Surviving) in the Arctic
To make photographs in the far reaches of the Arctic you have to get there,
which means traveling on small planes to remote native villages, over water on
sailboats or in inflatable canoes, or overland via snowmobile or dogsled. And
of course, once you get into the Arctic wilderness, you have to stay alive and,
eventually, get back out. Working in February in the Arctic is like “living in an ice
chest,” says Florian Schulz. “You need to protect yourself. You go from wanting
to shoot the most beautiful images to the next moment keeping yourself from
freezing to death.” Life revolves around boiling water so you can drink it or use it
to reconstitute dried food.
If you take a frozen camera into a warm tent it will be covered with
condensation, and if it freezes again it will be ruined, so Schulz has to put
cameras in a dry bag before taking them into a tent or anywhere else they are
going to warm up. He also keeps batteries close to his body so they stay warm
and will function. Schulz often sleeps sporadically, “because [for example] you
know there’s a full moon coming and you want to capture that over the icebergs
in northern Greenland.” Or you are out in the field with just one other person,
and you have to take turns keeping watch over the tent with a rifle to scare off
Below is a partial list of the gear Schulz used to create his most recent book,
To The Arctic.
CAmer AS: Nikon D700; Nikon D3s; Nikon D3x
LenSeS: Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8; 24-70mm f/2.8; 28-70mm f/2.8; 70-200mm
f/2.8; 200-400mm f/4; 600mm f/4; 16mm f/2.8 fisheye; 24mm tilt-shift; 1.4x
Other equiPment: Remote camera boxes; Manfrotto and Gitzo
tripods; a Pocket Wizard for remote setups; Subal underwater camera housing;
rollable solar panels; 16 lithium-ion batteries; a Nikon GPS; a Macbook Pro; 200+
gb of CompactFlash cards; three WD 500 gb pocket drives
AdditiOnAL ge Ar: An emergency position-indicating radio beacon;
a satellite phone; a handheld aviation radio transceiver that can contact jetliners
if the sat phone fails; a dry suit for ice diving with masks and fins; an inflatable
canoe; and, of course, polar bear fur pants and boots supplied by an Inuit guide
prone to believing in it, fate.
In Greenland, for instance, Schulz met native Inuit hunters who agreed
to take him on a musk ox hunt in which they used traditional sleds, each
pulled by 15 dogs, to cover hundreds of miles.
In Svalbard, Norway, Schulz, his wife, Emil, who often accompanies him
into the field, and the documentary film crew found a whale carcass that
washed ashore, which was providing a large group of polar bears with
food. “I could spend days there getting to know the situation better, working out images in my imagination that I wanted to realize,” Schulz says.
While Schulz was in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, waiting for weather to clear
so he could fly into an area where he might be able to photograph caribou,
he met airplane pilot and mechanic Ken McDonald, who was working in a
hangar there. The two became friends and soon set out in a World War II-era Super Cub airplane on an aerial expedition of the Arctic, which allowed
Schulz to create unique and original images for the book.
And it was while Schulz was working in Alaska on another project,
a book that will cover wilderness from Baja California, Mexico, to the
Beaufort Sea in Alaska, that he met the people at MacGillivray Freeman
Films, which led to their partnership and Schulz’s work on the To The Arctic
To simply be in position for these coincidences, introductions and incredible photographs to happen, Schulz assumes significant financial and
personal risk, and covering the costs of these expeditions means building coalitions of clients that include magazines like National Geographic
or German GEO, conservation organizations, book and calendar publishers, non-profit foundations and others. When he’s not in the field, Schulz
works tirelessly with the help of his family to line up speaking engagements, find funding, license or sell images, and plan the next trips.
At times, potential clients for Schulz’s work will show interest when
he’s attempting to organize a project or a particular trip, but they stop
short of committing money up front. “Sometimes it had to be a very fine
line of judging: Do I really believe that I am going to get back what I am
investing, even just the costs, not even talking about getting paid for my
time?” Schulz explains.
Often Schulz’s work requires a leap of faith, as it did with his book on
Above, left: An underwater view of pieces of ice drifting in the Arctic Ocean, Baffin
Island, Canada. Below: A male snowy owl provides food for his chicks, National
Petroleum Reserve, Alaska. Opposite page: Waterfalls pour off the Austfonna ice
field, the third-largest in the world, Svalbard, Nor way.