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The emperor of the North

David Yarrow

The emperor of the North

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The EMPEROR OF THE NORTH
Svalbard, Norway - 2017

What adjectives best describe an adult male polar bear? This question is often the start of a cognitive process that prompts me in my deliberations about how to take an animal’s portrait in a way that does it justice. Ideally, I want ... show more
The EMPEROR OF THE NORTH
Svalbard, Norway - 2017

What adjectives best describe an adult male polar bear? This question is often the start of a cognitive process that prompts me in my deliberations about how to take an animal’s portrait in a way that does it justice. Ideally, I want to convey the most considered of these adjectives in my photography. I am sensitive to the need to deliver with a portrait, as I am all too aware that wildlife photography can be dull.

Polar bears are certainly big and dangerous, but they are more than that— they sit at the top of the food chain at the top of the world. Inevitably, imagery of polar bears is often used to emphasize the cold, but great photographs of this mammal should also convey majesty and sovereignty. Of all the predators on the planet, it is the polar bear that I find the most regal. That was the prompt in my preconception; I needed to home in on the majesty of the bear.

To do this well requires a special image; there is no room for anything other than intimacy and crystal-sharp focus against a perfect backdrop. Svalbard is no studio—it is the wild— and this goes some way to explain why this image was preceded by five years of failure. The bear’s distinctive Roman nose is best captured with the mammal perpendicular to the camera with his head raised.

I wanted an image that celebrated the life of the polar bear. That gorgeous summer day, I shot almost directly into the sun, and the glittering sea is appropriate—this is a celebration of the glory of Earth and the polar bear’s position at its summit. He is the emperor of the North and the star of this image. I was just a bystander with a decent camera.
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