Polar Bear Photo Tour

Get Eye to Eye with a polar bear. Get Eye to Eye with two polar bears.


  • Eye level polar bear photography
  • Frequently as many as 30-40 polar bears
  • Daily excursions on our chartered boat
  • Catch the polar bears in snow and ice
  • Local Inupiaq guide and boat captain
  • Accommodations and meals in arctic Alaska
  • 6 nights, 5 full days, 2 half days of photography

Eye-level with a polar bear? How about you get eye-level with two dozen polar bears? This photo tour puts you and your lens smack in the middle of the polar bear’s world.

Snow and ice. This is the arctic.

Nanuq the Sea Bear, front and center.

Small, photo only group. Limited to 5 clients.

Bears of all sizes. Adult male polar bears, sows and cubs and playful juveniles.

Polar Bear Photo Tour

The polar bear; Ursus maritimus. This photo tour provides a simply unparalleled opportunity to photograph the largest terrestrial carnivore in North America. The photo tour is scheduled to meet the absolute prime conditions for polar bear photography in the region. We spend 6 nights in arctic Alaska, taking boat trips out each day (weather permitting) to photograph the bears. The best polar bear photo tour in Alaska, bar none.

The Alaska Polar Bear

Arctic Alaska is home to many creatures we all love to see and to photograph, but perhaps no other animal quite encapsulates the region like the great Polar bear; Ursus maritimus; Nanuq (or Nanook). We’ll spend 6 nights in a small native island community, at the very northern edges of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with 5 full days and another half day focusing on photographing the magnificent polar bears that gather here late in the fall.

Unlike most other Alaska polar bear photo tours, this tour is all about the bears. We spend the entire week concentrating on polar bear photography, and everything else we may or may not shoot along the way, such as northern lights, etc, is somewhat secondary (if the northern lights might ever be considered “secondary” ). 🙂 Rather than just 2 or maybe 3 days with the bears like most other arctic Alaska polar bear photo tours, we spend the entire week focused on getting the very best polar bear photos we can. For the most part, that means giving ourselves as much time as possible.

To do that we’ll spend all week on the island, looking for optimal conditions. Good light, no wind, and active and energetic polar bears! Watch the video below to see a small sample of the kind of opportunities available.

Expeditions Alaska Polar Bear Tour Video

Polar Bears. Playful. Powerful. Photogenic.

Returning to the arctic coast in mid-fall, polar bears of the Southern Beaufort Sea congregate ned the mouth of the ago River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A local Inupiat Village subsistence whale hunt provides further attraction for the hungry bears.

Tolerant of human activity, these polar bears are an enigmatic photographic subject. Playful and curious, they’re also shy and elusive. Fierce and solemn, yet timid and cautious.  A photogenic creatures like few others.

Sows with cubs are common, as many as three sows may have cubs of the year. Often several other sows in the area have yearling or two year old still with them. Subadults roam the beaches. Large adult males spar and wrestle on the snow.

Surprisingly sociable creatures, polar bears routinely play and tussle with each other. Cubs will chase one another along the shoreline. Even while sleeping on a pad of fresh snow, a polar bear is a subject like no other.

Polar Bear. Ice Bear.

Polar bear photo tour a Cautious approach of a young polar bear cub.

Nanuq

This tour is all about the bears. You’ll photograph bears playing in the water, polar bear cubs chasing each other across the frozen snow-covered islands, and adult males wrestling and sparring. More poses and portraits that you can imagine.

Bears are always a treat to photograph. Polar bears particularly so. Nowhere in the world is there a better place than Arctic Alaska to photograph these astonishing creatures.

An average of 40 bears in the immediate vicinity each of the last 5 years. A high population of nearly 80 bears in 2012). This is simply THE place to go.

Eye Level Photography. Intimate encounters. Swimming bears. Playful Cubs. Sows Nursing. Males sparring.

Want to learn more about polar bears?

Polar bear photo tour polar bear on ice photo ANWR Alaska.

Polar Bears on Ice.

All 19 subpopulations of polar bears have experienced some degree of ice loss. Loss of Arctic sea ice owing to climate change is the single biggest threat to polar bears throughout their range.

Trip Details

Photographing from your small privately chartered boat, we’re able to photograph the bears without disturbing them. The polar bears here are used to our presence, and (as are most polar bears) extremely curious.

The photography opportunities will amaze you. I can’t overstate this. There’s nothing I can say here that might fully prepare you for you just how incredible the polar bear photography is here. I can, however, offer you that in the last few years, more and more people are coming here, to Alaska, and forsaking the better known locales of Churchill or Svalbard (Spitzbergen). The polar bears are concentrated here in the Barter Island area this time of year, feeding off the remains of the fall subsistence whale hunt.

The bears gather here as the area is typically the first in the region to freeze up in fall, allowing the bears to hunt on the ice. The other draw for the bears here is carrion. The local Inupiat village have a subsistence Bowhead whale hunt each fall (autumn) and the polar bears feed off the remains from that hunt (the village has a quote of three whales each fall).

A high concentration of polar bears in a small, accessible area.

Reserve Your Spot Today

Trip Logistics

Orientations

We’ll pick you up when you arrive on Barter Island, and shuttle you to the hotel. There we’ll check in and have lunch, as well as a brief orientation for the tour. Immediately afterwards, we’ll ride down to the waterfront and meet your boat captain.

The nearby barrier islands are where we typically find the bears, so it’s a short ride. There we’ll find which bears we want to photograph, and spend our first afternoon with the bears.

Meals & Wheels

Dinner back at the hotel again. Meals are first class food (this is the arctic, not New York City, but the food is always excellent, and plenty of it). After dinner we can download and review or edit images if you like.

The hotel serves three meals a day, buffet style, with custom orders limited but available as time and staffing permits. Any dietary restrictions, if you can let me know ahead of time, we can typically accommodate.

Your transport from the hotel to the boat and back is provided each day, morning and afternoon.

Weather conditions vary, but you should expect it to be cold. You’re in the arctic. Wind can be strong, and blowing snow is not uncommon. If the weather is too adversarial, we won’t go out on the water (at the boat captain’s discretion). Safety is a priority, of course.

On The Water

Your boat captain is a US Coast Guard licensed marine captain. Both the boat captain and myself are permitted through the US Fish & Wildlife Service to operate on the Arctic Refuge waters. We also carry all the requisite insurance, and licensing, etc. Both operators have submitted safety plans for your tours. I carry a satellite phone as well as a first aid kit on the water. The boat operator also has the requisite radio and emergency equipment for safe operations in arctic waters.

Sometimes the bears are feeding at the “bone pile”, so shooting from there is an option if the weather dictates we don’t take the boat. We’ll look into a vehicle and take you there as needed.

Cameras & Clothes

Upon your reservation, I’ll send you a full Trip Departure Packet eBook, filled with photos and information about the tour, including two chapters on clothing and camera equipment options. As a general rule, think of any standard wildlife photography (long, fast lenses, high ISO performance cameras are a good start). Beanbags or monopods work better than tripods, but occasionally a tripod can be handy.

Clothing needs to be arctic wear. If you’re not familiar with what that is, we’ll discuss than and I can send you the section on what to wear.

Terms & Conditions

The Terms and Conditions for all Expeditions Alaska trips, my guiding business, can be found on the website here .

This tour is limited in scope, by weather and available space, so it fills up early. If you’re at all interested in the tour, I strongly suggest you contact me asap via the form below, and we look at availability and waiting lists. Thank you.

Any Questions? Email me.

Trip Itinerary

Day 0 – You arrive in Fairbanks, AK, overnight there (not included)

Day 1 – You’ll fly to Barter Island, arrival approximately noon. Check in and orientation, then head out for an afternoon of photography.

Day 2/6 – Breakfast, the we head out to photograph. Daily photography excursions, morning and afternoon, by chartered boat. Typically we’re out around 8:30am, back for lunch, out again in the afternoon and back for dinner. Time are dependent on weather and conditions. 6-8 hours on the water each day. One evening (TBD) we’ll schedule your optional cultural evening with local Inupiaq sharing local traditions and stories

Day 7 – Pack up your things, check out (you can leave luggage in the hotel), have a morning trip on the water to photograph, followed by your return flight to Fairbanks. Plan on overnighting there (not included), and taking your flight home no sooner than the following day.

Includes

WHAT’S INCLUDED

Currently, I’m providing one chartered flight Fairbanks – Barter Island. For the first week (Oct 4-10), that’ll be your return flight. For the 2nd week tour (Oct 10-16), that’ll be your arrival flight to Barter Island. So for week one, you need to book a flight Fairbanks -> Barter Island on the 4th. For week two, you need to book a flight Oct 16 Barter Island -> Fairbanks.

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?

Your airfare to/from Alaska.

Polar Bears

Polar bears have long garnered the attention of those people who live amongst them in the cold north. For millennia, people here have regaled one another with countless tales of close encounters with Nanuq, the sea bear. Stories of grandeur, real and imagined, tales of his hunting prowess, his wit and his energy, his strength, his bravery and his cunning.

Inuit and Alaska Native tales include stories about polar bear-men, fabled creatures that walked upright, lived in igloos and could talk. These creatures were humans inside their home, but donned magnificent fur coats when they went outside to hunt Ugruk, the bearded seal.

The scientific name for the polar bear is Ursus maritimus, or sea bear. The bears are classified as marine mammals, oddly by the same folks who refer to the polar bear as the largest terrestrial (i.e., land) predator in the world. It seems he doesn’t really fit neatly in to any pigeon hole or category we try to squeeze him inside. Sadly, we seem as prone to classify and typecast animals (and plants) as we do ourselves.

Polar bears are indeed a string of contradictions. Solitary yet extremely sociable, he’s fearless, yet timid. Curious, yet cautious. Intelligent, yet comical. A powerful athlete, yet clumsy and awkward. A fierce predator, yet playful and affectionate.

Collectively, they’re a successful apex predator, yet a vulnerable species, precariously balanced on that apex and now threatened with extinction. These paradoxes tell me we have a lot more to learn about (and from) the polar bear.

A series of adaptations make the polar bear a great swimmer. They have some webbing between their toes, they have a water repellent coat, a streamlined, tapered body shape, strong powerful forelegs for paddling (they don’t use their hind legs when paddling, but hold them aloft behind, like rudders) and broad feet.

Though they’re excellent swimmers and have been known to swim over 400 miles to reach an ice pack, polar bears are generally not capable of out-swimming the seals they prey on.

Polar Bears FAQs

  • I’d be extremely, extremely surprised. Every year we’ve been here we’ve seen and photographed well over two dozen bears in any one week.

  • On your reservation I’ll provide you with a comprehensive Trip Departure Packet, and I cover gear (camera gear and clothing) extensively. Suffice it to say, the last three years I’ve shot primarily with a Nikon FX body and my 80-400mm lens. I also bring a 500m F4, a DX body and a 1.4 extender. By far the most used set up for me is the 80-400mm.

  • It will likely be right around freezing. Expect snow. Remember too, that an ambient temperature of 32˚F (0˚C) will feel significantly colder than what you might expect when we’re on a small boat on the icy water of the southern Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean.

  • The accommodations of choice have satellite internet (included). It’s not fast, and not good for uploading large files, etc, but for email and reading the news, it works fine. Cell coverage is available, but can be spotty for different providers. AT&T works well. There is a landline available at the hotel as well. In the field I carry a satellite phone, and we have radios on the boat as well. Typically, the boats are NOT out of cell phone coverage from the village.

  • For my groups, no. I think it’s unsafe and unsound to take a group of photographers out of the village to photograph the northern lights in an area with 40 polar bears in the vicinity. Some other tour operators will do this, and you’re welcome to book with them if you want to. In my opinion, it’s reckless and asking for a problem.

  • This tour is all about polar bears. There is not a lot of other wildlife in the nearby area. Some times we’ll see an arctic fox. Most of the birds have left this lateen the year, but there are various gulls and some waterfowl still in the area.

    It’s my opinion that the best polar bear photography comes when we spend our time working on photographing polar bears.

  • Weather will of course dictate everything. This IS arctic Alaska after all and we can expect some inclement weather.

    You’ll see more information about this throughout this page but know that a flexible itinerary and a fluid approach to the schedule are needed.

    Some days we might not be able to go out on the water if the ocean is too rough, etc. There’ll likely be some downtime, which is par for the course in the arctic anytime of the year. We’ll make every effort possible to utilize everything available to maximize our opportunities for some great polar bear photography. The benefit of a week long stay is the chances improve dramatically for a combination of great weather and light conditions, polar bear activity and photography.

  • I know you do. As well you should.

    I recommend starting with the General Trip FAQ page

    More questions? Email me or call me  if you like.

    Upon your reservation I’ll send out a comprehensive trip information packet that covers just about everything and more you might imagine about your trip.

Polar Bear Tour Review

“All in all I think he’s very professional and yet very friendly and makes a good company. It matters since in most of trips you’ll be spending a lot of time with him together. Hes got some humours and he’s definitely got great knowledge of the tours he does. When I return to Alaska he’s the one I’ll be calling. I’m a professional photographer myself and I’m not easily pleased. But his tours have pleased me. That’s for sure”.

Read a complete review of this tour here

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