Polar adventures: a guest blog from Daisy Gilardini

09 December 2016 posted by: Zoe - WPY Comms Officer

No. of comments: 3

Wildlife Photographer Daisy Gilardini has been photographing the Polar Regions since 1997, and her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to conservation. Daisy's image Hitching a ride depicts a female polar bear and some rather surprising behaviour from one of her cubs, is in the shortlist for the WPY People's Choice Award. As part of our guest blog series, we asked Daisy to tell us more about photographing these iconic animals in some of nature's most punishing environments.


Every year from February to March an important event takes place in Wapusk National Park in Manitoba, Canada. Polar bears that entered maternity dens in October and gave birth in November are ready to exit for the first time with their four-month-old cubs. The timing coincides with seals giving birth to their pups on the Hudson Bay pack ice, which means easy food for the polar bears.



Hitching a ride by Daisy Gilardini.

Shortlisted for the WPY52 People's Choice Award 2016.


During this time of the year conditions are extremely challenging with temperatures dropping to -54 degrees Celsius and winds gusting up to 60 km per hour. Cold is a challenge for your equipment as well as for your body. If you are not comfortable you will not be able to focus on the job. Knowing how to dress is essential in order to avoid frostbites and hypothermia. Dressing in layers and avoiding perspiration are vital to surviving in these situations.

Once you are comfortable, then comes the technical challenge; to operate a camera with multiple little buttons, wearing huge gloves. Finally you have to work around the fact that after a while parts of the camera will freeze...batteries first, then the control panels as well as the big back monitor. So in the end you must be skilled enough to work with your camera in "blind mode". Keep shooting and hope for the best!



© Daisy Gilardini


In this particular episode the mother bear was resting with her two young cubs in a day den on the way to the pack ice. Day dens usually consist of wind protected areas such as snowdrift refuges or tree shelters. She was extremely calm when our vehicle reached the location and we could photograph her and the cubs for a few hours before she suddenly decided it was time to leave.

She rushed downhill in deep snow when one of the two cubs decided it was much more convenient to hitch a ride on their mother's butt. The cub jumped and reached out holding on with a firm bite on the butt's fur. This was extremely funny and totally unexpected behaviour.



© Daisy Gilardini


Spending a great amount of time with these animals gives you the opportunity to get to know single individuals. It takes time and knowledge to capture their personalities and freeze them - in a single shot - in a fraction of a second. Those anthropomorphic expressions are a powerful way to deepen connection with an audience. Photography is an extremely powerful communication tool to deliver messages. It is - in fact - the only universal language understood by everybody no matter which country you are from, no matter the age, no matter the level of education. I think the perfect shot is the one that reaches the viewer's heart and generates emotions.

Repeatedly, I have tried to understand the irresistible attraction to the Polar Regions, which I would personally define almost as an addiction or an obsession. These extreme adventures transport me out of my ordinary worldliness, leading me in a voyage of self-discovery. The isolation from modern civilization and all the distractions that comes with it brings me back to appreciate and focus on the simple rhythm of nature.



© Daisy Gilardini


The healing feeling of re-discovering our primordial connection with nature and the interconnection among all species on earth inspires deep respect and awareness for the importance of these delicate ecosystems. If humankind wants to survive and evolve with our planet we have to act responsibly, by acknowledging with humility that nature is not dependent on us, but we are dependent on nature.

As conservation photographers it is our duty to capture the beauty of species at risk and raise awareness by giving a voice to creatures that cannot speak up. While science provides the data necessary to explain issues and suggest solutions, photography symbolises these issues. Science is the brain, while photography is the heart. We need to reach people's emotions in order to move them to action, for nature and for us.








Daisy Gilardini is originally from Switzerland but now lives in British Columbia, Canada. She started taking photography seriously during her first trip to India in 1989 and since then has visited more than 70 countries with camera in hand. After falling in love with Antarctica during her first trip there in 1997, she has spent most of her time photographing the Polar Regions. In almost two decades of polar explorations she has joined over sixty expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic, most of them on research vessels and icebreakers, one on a sailing boat, some overland and in 2006 she joined a Russian expedition to the North Pole on skies. Daisy is member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, and a firm believer in the important role of photography in raising awareness of our fragile natural world.


Visit Daisy Gilardini's website.


Colleen McKeown


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