exceptionally distinctive. Utilizing the {industry} star score system provides me and my workers the flexibility to kind by means of the most effective photographs in a short time. 

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) at Hudson Bay, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.
Picture by Daniel J. Cox.

What cameras are you utilizing lately?

DC: So with regards to digital camera gear, I’m afraid my repute as a trailblazer as soon as once more shines by means of. I shot Nikon cameras for over 35 years, however I began experimenting with Micro 4 Thirds mirrorless cameras roughly ten years in the past. I started with the Panasonic Lumix system however ultimately moved nearly totally to the brand new Olympus tools. 

There are a number of causes I want the Micro 4 Thirds system. Primary is the Olympus 150-400mm F/4.5 zoom lens. I truthfully imagine it’s the most effective factor to occur to wildlife and nature pictures for the reason that invention of the 35mm digital camera. The zoom vary on this lens, equal to 300-800mm at F/4.5, is a game-changer for wildlife and nature pictures. This lens, together with the smaller digital camera our bodies and industry-leading picture stabilization, makes Micro 4 Thirds my system of alternative. 

Moreover, the smaller type issue of the Micro 4 Thirds system matches properly with my perception that much less is extra. Gone are the times of needing to hold and pay for the huge lenses I shot years in the past. If Micro 4 Thirds couldn’t ship skilled outcomes, I wouldn’t be capable of assume this fashion. However the high quality of those cameras is excellent, and the lighter, smaller type issue is a critical benefit when working with wildlife. 

Because the world has modified, so have the realities of what’s important for creating my work. I can’t justify paying $13,000 for a 600mm F/4 when nature photographs promote for pennies on the greenback? I’m grateful for Panasonic and Olympus considering outdoors the field, giving me smaller, lighter, inexpensive tools to provide my work. 

You could find extra of Daniel’s work and get details about his picture excursions on his website. Plus, observe him on Instagram @danieljcoxne.

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